The Narco-Terrorist Who Came in From the Cold

U.S. authorities have remained strangely silent regarding the Colombian government's decision to delay or cancel the extradition of AUC Chief Salvatore Mancuso on cocaine trafficking and money laundering charges. THE NARCO-TERRORIST WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD:
Why Isn’t Mancuso being Extradited?

On December 11, Stewart Tuttle, head of the Political Affairs division of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota looked on as Salvatore Mancuso, commander of Colombia’s largest and most brutal network of right-wing death squads, ceremonially surrendered his Berretta to Colombian Peace Commissioner Carlos Luis Restrepo.

But Tuttle and his superiors were strangely silent a week later when the government of President Alvaro Uribe announced that it would not extradite Mancuso to the U.S. to face cocaine trafficking and money laundering charges as long as the death squad leader agreed to “cease all illegal activities” and encourage other paramilitaries to take part in the government’s demobilization process.   While the U.S. hasn’t formally dropped its extradition request, neither the U.S. Embassy nor the U.S. State Department has issued a public statement about Uribe’s decision to delay or cancel Mancuso’s handover to U.S. authorities – which is highly unusual to say the least, given that Mancuso is the head of a terrorist organization and is accused of conspiring to smuggle over seventeen tons of cocaine to the U.S. and Europe.

THE CHARGES AGAINST MANCUSO

The U.S. State Department has classified Mancuso’s organization, the “Self Defense Forces of Colombia” (AUC,) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization – the same legal designation that it applies to groups like Ansar al-Islam, al-Qa’ida, and Hamas.  According to its website, the policy of the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, which compiles the list of terrorist organizations, is to “make no concessions to terrorists and strike no deals” and  to “bring terrorists to justice for their crime.”  

Involvement in the operation of a Foreign Terrorist Organization is a capital offense under the PATRIOT Act.  

According to the State Department’s 2004 Human Rights Report on Colombia, compiled under Tuttle’s supervision, the AUC remains actively involved in terrorist operations throughout Colombia:

“Despite cease-fires declared in the context of demobilization negotiations conducted by the AUC--an umbrella organization of different paramilitary terrorist groups--with the Government, these terrorists continued to commit numerous unlawful and political killings, including of labor leaders, often kidnapping and torturing suspected guerrilla sympathizers prior to executing them. They also conducted kidnappings for ransom and committed ‘social cleansing’ killings of homosexuals and other supposedly ‘undesirable’ elements. The AUC terrorists often interfered with personal privacy in areas where they exercised de facto control, and regularly engaged in military operations in which they endangered civilian lives by fighting in urban areas and using civilian dwellings as combat shelter. AUC terrorists displaced thousands through both terror-induced forced displacements of suspect populations and military operations that drove peasants from their homes. AUC terrorists regularly threatened and attacked human rights workers and journalists who criticized their illegal activities. They also recruited child soldiers. Important strategic and financial areas continued to be heavily contested, especially as the Government eradicated coca crops, and created anti-kidnapping task forces.”

Mancuso has been the main public face of the AUC since the disappearance of the organization’s founder, Carlos Castano last year.  Sources in the Colombian human rights community allege that Castano is currently in hiding in Israel.

Mancuso’s role in massacres, disappearances, and assassinations would be sufficient grounds for his prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.   But the U.S. also claims that Mancuso was involved in a major cocaine trafficking operation designed by Castano to fund the AUC.  In a September 24, 2002 press conference announcing the indictment of Castano, Mancuso, and a third AUC leader, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said:

“Today's indictment charges AUC leaders, not as the anti-FARC freedom fighters they claim to be, but as criminals - violent drug traffickers who poison our citizens and threaten our national security. According to the indictment, Carlos Castaño directed cocaine production and distribution activities in AUC-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting coca processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine, and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside of Colombia. Castaño and his co-defendants used violence, force and intimidation to maintain this authority over cocaine trafficking activities. For example, the indictment alleges that Castaño resorted to kidnaping and threats, and that Salvatore Mancuso caused the brutal murder of another Colombian drug trafficker as retribution for failing to pay a drug debt.”

He went on to emphasize the seriousness of the charges, saying

“The men named in the indictment are accused of selling one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs: cocaine. Cocaine, including its derivative form crack, remains the most frequently mentioned drug in 14 of the 20 cities in the Drug Abuse Warning Network. In addition, cocaine accounted for 50 percent of all drug-related episodes in emergency rooms between 1999 and 2000.  Today, we see more clearly than ever the interdependence between the terrorists that threaten American lives and the illegal drugs that threaten American potential. As today's indictment reminds us, the lawlessness that breeds terrorism is also a fertile ground for the drug trafficking that supports terrorism. To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both.”

Tough words.  But the U.S. has not followed them up with action.  Earlier this year, the Colombian government suspended its own arrest order against Mancuso and allowed him to address the Colombian legislature – the U.S. remained silent.  And military aid has continued to flow to Colombia even though the State Department admits that there are widespread ties between the Colombian military and the AUC and human rights groups have documented the role of the AUC in the election of President Uribe.

TALKING WITH TERRORISTS

Despite the State Department’s stated policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, both the Colombian and the U.S. press reported that U.S. Embassy officials met with representatives of the AUC in May 0f 2003 to discuss the indictements against Castano and Mancuso.  See (Luis Gomez’s report -- http://www.narconews.com/Issue30/article801.html)   Colombian sources place Stewart Tuttle, and his deputy, Alex Lee at these meetings, and it seems clear that neither man would have jeopardized his career by meeting with terrorists in possible violation of the PATRIOT act without authorization from somewhere much higher in the chain of command.

In the weeks that followed the revelations about these meetings, Tuttle and Lee, who had previously met frequently with U.S. visitors to Colombia disappeared from the Embassy’s briefing room.  

During this time, an Embassy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the meetings had taken place, but insisted that the Embassy was merely trying to reiterate its desire to have Mancuso and Castano surrender themselves to U.S. authorities.  (Does this mean that if they were stationed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Tuttle and Lee would meet with representatives of al Qu’aida to reiterate their desire to see Osama bin Laden surrender for prosecution.)

Apparently, however, Tuttle no longer sees the need to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to put Mancuso behind bars.   And its hard to believe that the Colombian government would cancel its plans to extradite Mancuso without consulting the Bush administration.  What remains to be seen is who in the U.S. decided to let Salvatore Mancuso get away.

So much for the “war on terror.”

Comments

..while FARC peace negotiator sent for trial in US

The Colombian government extradited for trial in the United States Ricardo Palmera, also called Simon Trinidad, a former peace negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.  The Colombian and U.S. governments thus give this representative of the guerilla warfare and kidnapping operation the opposite treatment they give Salvatore Mancuso, commander of the murdering, massacring, and drug-running AUC, which Sean Donahue writes so well of above.

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe had said he would extradite Palmero if FARC did not free 63 hostages.  The nut graph (most important, explanatory paragraph) reads:

Analysts said Uribe's ultimatum to the FARC was unrealistic and part of an effort by the president to deflect criticism over his uncompromising attitude toward the rebels even as he shows leniency toward right-wing paramilitary militias, which are pursuing peace talks.

That paragraph, the 15th, came close to the end of the Associated Press article, on-line at the Toronto Globe & Mail.  This paragraph gets the closest to acknowledging the special treatment given the government-linked AUC, described by Donahue.

In the eighth paragraph the article noted the way to get the 63 hostages released: FARC says "it will only free the hostages in exchange for 500 jailed rebels."  The eleventh paragraph:

The hostages' families and the Roman Catholic Church, both of whom opposed Palmera's extradition, warned the move could complicate any future peace talks and scuttle efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap, endangering the hostages' lives.

These hostages are identified as "including three Americans" in AP's first paragraph.  The sixth 'graph identifies them as "three U.S. Defense Department contractors."

Similarly, the AP article initially referred to Palmera as a top leftist rebel, and later acknowledged him as a FARC peace negotiator.  Arrested in Ecuador, one report says he had gone there for medical treatment.  Before this extradition to the United States, Palmera had already been sentenced to 35 years by the Colombian government for "aggravated kidnapping."

In a published interview earlier this month, Palmera said he was innocent and was framed by U.S. agents. "The Colombian government believed they could dampen my revolutionary zeal with extradition, but this will never happen," he said.

Two separate grand jury indictments in the U.S. accuse Palmera of drug trafficking and giving material support and resources to terrorists, Reuters reported (in an otherwise uninformative article which mostly describes the Palmera's police escort).

"A former banker from a wealthy northern family who says he took up arms to fight social injustice, Palmera is one of the best-known members of the FARC," the Associated Press wrote.

While still lacking in some context, elaborating on the "leniency toward right-wing paramilitary militias," the AP story is a pretty good article if you read the whole thing.  But how many U.S. newspapers carry the whole thing?  (None that are listed on Google, nor the New York Times, which ran four paragraphs.  The Indianapolis Star's short version of the article credits Kim Housego, who may also be the uncredited author of the longer piece.)  The 'Marxist terrorist extradited' radio and television versions of this story can be imagined.  Equally important, what has any establishment media source done, with earlier articles, to set the context: the United States' use of drugs and terrorism as excuses to fund the U.S. colonial government side of Colombia's civil war?

For the facts in context – the truth and the consequences – read Narco News (and support the Fund that supports it).  And, if you run across news like this (or have direct knowledge, or the opportunity to investigate), please write about it and post to the NarcoSphere.  (If you don't have a co-publisher's account yet, writing a good news story qualifies you for an account.  E-mail me or one of the people who can actually offer that stuff around here: publisher Al Giordano or managing editor Dan Feder.

17 massacred... by leftist rebels?

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Left-wing rebels killed at least 17 peasants in northeast Colombia on New Year's Eve in reprisal for cooperating with far-right paramilitaries, police and local authorities said Saturday.

...or did the paramilitaries and unspecified local authorities, noting the "prompting fears of reprisal attacks" placed prominently in the AP article about FARC representative Palmera's extradition, decide it was a good time to teach locals not to co-operate with FARC, and blame FARC for the massacre in the national and international press?  I have not yet seen an article quoting a relative of a murdered peasant, another local, or even a non-governmental organization.  Only "police and local authorities."

FARC does carry out massacres— although less than a third of the horrific total, by most counts (such as that by the CDPH, Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights), which hold right-wing paramilitaries
responsible for 70 percent of Colombia's several hundred massacres a year.

Back to Reuters:

The massacre, in which police said four children and six women died, took place Friday night in the town of Tame, in the province of Arauca near the Venezuelan border.  The oil-rich region is contested by Marxist rebels and their paramilitary foes.

In any case, if the AUC or another paramilitary group had been blamed, you wouldn't be reading about the massacre in your friendly neighborhood media conglomerate, Garry Leech of Colombia Journal On-line wrote 2004 June 22.

Arauca and Venzuela

Real or imagined guerilla activity near the Venezuelan border also serves as a justification for the Colombian government to continue to act as a U.S. proxy in "containing" Venezuela.  Last year the Colombian government attempted to obtain tanks from the Spanish government to counter the "Venezuelan threat" -- the deal was cancelled following the Spanish elections.  In November rumors began to surface that Colombia was in the market for combat aircraft for potential use in incursions into Venezuela.

I believe that the destabilization of the Venezuelan government is the real purpose of the current U.S. Special Forces mission in Arauca.  In August of 2003, I wrote in Milenio that:

"In the past year there have been 485 political killings in Arauca.  Many have been killed by the AUC, often in collaboration with the military and the police.  Others have been killed by the Marxist guerillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation) who have stepped up their attacks in the region in response to the U.S. military presence.  One exasperated U.S. Embassy official recently admitted that 'Arauca is a mess.'

"None of this has prevented the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon from certifying that the 18th Brigade had no record of human rights abuses and no links to the AUC, and sending 70 U.S. soldiers to train members of the brigade in reconnaissance and unconventional warfare.  

"This is because the U.S. wants more Colombian oil.  In an interview with El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, in February of 2002, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson (who left her post this month,) said, 'After Sept. 11, the issue of oil security has become a priority for the United States … (as) the traditional oil sources for the United States (the Middle East) are less secure.'  Colombia has vast unexplored oil reserves, but multinational corporations are reluctant to invest in Colombia because of guerilla violence against foreign companies.  The Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline was bombed by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation)  some 34 times last year, costing Occidental Petroleum $74 million.  The year before it was bombed 174 times.  Protecting the pipeline would show oil companies that the U.S. and Colombian militaries were ready to protect their interests.

"Occidental has a lot of poltical clout.  Between 1996 and 2002, the company spent over $9 million on lobbying Congress, and it donates heavily to both major U.S. political parties.

"But the pieces still don’t quite fit.  The 18th Brigade’s own commander admits that he would need to station a soldier every three feet along the pipeline in order to protect it – an impossible task.  Some speculate that Occidental Petroleum and the U.S. have their sights on a bigger source of oil: Venezuela.  Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in Latin America, but President Hugo Chavez has frustrated the U.S. by putting the interests of Venezuela’s poor ahead of those of the oil industry, and by surviving a U.S.-backed coup attempt. Arauca has served as a base for AUC incursions into Venezuela aimed at destablilizing Chavez’s government.  In March, the Venezuelan military engaged the AUC in battle.  For his part, Uribe has accused Chavez of backing the FARC, opening the door to “anti-terrorist” operations against Venezuela.

"The situation may soon get worse.  Uribe is threatening to replace several officers of the 18th Brigade – not for ignoring human rights abuses, but for failing to fight harder to protect the pipeline.  This sends the military the message that it must use any means necessary to protect the oil.  And on their recent visits, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the top ranking officer in the U.S. military both pledged more military aid to Colombia and joined Uribe in suggesting that Chavez is backing the FARC."

In an April 2002 essay , Hector Mondragon, one of Colombia's most insightful social critics pointed out that the expanded authority the U.S. granted the Colombian military to use U.S. aid to fight terrorism also justified the use of U.S. aid against "other threats to Colombia's security," a phrase that Mondragon believed was a veiled reference to Venezuela.  (See also his March, 2003 essay "The South American Israel".

Keeping this in mind, its wise to retain a healthy degree of scepticism about reports of FARC attrocities near the Venezuelan border.

Mancuso, Trinidad, and Gringo "Justice"

The daily El Pais of Cali, Colombia, today profiles the guerrilla leader known as Simon Trinidad, extradited on Friday to the United States.

The report offers a chronology of events leading to the extradition. Here's a translated excerpt:

January 2004: In Ecuador, Juvenal Ovidio Palmera, known as "Simon Trinidad" is taken prisoner.

December of 2004: The (Colombian) Supreme Court simultaneously authorizes the extradition of paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso and the FARC leader "Simon Trinidad."

December 2004: The government conditions the non-extradition of Mancuso on his strict compliance with peace agreements. In the same manner, it says that it will not procede against "Trinidad" if the guerrilla liberates 63 prisoners.

This is not justice. It is a circus show.

The paramilitary leader Mancuso, his organization responsible for the majority of massacres and assassinations in Colombia, is offered a vague "condition" of personally complying with peace agreements. Of course, he is in custody, so he can't violate them anyway. And so Colombia disregards the extradition "request" by Washington.

The guerrilla leader Trinidad - a former banker and university dean who came from the oligarchy of his country (and calls his membership in it his "only blemish") is offered no such deal that he personally can comply with: the deal, instead, is offered to the insurgent leaders of his rebel army: release 63 prisoners or Trinidad goes to "gringo justice."

So goes the double standard of a discourse that has long equated the paramilitary death squads and the rebel guerrillas as the same, but has, every chance, let the paramilitaries escape justice while engaging in an expensive dirty war against the insurgents.

Mancuso, the paramilitary, was offered a "deal" that was easy for him to comply with.

Trinidad, the guerrilla, was offered no deal at all - instead, others were offered a deal for him that the authorities knew could not be accepted: 63 prisoners in exchange for one.

And this dance was used as the pretext to save Mancuso's ass while sending Trinidad to a show trial in the U.S.

The "human rights bureaucrats" who have long straddled the fence with dishonest posturing that claimed revolutionary violence in defense of the poor and paramilitary violence in defense of wealth are moral equivalents are participants in this double standard.

In any case, Trinidad is now somewhere near Washington DC, in a secret location, guarded by U.S. authorities. His trial - if the independent press is allowed to cover it (still an open question) - will be waged for the Commercial Media as an act of propaganda. Still, it will be interesting, and Narco News will be beating down the doors of the courthouse to get inside and report the true facts.

The FARC, the AUC, and Cocaine in Colombia

Salvatore Mancuso and Ricardo Palmera aka Simon Trinidad were both indicted in the U.S. on cocaine trafficking charges based on claims by the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA,) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that their respective organizations, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) finance terrorism through drug trafficking.  Speaking to the Heritage Foundation in April of 2002, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchison said that:

"In Colombia, we deal with three groups designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department: the revolutionary group called the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia); the ELN (National Liberation Army); and a paramilitary group, the AUC (United Self-Defenses of Colombia). At least two of those, without any doubt, are heavily engaged in drug trafficking, receiving enormous funds from drug trafficking: the AUC and the FARC."

His comments implied that both organizations are equally involved in drug trafficking and that U.S. authorities take their fight against both organizations seriously.  Neither statement could be further from the truth.  The FARC plays a marginal role in "taxing" coca cultivation and cocaine production in the zones under their control and trafficking in coca paste while the AUC is heavilly involved at all levels in the production and export of cocaine.  However, US drug policy in Colombia has focussed almost exclusively on pushing the FARC out of coca growing areas in the southern part of Colombia while paying only marginal and symbolic attention to the cocaine trafficking activities of the AUC, and at times actually indirectly aiding the AUC in gaining control of all phases of cocaine production.

THE FARC AND COCA

In his authorative work on the role of the FARC in the cocaine trade, "The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Illicit Drug Trade," sociologist Ricardo Vargas who coordinates Accion Andina's work in Colombia, wrote that:

"Since the 1990s, Colombian coca plantations have covered an expanse that, according to residents of the affected areas, could be as large as 150,000 hectares. An estimated 300,000 people are directly dependent on the coca economy. These zones are, at the same time, controlled by guerrillas who derive significant revenues by levying taxes on medium- and large-scale farmers, intermediate coca products (base, further refined into cocaine), merchants, and, most importantly, processing laboratories and clandestine air strips for cocaine shipments. These funds are employed to strengthen the guerrillas' logistical and communications capacity for the war effort."

The FARC thus benefits indirectly from the cocaine trade by extorting money from relatively small time players.   In recent years there have also been reliable reports that the FARC has begun buying up coca leaves and coca past and selling it to cocaine traffickers.  However, there is no evidence that the FARC is actively involved in producing or exporting cocaine hydrochloride.  

The Colombian military has used this limited relationship to justify labelling the FARC "narco-terrorists."  Vargas again:

"This military analysis focuses on illegal crop cultivation. Rather than claim that the FARC is connected to the international illicit drug trade, military officers now suggest that that the FARC has developed financial strength through the control of coca-growing regions. For military officials, 'the revenues the FARC bring in from this activity are far superior to those obtained through kidnapping, extortion, or the 'cattle tax.'"

Based on this argument, the U.S. and Colombian governments developed first Plan Colombia and then Plan Patriota to drive the FARC out of southern Colombia, and to erradicate coca crops in FARC controlled areas.  

THE PARAMILITARIES AND COCAINE

Colombia's modern right wing paramilitaries, on the other hand, have deep and lasting ties to the cocaine trade.  The AUC's precursor, "Death to Kidnappers" (MAS) was founded with money from the Medellin cocaine cartel following the abduction of a member of the powerful Ochoa family.   The cartel arranged for training for the paramilitaries in Colombia and Israel by British and Israeli mercenaries.  The first paramilitary units in the coca growing region of Putumayo were recruited and funded by Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha and trained by former Nicaraguan Contras.  AUC founder Carlos Castano was a Medellin cartel mercenary who turned on his former bosses in a bid for power.

In 2000 and 2001, Castano, who had not yet been indicted by the U.S., boasted that the AUC received 70 percent of its funding from cocaine traffickers.  After his indictement, Castano became much quieter about his role in cocaine trafficking.

A secret report prepared for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe during the lead up to the so-called peace negotiations between the AUC and the Colombian government confirmed Catano's claim.    On June 25, 2003, Scott Wilson reported in the Washington Post that:

"A six-month review commissioned by President Alvaro Uribe to evaluate the possibility of peace talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC and listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, reports that 'it is impossible to differentiate between the self-defense groups and narco-trafficking organizations.' The review also contends that paramilitary leaders seek to exploit peace talks to protect their drug-trafficking profits.  [ . . .]

"The government report states for the first time officially the scope of drug trafficking by the paramilitary forces. Through a handful of drug kingpins posing as paramilitary commanders, they control about 40 percent of Colombia's drug trafficking. The AUC 'sells its franchise' to regional drug traffickers, who rely on the group for security in exchange for a cut of profits.

"The report also estimates that as much as 80 percent of the AUC's funding comes from drug trafficking. Members of the group have said in interviews that up to 10 percent of the drug proceeds go toward the war effort, with the rest enriching individual commanders. Colombia accounts for as much as 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States."

Not only did the Uribe administration ignore this report, but they entered into negotiations with the factions of the AUC under the direct control of Catano and Mancuso, which were most directly involved in cocaine trafficking, while leaving dissident commanders who opposed the groups involvement in narcotrafficking out in the cold.  (See Scott Wilson's "Commander of Lost Causes: Colombian Paramilitary Takes Stand Against the Drug Trade."  Washington Post, July 6, 2003."

The U.S. also conducted secret meetings with representatives of Mancuso and Castano as reported by Narco News's Luis Gomez and others.  

PLAN COLOMBIA, PLAN PATRIOTA AND THE CONSOLIDATION OF AUC CONTROL OF THE COCA MARKET

Furthermore, there is significant annecdotal evidence that in driving the FARC out of Putumayo, the U.S. backed Colombian military has helped the AUC consolidate its control over the coca market in southern Colombia.  In December of 2000, Robert Collier reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that:

"Since early last year, when the army started a gradual
offensive to try to take back rebel-dominated
Putumayo, the paramilitaries have been right behind
them, working in silent tandem. "

Collier also quoted an AUC commander who told him that "We were invited here by many businesses, including the drug traffickers."  FARC "taxes" were increasing the cost of doing business for the traffickers.

At the same time, crop fumigations continued to keep the price of coca and coca paste artificially high, benefitting the paramilitaries who were increasingly planting large scale coca plantations on land abandoned by the victims of massacres and fumigations.

In 2001, Ricardo Vargas wrote in an open letter to then U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson that fumigations and military actions in southern Colombia were actually bolstering the cocaine trade:

"With the suspension of the fumigation and military actions in the coca-growing regions, in the very short term there would be overproduction of coca leaf, with the consequent dramatic fall in the price of coca paste, which would lead to a diminution in the total area planted, an effect not yet attained after 25 years of fumigation in Colombia. It is clear that the fumigations and interdiction actions are the main factor supporting the good price for the raw material used to manufacture cocaine, with the consequent effect of stimulating an increase in the areas planted in coca. Without Plan Colombia the international community would begin to understand that in Colombia, it is not the guerrillas who took the place of the Medellín and Cali drug cartels. Rather, the drug trafficking organizations diversified and proliferated, and these dispersed groups are now the ones who keep up the major demand for raw material for producing illegal psychoactive substances. "

Plan Colombia and its successor Plan Patriota served as a diversionary tactic, allowing the U.S. and Colombian governments to look tough on drugs by targetting coca producers in FARC controlled regions while maintaining the profits of wealthy traffickers with links to the paramilitaries (and the Uribe government.)

The U.S. and Colombian governments have never been interested in really dealing with cocaine trafficking.  It comes as no surprise therefore that Simon Trinidad, who has only a marginal and indirect relationship to the cocaine trade, has been extradited to the U.S., while Salvatore Mancuso, whose indictement served as a diversionary tactic to make the U.S. appeal impartial in Colombia's civil war, and who has much deeper ties to narcotraffickers, remains free in Colombia.

FARC Violence

Al is definitely right that "The 'human rights bureaucrats' who have long straddled the fence with dishonest posturing that claimed revolutionary violence in defense of the poor and paramilitary violence in defense of wealth are moral equivalents are participants in this double standard."  And I think that sometimes this false equivalence is more than just a matter of misguided attempts at fair-mindedness. I remember during the last round of failed negotiations with the FARC, Human Rights Watch seemed to have a propensity for releasing reports about FARC attrocities whenever the Pastrana administration was debating whether to renew the authorization for the demilitarized zone where the talks were taking place.

And certainly the FARC has never carried out anything remotely resembling the systematic campaign of massacres and assasinations that the AUC has mounted.

However, I think we also have to be careful not to fall into the trap of romanticizing the FARC.  (Let me say before going any further that I don't think Al has ever said or done anything that could be construed as romanticizing the FARC.)   The Workers World Party and other Marxixt sects tend to take the position that anyone opposed to US imperialism is a legitimate revolutionary -- their backing of the FARC is right in line with ther past support for Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and the North Korean government.  And they routinely ignore the fact that the FARC does inflict real suffering on the people they claim to be liberating by carrying out forced recruitment in indigenous communities, forcing campesinos off their land for refusing to pay their "taxes,"  executing deserters, and using indiscriminate gas canister bombs that have a propensity for veering off course and killing civilians instead of hitting their intended targets.  I have met victims of all of these abuses.

I also think that the FARC of 2005 is very different from the FARC of 2004.  The wholesale slaughter of Patriotic Union Party members in the 1980's claimed the lives of many of those who represented the more humane tendencies within the organization.

That being said I also know that in many areas people depend on the FARC and the ELN for defense against the paramilitaries.  Following the AUC's Mapiripan massacre of 1997 the main criticism people in the region had of the FARC was that they didn't come quickly enough to stop the paramilitaries.  

We need to be clear-eyed about the FARC in both directions -- neither denying their very real violence nor allowing discussion of that violence to distract from our focus on the wholesale, systematic war against the poor being waged by the AUC and the Colombian military with the backing of the US.

Salvatore Mancuso boasting of cocaine funding

In yesterday's Observer, Salvatore Mancuso is quoted saying:
"Seventy per cent of our troops are in territories that we have taken from the guerrillas in which drug trafficking takes place - so 70 per cent of our money comes from our tax on drug trafficking."
It's from a fantastic piece by documentary filmmaker Angus MacQueen in which he describes his journey through South America and how he came to realize that legalization of hard drugs is the only plausible remedy to so many of the world's problems.  (Thanks to Don Henry Ford Jr. for bringing this link to our attention on the Narcosphere.)
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,6903
,1385987,00.html

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About Sean Donahue

Personal Website
http://www.seandonahue.org

Biography
Sean Donahue is a poet, healer, activist, and freelance journalist wandering through New England.