Weave of Drugs and Strife in Colombia

Weave of Drugs and Strife in Colombia
Posted by FoM on April 22, 2000 at 11:03:13 PT
Cocaine War - A Special Report By Larry Rohter
Source: New York Times
Nearly half the world's supply of cocaine originates within 150 miles of this isolated Colombian military outpost on the Putumayo River. So when Lt. Germán Arenas and his anti-drug troops recently set out by boat, they knew that finding a target would be the easy part. 
Four hours later, his squadron of young marines stopped and marched into the equatorial wilderness, guns at the ready. By nightfall, they had found three crude cocaine-processing laboratories in the jungle, more than 6,000 seedlings of a new, more potent variety of coca plant, a half-dozen large fields brimming with ripening coca bushes and four hapless peasants. But after they destroyed as much as they could, arrested the peasants and headed back downriver, the soldiers left behind at least 200 more labs hidden in the dense, trackless jungle and thousands more acres of coca plants, visible from the air everywhere across southern Colombia. Over all, to the growing alarm of the Clinton administration, which has been bankrolling much of the anti-drug fight here, coca production in Colombia has more than doubled in the past five years. Using recent satellite images, American officials estimate that the country now grows or processes more than 500 tons of cocaine a year, or some 90 percent of the world's supply, and that Putumayo and Caquetá provinces are responsible for two-thirds of that. But here as in many parts of southern Colombia, the army and the police dare not send spray planes and helicopters to eradicate the fields because the instant they appear, the aircraft invariably draw ground fire from the Marxist guerrilla forces that thrive on the drug trade. The principal rebel group, the 15,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or F.A.R.C., has been fighting the government since the mid-1960's, financing their war for most of that time with kidnappings and extortions. But that has changed sharply in recent years. With the smashing of the notorious Medellín and Cali cartels, the guerrillas gained greater access to a far more lucrative source of income: coca and heroin. Now the rebels provide protection and support to the dozens of smaller trafficking groups that have sprung up to replace the cartels, and they are earning, by the Colombian government's estimate, more than $1 million a day. That, in turn, has blurred the lines of what was once painted in relatively simple terms as an ideological battle between a pair of left-wing insurgencies that enjoy almost no popular support and a flawed but functioning democracy. Along the way, the focus of the conflict has shifted so that while the government still controls most of the country's territory, the war itself is increasingly being fought over cocaine and heroin. On one side is the popularly elected government of President Andrés Pastrana and its thin and poorly trained security forces. On the other are the increasingly well armed and richly financed leftist guerrillas. Equally menacing are the right-wing death squads, which have a long history of collusion with elements of the Colombian military and are also dealing in drugs. "It is the only self-sustaining insurgency I have ever seen," said Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, who is responsible for Latin America as commander in chief of the United States Southern Command. "There is no Cuba in back of it; there is no Soviet Union in back of it. It is this delicate merger of criminals, narco-traffickers with insurgents." After nearly a decade of trying with little success to give government forces the edge in this confrontation, the White House and Congress are on the verge of the biggest gamble yet: a $1.6 billion package over two years that would beef up anti-drug training for the Colombian police and military and provide them with better equipment, including more than five dozen helicopters. Critics in the United States and in the region worry that Washington is embracing an unrealistic plan. They say that Colombia lacks a concrete strategy for quickly getting the job done, that attacking cocaine at the source will be more difficult in Colombia than it was in neighboring countries, and that ultimately American military advisers will be drawn into the broader war between the guerrillas and the government. Direct Link To The Series: II - THE COMBATANTSCoca Brings Shooting From Many Directions III - THE AMERICAN ROLEShoestring Operation Welcomes Assistance IV - THE PEOPLEEver-Present Violence Creates Nation of Fear V - THE HARD QUESTIONSNarcotics and War Become Intertwined April 21, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company 
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Comment #2 posted by Kanabys on April 24, 2000 at 09:01:08 PT
frustrated has an excellent point. Why the hell doesn't the Monroe Doctrine work in reverse? It should!!
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Comment #1 posted by Frustrated on April 22, 2000 at 22:53:28 PT
this stupid american involvement...
this whole subject has pissed me off so much i have chosen the topic Violence and Columbia as my theme for a 10 page research paper in a South American culture class. Needless to say, the deeper i dig into this topic, the more i think America has NO BUSINESS getting involved in something that could turn out as bad as Vietnam for us...the violence in Columbia has been going on for a looooooonnnnnnnnngggg time...obviously this country has problems it needs to work out WITHOUT the bad influence of the gringos from up north...When we will ever learn we cannot control the rest of the world? America is not the "FATHER" of the rest of the world charged with the task of telling everyone else what to do and how to do it...though you might get the opposite impression after watching our Congress at work....geez....
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