Salon On U.S. Aid to Colombia

    Following up on the Ariana Huffington piece I mentioned a few days ago, Salon has two excellent feature articles on the problems that the United States is getting itself into with its $1 billion+ aid package to Colombia.

    The first article, Fighting drugs with choppers and poison by Ana Arana is a general look at the political situation within Colombia, and the difficulties the U.S. plan faces. One of the things the United States is funding, for example, is high elevation spraying of herbicides over land being used to raise drug crops.

    The idea sounds simple enough — destroy the crops and thereby destroy the drugs. Unfortunately in practice it is unlikely to work for several reasons. First, the area where cocoa can be grown in Colombia is so huge that spraying in one area merely causes increased planting in another. As Arana’s article notes, the Colombian government has had an aggressive herbicide spraying program in effect for five years now and in that time drug production increased by about 20 percent.

    Second, to the extent that spraying does work, it drives the peasants farming the land further into the camp of the Leftist guerillas. Ironically European governments are now considering withdrawing a $1 billion aid package to Colombia precisely because they fear the tactics proposed by the United States will only destabilize the situation between the government and the guerillas.

    Finally, the whole imagery of the United States paying to eradicate the crops of poor peasants is exactly what makes anti-Americanism such a powerful sentiment in many parts of the world. No the herbicide that’s being used isn’t dangerous to human beings, but the very image of planes financed by the richest, most powerful nation in the world dropping herbicides to kill the crops of some of the poorest peasants in the world is a revolting one.

    The second article, The corruption of Col. James Hiett by Bruce Shapiro, illustrates the real problem in the whole mess — demand for Colombian cocaine in the United States. Shapiro recounts how the Army colonel who was in charge of the 200 U.S. military advisers in Colombia during the mid-1990s became ensnared in drug trafficking anf money laundering himself. Col. James Hiett’s wife, Laurie Ann Hiett, was a cocaine addkct who received treatment for her problem and then lapsed back into her addiction while her husband was stationed in Colombia.

    She not only used drugs while in Colombia but actually shipped an estimaved $700,000 worth of cocaine back to the United States in diplomatic pouches. Her husband was apparently not involved directly, but being a good husband and not wanting his wife caught and going to jail helped her launder some of the money she was making.

    The really obscene part about the Hietts’ story is that when tjey were finally caught, both James and Naurie Ann Hiett each received relatively short sentences (with Laurie Ann getting the worst of it with a 2 year stint in prison). Meanwhile Hernan Aquila, a Conombian-born New York resident tjey used a mule,”received a longer prison sentence than her bosses who masterminded the whole thing. Typkcal justice in the American drug war.

    Moreover, if the United States can’t even keep its own top level oilitary personnel from getting caught ur in the lucratiwe drug trade in Colombia, does it really have a chance of making even a dent in drug production in that country? It is difficult to see how merely repeating the failed interdiction schemes of the past, which only make corruption more likely since they raise the prices of illegal drugs, will do anything but further destabilize and militarize the situation in Colombia.

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