Democracy Now Gave Plan Colombia Architect A Free Pass

An Open Letter To Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez

How could two of the U.S.'s leading progressive journalists conduct a lengthy interview with Rand Beers without asking him a single question about his role in designing and implementing Plan Colombia? Dear Amy and Juan,

You have a well deserved reputation for conducting tough interviews and holding people in power accountable for their actions.

So I was appalled yesterday when you conducted an extended interview with former U.S. State Department official Rand Beers without asking a single question about his role as one of the key architects of the United States'brutal and failed policies in Colombia.

As head of the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Beers oversaw the disastrous aerial crop fumigation program the U.S. introduced in southern Colombia. The State Department hired DynCorp, a private military contractor, to fly crop dusters at high altitudes over the rainforests of southern Colombia, spraying a chemical cocktail that includes a stronger version of Monsanto's popular and controversial herbicide, Round-Up, over suspected coca fields. Beers was the public face of the fumigation program, defending and advocating for it in Congressional hearings and in the media.

Touted as a way of stopping cocaine from entering the U.S., the fumigation program targets the poorest people with the least involvement in international drug trafficking--the coca growers--while leaving the cocaine processors and exporters, who make the real profits in the drug trade, completely untouched. In a good year, a farmer planting 5 acres of coca can bring in $4,000. Once that coca is processed into cocaine and brought to the U.S. it has a street value of close to $800,000. Fumigation also devastates the fragile rainforest eco-system and kills food crops -- including those planted through government-funded alternative development programs designed to help campesinos stop growing coca.

When confronted by ABC's John Stossel about the impact of Plan Colombia on some of Colombia's poorest people, Beers said --

"An illegal activity is an illegal activity. And one doesn't get a special pass for being poor. They have to recognize that every effort to grow coca will be challenged by the government. Every work effort, every dollar, every pound of sweat that goes in to growing that coca may be lost."

Beers was so eager to defend the fumigation program that he actually lied in a sworn affadavit in an effort to quash a [suit brought against Dyncorp by the International Labor Rights Fund] on behalf of people just across the border in Ecuador who were hurt by the fumigations. Beers claimed that there were international terrorists operating in Ecuador, and that FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had received training at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan -- statements he later retracted to avoid possible perjury charges.

Al Giordano covered this story extensively for Narco News, and the story got considerable exposure when John Kerry brought Rand Beers on as one as a top policy advisor in his presidential campaign. A UPI story on the incident quoted an incredulous intelligence official commenting at length on Beers' bizzare claims.

"'There doesn't seem to be any evidence of FARC going to Afghanistan to train,' a U.S. intelligence official said. 'We have never briefed anyone on that and frankly, I doubt anyone has ever alleged that in a briefing to the State Department or anyone else.' [...] 'That statement is totally from left field,' said a top federal law enforcement official, who reviewed the proffer. 'I don't know where (Beers) is getting that. We have never had any indication that FARC guys have ever gone to Afghanistan.' [...] 'My first reaction was that Rand must have misspoke,' said a veteran congressional staffer with extensive experience in the Colombian drug war. 'But when I saw it was a proffer signed under oath, I couldn't believe he would do that. I have no idea why he would say that.'"

I'm extremely disappointed that you didn't raise this issue which goes to the core of the question of Beers' credibility.

The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend -- I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with the tendency of many liberals and peace activists in the U.S. to embrace military and intelligence officials who oppose the war in Iraq out of fear that its mismanagement is interefering with U.S. efforts to maintain control in other parts of the world.  I find it especially distressing when people on the left embrace these officials' arguement that the war in Iraq is interfering with the war on terror.  If Rand Beers had been heeded the most likely result would have been an earlier and stronger U.S. attack on Afghanistan -- something I reject just as strongly as I reject the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

For the most part Democracy Now! has done a good job of avoiding this trap.  I urge you to bring Rand Beers back on for a tougher interview -- and if he refuses to bring on some of the journalists and human rights workers who have followed his career.

Sean Donahue

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About Sean Donahue

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