ALAI, Latin America in Movement
The Drug Trade as an Instrument of Imperial Domination
After various decades of the “war on drugs”, accompanied by a colossal cost in human lives y material resources, the drug-traffickers are today stronger than ever and they control more territory than in any previous period.
In the past six years in Mexico, there have been more than 47,000 murders related to the drug trade. From 2,119 in 2006, they have increased to about 17,000 in 2011. In 2008, the United States Department of Justice of warned that the DTO’s (Drug Trafficking Organizations) linked to Mexican cartels, were known to be active in all regions of the United States. In Florida, the mafias associated with the Gulf cartel, the “Zetas” and the Sinaloa federation are active. Miami is one of the principal centers for the reception and distribution of drugs. In addition to those mentioned, others, like the Juárez cartel and the Tijuana cartel, operate in the United States.
The Mexican cartels gathered more strength after displacing the Colombians of Cali and Medellin in the 90’s and now control 90% of the cocaine which enters the United States. The greatest stimulus for the drug trade is the high consumption in the United States. In 2012, a national survey by the Department of health disclosed that approximately 22 million Americans over 12 years of age consume some kind of drugs.
These statistics, which are only some the most disturbing, lead one to question the effectiveness of the so-called “war on drugs”. It is impossible to believe that the political will to put an end to this universal scourge really exists, when we observe the role the drug trade has played in counter-insurgency, the expansion of trans-nationals and the geo-political ambitions of the United States and other powers.
Let’s review a summary of the recent history (1). The administration of Richard Nixon, at the same moment of initiating the “war on drugs” (1971), was developing heroin traffic in South-East Asia for the purpose of financing its military operations in the region. The heroine produced in the Golden Triangle (where the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar come together) was transported in the planes of “Air America” owned by the CIA (2)(3). In a televised press conference on the first of June of 1971, a journalist asked Nixon, “Mr. President, what will you do with the tens of thousands of American soldiers who come back addicted to heroin?” (4)
The operations of “Air America” continued until the fall of Saigon in 1975. While the CIA trafficked in opium and heroin in South-East Asia, the traffic and consumption of narcotics in the United States became a national tragedy. In 1976, President Gerald Ford sought congressional approval of laws that would replace parole with prison terms, establish compulsory minimum sentences and deny bail for specified drug crimes. The result was an exponential increase in the number imprisoned for crimes related to the traffic and consumption of drugs and, in consequence, the United States became the country with the biggest prison population in the world. The main weight of this punitive policy fell on the black population and other minorities.
During the 80’s and 90’s, United States administrations supported South American governments directly involved in the cocaine trade. During the Carter administration, the CIA intervened to avoid two heads of the cartel of Roberto Suárez (the king of cocaine) being brought to justice in the United States. Upon being released, they were able to return to Bolivia and play leading roles in the coup d’etat (the Cocaine Coup) of July 17, 1980, financed by the drug barons. The bloody tyranny of General Luis Garcia Meza was supported by the administration of Ronald Reagan.
The most conspicuous participation of the Reagan administration in drug-trafficking was the scandal known as “Iran-Contra” the most commented aspect of which was obtaining funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras through the illegal sale of arms to Iran, but in addition, cocaine trafficking inside and outside the United States, for the same purpose, is well documented.
Such connections are explained by the journalist, William Blum, in his book, “Rogue State” (5). In Costa Rica, which served as the southern front of the contras (Honduras was the northern front) various CIA-Contra networks involved in the drug trade were operating. These networks were associated with Jorge Morales, the Colombian kingpin resident in Miami. Morales’ planes were loaded with arms in Florida, flying over Central America and returning loaded with cocaine. Another network with its base in Costa Rica was operated by anti-Castro Cubans contracted by the CIA as military instructors. This network used planes, of the contras and of a shrimp-trading company which laundered money for the CIA, for moving drugs into the United States.
In Honduras, the CIA contracted Alan Hyde, the main trafficker in that country (“the god-father of all criminal activity” according to reports of the United States government) for shipping to the contras in his vessels. The CIA, in exchange, would impede any action against Hyde by anti-drug agencies. The cocaine routes had important stations along the way, like the air force base at Ilopango in El Salvador. An ex-official of the CIA, Celerino Castillo, describes how planes loaded with cocaine flew north, landing with impunity at various places in the United States, including the air force base in Texas, returning with abundant money to finance the war. “All under the protective umbrella of the United States government”. The Ilopango operation was carried out under the direction of Felix Rodriguez (alias Max Gomez) connected to the then Vice President George H. W. Bush and with Oliver North, who formed part of Reagan’s National Security Council.
In 1982, the Director of the CIA, William Casey, negotiated a “memorandum of understanding” with Attorney General, William French Smith, which exonerated the CIA of any responsibility related to drug-trafficking operations carried out by its agents. This agreement remained in force until 1995.
Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush, sponsored the “CIA’s man in Panama”, Manuel Noriega, linked to the Medellin cartel and the laundering of large sums of money flowing from drugs. When Noriega ceased to be useful and became a nuisance, the United States invaded Panama (December 20, 1989) in an unprecedented barbarous act against international law and the sovereignty of a small country.
Michael Ruppert, a journalist and former narcotics official, presented an extended declaration in 1997, accompanied with documented proofs, to the intelligence committees of both houses of congress (Select Intelligence Committees). In one of those paragraphs, it the following is affirmed:
"The CIA did not just deal drugs during the Iran-Contra era; it has done so for the full fifty years of its history. Today I will give you evidence which will show that the CIA, and many figures who became known during Iran-Contra such as Richard Secord, Ted Shackley, Tom Clines, Felix Rodriguez and George Herbert Walker Bush, have been selling drugs to Americans since the Vietnam era." (7)
In 1999, the William [Bill] Clinton administration ruthlessly bombed the Yugoslavian people for 78 days and nights. Again here, drug-trafficking appears to be behind the motivations. The intelligence services of the United States and its counterparts in Germany and Great Britain used heroin traffic to finance the creation and equipping of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Heroin originating from Turkey and Central Asia passing through the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania (the Balkan route) destined to Italy. With the destruction of Serbia and the strengthening – intended or not – of the Albanian mafia, the Clinton administration left open the drug route from Afghanistan to Western Europe (8). According to reports of the DEA and the Department of Justice in the United States, 80% of the heroin introduced into Europe passes through Kosovo.
Various United States administrations, and in particular that of George W. Bush, have been complicit in the genocide in Colombia. The “war on drugs” sustained by the United States with multi-million dollar resources, technical assistance and substantial military assistance, has not managed to hold back the flow of cocaine and, on the contrary, has been the determining factor in the emergence and development of paramilitary groups serving narco-landholders and also as a pretext for maintaining domination of workers and farming populations. Plan Colombia has turned out to be a complete failure but has served as a screen for the interference of the United States in the country and clearly shown its true objective – counter-insurgency.
It is often forgotten that the drug trade is probably the most lucrative business for capitalists. With the war in Colombia, the chemical companies which produce the herbicides make themselves rich, the aerospace industry which supplies the helicopters and airplanes, the arms makers and, in general, the military-industrial complex. The billions of dollars generated by the illegal traffic in drugs increase the financial power of transnational corporations and the local oligarchy.
The recent declaration of the Central Command Secretariat of the FARC-EP (9), for the occasion of the forty-eighth anniversary of the beginning of the rebels’ armed struggle, denounces the link between drugs and capital: "the monies from drug-trafficking are converted into land, flood the banks, and the finance sector, productive and speculative investment, the hotel industry, construction and public contracts, becoming functional and even necessary in the game of raising and circulating big capital which characterizes neo-liberal capitalism today. This also happens in Central America and Mexico.”
The Free Trade Treaty between the United States and Mexico (NAFTA) has obliged numerous farmers, faced with competition from agricultural products from the United States, to cultivate marijuana and poppies on their land. Others, faced with the alternative of working like slaves in the maquilas, prefer to get into the mafia networks of the drug trade. The great increase in the traffic of merchandise across the border and the banking controls to combat terrorism, have displaced the laundering of money from the banks to commercial corporations. The complexity and the volume of financial operations, and the instant and constant flow of capital “on-line”, make it extraordinarily difficult to follow the trace of illicit transactions.
One of the consequences of NAFTA is an almost complete impunity which goes along with the flow the narco-dollars to both sides of [in both directions across] the border. Just as in Mexico, the Free Trade Treaty recently come into force in Colombia will stimulate the violence, the drug traffic and the repression of workers and farmers. The “Merida Initiative”, in its time, is simply the Mexican-Central-American version of Plan Colombia.
We should meditate on the fact that in all the scenarios where the United States has intervened militarily, and principally those where it has occupied the territory with blood and fire, the drug trade, far from being reduced, as one might expect, has multiplied and grown stronger. In Afghanistan, the planting of poppies was reduced drastically during the government of the Taliban, only later to reach, during the United States’ occupation, an accelerated growth. Afghanistan is currently the biggest producer of opium in the world, and furthermore, is now exporting it, not only in the form of pasta for processing in other countries, but also as heroin and morphine made in its own territory.
If we stand by the historical facts, we could say that the policy of the United States has not been one of a “war on drugs” but rather one of “drugs for war”.
(Translation for ALAI: Donald Lee).
(1) We could begin with a much earlier date; for example, the time of the “Opium Wars” of the British Empire, to secure its dominion over China; but this is not necessary for the purpose of this article.
(2) Alfred McCoy, “The Politics of Heroin: the Complicity of the CIA in the Global Drug Trade”, New York, Lawrence Hill and Co., 2003
(3) Prior to this, “Air America” had helped the forces of the Kuomingtan, loyal to Chiang Kai-shek, to transport opium from China and Burma to Bangkok in Thailand. French intelligence services also used the traffic of heroin to finance their undercover operations in Indochina.
(4) Rick Perlstein, “Nixonland”, Scribner, 2008, p. 567
(5) William Blum, “Rogue State”, Common Courage Press, 2005, pp. 294-297.
(6) Richard Secord: Major General of the United States Air Force, convicted for his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal; exonerated in 1990 by decision of the Supreme Court. Ted Shackley: “the blond ghost”, chief of station for the CIA in Miami during October Crisis (the Cuban missile crisis) and during the Mongoose Operation directed against Cuba; Director of Operation Phoenix during which more one hundred thousand Vietnamese were murdered; directed many other undercover operations of the CIA; died of cancer in 2002. Tom Clines: one of the main figures of the Iran-Contra scandal; between 1961 and 1962 participated in CIA undercover operations against Cuba; on the orders of Ted Shackley was in charge of the secret war in Laos and participated in Operation Mongoose; amongst many other misdemeanors was in charge of the CIA operation in Chile which brought down President Allende. Felix Rodriguez: Cuban-American, was one of the heads of Operation 40 and the mercenary invasion of Cuba in 1961. Participated in the murder of Che in Bolivia. George H. W. Bush: ex-Director of the CIA (1976-1977) and ex-President of the United States (1989-1993).
(7) Cited by Daniel Estulin, “Shadow Masters”, Trine Day LLC, 2010.
(8) Michael Ruppert, “Crossing the Rubicon”, New Society Publishers, 2004
(9) FARC-EP, “48 años de lucha armada rebelde”, Central Command Secretariat FARC-EP, the mountains of Colombia, May 27, 2012.
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