The Colombian front of the U.S. empire

By Lucas de Gracia, Member of MPJC-SDS

The United States of America is at war, with Drugs. Domestically, it is fought with ever-longer prison terms. In Colombia, it is war by fumigation. First, police helicopters fly overhead and pepper the land with bullets. No-one is aiming: there is no target, no enemy. The mission is simply to make sure nothing moves. Once the area has been ‘cleared’, the crop duster arrives. The terrain is mountainous; the plane flies high. It pours out a fine mist of glyphosate, which twists and scatters in the skies. In the United States, containers of this chemical carry a strict warning that it must not come in contact with any body of water. Here, it comes into contact with everything: coca, manioc, livestock, undergrowth and, as expected, water. The Colombian front is operated by USSOUTHCOM, with 400 American troops and private mercenaries in the country-well under the congress-mandated cap. There is no cap on military aid, however, and Colombia receives more than anyone but Egypt and Israel. Colombia, too, is at war-not on Drugs, but on the FARC, a semi-Marxist guerrilla army. The FARC has close ties to the coca trade, but then so does the Colombian army’s disavowed Sixth Column, the radical-right AUC paramilitaries. The AUC gets protection and intelligence from the Colombian Army, and funds from the drug trade and American companies like Chiquita Fruit. In return, they round up and execute FARC sympathisers. The skies over AUC land remain clear.

The war on Drugs is going badly. When Putamayo is sterilised, coca farming moves to Nariño. When Nariño is sterilised, it moves to Antioquía. Meanwhile, production continues to grow. In 2007, the Department of Defence spent $673 million on Colombia. Some went to pay for Black Hawk helicopters, made by the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Connecticut. Some paid for Turbo Thrush crop dusters, made by the Ayres Corporation of Georgia. Some paid for Glyphosate, made by the Monsanto Company of Missouri.

The War on Drugs seems to be circular on both sides. The U.S. makes a profit and puts troops on the ground in South America, and the coca farmers make a profit as the prices go up in the U.S.’s never ending war. One thing, at least, is going well: according to a 2005 report by the Colombian Ministry of Defence, attacks on Colombia’s petroleum infrastructure are down 91%.

Lucas de Gracia can be reached at [email protected]