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As First Published in the August, 1999 issue

Hail Colombia!

Forget the Military and the Rebels

The Operative Term is "Cartel"

War Clouds Over Colombia

Penetrating the Fog

by Michael C. Ruppert

To quote London based world affairs columnist Jonathan Power in his August 28th piece for the Miami Herald, "... Bill Clinton, said last month that vital American interests are at stake in Colombia and that it is 'very much in our national security interests to do what we can', [to end the rebel uprising which now controls a third of the country].

"When the U.S. President uses these code words, it essentially means that the backbone of the U.S. military, intelligence and national security bodies has decided that the United States is prepared to go to any lengths -- even war -- to deal with the problem."

Just what IS the problem?

Here's a little background. It would really help if you pulled out a map first.

Colombia is the third most populous country in all of Latin America. It is almost directly due South of New York City. It has the sole land border of South America with Panama (hence North America). If you draw a line from Bogota, the capital, northwards to New York you will see that it passes through a mid point (convenient for refueling and cargo sorting) which can be roughly defined as the Bahamas and The Dominican Republic/Haiti. Carlos Lehder, co-founder of the Medellin Cartel, released from prison by the Clinton Administration, now resides in the Bahamas. Coincidentally, his role in the Medellin cartel was the organization of transshipment and smuggling operations. Now more than a third of all cocaine entering the U.S. and an increasing amount of heroin is passing through the Dominican Republic and U.S. distribution of those drugs is controlled by Dominican gangs along the Eastern seaboard, especially in New York, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for the Senate.

As opposed to the 1980s when Colombia was more of a refinement center for coca paste originating in Peru and Bolivia, Colombia has now become, by far, the single largest grower of illegal drugs in the world. The CIA recently reported that the coca crop in Colombia has increased in size by 28 per cent this year alone while the size of the opium poppy crop under cultivation is increasing rapidly. According to the DEA, the only reason why Colombian heroin is not dominant in the U.S. market is because there is not enough of it to go around. I guess the cartels are addressing that shortcoming all right.

Colombia is now one of several Latin American countries, including its neighbor Equador, where the economy is in total free fall. One third of the country, coincidentally in the drug growing regions, is controlled by leftist rebels groups. The largest of these, FARC, holds an area roughly the size of Switzerland. As reported by columnist Alexander Cockburn and sourced from the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, there were 3.832 political murders committed in Colombia last year. Colombian military and right wing paramilitary death squads, connected to the military committed almost all of those. Torture is rampant as increasingly repressive and frantic efforts by the U.S. backed military fail to stop populist support for rebels who offer things like food, health care, shelter and work.

After Israel and Egypt, Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, currently receiving $289 million per year. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the drug Czar, is asking to double that, in the guise of anti-drug efforts. The history of U.S. anti-drug aid in Latin America, as documented regarding Chiapas in previous issues of FTW, has primarily been one where "anti-drug" training, advisers and equipment get used to kill civilians opposing military dictatorships instead. There are currently more than 350 U.S. military advisers in Colombia and the number is growing rapidly. This number does not include an uncounted number of CIA and DEA agents. Oliver North and key Republicans are calling for a rapid increase in military assistance.

Venezuela, Colombia's neighbor to the east, and one of the largest oil producing countries in the world, has denied the United States overflight privileges for its military and "anti-drug" flights. This is hugely significant because in the event of U.S. military intervention U.S. planes and military personnel would be staged in Puerto Rico. The direct line flight from Puerto Rico into Colombia passes right over Venezuela.

Conservatively, the amount of drug money laundered through the U.S. economy, banking system and Wall Street as a result of Colombian controlled operations is more than $50 billion a year. Last month, as reported by Catherine Austin Fitts, Richard Grasso, chief of the N.Y. Stock Exchange, made a cold call on the FARC leadership in the Colombian mountains seeking to guarantee drug cash flow into U.S. the markets as the rebels grew in strength.

Building a Map from the Data

In every news report about the "disintegration" of Colombia we see the following phrases: "The Colombian military, reportedly allied with the cartels," "The Colombian rebels, reportedly allied with the cartels," and, "The right-wing Colombian death squads, reportedly aligned with the cartels."

Question: What's the common denominator here? OK, you're right. It's the cartels.

Another question: "If the nation of Colombia is disintegrating so quickly, and is so close to complete anarchy after years of bad government, blah, blah, blah, then why have the cartels been systematically able to increase production and their share of the U.S. and world drug markets without so much as a hiccup?

The plain truth of the matter is that if we go to war in Colombia it is because the drug cartels of that country have become economically powerful enough to threaten U.S. hegemony and colonial-style exploitation of the Western Hemisphere. And the saddest part is that our elites have become so corrupted by drug money and drug politics, they are so far out of the loop of the real world, that they have let our political campaigns, our economy, and our military decisions become dependent upon who has access to how much drug money. It is that simple.

Is there a historical parallel? You bet there is. In the seventies the only time we ever heard the word cartel was as it referred to oil. Then, that was the commodity that could threaten, our standard of living, our economy, or the control of the dysfunctional corporate elites on Wall Street.

There is an economic alternative to all this madness which is infinitely more profitable than the old model. And that is why I am so grateful to have Catherine Austin Fitts as FTW's Contributing Editor.


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