Colombia Ruined by Drug Wars
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The country of Colombia in South America has been torn by civil wars for decades. In recent years, the rebels have become financed by the trade in illegal drugs. The war on drugs being fought by the U.S. government has become a global war, U.S. money, military, and policy being applied wherever drugs are grown and shipped. The United States of America has thus become a party to the civil wars in Colombia.
The U.S. government has sent about one billion dollars to the Colombian government to aid its fight against the guerrillas. Now the Clinton administration seeks another $1.6 billion for this fight, which would presumably reduce the export of drugs from Columbia if the government wins the war.
It seems the U.S. government has still not learned the lessons of Vietnam and Afghanistan. No amount of bombs or money will stop a determined guerrilla war. Coca production in Colombia has doubled since 1996 and is still expanding. Colombia supplies over ninety percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.
U.S. funding will only help further the destruction of the rain forest and the farmers of Colombia. Herbicides paid for by U.S. taxpayers are being dumped on farms and forests in Colombia. Some 100,000 farmers have been forced to leave the coca-growing area. Such widespread spraying from airplanes and helicopters gets splattered on people, including children, as well as farm animals, fish, and food crops. Farmers, already poor, have lost their crops, but the attacks have not stopped the Coca growers.
Despite all this spraying, the amount of land in coca production is four times greater than what it was in 1994. The coca growers just go into the rain forest. The U.S. government then responds with chemical spraying of the jungle, causing deforestation. The Clinton administration pressured the Colombian government to allow a more toxic chemical (tebuthiuron, known as SPIKE 20) to be dumped across the land, which would permit the planes to fly at higher altitudes. Environmentalists warned that SPIKE 20 could poison ground water and permanently ruin the land for agriculture.
There are approximately 200 U.S. military advisers in Colombia, with U.S. advisors training the Colombia military, including U.S. Special Forces, former Green Berets, Gulf War veterans, and leftovers from CIA-backed operations in Central America.
Colombia's largest leftist rebel movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, acknowledges that it receives money from the drug trade. A FARC leader, Ivan Rios, says the drug trade will only be stopped if the country addresses its social problems.
Colombia is rich in natural resources, but the distribution of that wealth is highly unequal. Some 500,000 families grow coca, opium poppies and marijuana because they have few other choices in raising their incomes. What Colombians need is not more toxic chemicals and military training, but social justice.
With better economic opportunities, the farmers in Colombia could grow wholesome food crops rather than drugs. Colombia has much to offer: gems, flowers, fruits, hats, and many other products. All that is needed is a just distribution of the benefits of its natural resources and the elimination of barriers to production.
The civil wars in Columbia have been about land. Equality in land tenure would be accomplished with the least social disruption by shifting taxation away from wages and towards land rent. The elimination of taxes on wages, profits, and goods would make Colombia prosperous, and all its people would benefit from its natural resources. With great opportunities in the city and the country, farmers would not be tempted so much to grow drug crops.
But even social justice in Columbia is not enough. So long as drugs are illegal in the US, there will be high profits from drug production. Only an end to the war on drugs in the US will eliminate the artificial incentives to grow the crops in Colombia.
Some links on the Colombia conflict include:
CNN on Colombia
Land Reform Going Backwards in Colombia
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.