[Marxism] NYT: Cocaine Sustains War Despite Rebel Losses in Colombia

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 27 15:41:45 MDT 2008

(Drug addiction, whether to the legal or the illegal varieties, is
one of the most pressing problems I can think of these days. When
we're numbed through various kinds of stimulants, depressants and
other kinds of drugs, we're not able to think clearly or act in a
really responsible manner. I drink a bit now and then, and there
is nothing wrong with that, but addiction, and not just to illegal
substances, in my opinion, is quite a danger to the social fabric. 

(Washington and Bogota have a lot at stake in justifying its support
for the Colombian regime in its war against the FARC and the ELN.
It seems to me they'd have a great deal riding on convincing the 
public, especially here in the United States, of the idea that a 
strong linkage between the leftist armed struggle organizations and 
the narco-traffickers. That's what's called "manufacturing consent".

(Anyone have any reliable, credible and less self-interested info
about this, which they would be willing share with readers here?)
July 27, 2008
Cocaine Sustains War Despite Rebel Losses in Colombia


PASTO, Colombia — Along with Colombia’s successes in fighting leftist rebels
this year, cities like Medellín have staged remarkable recoveries. And in
the upscale districts of Bogotá, the capital, it is almost possible to
forget that the country remains mired in a devilishly complex
four-decade-old war.

But it is a different story in the mountains of the Nariño department. Here,
and elsewhere in large parts of the countryside, the violence and fear
remain unrelenting, underscoring the difficulty of ending a war fueled by a
drug trade that is proving immune to American-financed efforts to stop it.

Soaring coca cultivation, forced disappearances, assassinations, the
displacement of families and the planting of land mines stubbornly persist,
the hallmarks of a backlands conflict that threatens to drag on for years,
even without the once spectacular actions of guerrillas in Colombia’s large

For those caught in the cross-fire, talk of a possible endgame for the war
seems decidedly premature, even given the deaths this year of several top
guerrilla leaders, the desertion of hundreds of rebels each month and the
rescue of prized hostages like the former presidential candidate Ingrid

“The armed groups are like malaria, evolving to resist eradication and
killing with efficiency,” Antonio Navarro Wolff, governor of Nariño and a
former guerrilla from the defunct M-19 group, said in an interview. “If
anything, Nariño shows the guerrillas may have lost their chance for victory
but not their ability to cause suffering.”

Today, a dizzying array of armed groups lord over the farmlands of Nariño.
These include not only leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, or FARC, but also right-wing militias operating under
names like the Black Eagles or the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Nariño.

Their presence reflects the symbiotic nature of the armed groups and the
drug trade, each drawing strength from the other.

In Nariño, flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Ecuador on the
south, coca growers have nimbly sidestepped almost a decade of fumigation
efforts by reorganizing industrial-size farms into smaller plots that are
much harder to find and spray from the air. They are taxed and protected by
forces on the various sides of the conflict.

The United Nations reported in June that coca cultivation in Colombia surged
27 percent in 2007 to 244,634 acres, the first significant increase in four
years. Nariño had the largest increase of any Colombian department, an
administrative district, up 30 percent to 50,061 acres.

The expansion has allowed Colombia to remain by far the world’s largest coca
producer and the supplier of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the
United States.

It has also made the drug-fueled conflict a resilient virus in large pockets
of the country, with double-digit increases in coca cultivation in at least
three other departments, Putumayo, Meta and Antioquia. In Nariño, almost
every week, government officials, Roman Catholic leaders or aid workers
report actions by the rebels or paramilitary groups.

In the last week of June, four schoolteachers in remote areas of the
province were killed by a FARC column called Mariscal Sucre, one of three
units of the FARC that are active in the area. The rebels claimed that the
schoolteachers, all of them recently posted to remote schoolhouses by Roman
Catholic officials, were army informants.

“The guerrillas left the bodies of two of the teachers in front of their
schoolhouses, preventing their families from giving them a Christian burial”
because the families were too afraid to collect the bodies, said Eduardo
Muñoz, human rights director at Simana, the Nariño teachers union.

Just weeks before, in April, the FARC knocked out power for 300,000
residents along the Pacific coast with an attack on an electrical station.
Colombian soldiers also found eight fuel-processing depots — holding 77,000
barrels of oil — used by the guerrillas for fuel and to process coca into
cocaine in makeshift labs.

Nationwide, the FARC still collects $200 million to $300 million a year by
taxing coca farmers and coordinating cocaine smuggling networks, according
to Bruce Bagley, a specialist on the Andean drug war who teaches at the
University of Miami.

That is down from $500 million earlier this decade, Mr. Bagley said, but it
is still enough to finance the FARC after recent desertions and killings
that have thinned its ranks to about 9,000 from 17,000.

Similarly, while the FARC’s share of the cocaine trade has declined,
Colombia’s share of the world cocaine production has remained stable at
about 60 percent. That means opportunities for new players like Colombia’s
resurgent right-wing militias and small-scale armed gangs taking the place
of disassembled cartels.

“A few battles won is not a war won,” Mr. Bagley said. “The FARC and other
groups will survive as long as there are safe havens, the flow of drug money
and large, remote regions unconnected to the broader economy.”

One such area is El Rosario, a municipality three hours from Pasto, the
capital of Nariño, by four-wheel drive on winding switchbacks along the
spine of the Andes.

A decade ago, coca was a rare crop in the area, farmers in El Rosario said.
Then, eradication efforts under Plan Colombia, the $5 billion
counterinsurgency and antinarcotics effort financed by the United States,
forced the migration of coca cultivation here from other parts of the

To them, the eradication effort has simply pushed the coca — and the groups
that feed off it — into ever-more isolated parts of the country. Now that
coca has become their livelihood, too, the farmers are determined to hold on
to it.

At one remote spot, a 45-minute hike from a section of the dirt road,
Liborio Rodríguez maintains a small coca field on a slope that has been
subjected to aerial spraying and direct eradication efforts in recent years.

“I know nothing is eternal, but I am not leaving this land,” said Mr.
Rodríguez, 41, while he and half a dozen laborers harvested leaves off coca
bushes under the hot sun, pausing to sip chicha, an alcoholic drink made
from corn. “After everything we have been subjected to, I feel that I can
survive here.”

He and the other farmers say they have developed strategies to protect their
coca bushes, planting smaller plots under canopies of trees and coating
their leaves with sugar cane juice, thought to prevent phosphate-based
herbicides from sticking.

In an example of unintended consequences, the phosphates repelled from coca
bushes may soak into the ground and serve as a fertilizer, some botanists
say, helping increase coca yields.

Other coca farmers have developed hybrid varieties of coca that grow lower
to the ground and can be harvested four to six times a year, almost double
previous levels.

Faced with the unexpected surge in coca cultivation in Nariño and other
areas, Colombian officials take comfort in findings by the United Nations
that cocaine production in the country is believed to have remained stable
in 2007, at about 660 tons.

And they say cultivation could have been much larger than the 543,630 acres
measured last year were it not for the aerial spraying and manual
eradication efforts, combined with strides in intercepting cocaine shipments
and military victories against the FARC in numerous rural redoubts.

Yet while interdiction levels are promising, the growth of coca cultivation
also promises the FARC and rival groups new opportunities to profit from the
cocaine trade.

One paramilitary group, the Black Eagles, has so terrified residents of El
Rosario that they will hardly utter the militia’s name when discussing how
it extorts payments from them each month.

Elsewhere in Nariño, residents similarly report that paramilitary groups are
thriving, despite government efforts to demobilize more than 30,000
paramilitary combatants in recent years.

These militias, sometimes in camouflaged uniforms — bearing the letters
A.C.N., the initials in Spanish for Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Nariño,
or O.N.G., for New Generation Organization — have uprooted villagers near
the Pacific coast, according to testimony collected by aid workers, as
paramilitary groups, guerrillas and small-scale drug gangs struggled for
control of cocaine smuggling routes.

Government figures suggest that displacements are declining in Nariño, with
about 7,500 people forced from their homes so far this year in comparison
with almost 30,000 in all of 2007. But other agencies paint a more
distressing picture.

Codhes, a leading human rights group, said overall displacements in Colombia
climbed 38 percent last year to more than 300,000, with Nariño emerging as
“the center of Colombia’s humanitarian crisis,” said Jorge Rojas, the
group’s director.

Seemingly marginal organizations persist in pockets of rural distress.
Another leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or E.L.N., has at
least 100 combatants in the area, local officials and aid workers said.

A FARC rival that has been vastly diminished in recent years, the E.L.N.
normally avoids involvement in the cocaine trade. But its riches are so
tempting, community leaders say, that a rogue column of the group in Nariño,
Comuneros del Sur, has secured a new lease on life by financing itself
through drug deals.

In June, three boys from the Awá indigenous group walked into a rural area
planted with land mines by the E.L.N., community leaders said. The boys,
ages 8, 12 and 15, were instantly killed, placing them among 31 victims of
land mines in Nariño this year, a grim figure that includes 19 civilians,
according to Colombia’s government.

“Our view is that all sides are not weakening but getting stronger,” said an
Awá leader, asking not to be identified out of fear of retribution from the
rebels. “Where else in the world can the authorities claim to be winning
when their opponents continue planting both coca and mines?”

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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