News of the world
Colombia - US plan to start new war
TRADE UNION and student protests greeted US president Bill Clinton when he flew into the South American country of Colombia last week. He was there to push his Plan Colombia. This is a $1.3 billion package aimed at bolstering the Colombian military.
The US claims its only aim is to stamp out cocaine production. But its schemes involve arming and training the Colombian military to take on the two guerrilla organisations, FARC and ELN, which control wide areas of the countryside.
These organisations have long existed. But their influence has grown massively in recent years as a result of growing poverty, the murder of trade union and community leaders, and the endemic corruption of the government parties. While the guerrillas dominate some regions, right wing paramilitaries connected to the military dominate in others. These murder anyone opposed to the big landowners and industrialists.
The US government says the guerrillas are "narco-terrorists" responsible for the drug trade. But the big drug cartels flourished when the guerrilla organisations were quite small and confined to remote areas. The US spy organisation the CIA was involved in smuggling cocaine into California in the 1980s in order to finance the right wing Contra terrorists in Nicaragua.
The head of the American anti-drugs programme in the country was recently found guilty of importing cocaine into the US. And the right wing paramilitaries clearly have connections to the big drug barons. But the US never talks about "narco-counter-terrorism".
In fact, Clinton has set aside those "human rights" parts of Plan Colombia which were supposedly going to restrict the activities of the paramilitaries. What really worries the US government is that there is growing political instability in region.
The president of Venezuela, Chavez, gets popular support for speeches against big business and the rich. The former president of Ecuador, a free market economist, was forced out by a near uprising in January.
A police mutiny and riots against water prices recently shook Bolivia. And the Peruvian president, Fujimori, is increasingly reliant on the army and the police to beat back the middle class opposition. The stakes are high.
Venezuela is already a major oil producing country, and oil companies believe there is more oil to be tapped in the border regions between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This makes the US terrified of any further successes for Colombia's guerrillas, even though some of their leaders say they can work with the multinationals.
Drug barons won't suffer
PLAN COLOMBIA not only threatens to make the civil wars in Colombia worse, it also threatens the livelihood of millions of peasants across the region. These peasants have grown the coca plant for thousands of years. They chew its leaves as part of their daily diet and use it to make a very widely drunk form of tea.
Cocaine is a very highly concentrated product of the leaves, invented about a century ago by Europeans and North Americans. Today there is a virtually insatiable demand for it in the rich countries, including in the highest circles.
The US consumes three quarters of world cocaine output. The US government is incapable of solving what is in reality a domestic US problem because its approach is the same as that taken so disastrously towards alcohol with prohibition in the 1920s.
The more there is a clampdown on the drug, the more profitable illegal provision of it becomes. That's the way markets work. If cocaine production falls in Colombia, the industry will move to remote parts of Ecuador, Venezuela or Peru.
The US's latest response to this problem is to spray areas where coca plants can grow with a genetically modified fungus, fusarium. The effect will be to impoverish the peasants who grow the plant without doing any harm to the big drug traders, whose profits will rise if the price of the cocaine rises. US expert Sharon Stevenson has detailed in the Miami Herald the harm the fungus can do to other crops, including food crops.
No wonder there is opposition to Plan Colombia from popular organisations across the region.