Clinton’s Military Aid to Colombia: Prelude to a New ‘Vietnam” War?

By GERRY FOLEY

President Clinton’s $1.3 billion aid to the Colombian government to “fight the drug trade” was seen by the other Latin American governments for exactly what it is, an attempt to shore up a ruling class that is beginning to collapse under the accumulated weight of its crimes.

None of these governments is very presentable itself, but they are all evidently interested in distancing themselves from an operation that is discredited from the beginning. Thus, the Latin American presidents meeting in Brazilia in the beginning of September pointedly rebuffed Clinton’s appeal that they endorse his “war on drugs” in Colombia.

The U.S. government’s drug demagogy has considerably less effect in Latin America than in the United States because it is well known that imperialist economics have forced small farmers to cultivate coca and other sources of narcotics as their only means of surviving.

In an April report on the situation in Colombia, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights noted:

“The illegal agricultural sector is largely a colonization-driven frontier survival economy. The majority of opium poppy and coca is cultivated at small and medium-sized farms by poor peasant families for whom the illicit crops constitute the only available means of survival. During the eighties and nineties rural conditions continuously worsened resulting in a mix of economic and conflict related developments.

“Two key causes were the diminishing prices of agricultural products on the international markets, and a counter-agrarian-reform agenda. The new concentration of land was the result of a violent process in which many farmers and families were forced off their land by paramilitary groups.

“In the absence of viable economic alternatives and fleeing from war, hundreds of thousands took refuge in illicit agriculture production, and a new colonization process was set into motion.”

Obviously, the peasant guerrilla movements have their base in the more remote areas, where the peasants have been driven back on growing coca and similar crops. That provides the cover for counterinsurgency operations in the name of fighting the drug trade.

On Sept. 2, The New York Times reported that a helicopter gunship of the type that formed the backbone of the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam crashed in the Colombian jungle. It had been engaged in an operation against peasant guerrillas. Clinton’s aid package includes 60 such gunships.

It is no wonder that not only Latin American bourgeois politicians but U.S. ones as well are talking about Washington’s involvement in Colombia as the road to a new Vietnam.

Moreover, the nature of the Colombian regime is well known in Latin America. For 50 years anyone who has annoyed the reactionary landowners and neocolonial business class has simply been murdered. The pattern was established by the killing of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a popular reformer, in 1948.

Gaitan’s assassination touched off a mass uprising that was a key episode in the political education of Fidel Castro, who was in Bogota at the time for a student conference. This incident and the developments following it were a political watershed for all of Latin America.

Every left candidate that has tried to challenge the established political system in Colombia has been assassinated. For many years, power was simply alternated by a pact between the two big bourgeois parties. The actual vote was only a formality. The Colombian ruling class was a somewhat overzealous imitator of the U.S. two-party system.

Because of the rapaciousness and brutality of the big landowners, peasantry insurgency has been endemic for many years. In their attempt to repress, the ranchers and their government have resorted to outright gangsterism, forming and maintaining death squads.

Furthermore, the CIA has been involved up to its neck in this gangsterism. Human Rights Watch has documented the CIA’s role in setting up the intelligence networks on which the Colombian government’s terror campaigns have been based.

The report of the UN High Commission cites the example of a death squad incursion into the village of Mipiripan in July 1997, when the rightist paramilitaries hacked 25 people to pieces in the local slaughterhouse. Such atrocities have been and continue to be commonplace.

This pattern of terror has been matched by a general brutalization of the society. For example, an average of six children a day are murdered in Colombia, many by the police, who regard stray kids as nothing more than vermin. Per capita, more children are disposed of in this way in Colombia than in Brazil, where the slaughter of street children has become an international scandal.

Even a president as noted for his slickness as Clinton bit off more than he could chew when he tried to present his “aid” package to the Colombian rulers as a defense of human values.