Gringo Anti-Drug Forces in Colombia Moonlight as Narcos

U.S. forces have figured out a new way to get all that offensive cocaine out of Colombia: smuggle it out, and, while they’re at it, sell it back in the States.

According to several reports filed this weekend, five of the hundreds of U.S. troops stationed in the country as part of “Plan Colombia” have been arrested for using a military aircraft to transport the sixteen kilos of cocaine they were caught with to the U.S. via the military base in El Paso, Texas where they landed. Details are still quite sketchy, but the basic facts of the case speak for themselves. Colombian president and Bush administration favorite Alvaro Uribe said in a press conference that the suspects were “members of the American military detachment that provides us training and contributes in many areas,” and that “it would not be surprising if there were more people involved, Americans and potentially Colombians as well.”

The 800-odd military force that the U.S. maintains in Colombia (along with the 600 private mercenaries – a number that seems sure to rise – who do the dirty work) is in many ways a symbol on display for both the Colombian and American people of a narrative that justifies U.S. military support for a government with one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere.

Cocaine, you see, is one of the biggest threats to the United States (“America,” as Uribe calls it publicly, while Simón Bolivar spins in his grave), and the Colombian military is simply too vulnerable to the corruptive influence of all that expensive cocaine just at arm’s reach, and needs the incorruptible presence of U.S. boys there to set a good example.

This is a narrative the U.S. media plays an active role in maintaining. The two breakthrough movies on the drug trade in recent years, Traffic and Maria Full of Grace, both by gringo directors, portrayed sympathetic U.S. enforcement officers helpless against the overwhelming corruption of Latin American officials and people in general. Such fantasies, of course, along with the press reports that mirror them, ignore both the proven ineffectiveness of drug prohibition and how such policies are used as political cover for other political and military interests across Latin America.

Associated Press reports:

“It was the second major scandal to hit the U.S. military in Colombia.

“In 1999, the wife of former commander of U.S. anti-drug operations in Colombia, Laurie Heitt, pleaded guilty of shipping $700,000 in cocaine and heroin to New York in diplomatic parcels. She was sentenced to five years in prison.”

$700,000 is, coincidentally enough, pretty close to the current street value of 16 kilos of heroin. It will be interesting to see what kind of sentence these soldiers end up with. Suspected Colombian drug traffickers are often denied a trial in their own country and extradited to the U.S. – a process that, as the number of extradited approaches 300, an increasing number of Colombians are seeing as an insult to their national sovereignty. The U.S. soldiers were immediately extradited as well – to their own country, the United States – although they had been caught on Colombian soil. Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency, quotes Uribe as saying, in response to questions on this issue:

“The majority of the North American workers have diplomatic passports, so this (their immediate extradition) shouldn’t strike us as odd.”

But it may be harder than Uribe thinks to convince his own people that there is nothing odd about the U.S. assistance program in general, when the soldiers his patrons in the Bush administration send turn out to be hardly better than the narcos they are supposedly sent to fight.

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About Dan Feder

Biography
I was a member of the Narco News team in various capacities, from webmaster to Editor-in-Chief, from 2002-2008. Since 2006 I have also been a member of the International Peace Observatory, which performs human rights accompaniment for Colombian campesino organizations in conflict zones. I am now living in Boston and working as a website developer for DigitalAid, Inc.