WAR AND PROFIT IN COLOMBIA
(Reproduced from North American Congress on Latin America – Report on the Americas, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, Jul/Aug 2000, with thanks) by editor Jo-Marie Burt
On July 13, President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill that includes a package of $1.3 billion in mostly military aid for Colombia. This massive infusion of assistance will not stop drug trafficking, nor will it contribute to peace. It will, rather, escalate the conflict in Colombia, bolster that country’s brutal armed forces and their paramilitary allies, and drown out any hope for peace in this war-torn nation. It will also be a huge profit-making enterprise for several US corporations, from oil companies to helicopter manufacturers to makers of herbicides used to eradicate coca crops.
United Technologies Corporation, a Connecticut-based conglomerate that makes Blackhawk helicopters, has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. A significant chunk of the $1.3 billion will pay for some 30 Blackhawks, which sell for a whopping $12.8 million each- a nice dividend for a company that is struggling with declining orders for its wares from the Pentagon.
Bell Helicopter Textron, the Texas subsidiary of Textron that produces the Huey II helicopter, will also profit nicely, as the purchase of several Hueys is contemplated in the plan as well. Part of the delay in getting the final aid package approved was due to pork-barrel wrangling between Texas and Connecticut legislators trying to secure the biggest contracts for their home-state corporations.
Then there is Occidental Petroleum. Occidental, which operates the Cano-Limon pipeline in north-eastern Colombia, also lobbied hard for the US Colombia package. Colombia is currently the seventh-largest supplier of oil to the United States, and it is considered to have the largest untapped pool of petroleum in the Western hemisphere. Guerrilla attacks on pipelines – more than 600 between 1982 and 1999, with 1.6 billion barrels of oil spilled along the way – have long irritated oil executives. As foreign policy expert Micheal Klare has noted, in 1997 Washington decided to begin reducing its dependence on Middle Eastern oil while developing a closer relationship with the oil producers of the Andes – particularly with its number-one supplier, Venezuela – suggesting that Washington’s principal interest in Colombia may not, in fact, be drugs, but oil.
The list goes on. DynCorp, a defence contractor and a Fortune 500 company, has a $600 million contract to carry out aerial spraying to eliminate coca crops in Colombia. And the herbicide its pilots currently spray is manufactured by – you guessed it – another US company, Monsanto. The chemical, glyphosate, is known more commonly as Roundup. Though widely used, it is believed to destroy legal crops, not just coca crops, and may cause health and environmental problems.
And now there is Ag/Bio Con (Agricultural Biological Control), a US firm that produces EN-4, a strain of fusarium oxysporum, a mycoherbicide, or fungus that kills coca plants, that is set to be tested in Colombia. As the Colombia aid package was being put together, Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) added a last-minute amendment that, in effect, makes US aid contingent on the aerial spraying of “tested, environmentally safe mycoherbicides.” It just so happens that EN-4 is the only such mycoherbicide under consideration. David C. Sands, a Montana State University professor and Vice President of Ag/Bio Con, holds the patent to EN-4 and has been lobbying hard to find a buyer for it.
This story, which appeared in the May issue of Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/news_wire/coca.html) is yet another instance of the intimate, incestuous links between US business interests and US policymakers. Through his congressional connections, Sands arranged a face-to-face meeting with Colombian President Andres Pastrana in Washington last January, and in March met with Colombia’s ministry of the environment to convince them of the wonders of an herbicidal fungus that is believed to be highly detrimental to the environment and to humans, particularly those with weakened immune systems. But lucky for Professor Sands, Rep. Gilman has virtually assured a market for his product now that the fusarium strain is set to be widely applied in Colombia’s coca-growing regions.
Though Washington is telling US citizens that the $1.3 billion aid package is designed to bring an end to the conflict in Colombia and to staunch the flow of drugs from the south, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that other interests lie behind this newest round of US intervention in Latin America.