Stan Goff retired from the U. S. Army in 1996. He served in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Somalia and Haiti. His last assignment was with 3rd Special Forces.
Earlier this year, the Departments of State and Defense shed crocodile tears over human rights in Kosovo. Now, self-righteous sanctimony about drugs is serving the same purpose in Latin America. “Democracy” will be the raison d’être for a proposed Latin American version of NATO.
American military capacity is maintained, as always, for the most cynical economics. I know. For over two decades, I was a member of that military, and I served in an advisory and assistance role in seven Latin American countries.
Note the latest developments in Colombia. White House anti-drug chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey (no coincidence that he is the former commander of Southcom, the Theater Command for the U.S. armed forces in Latin America) and Defense Secretary William Cohen are arguing for a massive expansion of aid to Colombia. The State Department claims widened assistance is needed to fight “an explosion of coca plantations.” The solution, according State, is a 950-man “counter-narcotics” battalion. But the request is strangely coincident with the recent military advances of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC), the leftist guerrillas who already control 40 percent of the countryside.
When I was training Colombian Special Forces in Tolemaida in 1992, my team was there allegedly to aid the counter-narcotics effort. Narcotics were the cover story for a similar trip to Peru in 1991. In both cases we were giving military forces training in infantry counter-insurgency doctrine.
We and the host-nation commanders knew perfectly well that narcotics was a flimsy alibi. They needed help. They had lost the confidence of the population through years of abuse. And they were suffering setbacks in the field against guerrillas.
We are being prepared.
McCaffrey is “admitting” that the lines between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency are beginning to blur in Colombia. The reason? The guerrillas are involved in drug trafficking. “Narco-guerrillas” is McCaffrey’s new word. This has become such a ubiquitous claim that it is repeated uncritically in the press. When this construct first began to gain wide currency, the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Miles Frechette, pointed out that there was no concrete evidence to support the claims. His statement was soon forgotten.
In Colombia, it is well known that those who profit the most by the drug trade are members of the armed forces, the police, government officials and the big businessmen of the urban centers.
But drugs alone won’t do to justify the scope of the desired military buildup.
The Defense Department needs to protect the billions upon billions of dollars in markets for U.S. products in Colombia and other Latin American nations. And it has to secure the peace enough to ensure the continued bleeding of those nations’ economies through external debts owed to American-dominated financial institutions. For the size of build-up ostensibly “needed,” we need to defend an ostensible “democracy.” In June this year, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Guatemala, Clinton administration representatives proposed an American-led multi-national Latin American force “to intervene in threatened environments” – a new, Latino NATO. This force would “protect democracy.”
Colombia will be the foothold for this force, because it is under the most immediate threat. The guerrillas are the foes of democracy, of course. And the government of Colombia is the nominal democracy. They have elections. Only a tiny fraction of the population has the means to recruit and promote candidates, and terror is part of the political machinery. But they have elections.
Behind the democratic facade are the most egregious and systematic human rights violations currently taking place in this hemisphere. Right-wing paramilitaries, supported and co-ordinated by the official security forces, are involved in a process that would have made El Salvador’s Roberto D’Aubuisson proud: torture, public decapitations, massacres, destruction of land and livestock, forced dislocations. This month, Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, commander of the Colombian Army, intervened in the Colombian judicial process to protect the most powerful paramilitary chief in Colombia, Carlos Castaño, from prosecution for a series of massacres that targeted community and union leaders, political opponents and their families. Castaño’s organisation was networked for intelligence and operations directly with the security forces in 1991, under the tutelage of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.
I was in Guatemala in 1983 for the last coup. In 1985, I was in El Salvador. As an insider on active duty in the armed forces, I saw the deep dissonance between the official explanations for our policies and our actual practice of training and supporting criminal regimes. The billions in profit to be made in Colombia and neighbouring nations has far more to do with the itch for NATO-like stability than any concern about democracy – or cocaine.
There is a chilling déja vu in this.
[reproduced from THE NEWS-OBSERVER [Raleigh, NC]Thursday, 29 July 1999, with thanks]