Cocaine, the drug fueling the trade that’s left thousands dead in Mexico and Central America since 2007 and which 1.4 million Americans are addicted to, originates with two species of the coca plant grown in the South American Andes. Ninety percent of the U.S. market for cocaine is fed by Colombia, with the rest largely provided by Peru and Bolivia.
An estimated 310 to 350 tons of refined cocaine were trafficked out of Colombia last year, enough to make a rail of nose candy that would encircle the earth twice. Along with exporting cocaine northward, Colombia has become a laboratory for failed drug war policies that are finding their way to Central America and Mexico.
In July 2000 President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia (see note following article for more information) into law, initiating the anti-drug-producing and trafficking operation that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.3 billion to date. U.S. military bases have been established in Colombia under the plan, as have extensive air patrols, pesticide spraying and surveillance. Because of the violence, some 2.5 million Colombians have been displaced.
“The lessons of Colombia are being ignored in many ways. You’ll have mainstream analysts saying Colombia is the model to win the drug war. If Colombia is winning then what are the Colombians trafficking?” drug war expert Sanho Tree, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., told The Indypendent.
Sitting for hours in the market of Uribia in the Colombian department of La Guajira, watching indigenous Wayuu women in long flowing dresses selling smuggled gasoline and other Venezuelan wares, I started to wonder if I would ever reach the tiny fishing village of Cabo de la Vela on the Guajira Peninsula.
I kept getting conflicting stories as to whether the truck for Cabo had already left and whether there would be another that day. I was almost ready to backtrack to the city of Riohacha when two more travelers appeared, followed by the truck, into which were then loaded all kinds of goods plus myself and the other passengers. We set off.
Located on the northernmost tip of South America, the arid Guajira Peninsula straddles the border of Venezuela and Colombia. Until recently, it was rarely visited by outsiders, due in part to its Wild West reputation as a hub for trafficking in humans, drugs, and other items, and as the home of the strong-willed Wayuu, who were never subjugated by the Spanish and who have lived on their own terms in the La Guajira desert for centuries.
A declaration by the Ecuadorian government that U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges is “persona non grata” and must leave Ecuador as soon as possible should not come as a surprise, Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said today. Weisbrot noted that the expulsion follows recent troubling revelations in cables released by Wikileaks that describe U.S. government co-ordination with Colombia over a public relations strategy to attempt to link Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Colombian guerrillas the FARC.
“The Obama Administration doesn’t seem to know how to have normal diplomatic relations with democratic, left-of-center governments in the hemisphere,” Weisbrot said. He noted that there was a trend – well documented through U.S. government cables, funding disclosures, and other information – of attempts to undermine governments in Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela, and other countries. Continue reading “Ecuador expels U.S. ambassador”
As Colombians prepare to vote in presidential elections on May 30, opinion polls show former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos of President Alvaro Uribe’s National Unity Party (Partido de la U) with a commanding lead to replace his former boss, who was barred from seeking a third term earlier this year. A poll released by the National Consulting Center on April 8 shows Santos with 37 percent of the vote, Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus with 22 percent—surprising given the party’s formation just last year—and Conservative Party candidate Noemí Sanín with 20 percent.
To boost his campaign, Santos has pointed to government victories over the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during his tenure as Defense Minister, such as the killing of No. 2 commander Raúl Reyes during a cross-border raid into Ecuador in 2008 and the rescue from FARC captivity of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and others the same year. As for the infamous “false positives” scandal in which Colombian soldiers—on possibly thousands of different occasions—murdered innocent civilians and dressed them up as guerrillas, Santos has admitted that the Prosecutor General is currently investigating nearly 1300 such cases. He maintains, however, that “there are people who want to inflate the numbers, make the problem bigger, without taking into account how it is hurting the institutions”, something the military might have taken into account before engaging in the murder of innocents.
Candidates from three right-wing parties allied with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won a clear majority in both the Senate and lower house in elections held on March 14. The results are considered to be a sign of how Colombians will vote on May 30 when they choose a successor to Uribe, who was recently barred from seeking a third term.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the emergence of the rightist Party of National Integration (PIN), which won 8 out of the 102 Senate seats, displacing the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole as the country’s fourth largest political party. The victorious PIN candidates were mostly relatives of ex-lawmakers now in jail or under investigation for ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. In a scandal that tarnished the previous Congress, 12 pro-Uribe legislators were jailed while another 80 are still under investigation.