Crime, Punishment and John Jairo Velásquez

The United States criminal justice system sits at one extreme, imprisoning more people per capita than any other country at 724 per 100,000. That needs serious reform, but I suspect one of the reasons we haven’t backed off on criminal sentences is the fear of falling into the sort of trap exemplified by Colombia’s treatment of John Velásquez.

Velásquez was a hitman for Pablo Escobar. As Wikipedia notes, he confessed to 250 killings, including the assassination of several political figures in Colombia. He admitted he participated in a failed assassination attempt on presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, and was convicted of participating in the subsequent successful plot that resulted in Galan’s murder.

Along with the 250 people he killed by himself, he ordered the murders of another 3,000 people.

Velásquez was eventually captured and sentenced to prison in 1992. But under Colombian law, the maximum prison sentence is 30 years, and prisoners can receive parole if they serve 3/5ths of their sentence with good behavior.

So on August 26, 2014, at the age of 52, Velásquez was released from a Colombia prison.

That is insane. Someone like Velásquez is a paradigmatic case of an individual who should be permanently isolated from larger society. A justice system that allows such hardcore criminals to rejoin society is one that practically flaunts its surrender to lawlessness.

Bill Clinton: Do as I Say, Not As I Did

Wired quotes Bill Clinton in a recent speech saying,

Democratization is the only world view that can survive in this country. It’s very easy advice to give, but it’s very difficult to live that advice. We have to develop a way of thinking about the world that is more consistent with what we want the world to be.

Ah, so that’s what all of the aid to the Colombian military was for — to aid the process of democratization. I guess in order to get a little democracy you have to fund a few right wing death squads here and there.

I suppose when Clinton’s FDA was holding up approval of RU-486, that was helping to advance the cause of women, and when he and Al Gore proposed putting government back doors in all encryption products, that was his way of honoring American’s freedom. And, of course, when he pardoned FALN terrorists, that was his prescient effort to fight the war on terrorism.

Gee, how will we ever get along without the benevolent Clinton watching over us.

House Approves $670 million “Plan Colombia” Budget

On July 25, 2001 the U.S. House of Representatives approved the $670 million ‘Plan Colombia’ spending package designed to fight the drug war in Colombia. Democrats in the House of Representatives wanted to divert some of the money to drug treatment programs in the United States, but that proposal failed to garner enough votes. Meanwhile, new evidence is emerging that even if you accept that Plan Colombia’s methods are ethically justifiable, they simply are not working. In fact Plan Colombia is backfiring in dangerous ways.

The main focus of the plan is to eradicate coca crops in Colombia by spraying herbicides on large patches of crops. The plan has created a number of controversies. Aside from the repugnancy of spraying toxic chemicals on the land of peasants struggling to get by, the United States is using mercenaries to carry out the risky spraying operations.

A recent audit of the spraying by the United Nations Drug Control Program found that the spraying was, in the words of The BBC, “inhuman and ineffective” since spraying occurred even only small plots of land where only a very small amount of illegal crops were being grown. Of course the United Nations hardly has its hand clean since it accepts the right of the United States and Colombian governments to spray herbicides on larger plantations where coca crops are being grown (so much for the “freedom to farm” promised by Republicans so many years ago).

Meanwhile, the spraying is not nearly effective as it was originally claimed to be, except perhaps at creating outrage among farmers.

In an analysis for the Cato Institute, Ted Galen Carpenter reports that the United States claims there are about 340,000 cares of coca under cultivation, and that spraying that began in December has occurred over about 75,000 of those acres.

But a new study by the United Nations suggest that there are far more than 340,000 acres of coca under cultivation, and that U.S. estimates of Colombian cocaine production ere far too low. Whereas the United States estimated that about 780 tons of cocaine were produced ever year, the United Nations reports estimates that as many as 900 tons of cocaine come out of Colombia each year.

The upshot is that despite claiming to have fumigated 22 percent of all farmland growing coca, there has been absolutely no movement in cocaine prices within the United States. If the spraying were really eliminating coca plants, there should have been a rise in cocaine prices as coca became more scarce. As Carpenter writes, “The fact that not even a modest price spike has occurred clearly indicates that Plan Colombia is having now meaningful impact on the supply of cocaine.”

What it is having an effect on, however, are Colombians’ attitudes toward their government and the United States. Carpenter reports that at a recent trip by Colombian President Andres Pastrana to a drug-producing region, Pastrana was met by demonstrators carrying signs showing a Colombian flag being subsumed by the American flag with the caption, “Plan Colombia’s Achievements.” According to Carpenter,

Given the political situation in Colombia, the outpouring of such sentiments is cause for great concern. The Pastrana government already confronts a three-decade-old insurgency being waged by two left-wing guerilla armies. The last thing Bogota should be doing is giving in to U.S. pressure to wage a drug war against its own population. That course of action is certain to produce more recruits for the radical leftist insurgencies.

It won’t stop the drug flow, it will alienate Colombians, and it is going to cost American taxpayers $672 million. Only in Washington, DC, could such a plan stand even a chance — but there, of course, it will flourish.


Plan Colombia: Washington’s Latest Drug War Failure. Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute, July 27, 2001.

US congress approves anti-drugs aid. The BBC, July 25, 2001.

US backs Colombia drugs fight. The BBC, July 25, 2001.

U.S. Steps Up Chemical Warfare Against Colombia

Environmental News Network reports that the Colombian government has begun fulfilling one of its obligations under a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package approved last summer and stepped up its aerial spraying of herbicides in southern Colombia.

The Colombian army estimates that about 75,000 acres of coca plants have been eradicated through intensive spraying of Roundup Ultra. ENN reports that the herbicide is being sprayed indiscriminately and so also wipes out non-narcotics crops as well including corn and yucca plantings.

Four Colombian governors recently traveled to the United States to demand an end to the program, with Guillermo Jaramillo Martinez, governor of Tolima, stating the obvious that, “The farmers are the weakest in the narcotics traffic chain. They are cultivating illegal crops because they have no other alternative.”

And, of course, even if the eradication program is effective it will still have a perverse effect on Colombian agriculture. Any resulting decline in cocaine supply to the United States would simply cause an increase in prices which would provide ever more incentive for farmers to find ways to grow coca in spite of the spraying (not to mention fueling more violent drug-related crime in the United States that usually accompanies increases in drug prices).

That economic theory of drug demand and supply is confirmed by the fact that since the eradication efforts began seriously in the early 1990s, the amount of land cultivated for coca has tripled.

Like an addict who thinks that just one more hit will make everything better, however, the U.S. government can’t seem to get enough of its attempts to use chemicals to make its domestic drug abuse problem go away.


War on drugs takes toll on environment. Margot Higgins, Environmental News Network, March 21, 2001.

China Leads World in Imprisoning Journalists

A new report by the Committe to Protect Journalists says that China leads the world in imprisoning journalists. China accounted for 22 of the 87 journalists imprisoned worldwide.

The CPJ report noted that China seems to have hardened its stance against journalists over the past couple years, likely in response to the chaos created by rapid Internet adoption.

In previous years, the Chinese government made concessions to international public opinion by carefully stage-managing the release of prominent dissidents, including journalists, at critical moments. Authorities took a harder line in 2000, when not a single journalist was released.

Other countries which had jailed journalists as of December 2000 were,



Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo

The number of imprisoned journalists has fallen dramatically since 1998, when 118 journalists were imprisoned, but these numbers do underestimate the problem since they only count journalists who were still in prison at the end of 2000. A much larger number of journalists were imprisoned for at least part of 2000 but released before the end of the year.

Of course arrest isn’t the only way of intimidating journalists. Last year 24 journalists were killed around the world either in the act of reporting on a story or in retaliation because of their reporting or affiliation with a news organization. The murder of journalists breaks down like this,



Sierra Leone
Sri Lanka

Additionally another 20 journalists were murdered worldwide, but the motive for those murders remains unclear.


Attack on the Press in 2000. Committee to Protect Journalists, 2000.

China: ‘Leading jailer’ of journalists. The BBC, March 19, 2001.

U.S. Tax Dollars Buy Death in Colombia

The American government plans on sending about $1 billion in aid to Colombia to help that nation fight a war on drugs. Critics complain that the money will largely end up in the hands of the Colombian military, which has a long history of human rights violations and a see and hear no evil policy toward right wing militias within that country. Oh no, counter supporters in the Clinton administration — the aid and weapons won’t be used for anything but fight narcotics traffickers.

Unfortunately an FBI report sent to Colombia in May but only recently seen by the U.S. press, implicates U.S. military hardware in a December 1998 attack on Colombia civilians. While the Colombian military was fighting with Leftist rebels nearby, an explosion in the village of Santo Domingo killed 16 people, including 6 children. The army claimed that the explosion was caused by a truck bomb set off by the guerillas.

The FBI report begs to differ. Its analysis of the damage and debris fingers a US-made AN-M41 bomb dropped on the village as the likeliest cause of the explosion. Shrapnel found at the scene was “consistent” with the use of the 20-pound bomb. The United States shipped the Colombian air force numerous such bombs over the years as part of previous aid packages.

The Colombian air force, meanwhile, sticks to its explanation of a truck bomb and now adds that the bomb fragments were planted at the scene by the Leftist guerillas. The only problem with that conspiracy theory is that a separate report by Colombia’s Medical Forensic Institute found that shrapnel taken from the bodies of victims was inconsistent with a truck or car bomb (the military also dismissed that report).

This is the sort of corrupt military that the Clinton administration wants to get in bed with — one whose basic approach is that killing the right civilians is largely the same thing as killing Leftist guerillas. Not that the guerillas are much better, but it is insanity to subsidize such murder with $1 billion in aid. Let the Colombian government and the guerillas kill on their own dime — there’s no reason to taint U.S. taxpayers with the blood of Colombian civilians.


FBI report points to cover-up in 1998 Colombian village bombing. The Associated Press, September 26, 2000.