Bush and Uribe distort the realities of their drug war in Colombia!
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) Research Associate Paul Adams: On Thursday, August 4, US president Bush hosted Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at his ranch in Crawford, Texas to discuss their joint war on drugs. The focal points of their meeting were anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism initiatives in Colombia, as well as the progress made in cracking down on Colombia’s outlawed leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.
Discussing how to dismantle their drug networks, which are responsible for smuggling 90% of the narcotics ultimately found on US and European streets, was also on the agenda.
The two leaders were seen affably laughing throughout the day as Uribe toured the ranch and later met with the media to discuss their cooperative success against drugs cultivation and shipment.
Although Uribe and Bush painted a rosy picture of the war’s accomplishments, many observers familiar with efforts at ending Colombia’s civil war against illegal armed groups and the drug kingpins who finance most of the persistent violence, appraise the situation as far more grim than the two presidents were willing to acknowledge.
The meeting comes amidst growing criticism from the international community and the US Congress over the controversial measures Uribe has taken to end the violence in Colombia, such as his Justice and Peace Law signed on July 22. The measure grants light prison sentences and judicial immunity in Colombian courts for criminals who admit to drug smuggling and even massive human rights violations, in exchange for their demobilization.
Members of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the right-wing group of vigilantes who have been pinpointed for most of the country’s on average 4,000 politically motivated killings per year and with whom Uribe has some personal and family ties, will be safe even from prosecution in US courts because the Bush administration surrendered its right to seek their extradition at the behest of Uribe.
Eighty-five US Senators are opposed to the new law, and threatened to cut off funds that the senate previously had committed for the AUC’s demobilization unless Colombia restores its commitment to extradite captured AUC criminals and drug lords to the US.
Nonetheless, the White House is pushing forward with its sanitized plans for Bogota.
When Uribe requested an additional US$147 million during his visit to fund the increased intelligence and operational costs of the war, Bush reportedly turned to a State Department official and said “every effort should be made to give Colombia whatever it needs.”
The harsh reality of the drug war
Congressional and international opposition aside, Bush and Uribe’s drug war has largely been a failure. In this year alone, five years after the implementation of Plan Colombia, the almost $4 billion long-term US aid program, more than 1,000 civilians have already been killed. Additionally, 400 Colombian soldiers have died in encounters with the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC), which proportionally is equivalent to the number of deaths of US soldiers in the Iraq war since elections were held there on January 31.
Uribe optimistically insists that Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas are in their death throes ... but the FARC continues to bomb oil wells, power lines, pipelines and major roadways on an almost daily basis.
The buildup of hundreds of additional Colombian government forces and an increase in fumigation runs in southern Colombia’s coca-rich Putumayo State, which finances much of the FARC’s operations, have not forced the guerrillas to renounce their control over most of the region or the jungle border areas adjoining Ecuador. Not surprisingly, coca farmers and drug smugglers continue to thrive in these locales.
An alternative “war”
Needless to say, the Bush administration’s bankrolling of the Colombian armed forces’ anti-narcotics supply-side tactics and the demobilization process for the AUC’s notorious killers and drug lords, while simultaneously proclaiming its disdain for FARC “drug runners and terrorists,” comes at the expense of the lives of thousands of Colombians who died in AUC-sponsored massacres.
After spending $4 billion on fighting their drug war in South America’s Andean region, perhaps this administration might now find it prudent to direct its efforts to thwart the 1.4% increase in narcotics consumption by hundreds of thousands of US teenagers and long-time addicts last year alone.
While it is far from over, Bush and Uribe are already declaring the drug war a success, invoking rhetoric during their Crawford press conference similar to that which Bush has charmingly applied in Iraq: “We have made progress, and we are winning.”