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Deterring Democracy

By Noam Chomsky

IV. Problems of Population Control

1. "The Unsettling Specter of Peace"

2. The Drug War

3. The Contours of the Crisis

4. The Narcotraffickers

5. Social Policy and the Drug Crisis

6. The Usual Victims

7. The Best-laid Plans...


From Z Magazine, November 1989.

The last two chapters were concerned with the political, economic, and cultural effects of the so-called Reagan revolution, and the global system taking shape with the decline of the two superpowers and the erosion of the Cold War confrontation that had proven so useful for mobilizing the domestic population in support of intervention abroad and privilege at home. Since these remain core policy objectives, some new thinking is required.

For U.S. elites the easing of Cold War tensions was a mixed blessing. True, the decline of the Soviet deterrent facilitates U.S. resort to violence and coercion in the Third World, and the collapse of the Soviet system paves the way to integration of much of East and Central Europe into the domains that are to "complement the industrial economies of the West." But problems arise in controlling the ever-threatening public at home and maintaining influence over the allies, now credible rivals in terms of economic power and ahead in the project of adapting the new Third World to their needs. Here lie many problems, of a potentially serious nature. It was therefore hardly surprising that Gorbachev's initiatives should have elicited such ambivalent reactions, tinged with visible annoyance and thoughts as to how they could be exploited to Washington's advantage; or that his unilateral concessions and offers were so commonly interpreted as moves in a game of PR one-upmanship, in which our side unfortunately lacked the talent to compete.

  1. "The Unsettling Specter of Peace"

The "Unsettling Specter of Peace" raises "knotty `peace' questions," the Wall Street Journal observes.1 Crucially, it threatens the regular resort to the military Keynesian programs that have served as the major device of state economic management through the postwar years. The Journal quotes former Army chief of staff General Edward Meyer, who thinks that a more capital-intensive and high tech military will ensure "a big business out there for industry": robot tanks, unmanned aircraft, sophisticated electronics, all of dubious use for any defensive (or probably any) military purpose, but that is not the point. It is, however, a rather lame hope; how will the public be bludgeoned into paying the costs, without a plausible Red Menace on the horizon?

Concerns deepened as the shadow of the specter lengthened. "Doom and gloom pervaded one of the first congressional forums for the Economic Stabilization, Adjustment and Defense Industry Conversion Act of 1990," the press reported from Washington, under the headline "House mulls ways to soften the blow as peace breaks out." Appearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee a few days earlier, Matthew Coffey, president of the National Tooling and Machining Association, testified that "We've got a serious, wrenching experience that we're going to go through" if the military budget declines. There is broad agreement that the state will have to provide export credits and other benefits to industry: "Unless there's a fall-back position, it will be impossible to cut weapons systems," New York liberal Democrat Ted Weiss commented. Ohio Republican John Kasich agreed, while grumbling about "corporate welfare," an unusual concession to the real world.2

The problem is not new, though it is arising in a more severe form than heretofore. "Peace scares" have given rise to uneasiness and anxiety from the early days of the Cold War. Business circles have long taken for granted that the state must play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit. They may welcome talk about free enterprise and laissez-faire, but only as a weapon to prevent diversion of public resources to the population at large, or to facilitate the exploitation of the dependencies. The assumption has been that a likely alternative to the Pentagon system is investment for social needs. While perhaps technically feasible by the abstract standards of the economist, this option interferes with the prerogatives of owners and managers and is therefore ruled out as a policy option. But unless driven by fear, the public will neither choose the path that best serves corporate interests nor support foreign adventures undertaken to subordinate the Third World to the same demands.

Problems of social control mount insofar as the state is limited in its capacity to coerce. It is, after all, hardly a law of nature that a few should command while the multitude obey, that the economy should be geared to ensuring luxuries for some instead of necessities for all, or that the fate -- even the survival -- of future generations be dismissed as irrelevant to planning. If ordinary folk are free to reflect on the causes of human misery (in Barrington Moore's phrase), they may well draw all the wrong conclusions. Therefore, they must be indoctrinated or diverted, a task that requires unremitting efforts. The means are many; engendering fear of a threatening enemy has always been a powerful tool in the kit.

The Vietnam years awakened many minds. To counter the threat, it was necessary to restore the image of American benevolence and to rebuild the structure of fear. Both challenges were addressed with the dedication they demand.

The congressional human rights campaign, itself a reflection of the improvement in the moral and intellectual climate, was skillfully exploited for the former end. In the featured article of the Foreign Affairs annual review of the world, Robert Tucker comments, cynically but accurately, that since the mid-1970s "human rights have served to legitimize a part of the nation's post-Vietnam foreign policy and to give policy a sense of purpose that apparently has been needed to elicit public support." He adds "the simple truth that human rights is little more than a refurbished version of America's historic purpose of advancing the cause of freedom in the world," as in Vietnam, a noble effort "undertaken in defense of a free people resisting communist aggression" (Tucker).3 Such State Department handouts are all that one can expect about Vietnam in respectable circles; the plain truth is far too threatening to be thinkable. But the comments on "America's historic purpose" -- also conventional -- do merit some notice. Such rhetoric would only elicit ridicule outside of remnants of pre-Enlightenment fanaticism, perhaps among the mullahs in Qom, or in disciplined Western intellectual circles.4

In the Reagan years, a "yearning for democracy" was added to the battery of population control measures. As Tucker puts it, under the Reagan doctrine "the legitimacy of governments will no longer rest simply on their effectiveness, but on conformity with the democratic process," and "there is a right of intervention" against illegitimate governments, a goal too ambitious he feels, but otherwise unproblematic. The naive might ask why we failed to exercise this right of intervention in South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, or El Salvador, among other candidates. There is no inconsistency, however. These countries are committed to "democracy" in the operative meaning of the term: unchallenged rule by elite elements (business, oligarchy, military) that generally respect the interests of U.S. investors, with appropriate forms for occasional ratification by segments of the public. When these conditions are not satisfied, intervention is legitimate to "restore democracy."

To take the fashionable case of the 1980s, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was a "totalitarian society" (Secretary of State James Baker) and a "Communist dictatorship" (the media generally), where we must intervene massively to assure that elites responsive to U.S. interests prevail as elsewhere in the region.5 Colombia, in contrast, is a democracy with a "level playing field," in current jargon, since these elements rule with no political challenge.

A closer look at Colombia is directly relevant to what follows, and provides further insight into what counts as "democracy." In Colombia, the New York Times informs us, courageous people threatened by "violence from cocaine gangs" are struggling "to preserve democratic normalcy" and "to keep democratic institutions alive." The reference is not to peasants, union leaders, or advocates of social justice and human rights who face the violence of the military and the oligarchy. And crucially, democratic normalcy has never been threatened by the fact that the two parties that share political power are "two horses [with] the same owner" (former President Alfonso Lopez Michaelsen) -- not exactly a circumstance unfamiliar to us. Nor does a problem arise from the actual conditions of this "democratic normalcy." To mention a few, death squads have killed about 1,000 members of the one party not owned by the oligarchy (the Patriotic Union, UP) since its founding in 1985,6 leaving the unions and popular organizations with no meaningful political representation. Disappearance and execution of labor, Indian and community leaders is a regular part of daily life while "many Colombians insist that army troops often act as though they were an occupation force in enemy territory" (Americas Watch). These death squads dedicated to extermination of "subversives" are in league with the security forces (Amnesty International). An official government inquiry made public in 1983 found that over a third of members of paramilitary groups engaged in political killings and other terror were active-duty officers, a pattern that continues to the present, along with alliances with drug dealers, according to human rights inquiries (Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights and former Minister of Foreign Affairs). The death squads sow "an atmosphere of terror, uncertainty and despair," and "all families in which even one member is somehow involved in activities directed towards social justice" are under constant threat of disappearance and torture, conducted with "impunity" by the military and their allies (Pax Christi Netherlands), including "cocaine gangs" and the owner of the two horses. Political killings in 1988 and 1989 averaged 11 a day (Andean Commission of Jurists, Bogotá office).7

All of this leaves the playing field level and poses no threat to "democratic institutions," no challenge to "America's historic purpose."

Similarly, the growth of the drug cartels in Guatemala "has sparked sharp concern for the survival of the country's nascent democracy," Lindsey Gruson warns in the New York Times. "Guatemala's emergence as a major player in the international drug bazaar" -- along with Honduras and Costa Rica, now "routinely" used for drug transshipment -- "has sparked concern among United States diplomats that it will lead to a bitter Congressional debate over aid to this country, which is just emerging from international isolation after years of military rule."8

But events a few days earlier, routine for many years and too insignificant to reach the Times, aroused no qualms about the "nascent democracy" and did not threaten the flow of U.S. military and other aid. Wire services reported that "terrified by a new wave of political violence, the family of an abducted human rights activist fled this country [on September 23] after spending nearly six weeks holed up in a room at the Red Cross." The deputy federal attorney general for human rights says "It is incredible how this family has been persecuted" because of the human rights activities of Maria Rumalda Camey, a member of the Mutual Support Group of relatives of the disappeared. She was kidnapped by armed men in August, the fourth person in her family to disappear in 10 months; "the others eventually turned up -- all shot dead and dumped on roadsides." The family fled to the Mutual Support Group office in Guatemala City, but were evacuated by the Red Cross when a grenade was lobbed through the window half an hour after their arrival. "In the last two months," the report continues, "there has been a surge of killings and bombings," with mutilated bodies left by roadsides as warnings; this "surge" is beyond the normal level of atrocities by security forces and their unofficial wings and associates. Thus, on September 15, the Guatemalan press reported fifteen bodies bearing signs of torture found in one 24-hour period in one southwestern province; before the men were abducted they had been followed by an army vehicle from a nearby military base, according to a survivor. A few days later, the body of a student was found, the seventh of 12 recently "disappeared" in the classic style of the security forces of the U.S. client states. Other bodies were found with parts cut off and signs of torture. Thousands of peasants who returned from Mexico after promises of land and security are planning to flee to Mexican refugee camps as a result of the violence and the failure of the government to honor its promises, the local press reports.9

The targets are peasants, activists and organizers. Hence the "nascent democracy" suffers at most minor flaws, and is secure from international isolation or funding cutoff -- at least, as long as it does not offend the master's interests.10

By such means as skillful manipulation of human rights concerns and a finely tuned "yearning for democracy," the ideological institutions labored to reconstruct the image of benevolence; and among articulate elites at least, the success has been remarkable. The complementary task was to reconstruct the climate of fear. To this end, it was necessary to bewail the triumphs of the Soviet enemy, marching from strength to strength, conquering the world, building a huge military system to overwhelm us. The effort achieved a brief success, though by the mid-1980s it had to be abandoned as the costs of "defense" against these fearsome challenges became intolerable. We may therefore concede that "it is now clear that the gravity of developments in 1980 was exaggerated" (Robert Tucker): the threat to our existence posed by Soviet influence in South Yemen, Laos, Grenada, and other such powerhouses was not quite so grave as he and other sober analysts had thought. By 1983, the CIA conceded that from 1976, the rate of growth of Soviet defense spending had dropped from 4-5% to 2% and the rate of growth of weapons procurement flattened, exactly contrary to the claims advanced to justify the Carter program of rearmament that was implemented in essentials in the Reagan years. In a careful reanalysis of the data, economist Franklyn Holzman concludes that the ratio of Soviet military expenditures to GNP scarcely changed from 1970 and the total appears to be "considerably less" than U.S. expenditures (not to speak of the fact that U.S. NATO allies outspend Soviet Warsaw pact allies by more than 5 to 1, that 15-20% of Soviet expenditures are devoted to the China front, and that its allies have hardly been reliable). "The Soviet military spending gap," he concludes, "like the `bomber gap' of the 1950s and the `missile gap' of the 1960s, turns out to be a myth."11

From the early years of the Cold War, the real menace has been "Soviet political aggression" (Eisenhower) and what Adlai Stevenson and others called "internal aggression." A powerful NATO military alliance, Eisenhower held, should "convey a feeling of confidence which will make [its members] sturdier, politically, in their opposition to Communist inroads," that is, to "political aggression" from within by "Communists," a term understood broadly to include labor, radical democrats, and similar threats to "democracy." Citing these remarks in his history of nuclear weapons, McGeorge Bundy adds that Eisenhower "did not believe the Russians either wanted or planned any large-scale military aggression."12

This understanding was common among rational planners, which is not to deny that they readily convinced themselves that Soviet hordes were on the march when such doctrines were useful for other ends. Part of the concern over the fading of the Soviet threat is that the appropriate images can no longer be conjured up when we must again rush to the defense of privileged sectors against internal aggression.

In the early Reagan years, the Soviet threat was manipulated for the twin goals of Third World intervention and entrenching the welfare state for the privileged. Transmitting Washington's rhetoric, the media helped to create a brief period of public support for the arms build-up while constructing a useful myth of the immense popularity of the charismatic "great communicator" to justify the state-organized party for the rich. Other devices were also used. Thanks to the government-media campaign, 60% of the public came to perceive Nicaragua as a "vital interest" of the United States by 1986, well above France, Brazil, or India. By the mid-1980s, international terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, assumed center stage. To appreciate the brilliance of this propaganda feat, one must bear in mind that even in the peak years of concern, 1985-6, the U.S. and its Israeli ally were responsible for the most serious acts of international terrorism in this region, not to speak of the leading role of the United States in international terrorism elsewhere in the world, and in earlier years. The worst single terrorist act in the region in 1985 was a car-bombing in Beirut that killed 80 people and wounded 250. It was graphically described, but did not enter the canon, having been initiated by the CIA. To cite another striking example, in 1987 it was revealed that one of the many terrorist operations mounted against Cuba took place at a particularly tense moment of the missile crisis; a CIA-dispatched terrorist team blew up a Cuban industrial facility with a reported death toll of 400 workers, an incident that might have set off a nuclear war. I found not a single reference in the media in the midst of the continuing fury over the "plague of international terrorism" spread by crazed Arabs backed by the KGB in the effort to undermine the West. Respected scholarly work also keeps strictly to the official canon.13

Such menaces as Nicaragua and international terrorists have the advantage that they are weak and defenseless. Unlike the Soviet enemy, Grenada and Libya can be attacked with impunity, eliciting much manly posturing and at least a few moments of rallying round the flag. In contrast, we could rail against the Soviet enemy, but no more. But for the same reason, the menace is difficult to sustain. To enhance credibility, the selected targets have regularly been linked to the Evil Empire, evidence having its usual irrelevance. But these charges too have lost their force, and new monsters are badly needed to keep the population on course.

Enter the Medell¡n cartel.

  2. The Drug War

To fit the part, a menace must be grave, or at least portrayable as such. Defense against the menace must engender a suitable martial spirit among the population, which must accord its rulers free rein to pursue policies motivated on other grounds and must tolerate the erosion of civil liberties, a side benefit of particular importance for the statist reactionaries who masquerade as conservatives. Furthermore, since the purpose is to divert attention away from power and its operations -- from federal offices, corporate board rooms, and the like -- a menace for today should be remote: "the other," very different from "us" or at least what we are trained to aspire to be. The designated targets should also be weak enough to be attacked without cost; the wrong color helps as well. In short, the menace should be situated in the Third World, whether abroad or in the inner city at home. The war against the menace should also be designed to be winnable, a precedent for future operations. A crucial requirement for the entire effort is that the media launch a properly structured propaganda campaign, never a problem.

A war on drugs was a natural choice for the next crusade. There is, first of all, no question about the seriousness of the problem; we turn to the dimensions directly. But to serve the purpose, the war must be narrowly bounded and shaped, focused on the proper targets and crucially avoiding the primary agents; that too was readily accomplished. The war is also structured so that in retrospect, it will have achieved some of its goals. One major objective of the Bush-Bennett strategy was a slow regular reduction in reported drug use. The test is to be the Federal Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which, a few weeks before the plan was released, showed a decline of 37% from 1985 to 1988.14 The stated objective thus seemed a rather safe bet.

The war was declared with proper fanfare by President Bush in early September 1989. Or rather, re-declared, following the convention established 20 years earlier by President Nixon when he issued the first such dramatic declaration. To lay the ground properly for the current phase, Drug Czar William Bennett announced that there had been a remarkable doubling of frequent use of cocaine since 1985, "terrible proof that our current drug epidemic has far from run its course" and that we are faced with "intensifying drug-related chaos" and an "appalling, deepening crisis"; a few months later, the White House called a news conference to hail a new study "as evidence that their national drug strategy was succeeding and that narcotics use was becoming unfashionable among young Americans," Richard Berke reported in the New York Times. So the drug warriors, in the truest American tradition, were stalwartly confronting the enemy and overcoming him.

There are, however, a few problems. The decline in 1989 simply continues a trend that began in 1985-6 for cocaine and in 1979 for other illicit drugs, accompanied by a decline in alcohol consumption among the elderly, though there was no "war on alcohol." Cocaine use declined sharply in 1989, with a drop of 24% in the third quarter, prior to the declaration of war, according to government figures. Bennett's "doubling" is a bit hard to reconcile with the figures on decline of cocaine use, but a few months after the shocking news was announced with proper fanfare and impact, the paradox was revealed to be mere statistical fakery. On the back pages, we read further that a study by the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics Matters contradicted Bennett's claims that "the scourge is beginning to pass," thanks to his efforts.15

As required, the war is aimed at "them," not "us." Seventy percent of the Bush-Bennett drug budget was for law enforcement; if the underclass cannot be cooped up in urban reservations and limited to preying on itself, then it can be imprisoned outright. Countering criticism from soft-hearted liberals, Bennett supported "tough policy" over "drug education programs": "If I have the choice of only one, I will take policy every time because I know children. And you might say this is not a very romantic view of children, not a very rosy view of children. And I would say, `You're right'." Bennett is somewhat understating his position when he says that punishment is to be preferred if only one choice is available. In his previous post as Secretary of Education, he sought to cut drug education funds and has expressed skepticism about their value.16

The flashiest proposal was military aid to Colombia after the murder of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán. However, as his brother Alberto pointed out, "the drug dealers' core military power lies in paramilitary groups they have organized with the support of large landowners and military officers." Apart from strengthening "repressive and anti-democratic forces," Galán continued, Washington's strategy avoids "the core of the problem," that is, "the economic ties between the legal and illegal worlds," the "large financial corporations" that handle the drug money. "It would make more sense to attack and prosecute the few at the top of the drug business rather than fill prisons with thousands of small fish without the powerful financial structure that gives life to the drug market."17

It would indeed make more sense, if the goal were a war on drugs. But it makes no sense for the goal of population control, and it is in any event unthinkable, because of the requirement that state policy protect power and privilege, a natural concomitant of the "level playing field" at home.

As Drug Czar under the Reagan administration, George Bush was instrumental in terminating the main thrust of the real "war on drugs." Officials in the enforcement section of the Treasury Department monitored the sharp increase in cash inflow to Florida (later Los Angeles) banks as the cocaine trade boomed in the 1970s, and "connected it to the large-scale laundering of drug receipts" (Treasury Department brief). They brought detailed information about these matters to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Justice Department. After some public exposés, the government launched Operation Greenback in 1979 to prosecute money launderers. It soon foundered; the banking industry is not a proper target for the drug war. The Reagan administration reduced the limited monitoring, and Bush "wasn't really too interested in financial prosecution," the chief prosecutor in Operation Greenback recalls. The program was soon defunct, and Bush's new war on drugs aims at more acceptable targets. Reviewing this record, Jefferson Morley comments that the priorities are illustrated by the actions of Bush's successor in the "war against drugs." When an $8 billion surplus was announced for Miami and Los Angeles Banks, William Bennett raised no questions about the morality of their practices and initiated no inquiries, though he did expedite eviction notices for low-income, mostly Black residents of public housing in Washington where drug use had been reported.18

There may also be some fine tuning. A small Panamanian bank was pressured into pleading guilty on a money laundering charge after a sting operation. But the U.S. government dropped criminal charges against its parent bank, one of Latin America's major financial institutions, based in one of the centers of the Colombian drug cartel.19 There also appear to have been no serious efforts to pursue the public allegations by cartel money launderers about their contacts with major U.S. banks.

The announced war on drugs has a few other gaps that are difficult to reconcile with the announced intentions, though quite reasonable on the principles that guide social policy. Drug processing requires ether and acetone, which are imported into Latin America. Rafael Perl, drug-policy adviser at the Congressional Research Service, estimates that more than 90% of the chemicals used to produce cocaine comes from the United States. In the nine months before the announcement of the drug war, Colombian police say they seized 1.5 million gallons of such chemicals, many found in drums displaying U.S. corporate logos. A CIA study concluded that U.S. exports of these chemicals to Latin America far exceed amounts used for any legal commercial purpose, concluding that enormous amounts are being siphoned off to produce heroin and cocaine. Nevertheless, chemical companies are off limits. "Most DEA offices have only one agent working on chemical diversions," a U.S. official reports, so monitoring is impossible. And there have been no reported raids by Delta Force on the corporate headquarters in Manhattan.20

Reference to the CIA brings to mind another interesting gap in the program. The CIA and other U.S. government agencies have been instrumental in establishing and maintaining the drug racket since World War II, when mafia connections were used to split and undermine the French labor unions and the Communist Party, laying the groundwork for the "French connection" based in Marseilles. The Golden Triangle (Laos, Burma, Thailand) became a major narcotics center as Chinese Nationalist troops fled to the region after their defeat in China, and not long after, as the CIA helped implement the drug flow as part of its effort to recruit a mercenary "clandestine army" of highland tribesmen for its counterinsurgency operations in Laos. Over the years, the drug traffic came to involve other U.S. clients as well. In 1989, General Ramón Montano, chief of the Philippine constabulary, testified in a public hearing in Manila that drug syndicates operating in the Golden Triangle use the Philippines as a transshipment point to other parts of Asia and the West, and conceded that military officers are involved, as a Senate investigation had reported. The Philippines are on their way to "becoming like Colombia," one Senator observed.21

The effect was the same as the CIA shifted its attention to the terrorist war against Nicaragua and the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation. The complicity of the Reagan-Bush administrations in the drug rackets in Central America as part of their contra support operations is by now well known. Pakistan is reported to have become one of the major international centers of the heroin trade when Afghan manufacturers and dealers "found their operations restricted after the Soviet invasion in 1979," and moved the enterprise across the borders (South). "The U.S. government has for several years received, but declined to investigate, reports of heroin trafficking by some Afghan guerrillas and Pakistani military officers with whom it cooperates," the Washington Post reported well after the drug war was charging full steam ahead. U.S. officials have received first-hand accounts of "extensive heroin smuggling" by the leading Afghan recipients of U.S. aid and the Pakistani military establishment, who gave detailed information to the press in Pakistan and Washington. "Nevertheless, according to U.S. officials, the United States has failed to investigate or take action against some [read "any"] of those suspected." U.S. favorite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the terrorist leader of the fundamentalist Hizbe-Islami party, is reported to be deeply implicated in drug trafficking. Other reports indicate that the Aghan rebels are being "debilitated by increasingly fierce local battles for the lucrative heroin trade."22

As in Asia, U.S. allies in Central America are also caught up in the drug traffic. Only Costa Rica has a civilian government (despite pretenses), and its Legislative Assembly's Drug Commission has provided information about these matters. Former president Daniel Oduber was cited for accepting a campaign contribution from James Lionel Casey, a U.S. citizen in prison in Costa Rica on charges of drug trafficking. The Commission recommended that Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter, former Ambassador Lewis Tambs, former CIA station chief Joe Fernandez, and General Richard Secord "never again be allowed to enter Costa Rica," the Costa Rican press reported in July 1989, blaming them for "opening a gate" for arms and drug traffickers as they illegally organized a "southern front" for the contras in Costa Rica. A rural guard Colonel was charged with offering security for drug traffickers using air strips, probably including those used for supplying contras in Nicaragua, the Commission President told reporters. Oliver North was charged with setting up a supply line with General Noriega that brought arms to Costa Rica and drugs to the U.S. The Commission also implicated U.S. rancher John Hull. Most serious, the Commission reported, was "the obvious infiltration of international gangs into Costa Rica that made use of the [contra] organization," on requests "initiated by Colonel North to General Noriega," which opened Costa Rica "for trafficking in arms and drugs" by "this mafia," in part as an "excuse to help the contras."23

There are good reasons why the CIA and drugs are so closely linked. Clandestine terror requires hidden funds, and the criminal elements to whom the intelligence agencies naturally turn expect a quid pro quo. Drugs are the obvious answer. Washington's long-term involvement in the drug racket is part and parcel of its international operations, notably, during the Reagan-Bush administrations. One prime target for an authentic drug war would therefore be close at hand.

These facts are too salient to have been ignored completely, but one has to look well beyond the media to become aware of the scale and significance of the "Washington connection" over many years. The public image conveyed is very different. A typical illustration is a story by New York Times Asia correspondent Steven Erlanger, headed "Southeast Asia Is Now No. 1 Source of U.S. Heroin." The story opens with the statement that "The Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, whose flow of drugs the United States has been trying to control for 25 years, is once again the single-largest source of heroin coming into America..." Why has the Golden Triangle been such a problem to U.S. officials since 1965 -- a year that carries some associations, after all? The question is not raised, and there is no mention of the role of the United States government and its clandestine terror agencies in creating and maintaining the problem that "the United States has been trying to control." The U.S. figures merely as a victim and guardian of virtue. Discussion about drugs between U.S. and Thai officials is becoming more "forthright" and "even, at times angry," Western diplomats say, Thailand having become the main smuggling and shipment center for the Golden Triangle. Not coincidentally, though no hint appears here, Thailand was also designated as the focal point for U.S. military, terror, and subversion operations in the secret planning to undermine the 1954 Geneva Accords a few weeks after they were adopted over U.S. objections, and after that, served as the major base for U.S. bombing operations and clandestine war, as well as a source of mercenary forces for Indochina. "We're trying to get across to the Thais that drugs are an international problem and that Thailand is a target too," a diplomat said. That, however, is the limit of the U.S. role in Thailand generally or the Golden Triangle drug operations specifically, as far as the Times is concerned.24

The media rallied to the narrowly-conceived drug war with their usual efficiency and dispatch. The President's decision to send military aid to Colombia and the September 5 declaration of war against "the toughest domestic challenge we've faced in decades" set off a major media blitz, closely tailored to White House needs, though the absurdities of the program were so manifest that there was some defection at the margins. Several (unscientific) samples of wire service reports through September showed drug-related stories surpassing Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East combined. Media obedience reached such comical proportions as to elicit sarcastic commentary in the Wall Street Journal, where Hodding Carter observed that the President proceeded on the basis of "one lead-pipe cinch": that the media would march in step. "The mass media in America," he went on, "have an overwhelming tendency to jump up and down and bark in concert whenever the White House -- any White House -- snaps its fingers."25

The short-term impact was impressive. Shortly after the November 1988 elections, 34% of the public had selected the budget deficit as "George Bush's No. 1 priority once he takes office." 3% selected drugs as top priority, down from previous months. After the media blitz of September 1989, "a remarkable 43% say that drugs are the nation's single most important issue," the Wall Street Journal reports, with the budget deficit a distant second at 6%. In a June 1987 poll of registered voters in New York, taxes were selected as the number 1 issue facing the state (15%), with drugs far down the list (5%). A repeat in September 1989 gave dramatically different results: taxes were selected by 8% while the drug problem ranked far above any other, at a phenomenal 46%. The real world had hardly changed; its image had, as transmitted through the ideological institutions, reflecting the current needs of power.26

A martial tone has broader benefits for those who advocate state violence and repression to secure privilege. The government-media campaign helped create the required atmosphere among the general public and Congress. In a typical flourish, Senator Mark Hatfield, often a critic of reliance on force, said that in every congressional district "the troops are out there. All they're waiting for is the orders, a plan of attack, and they're ready to march." The bill approved by Congress widens the application of the death penalty, limits appeals by prisoners, and allows police broader latitude in obtaining evidence, among other measures. The entire repressive apparatus of the state is looking forward to benefits from this new "war," including the intelligence system and the Pentagon (which, however, is reluctant to be drawn into direct military actions that will quickly lose popular support). Military industry, troubled by the unsettling specter of peace, scents new markets here, and is "pushing swords as weapons in the drug war," Frank Greve reports from Washington. "Analysts say sales for drug-war work could spell relief for some sectors, such as commando operations, defense intelligence and counterterrorism," and Federal military laboratories may also find a new role. Army Colonel John Waghelstein, a leading counterinsurgency specialist, suggested that the narco-guerrilla connection could be exploited to mobilize public support for counterinsurgency programs and to discredit critics:

A melding in the American public's mind and in Congress of this connection would lead to the necessary support to counter the guerrilla/narcotics terrorists in this hemisphere. Generating that support would be relatively easy once the connection was proven and an all-out war was declared by the National Command Authority. Congress would find it difficult to stand in the way of supporting our allies with the training, advice and security assistance necessary to do the job. Those church and academic groups that have slavishly supported insurgency in Latin America would find themselves on the wrong side of the moral issue. Above all, we would have the unassailable moral position from which to launch a concerted offensive effort using Department of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD assets.27

In short, all proceeded on course.

  3. The Contours of the Crisis

A closer look at the drug crisis is instructive. There can be no doubt that the problem is serious. "Substance abuse," to use the technical term, takes a terrible toll. The grim facts are reviewed by Ethan Nadelmann in Science magazine.28 Deaths attributable to consumption of tobacco are estimated at over 300,000 a year, while alcohol use adds an additional 50,000 to 200,000 annual deaths. Among 15- to 24-year olds, alcohol is the leading cause of death, also serving as a "gateway" drug that leads to use of others, according to the National Council on Alcoholism.29 In addition, a few thousand deaths from illegal drugs are recorded: 3,562 deaths were reported in 1985, from all illegal drugs combined. According to these estimates, over 99% of deaths from substance abuse are attributable to tobacco and alcohol.

There are also enormous health costs, again, primarily from alcohol and tobacco use: "the health costs of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined amount to only a small fraction of those caused by either of the two licit substances," Nadelmann continues. Also to be considered is the distribution of victims. Illicit drugs primarily affect the user, but their legal cousins seriously affect others, including passive smokers and victims of drunken driving and alcohol-induced violence; "no illicit as strongly associated with violent behavior as is alcohol," Nadelmann observes, and alcohol abuse is a factor in some 40% of roughly 50,000 annual traffic deaths.

The Enviromental Protection Agency estimates that 3,800 nonsmokers die every year from lung cancer caused by breathing other peoples' tobacco smoke, and that the toll of passive smoking may be as many as 46,000 annually if heart disease and respiratory ailments are included. Officials say that if confirmed, these conclusions would require that tobacco smoke be listed as a very hazardous carcinogen (class A), along with such chemicals as benzene and radon. University of California statistician Stanton Glantz describes passive smoking as "the third leading cause of preventable death, behind smoking and alcohol."30

Illegal drugs are far from uniform in their effects. Thus, "among the roughly 60 million Americans who have smoked marijuana, not one has died from a marijuana overdose," Nadelmann reports. As he and others have observed, federal interdiction efforts have helped to shift drug use from relatively harmless marijuana to far more dangerous drugs.

One might ask why tobacco is legal and marijuana not. A possible answer is suggested by the nature of the crop. Marijuana can be grown almost anywhere, with little difficulty. It might not be easily marketable by major corporations. Tobacco is quite another story.

Questions can be raised about the accuracy of the figures. One would have to look into the procedures for determining cause of death, the scope of these inquiries, and other questions, such as the effects on children of users. But even if the official figures are far from the mark, there is little doubt that William Bennett is right in speaking of "drug-related chaos" and an "appalling, deepening crisis" -- largely attributable to alcohol and tobacco, so it appears.

Further human and social costs include the victims of drug-related crimes and the enormous growth of organized crime, which is believed to derive more than half of its revenues from the drug trade. In this case, the costs are associated with the illicit drugs, but because they are illicit, not because they are drugs. The same was true of alcohol during the prohibition era. We are dealing here with questions of social policy, which is subject to decision and choice. Nadelmann advocates legalization and regulation. Similar proposals have been advanced by a wide range of conservative opinion (the London Economist, Milton Friedman, etc.), and by some others.

Responding to Friedman, William Bennett argues that after repeal of prohibition, alcohol use soared. Hence legalization cannot be considered. Whatever the merits of the argument, it is clear that Bennett doesn't take it seriously, since he does not propose reinstituting prohibition or banning tobacco -- or even assault rifles. His own argument is simply that "drug use is wrong" and therefore must be barred. The implicit assumption is that use of tobacco, alcohol, or assault rifles is not "wrong," on grounds that remain unspoken, and that the state must prohibit and punish what is "wrong." Deceit, perhaps?31

Radical statists of the Bennett variety like to portray themselves as humanists taking a moral stance, insisting on "the difference between right and wrong." Transparently, it is sheer fraud.

  4. The Narcotraffickers

Social policies implemented in Washington contribute to the toll of victims in other ways, a fact illustrated dramatically just as the vast media campaign orchestrated by the White House peaked in September 1989. On September 19, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) panel held a hearing in Washington to consider a tobacco industry request that the U.S. impose sanctions on Thailand if it does not agree to drop restrictions on import of U.S. tobacco. Such U.S. government actions had already rammed tobacco down the throats of consumers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with human costs of the kind already sketched.

This huge narcotrafficking operation had its critics. A statement of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Lung Association condemned the cigarette advertising in "countries that have already succumbed to the USTR crowbar of trade threats," a campaign "patently designed to increase smoking by...young Asian men and women who see young U.S. men and women as role models." U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop testified at the USTR panel that "when we are pleading with foreign governments to stop the flow of cocaine, it is the height of hypocrisy for the United States to export tobacco." Denouncing the trade policy "to push addicting substances into foreign markets" regardless of health hazards, he said that "Years from now, our nation will look back on this application of free trade policy and find it scandalous." Koop told reporters that he had not cleared his testimony with the White House because it would not have been approved, and said he also opposed actions under the Reagan administration to force Asian countries to import U.S. tobacco. During his eight years in office, ending a few days after his testimony, Koop backed reports branding tobacco a lethal addictive drug responsible for some 300,000 deaths a year.

Thai witnesses also protested, predicting that the consequence would be to reverse a decline in smoking achieved by a 15-year campaign against tobacco use. They also noted that U.S. drug trafficking would interfere with Washington's efforts to induce Asian governments to halt the flow of illegal drugs. Responding to the claim of U.S. tobacco companies that their product is the best in the world, a Thai witness said, "Certainly in the Golden Triangle we have some of the best products, but we never ask the principle of free trade to govern such products. In fact we suppressed [them]."

Critics invoked the analogy of the Opium War 150 years ago, when the British government compelled China to open its doors to opium from British India, sanctimoniously pleading the virtues of free trade as they forcefully imposed large-scale drug addiction on China. As in the case of the U.S. today, Britain had little that it could sell to China, apart from drugs. The U.S. sought for itself whatever privileges the British were extracting from China by violence, also extolling free trade and even the "great design of Providence to make the wickedness of men subserve his purposes of mercy toward China, in breaking through her wall of exclusion, and bringing the empire into more immediate contact with western and christian nations" (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions). John Quincy Adams denounced the refusal of China to accept British opium as a violation of the Christian principle of "love thy neighbor" and "an enormous outrage upon the rights of human nature, and upon the first principles of the rights of nations." The tobacco industry and its protectors in government invoke similar arguments today as they seek to relive this triumph of Western civilization and its "historic purpose."32

Here we have the biggest drug story of the day, breaking right at the peak moment of the government-media campaign: the U.S. government is perhaps the world's leading drug peddler, even if we put aside the U.S. role in establishing the hard drug racket after World War II and maintaining it since. How did this major story fare in the media blitz? It passed virtually unnoticed -- and, needless to say, without a hint of the obvious conclusion.33

The drug traffic is no trivial matter for the U.S. economy. Tobacco exports doubled in annual value in the 1980s, contributing nearly $25 billion to the U.S. trade ledger over the decade according to a report of the Tobacco Merchants Association, rising from $2.5 billion in 1980 to $5 billion in 1989. Tobacco provided a $4.2 billion contribution to the trade balance for 1989, when the deficit for the year was $109 billion. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took due note of these figures while testifying in support of the tobacco companies at a Senate hearing. The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, commenting on the benefits to the U.S. economy from tobacco exports, "cited the removal of overseas trade barriers, primarily in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea" as a contributory factor.34

We see that it is unfair to blame the huge trade deficit on the policies of the Reagan-Bush administrations without giving them credit for their efforts to overcome it by state intervention to increase the sale of lethal addictive drugs.

As the drug war proceeded, opposition to tobacco exports began to receive some attention. In April 1990, Dr. James Mason, Assistant Secretary for Health, declared that it was "unconscionable for the mighty transnational tobacco companies -- and three of them are in the United States -- to be peddling their poison abroad, particularly because their main targets are less-developed countries." A few weeks later, however, he cancelled a scheduled appearance before a congressional hearing on the matter, while the Department of Health and Human Services "backed away from its past criticism of efforts to open new markets for American cigarettes around the world." The Department said that "the issue was one of trade, not health," Philip Hilts reported in the New York Times. A Department spokesman explained that Dr. Mason's appearance was cancelled for that reason. Citing the trade figures, another official described Mason's criticism of tobacco exports as "an unwelcome intrusion on the Administration's efforts to open new cigarette markets," particularly in Thailand, Hilts reported further. Meanwhile U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills dismissed Thai protests about U.S. imperialists thrusting cancer sticks upon them, saying, "I don't see how health concerns can enter the picture if the people are smoking their own cigarettes."35

Or, by the same logic, smoking their own crack. In our passion for free trade, then, we should surely allow the Medell¡n cartel to export cocaine freely to the United States, to advertise it to young people without constraint, and to market it aggressively.

Others continued to voice objections. In an open letter to Colombian president Virgilio Barco, Peter Bourne, who was Director of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy in the Carter administration, wrote that "perhaps nothing so reflects on Washington's fundamental hypocrisy on [the drug] issue as the fact that while it rails against the adverse effects of cocaine in the United States, the number of Colombians dying each year from subsidized North American tobacco products is significantly larger than the number of North Americans felled by Colombian cocaine." The Straits Times in Singapore found it "hard to reconcile the fact that the Americans are threatening trade sanctions against countries that try to keep out U.S. tobacco products" with U.S. efforts to reduce cigarette smoking at home (let alone its efforts to bar import of illicit drugs) -- a surprising failure to perceive the clear difference between significant and insignificant nations, to borrow some neoconservative rhetoric.36

The American Medical Association also condemned trade policies that ignore health problems, estimating that some 2.5 million excessive or premature deaths per year are attributable to tobacco -- about 5% of all deaths. At a World Conference on Lung Health in May 1990, former Surgeon General Koop, noting that U.S. tobacco exports had risen 20% the preceding year while smoking dropped 5% in the U.S., again called the export of tobacco "a moral outrage" and denounced it as "the height of hypocrisy" to call on other governments to stop the export of cocaine "while at the same time we export nicotine, a drug just as addictive as cocaine, to the rest of the world." In Taiwan, Koop said, the government had been able to cut smoking drastically by an antismoking campaign, until Washington threatened trade sanctions in 1987, leading to a 10% rise in smoking. "America better stop being a drug pusher if we expect to have any credibility in our war on drugs," Congressman Chester Atkins said at a news conference. Public health experts warned of a "global epidemic" from tobacco-related deaths as a result of the surge in overseas sales, now one-sixth of U.S. production, predicting that the death toll will rise to 12 million annually by mid-21st century. Speaking for the government, the USTR spokesman repeated that the matter is simply one of free trade: "Our question is basically one of fairness." Coverage was again slight.37

Thatcher's England was not far behind. The alternative press reported a London Sunday Times exposé of a multimillion dollar marketing drive by British American Tobacco (BAT) to sell cheap and highly addictive cigarettes in Africa -- an easy, regulation-free market -- with levels of tar and nicotine far above those permitted in the West. A corporation letter to the country's head of medical services stated that "BAT Uganda does not believe that cigarette smoking is harmful to health...[and] we should not wish to endanger our potential to export to these countries which do not have a health warning on our packs." A British cancer specialist described the situation in the Third World as similar to England in the early years of the century, when one in ten men was dying of lung cancer. He estimated that in China alone 50 million of today's children will die through tobacco-related diseases.38

If such estimates are anywhere near accurate, the reference to the Opium Wars is not far from the mark, and it might be fair to warn of the blurring of the boundary between narcotrafficking and genocide.

  5. Social Policy and the Drug Crisis

Serious concern over the drug crisis would quickly lead to inquiry into a much wider range of government policies. U.S. farmers can easily be encouraged to produce crops other than tobacco. Not so Latin American peasants, who, with far fewer options, turned to cocaine production for survival as subsistence agriculture and profits from traditional exports declined. In the case of Colombia, for example, suspension of the international coffee agreement in July 1988, initiated by U.S. actions based on alleged fair trade violations, led to a fall of prices of more than 40% within two months for Colombia's leading legal export.39

Furthermore, U.S. pressures over the years -- including the "Food for Peace" program -- have undermined production of crops for domestic use, which cannot compete with subsidized U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. policy is to encourage Latin America to consume the U.S. surplus while producing specialized crops for export: flowers, vegetables for yuppie markets -- or coca leaves, the optimal choice on grounds of capitalist rationality. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs comments that "only economic growth in Latin America, the promotion of financing of alternate legal crops and a decrease in U.S. demand will provide a viable alternative" to cocaine production.40

As for U.S. demand for illegal drugs, middle class use has been decreasing. But the inner city is a different matter. Here again, if we are serious, we will turn to deep-seated social policy. The cocaine boom correlates with major social and economic processes, including a historically unprecedented stagnation of real wages from 1973,41 an effective attack against labor to restore corporate profits in a period of decline of U.S. global dominance, a shift in employment either to highly skilled labor or to service jobs, many of them dead-end and low-paying; and other moves towards a two-tiered society with a large and growing underclass mired in hopelessness and despair. Illegal drugs offer profits to ghetto entrepeneurs with few alternative options, and to others, temporary relief from an intolerable existence. These crucial factors receive occasional notice in the mainstream. Thus, a specialist quoted in the Wall Street Journal comments that "what is new is large numbers of inner-city people -- blacks and Hispanics -- sufficiently disillusioned, a real level of hopelessness. Most northern European countries have nothing remotely comparable."42

In a British television film on drugs, a political figure draws the obvious conclusion: "We cannot police the world. We cannot stop [heroin] supplies. We can only limit the demand for it by producing a decent society that people want to live in, not escape from."43

With its contributions to the growth and punishment of the underclass, the Reagan-Bush administration helped create the current drug crisis, yet another fact that merits headlines. And the current "war" may well exacerbate the crisis. Meeting with congressional leaders, Bush outlined his proposals for paying the costs of the drug plan, including elimination of almost $100 million from public housing subsidies and a juvenile justice program. The National Center on Budget priorities estimated that the Bush program would remove $400 million from social programs.44 The misery of the poor is likely to increase, along with the demand for drugs and the construction of prisons for the superfluous population.

  6. The Usual Victims

The Colombian operation illustrates other facets of the Drug War. The military aid program for Colombia finances murderous and repressive elements of the military with ties to the drug business and landowners. As commonly in the past, the current U.S. drug programs are likely to contribute to counterinsurgency operations and destruction of popular organizations that might challenge elite conceptions of "democracy." These prospects were illustrated at the very moment when the President made his grand declaration of an all-out war on the drug merchants, featuring aid to the Colombian military, in September 1989. As the media blitz peaked, the Andean Commission of Jurists in Lima published a report on the Colombian military entitled "Excesses in the Anti-Drug Effort." "Waving as pretext the measures adopted against drug trafficking," the report begins, "the military have ransacked the headquarters of grass roots organizations and the homes of political leaders, and ordered many arrests." A series of illustrations follow from the first two weeks of September 1989. On September 3, two days before President Bush's dramatic call to battle, the army and the Administrative Security Department (DAS) ransacked homes of peasants in one region, arresting 40 laborers; the patrols are led by hooded individuals who identify targets for arrest, townspeople report. In a nearby area house searches were aimed principally against members of the Patriotic Union (whose leaders and activists are regularly assassinated) and the Communist Party, some alleged to have "subversive propaganda" in their possession. In Medell¡n, 70 activists and civic leaders were arrested in poor neighborhoods. Elsewhere at the same time, two union leaders, one an attorney for the union, were assassinated and another disappeared. Other leaders received death threats. Hired assassins murdered 3 members of the National Organization of Indigenous People, injuring others, while unidentified persons destroyed a regional office.45

These are examples of the regular behavior of the forces to whom President Bush pledged U.S. aid and assistance, published just at the moment of the domestic applause for his announcement -- but not available to the cheering section that pays the bills.

Ample publicity was, however, given to the capture of 28 people in mid-September charged with being leftist guerrillas working with the drug cartel, and to claims by the Colombian military that guerrilla organizations had formed an alliance with the Medell¡n drug traffickers and carried out bombings for them. The Colombian military in Medell¡n charged that staff members of the Popular Education Institute (IPC), arrested in a raid by security forces, were members of a guerrilla organization hired as terrorists by the cartel. Unreported, however, was the conclusion of the Andean Commission of Jurists that the charges are "clearly a set-up by the military forces which are looking to discredit the popular work [of] the IPC," a community-based organization working in popular education, training and human rights. The staff workers arrested -- all those present at the time, including the director -- were held incommunicado and tortured, according to the Colombian section of the Andean Commission. The Colombian Human Rights Committee in Washington reported increasing harassment of popular organizations as new aid flowed to the military in the name of "the war on drugs." Other human rights monitors have also warned of the near inevitability of these consequences as the U.S. consolidates its links with the Colombian and Peruvian military, both of whom have appalling records of human rights violations.46

The New York Times reports that senior Peruvian military officers say that they will use the new U.S. money "to intensify their campaign against the guerrillas and to try to prevent the smuggling of chemicals" (mainly from U.S. corporations, which suggests another strategy that remains unmentioned). U.S. officials concur with the strategy, though they profess to be uneasy that it "is steering clear of the growers and traffickers." In Bolivia, also a recipient of U.S. military aid and hailed as a great success story, the military does not match its Peruvian and Colombian colleagues in the scale of state terror, but there was no U.S. reaction to the declaration of a state of emergency by the President of Bolivia, followed by the jailing of "hundreds of union leaders and teachers who he said threatened his Government's anti-inflation policies with their wage demands."47 This is not, after all, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, so passionate concern over human rights issues would have no purpose.

It should be borne in mind that human rights have only an instrumental function in the political culture, serving as a weapon against adversaries and a device to mobilize the domestic public behind the banner of our nobility, as we courageously denounce the real or alleged abuses of official enemies.

In this regard, human rights concerns are very much like the facts of past and present history: instruments to serve the needs of power, not to enlighten the citizenry. Thus, one would be unlikely to find a discussion in the media of the background for the state terrorism in Colombia that the Bush administration intends to abet. The topic is addressed in a discussion of human rights in Colombia by Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights. "Behind the façade of a constitutional regime," he observes, "we have a militarized society under the state of siege provided" by the 1886 Constitution. The Constitution grants a wide range of rights, but they have no relation to reality. "In this context poverty and insufficient land reform have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries of Latin America." Land reform, which "has practically been a myth," was legislated in 1961, but "has yet to be implemented, as it is opposed by landowners, who have had the power to stop it" -- again, no defect of "democracy," by Western standards. The result of the prevailing misery has been violence, including la Violencia of the 1940s and 1950s, which took hundreds of thousands of lives. "This violence has been caused not by any mass indoctrination, but by the dual structure of a prosperous minority and an impoverished, excluded majority, with great differences in wealth, income, and access to political participation."

The story has another familiar thread. "But in addition to internal factors," Vásquez Carrizosa continues, "violence has been exacerbated by external factors. In the 1960s the United States, during the Kennedy administration, took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads." These Kennedy initiatives "ushered in what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine,...not defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game...[with] the right to combat the internal enemy, as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine, the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean anyone, including human rights activists such as myself."48

The president of the Colombian human rights commission is reviewing facts familiar throughout Latin America. Military-controlled National Security states dedicated to "internal security" by assassination, torture, disappearance, and sometimes mass murder, constituted one of the two major legacies of the Kennedy administration to Latin America; the other was the Alliance for Progress, a statistical success and social catastrophe. The basic thrust of policy was established long before, and has been pursued since as well, with a crescendo of support for murderous state terror under the Reagan administration. The "drug war" simply provides another modality for pursuit of these long-term commitments. One will search far for any hint of these fundamental truths in the drum-beating for a war of self-defense against the terrible crimes perpetrated against us by Latin American monsters.

As the first anniversary of the drug war approached, the House Government Operations Committee released a study concluding that U.S. antidrug efforts had made virtually no headway in disrupting the cocaine trade in Peru and Bolivia, largely because of "corruption" in the armed forces of both countries. The "corruption" is illustrated by the stoning of DEA agents and Peruvian police by local peasants led by Peruvian military personnel, and the firing on State Department helicopters by Peruvian military officers when they approached drug-trafficker facilities; in short, by the well-known fact that "the drug dealers' core military power lies in paramilitary groups they have organized with the support of large landowners and military officers," the beneficiaries of U.S. aid, exactly as was pointed out by Alberto Galán at the moment when his brother's murder provided the pretext to set the latest "drug war" into high gear.49

The domestic enemy is likely to be subjected to the same kind of treatment as the poor abroad. In keeping with the general commitments of neoconservatism, the drug war seeks to undermine civil liberties with a broad range of measures, such as random searches based on police suspicion, aimed primarily at young Blacks and Hispanics. The attack on civil rights has aroused some concern, though not because of the increased abuse of the underclass. Rather, it is "the threat to individual rights from the drug war" as it shifts to "middle-class whites who are casual drug users" (John Dillin, reporting on the threat to civil liberties in the lead story of the Christian Science Monitor). "As middle America comes under scrutiny," Dillin continues, "critics expect a growing outcry about violations of civil liberties."50

Power can defend itself. In practice, the capitalist ethic treats freedom as a commodity: a lot is available in principle, and you have what you can buy.

The links between the drug war and U.S. intervention sometimes reach a remarkable level of cynicism. Thus, Colombia requested that the U.S. install a radar system near its southern border to monitor flights from its neighbors to the south, which provide the bulk of the cocaine for processing by Colombian drug merchants. The U.S. responded by installing a radar system, but as far removed from drug flights to Colombia as is possible on Colombian territory: on San Andrés Island in the Caribbean, 500 miles from mainland Colombia and remote from the drug routes, but only 200 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. The Colombian government accused the Pentagon of using the fight against drugs as a ruse to monitor Nicaragua, a charge confirmed by Senator John Kerry's foreign affairs aide. He added that Costa Rica had "requested radar assistance against small flights moving cocaine through the country and was given a proposal" by the Pentagon. Lacking technical experts, Costa Rican officials asked for an evaluation from the British Embassy, which informed them that the U.S. proposal had no relevance to the drug traffic but was designed to monitor the Sandinistas. In its study of the drug cartel, Kerry's Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations had reported that foreign policy concerns, including the war against Nicaragua, "interfered with the U.S.'s ability to fight the war on drugs," delaying, halting and hampering law enforcement efforts to keep narcotics out of the United States -- a polite way of saying that the Reagan administration was facilitating the drug racket in pursuit of its international terrorist project in Nicaragua and other imperatives, a standard feature of policy for decades. The current drug war adds another chapter to the sordid story.51

This too escapes the front pages and prime time TV. In general, the central features of the drug crisis received scant notice in the media campaign. It is doubtful that the core issues reach beyond a fraction of 1 percent of media coverage, which is tailored to other needs.

The counterinsurgency connection may also lie behind the training of Colombian narcotraffickers by Western military officers, which received some notice in August 1989 when, a few days after the Galán assassination, retired British and Israeli officers were found to be training Colombian cocaine traffickers, including teams of assassins for the drug cartel and their right-wing allies. A year earlier, a July 1988 Colombian intelligence report (Department of Security Administration, DAS) entitled "Organization of Hired Assassins and Drug Traffickers in the Magdalena Medio" noted that "At the training camps, the presence of Israeli, German and North American instructors has been detected." Trainees at the camp, who are supported by cattle ranchers and farmers involved in coca production and by the Medell¡n cartel, "apparently participated in peasant massacres" in a banana region, the report continues. After the discovery of British and Israeli trainers a year later, the Washington Post, citing another DAS document, reported that "the men taught in the training centers [where British and Israeli nationals were identified] are believed responsible for massacres in rural villages and assassination of left-leaning politicians." The same document states that one Israeli-run course was abbreviated when the Israeli instructers left "to Honduras and Costa Rica to give training to the Nicaraguan contras." The allegation that U.S. instructors were also present has not been pursued, or reported in the press to my knowledge.52

Israel claimed that Col. Yair Klein and his associates in the Spearhead security operation, who were identified as trainers in an NBC film clip, were acting on their own. But Andrew Cockburn points out that Klein's company publicly insisted that they always worked "with the complete approval and authorization of our Ministry of Defense." They also trained contras in Honduras and Guatemalan officers; one associate of Klein's, an Israeli Colonel, claims that they trained every Guatemalan officer above the rank of captain, working on a contract arranged by the state-owned Israel Military Industries. "The Americans have the problem of public opinion, international image," the marketing director of Spearhead explained. "We don't have this problem." Therefore, the dirty work of training assassins and mass murderers can be farmed out to our Israeli mercenaries. In the London Observer, Hugh O'Shaughnessy reported that in a letter of March 31, 1986 signed by Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party, in the possession of the journal, Rabin gave Spearhead official authorization for "the export of military know-how and defense equipment," stipulating further that "It is necessary to receive a formal authorization for every negotiation."53

The Israeli press reports that Col. Klein and his associates used a network of ultra-orthodox American Jews to launder the money they received for their services in Colombia. It claims further that Klein held a position of high responsibility and sensitivity as Commander of the War Room of the Israeli General Staff. An Israeli reserve general reported to be involved in the Israel-Colombia affair attributed the flurry of publicity to U.S. government revenge for the Pollard spy caper and "an American trick contrived in order to remove Israel from Colombia," so that the U.S. can run the arms supply there without interference.54

Jerusalem Post columnist Menachem Shalev raised the question: "Why the moral outrage" over this affair? "Is it worse to train loyal troops of drug barons than it is to teach racist killers of Indians, Blacks, Communists, democrats, et cetera?" A good question. The answer lies in the U.S. propaganda system. Current orders are to express moral outrage over the Colombian cartel, the latest menace to our survival. But Israel's role as a U.S. mercenary state is legitimate, part of the service as a "strategic asset" that earns it the status of "the symbol of human decency" in New York Times editorials.55

  7. The Best-laid Plans...

When the Bush plan was announced, the American Civil Liberties Union at once branded it a "hoax," a strategy that is "not simply unworkable" but "counterproductive and cynical." 56 If the rhetorical ends were the real ones, that would be true enough. But for the objective of population control and pursuit of traditional policy goals, the strategy has considerable logic, though its short-term successes are unlikely to persist.

Part of the difficulty is that even the most efficient propaganda system is unable to maintain the proper attitudes among the population for long. The currently available devices have none of the lasting impact of appeal to the Soviet threat. Another reason is that fundamental social and economic problems cannot be swept under the rug forever. The temporarily convenient program of punishing the underclass carries serious potential costs for interests that really count. Some corporate circles are awakening to the fact that "a third world within our own country" will harm business interests (Brad Butler, former chairman of Procter & Gamble). According to Labor Department projections, over half the new jobs created between 1986 and the year 2000 must be filled by children of minorities, who are expected to constitute 1/3 of the work force before too long. These jobs require skills that will not be gained in the streets and prisons and deteriorating schools, including computer literacy and other technical knowledge.57

As in South Africa, business will sooner or later come to realize that its interests are not well-served under Apartheid, whether legal or de facto. But a reversal of long-standing policies that reached the level of serious social pathology during the Reagan-Bush years will be no simple matter.


1 John Fialka, WSJ, August 31, 1989.

2 Nancy Walser, Boston Globe. July 22, 1990.

3 Tucker, "Reagan's Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, America and the World, 1988/89.

4 See chapter 1, section 1.

5 Baker, Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1989; Richard C. Hottelet, long-time CBS correspondent, an example selected virtually at random. He adds that the "communist dictatorship...built military supremacy in the region," which is nonsense, apart from the fact that there were some (unmentioned) reasons for the military buildup. Such mindless parroting of government propaganda is so standard that citation of an individual case is misleading and unfair.

6 As of mid-1990, the most recent case is the assassination of presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo at the Bogotá airport in March. Ten months earlier, the party president was assassinated at the same airport. The previous president was murdered in October 1987. The party had "lost some ground," Douglas Farah reports, "in part because so many of its local and regional leaders were killed" -- about 1000 since its founding in 1985, including at least 80 in the first three months of 1990. There were reports implicating the drug cartel, but that seems questionable, since Jaramillo was an outspoken advocate of dialogue and opponent of extradition. The party has blamed military-backed death squads throughout, and human rights groups generally concur. Reuters, NYT, March 23; Douglas Farah, BG, March 23, 1990.  

7 James Brooke, NYT, Sept. 24, 1989; Tina Rosenberg, New Republic, Sept. 18, 1989; Americas Watch, Human Rights in Colombia as President Barco Begins, Sept. 1986; AI analyst Robin Kirk, Extra! (FAIR), Summer 1989; Vásquez Carrizosa, in Colombia Update, Colombian Human Rights Committee, Dec. 1989, citing Attorney General's study of 1983, Americas Watch report of April 1989, and other sources; Impunity, Pax Christi Netherlands and the Dutch Commission Justitia et Pax, report of an October-November 1988 investigative mission. For extensive details, see the report of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal of the International League for the Rights of Peoples, Bogotá, Nov. 4-6, 1989, and International League, El Camino de la Niebla (Bogotá, 1990); also chapter 7, pp. 226f.

8 Gruson, NYT, Oct. 1, 1989.

9 AP, Sept. 23; Human Rights Update, Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Sept. 25, 1989.

10 Some months later, the U.S. government turned against the Christian Democratic government, hoping to install more reactionary clients in the forthcoming elections. Predictably, the press ran a few articles on Guatemalan atrocities as part the effort. See chapter 12, pp. 383f.

11 Holzman, "Politics and Guesswork: CIA and DIA estimates of Soviet Military Spending," International Security, Fall 1989.

12 Bundy, Danger and Survival, 237-8.

13 John E. Rielly, American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1987 (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 1987). On terrorism and terrorology, see references of chapter 12, note 45

14 Richard Berke, NYT, Sept. 24, 1988.

15 Berke, NYT, Feb. 14; Philip Shenon, NYT, Sept. 2; Franklin E. Zimring, director, and Gordon Hawkins, senior fellow, at the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the University of California at Berkeley, "Bennett's Sham Epidemic," Op-Ed, NYT, Jan. 25, 1990. Berke, "Drug Study Faults Role of State Dept.," NYT, Feb. 6, 1990, section D, page 24.

16 Richard Berke, "Bennett Asserts Drug Education Isn't Key," NYT, Feb. 3, 1990.

17 Galán, BG, Sept. 26, 1989.

18 Morley, Nation, Oct. 2, 1989.

19 COHA's Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Sept. 27, 1989.

20 Brook Larmer, "US, Mexico Try to Halt Chemical Flow to Cartels," CSM, Oct. 23, 1989, reporting on the lack of any serious efforts and blaming Mexico.  

21 See Alfred W. McCoy, Cathleen B. Reach, and Leonard D. Adams, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (Harper & Row, 1972); Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy (Bobbs-Merrill, 1972); Henrik Krueger, The Great Heroin Coup (South End, 1980); Leslie Cockburn, Out of Control (Atlantic Monthly, 1987). Carlo Cortes, AP, Manila, Oct. 25, 1989.

22 South, "the business magazine of the developing world," October 1989; James Rupert and Steve Colt, "Guerrillas for God, Heroin Dealers for Man," WP weekly, May 21, 1990; Ahmed Rashid, Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept. 14, 1990. On Central America, see Leslie Cockburn, Out of Control.

23 Peter Brennan, Tico Times, July 28, 1989, reviewing earlier reports. Costa Rica subsequently attempted to extradite Hull from the U.S. on charge of participating in the 1984 La Penca bombing of a news conference in which four people were killed; Lindsey Gruson, NYT, Feb. 27, 1990. See Nina Wax and Michael Hardesty, "Drug Trade," Z magazine, April 1990.

24 Erlanger, NYT, Feb. 11, 1990.

25 NYT, Sept. 6; Carter, WSJ, Sept. 14, 1989.

26 AP, WSJ, Nov. 28, 1988; WSJ, Sept. 22, 1989; AP, Sept 27, 1989, reporting polls of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

27 AP, Sept. 27, 1989; Greve, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 21, 1990; Waghelstein, Military Review, Feb. 1987.  

28 Nadelmann, "Drug Prohibition in the United States: Costs, Consequences, and Alternatives," Science, Sept. 1, 1989. See also letters, Science, Dec. 1.

29 Catherine Foster, CSM, Sept. 18, 1989.

30 Philip Hilts, NYT, May 10; Reuters, BG, June 26; AP, NYT, May 21, 1990.

31 Friedman, WSJ, Sept. 7; Bennett, WSJ, Sept. 19, 1989. See also Anthony Lewis, NYT, Sept. 24, 1989, noting the absurdity of Bennett's argument.  

32 Richard van Alstyne, The Rising American Empire (Oxford, 1960), 170f.

33 AP, Sept. 19, 20. The Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor took note of the hearings, omitting the major points, however. See the sharp editorial in the Boston Globe, Sept. 24, 1989; and Alexander Cockburn, Nation, Oct. 30, 1989.

34 AP, April 17, May 4, 1990.  

35 Hilts, NYT, May 18, 1990; Mary Kay Magistad, BG, May 31, 1990.

36 Bourne, COHA (Council on Hemispheric Affairs) News And Analysis, June 5, 1990. Straits Times, in International Herald Tribune, April 9, 1990. On the relative significance of nations, see chapter 12, p. 365.

37 AP, NYT, June 27, also briefly noting the World Conference on Lung Health a month earlier; AP, May 21; Ron Scherer, CSM, May 23; Betsy Lehman, BG, May 22, 1990.

38 Ben Lowe, "Third World is butt of deadly trade ploy," Guardian (New York), May 30, 1990.  

39 Joseph Treaster, "Coffee Impasse Imperils Colombia's Drug Fight," Sept. 24, 1988.

40 Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Sept. 13, 1989. On the Food for Peace program and others like it, see Necessary Illusions, p. 363, and sources cited.

41 See David Gordon, "Real Wages Are on a Steady Decline," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1989.

42 Alan Otten, WSJ, Sept. 6, 1989.

43 John O'Connor, New York Times News Service, April 17, 1990, reviewing the TV film "Traffik" shown over PBS.

44 Michael Kranish, BG, Sept. 5; James Ridgeway, Village Voice, Sept. 19, 1989.  


45 Andean Newsletter, Andean Commission of Jurists, Lima, Sept. 1989.

46 New York Times, Sept. 16, 17, 18. Ursula Marquez, Guardian (New York), Oct. 11, 1989; Colombian Human Rights Committee, POB 3130, Washington DC 20010.

47 Joseph Treaster, NYT, Dec. 6, 1989.

48 Colombia Update 1.4, Dec. 1989.

49 See p. 116. House study, WP-BG, Aug. 21, 1990, p. 76. Apparently missed by the New York Times.

50 Dillin, "Nation's Liberties at Risk?", CSM, Feb. 2, 1990. See also Seth Mydans, "Powerful Arms of Drug War Arousing Concern for Rights," NYT, Oct. 16, 1989.

51 Michael Frisby, "Colombians rap US plan on radar base," BG, April 5, 1989, citing Richard McCall. For review of the Kerry Commission report, see Washington Spectator, Aug. 15, 1989; Jay Hatheway, Z magazine, October 1989.

52 NBC Nightly News, Aug. 25, 1989; DAS report, Bogotá, July 20, 1988, reproduced in Pax Christi, Impunity; Eugene Robinson, WP, Aug. 9, 1989. A comment by Tina Rosenberg, op. cit., may be a reference to the July 1988 DAS report on the alleged presence of U.S. instructors.  

53 Andrew Cockburn, NYT Op-Ed, Sept. 8; O'Shaughnessy, Observer, Oct. 1, 1989. See also Jane Hunter, The Israeli Connection: Israeli Involvement in Paramilitary Training in Colombia, Arab American Institute, Sept. 1989.

54 Ron Ben-Yishai, Yediot Ahronot, Aug. 30; Uriel Ben-Ami, Al Hamishmar, Aug. 31; military correspondent Danny Sadeh, Yediot Ahronot, Aug. 29, 1989.

55 JP, Aug. 29, 1989; editorial, NYT, Feb. 19, 1988.

56 AP, BG, Sept. 7, 1989.

57 Edward Fiske, "Impending U.S. Jobs `Disaster': Work Force Unqualified to Work," NYT, Sept. 25, 1989. See introduction.  

Table of Contents ] Introduction ] I. Cold War: Fact and Fancy ] II. The Home Front ] III. The Global System ] [ IV. Problems of Population Control ] V. The Post-Cold War Era ] VI. Nefarious Aggression ] VII. The Victors ] VIII. The Agenda of the Doves: 1988 ] IX. The Mortal Sin of Self-Defense ] X. The Decline of the Democratic Ideal ] XI. Democracy in the Industrial Societies ] XII. Force and Opinion ] Afterword ]

 ] Deterring Democracy ] Necessary Illusions ] The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many ] Keeping the Rabble in Line ] Rethinking Camelot ] Powers and Prospects ] Year 501 ] Secrets, Lies and Democracy ] What Uncle Sam Really Wants ] Interviews, Debates and Talks ] About Noam Chomsky ]


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