Ex-Green Beret Warns About Colombia
jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net
jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net
Wed May 10 14:26:38 MDT 2000
The following extraordinary article has been written by
a retired Special Forces (Green Berets) master sergeant
who served in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador,
Grenada, Somalia, Peru, Colombia and Haiti before
separating from the military four years ago.
In this article he asks, Is Colombia the next Vietnam?
The text is carried in the May 11 Workers World.
Jack A. Smith
By Stan Goff
On my 19th birthday, I departed McChord Air Force Base for
I was told I was going to fight for democracy there. The
people back home were being told the same thing.
I found the truth was substantially different.
On the ground, we waged war not for democracy, but against
the entire Vietnamese people. It cost billions of dollars
and 58,000 American lives--as well as over 3,000,000 lives
among the people of Southeast Asia--before we discovered
that we had been manipulated by a vast military-industrial
complex, a compliant press, and cynical political
In 1996, I retired from 3rd Special Forces after having
participated in my last massive deception of the people of
the United States--again allegedly to protect democracy--in
They are doing it again. The people of the United States
are being led down the garden path in Colombia.
Under cover of the "fight against communism," we
surrendered trillions of dollars from our national treasury
to support criminals: Jonas Savimbi in Angola, Roberto
D'Aubuisson in El Salvador, Augusto Pinochet in Chile,
Suharto in Indonesia, Romeo Lucas Garcia in Guatemala, Ngo
Dinh Diem in Vietnam, Franýois Duvalier in Haiti and so
Our treasury also supported drug traffickers. The Central
Intelligence Agency trained, equipped and financed the
opium empires of the Golden Triangle, the narcotics-
financed Chinese Nationalists, the Corsican Mafia, the
Sicilian Mafia, the U.S. Mafia, Afghani-Pakistani heroin
traders, the drug kings of the bloodthirsty Guatemalan G-2,
key members of Mexico's Guadalajara Cartel, the cocaine-
financed Contras of Nicaragua, drug traffickers with the
Peruvian National Intelligence Service (SIN), the so-called
Kosovo Liberation Army--a Balkan criminal network
responsible for over 20 percent of Europe's heroin imports-
-and the Cali drug cartel in Colombia.
These activities were undertaken in every case to protect
capitalist profits. They still are.
The profound irony--or the profound deception--is that the
justification for U.S. military escalation in Colombia is a
war on drugs.
The House of Representatives has already approved a $1.7-
billion "aid package" for Colombia. The lion's share of
that "aid" is for the Colombian military.
To sell this "aid" to the people here, we are being told
that the U.S. Special Forces already training Colombia's
armed forces are there to "assist in the counter-narcotics
I was on one of those teams in Colombia in 1992, with the
same story. It was a lie then, and it is a lie now.
WE SAID ONE THING, DID ANOTHER
We were explicitly told that due to political
sensitivities, any discussion of the mission to Colombia--
like all missions going down from 7th Special Forces--was
to be represented as part of the counter-narcotics effort.
This was not a directive to clarify our mission, but to
clarify how we were to represent the mission.
What we conducted was counter-insurgency training.
We were based at Tolemaida, the Peruvian Special Forces
base. The troops we trained not only did not attempt to
hide their mission--to prosecute the war against Marxist
guerrillas--they were deployed to conduct operations on the
The Colombian Army was losing ground. Their officers were
corrupt; many involved themselves in drug traffic. There
was racism in the ranks directed at Indigenous and Afro-
Their long-standing record of abuses against civilians had
earned fear and hatred from the people. Many of the
officers--while physically tough and full of bravado--were
incompetent planners and uninspiring leaders.
Anyone who knows the history of Vietnam will remember that
a similar situation existed in South Vietnam after the
United States took the role of colonial overseer. Ngo Dinh
Diem, hand-picked by the United States, exercised tenuous
control over a hodge-podge of corrupt military factions,
each representing different interests.
President Andres Pastrana of Colombia finds himself in
much the same situation today.
Our job was to begin teaching the fundamentals of night
patrolling and the integration of infantry operations with
heliborne infiltration and extraction. A previous team of
specially trained American chopper pilots had just finished
teaching their Air Force rotor-wing pilots how to operate
The subject of every tactical discussion with Colombian
planners was how to fight guerrillas, not drugs.
The U. S. military is involving itself in a civil war.
People who remember Vietnam should find this very familiar.
It began with a decision by the president, the national
security advisor, and the secretary of defense not to
"cede" Vietnam. The interests that drove that decision were
manifold. McCarthyism's impact gave the decision momentum
of its own. The strategic decision was actually about
filling post-World War II colonial vacuums with American
influence, and with protecting current and future
investments in Asia.
In Colombia, the U.S. interest is regional as well.
Colombia sits in an oil- and mineral-rich region that
includes Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador, where populist and
anti-imperialist movements are gaining strength. The United
States sees Colombia as the front line against this
current, and as a necessary foothold in the region.
John F. Kennedy won an uncomfortably close presidential
election against Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon relentlessly
baited Kennedy for being "soft on communism." Now the fear
is to be labeled "soft on drugs."
Washington propped up a doddering regime against a popular
insurgency in Vietnam. Pastrana's administration is
certainly being ripped apart by at least as many competing
factions as Diem's.
WILL PASTRANA GO THE WAY OF DIEM?
Colombians perceive Pastrana as Washington's man. But he
is under pressure to make a deal with the guerrillas to end
the civil war. The guerrillas' demands for land reform,
crop subsidies, social services and commodity price
indexation are considered off-limits by the U.S.
Recent attacks against Pastrana by the U.S. capitalist
press--usually a precursor to the U.S. foreign policy
establishment dumping a client--should give the Colombian
president pause. He should think of Diem, dead in the back
of an armored personnel carrier after a coup directed by
the U.S. government.
The Clinton administration is now requesting that the
ceiling for U.S. military advisors in Colombia be raised
from 100 to 170. That's just the way it happened in
In Pastrana's July counter-offensive last year, U.S.
military pilots were flying active, direct-support tactical
reconnaissance missions. One aircraft was lost, and the
Department of Defense has been mute about the
The Colombian military is intimately linked to networks of
right-wing paramilitaries--death squads--that receive a
large portion of their funding, apart from U.S. aid
funneled through the Colombian military, from narcotics
Right-wing chieftain Carlos Casta¤o has long been
associated with the vestiges of the Cali drug cartel. His
death squads in the north have assisted aggressive land
grabs for companies like Occidental, Shell, BP and Texaco,
as well as guarding the narcotics export infrastructure.
Conservative estimates put the number of death squad
murders in the past decade above 25,000, and 1.2 million
peasants have been displaced by right-wing violence.
This displacement by violence is directly supported by oil
and mining companies and by big landowners. The
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC-EP,
are the only force in the region that protects now-landless
peasants from further violence. Direct army complicity
demonstrates to peasants that they are being attacked by
their own government on behalf of foreign investors.
They see the guerrilla struggle, then, in the same terms
that the Vietnamese National Liberation Front did--a fight
against colonial rule enforced by the Colombian military
and paramilitary as colonial surrogates.
Between the military and the paramilitary, whose
operations and intelligence apparatuses were merged under
CIA direction in 1991, Colombian forces are now committing
the most massive human-rights violations in this
hemisphere. Said Carlos Salinas, Amnesty International's
advocacy director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who
is generally no advocate for the revolutionaries: "If you
liked El Salvador, you're going to love Colombia. It's the
same death squads, the same military aid, and the same
whitewash from Washington."
Drug czar and former SOUTHCOM Army Commander Barry
McCaffrey recently spilled the beans: "[Operations in
Colombia are] to recover the southern part of the country."
DRUG CHARGES HIDE POLITICS
While the U.S. government provides direct and indirect
support to elements in Colombia that profit most from the
drug trade, it has launched a tidal wave of disinformation
attempting to portray Colombian guerrillas as drug
traffickers. Even President Pastrana himself, also no
friend of the Colombian insurgents, and former U.S.
Ambassador to Colombia Miles Frechette say there is no
evidence to support such a charge.
The demonization of this 35-year-old popular insurgency is
manufactured by the CIA and uncritically regurgitated by
the U.S. mainstream press.
Guerrillas tax agricultural production, including coca.
That's not drug trafficking. The increased production of
coca by peasants has been decried by FARC leader Manuel
Marulanda, who has long demanded that the government
initiate a program for crop transition.
Increased coca production by peasants is directly related
to forced dislocations by the right-wing paramilitaries.
U.S. intelligence estimates, which are probably high, say
the FARC levies taxes on coca amounting to around $30
million a year. Since the FARC is now administering a large
area of the country, this is not a lot of money.
The net profit from coca in Colombia is believed to be
around $5 billion a year. This means the "narco-
guerrillas," a term McCaffrey shakes like an evil fetish in
front of Congress, are pulling in a whopping six-tenths of
a percent of the gross--from growers only, who have little
choice of crop.
Former CIA officer Ralph McGehee says: "In Colombia today
we attack `narco guerrillas' or `narco Communists' or
`narco terrorists,' as we quickly slide into the Latin
version of the Vietnam quagmire. Does ... intelligence
recognize or reflect this--of course not."
According to McGehee, a highly decorated CIA veteran,
"Disinformation is a large part of [the CIA's] covert
action responsibility, and the American people are the
primary target audience of its lies."
As a veteran of a number of U.S. adventures--Vietnam,
Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Somalia, Peru, Colombia
and Haiti--I have come to agree. Some will say that by
taking this position, I am supporting the FARC. They would
Imperialism is the enemy of us all, and the FARC is on the
front lines against imperialism. It's very simple to an old
soldier. Remember Vietnam!
[Stan Goff has just written "Hideous Dream: Racism and
the U.S. Army in the Invasion of Haiti," a book to be
released this fall by Softskull Press about the 1994 U.S.
military intervention in Haiti, in which he participated.
He lives in Raleigh, N.C.]
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