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Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror

This is my review for Jacobin Magazine of Oliver Villar and Drew Cottle’s new book Cocaine, death squads, and the war on terror: U.S. imperialism and class struggle in Colombia, published by Monthly Review Press.

In March of 2009, my friend Amelia Opalinska and I hitchhiked around Colombia. Despite our parents’ conviction that such behavior was conducive to immediate kidnapping by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the greatest challenge we ultimately faced was the reluctance of motorists to pick us up.

After being informed by a compassionate passerby that this reluctance was probably a result of recent robbery schemes involving female hitchhikers, we attempted to render our appearance as innocuous as possible by designing colorful placards to indicate our intended destination and decorating them with rainbows and flowers. When this did not work, we drew stop signs in red marker and positioned ourselves in the middle of the road, which only caused vehicles to swerve around us.

Appeals to police at anti-narcotics checkpoints for assistance in procuring rides meanwhile proved even less effective, as citizens appeared unconvinced that the representatives of the state had their well-being at heart.



Honduras’ Illegitimate President and His Cheering Squad

Image from Flickr via Fellowship of the Rich

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Guernica Magazine.

Last week, in Washington, D.C., Honduran President Pepe Lobo was honored with an International Leadership Award from the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI, endearingly pronounced “chili”).

This is the latest in a sequence of preposterous euphemisms emitted by the U.S. political establishment with regard to the Honduran regime, described by Hillary Clinton in 2010 as being committed to democracy. All this despite Lobo’s ascension to power via illegitimate elections conducted in the aftermath of the coup d’état against democratically elected President Mel Zelaya.

One possible explanation for CHLI’s enthusiasm is that the organization’s Board of Directors includes Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen—who paid a joint visit to Tegucigalpa in 2009 to reaffirm the democratic nature of the military coup. The Board also includes corporate representatives from AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart.


Private security and 'the Israelites of Latin America'

Juan Manuel Santos, chief Israelite of Colombia (Photo: EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

Much fuss has been made in recent years in neoconservative circles in the US and among Israeli foreign ministry officials, regarding the danger to global security posed by an alleged Islamist infiltration of Latin America.

A pet factoid wielded by self-appointed experts on the matter is that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus. Lest policymakers and the general public fail to respond with adequate alarm to such news, the severity of the threat is underscored via invented links between Muslims in Latin America and every potentially unfavourable regional trend, resulting in a spectre of Islamo-narco-socialist crime cartels menacing the southern border of the US.

In a WikiLeaks cable from the US embassy in Bogota dated December 1, 2009, a rather unexpected entity joined the usual lineup of Latin America-based threats. The cable discusses the manoeuvres in Colombia of the Israeli firm Global Comprehensive Security Transformation (Global CST), founded by Major General (Res) Israel Ziv – former head of the Operations Directorate of the Israeli military – and contracted to aid in the fight against both criminal organisations and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as to evaluate potential perils emanating from Ecuador and Venezuela:

“Over a three year period, Ziv worked his way into the confidence of former [Colombian] Defense Minister [Juan Manuel] Santos by promising a cheaper version of USG [US government] assistance without our strings attached. We and the GOC [government of Colombia] learned that Global CST had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs”.


Uribe penetrated by terrorists

(Photo: Reuters/Alberto Lowe)

In honor of Colombia’s Independence Day yesterday, the hacker group Anonymous hacked the Twitter account of former Colombian president-cum-Georgetown University “scholar” Alvaro Uribe as well as the Facebook page of current President Juan Manuel Santos and the website of the Ministry of Defense. The hackings involved links to a video casting the day’s celebration as one of “false independence”.

Predictably, Uribe responded to events by sounding the alarm that his account had been “penetrated by terrorists”. According to the latest prostitution of terrorist terminology, the suggestion that Colombia is not truly independent given continuing oppression of the populace is thus more penetratingly terroristic in nature than, for example, the Uribe-era military practice of murdering civilians and disguising them as FARC guerrillas in order to receive bonus pay and extra vacation time.

As for the many other scandals that define the Uribe legacy, these include the extensive wiretapping project undertaken by Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS)—Uribe’s involvement in which, as Adriaan Alsema points out at Colombia Reports, has been farcically investigated by a group of three politicians who are themselves implicated in the parapolitics scandal that revealed rampant ties between the Colombian government and right-wing paramilitaries, whose claims to fame include massacres, forced displacement of peasants on behalf of elite interests, and drug trafficking.


Cocaine Unwrapped

The documentary film “Cocaine Unwrapped” will premiere at the Open City London Documentary Festival on 17 June at 8:50pm and will screen again on 18 June at 2:10pm.

A short description of the film from the Dartmouth Films website:

This feature documentary is a wake-up call to the West about the human suffering and cost caused by the cocaine trade and the war against it. The film is a skilful combination of reportage from the drugs frontline and interviews with those top-level international politicians who are campaigning to get us in the West to take real responsibility for our drugs problem.  Unwrapping the human cost of cocaine, the film shows the true price of this commodity.”

Watch the 3-minute trailer below the fold:


Re-demobilized Colombian paramilitaries to sign Free Trade Agreement with U.S.

(Photo: EFRAIN PATINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Two years ago, my friend Amelia and I hitchhiked from Ecuador through Colombia to Venezuela and back over a period of four months. The Colombian portions of the excursion acquainted us with various complaints regarding the behavior of the country’s paramilitary formations, which had allegedly demobilized in accordance with then-President Álvaro Uribe’s Justice and Peace Law of 2005 but had in fact simply been reincarnated under different labels. The Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AUC)—formerly the dominant paramilitary umbrella group—has, for example, been justly and peacefully superseded by organizations like the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), which perform similar functions with an enhanced focus on controlling the drug trade. Human Rights Watch notes in its 2008 report on Colombia:

While more than 30,000 [paramilitaries] supposedly demobilized, Colombian prosecutors have turned up evidence that many of them were not paramilitaries at all, but rather, civilians recruited to pose as paramilitaries. Law enforcement authorities never investigated most of them.”


Learning from Israel

Israeli sunbathers felt so threatened by the impending arrival of aid to Gaza in May 2010 that they organized a 16-boat protest against the flotilla, complete with banner depicting the Turkish prime minister (Photo: Reuters)

With the release of the first part of the report from its investigation into the May 2010 attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza—in which nine Turkish activists were murdered by IDF commandos—the Israeli Turkel Commission has underscored Israel’s capacity for democratic introspection.

The commission’s findings include that the commandos in question acted in self-defense and that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not in contravention of international law. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the report proves that Israel is “a law-abiding country”.

I’ve made a short list of ideas for possible commissions in other countries interested in attaining a similar status:

1. The United States.

Commission to investigate inordinate number of civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan.

Possible conclusion: Drones were acting in self-defense.