In modern times America’s War on Terror has become a source of much speculation and debate the world over, from cosy octogenarians sitting in mansions wearing cardigans, to young people who like Hollyoaks, everybody’s got their opinion. It has been made clear by the US government that terrorism, in all its forms all over the world, should be combated. A less known war being fought by America is their War on Drugs. The US has a problem with Cocaine, also known as Charlie, Blow, Snow, Nose candy, C, White, Percy, and Peruvian marching dust. Massive amounts enter its borders annually, and despite the best efforts of the Border Patrol, it is just too lucrative a business; for every shipment they might manage to stop, several pass in unnoticed, carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of powder.
What is America to do with this veritable epidemic of Drug inflow? It has been decided that cutting the supply off at the source is the best plan, so the Colombian and other South American farmers of the coca crop. I feel it would be best to focus on the Colombian farmers, and their relationship with a little-known group, the ‘Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo’, the ‘Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- the People’s Army’, often shortened to the FARC, or the FARC-EP.
The FARC are a self-proclaimed politico-military Marxist-Leninist group which started in 1964-1966 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. They have since split from that organisation, going alone. They have an estimated 12,000-18,000 members, and are thought to be present in 35-40 percent of Colombia’s territory. The FARC claims to represent the rural poor of Colombia against the wealthy classes, aswell as the privatisation of natural resources, multinational corporations, and paramilitary violence. It is vehemently opposed to the US’s influence in Colombia. The FARC has stated that these objectives provide a motive for the group to attempt to seize power in Colombia through an armed revolution; a civil war it has been fighting for the last forty years. Because of its militant tactics, communist viewpoint and distinctly anti-US standing, it has been classified as a terrorist group by multiple nations and organisations, including the US and the EU, and there is no doubt that the classification is well deserved. The FARC funds itself principally through kidnapping, extortion, and the cocaine trade.
Since 1999, an initiative aimed at ending some of the problems plaguing Colombia has been going on, named Plan Colombia. It was conceived by the administration of President Andrés Pastrana Arango, and had aims of social and economic revitalisation, ending the armed conflict, and cutting down on Colombia’s considerable narcotics problem. The Clinton administration, as part of its War on Drugs, agreed to provide $1.3 billion in foreign aid to the program, which would be divided to finance the different aspects of the plan. They also provided up to five hundred military personnel to train local forces, and three hundred civilians to assist in one of the most controversial aspects of Plan Colombia’s anti-narcotics program, the airborne fumigation of the Coca plant. This tactic has been criticised because it damages legal crops aswell as the health of those exposed to it, which significatnly dents the US’ image amongst the Colombian farmers, which I feel is creating an unintentional and certainly negative byproduct for the US and Colombia itself.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a Colombian farmer, with a certain amount of land (of Colombia’s nearly 115 million hectares, only 13 percent of the land is considered arable, and only 27 percent of that is currently cultivated, according to the US Library of Congress) and a family of a lovely wife and seven delighful ‘chicos y chicas’ to feed. As the annual harvest approaches, you consider what crop to grow. There are several options open to you, depending on the part of Colombia in which you live, perhaps bananas, perhaps coffee. All of these would serve to put food on the table, but you would have to scrimp and save as you had before. Or, you can harvest the Coca plant, which will sell for much much more, five times , perhaps ten times as much. And there’s always a buyer. So you make the decision to grow Coca, you understand that it’s illegal, but you’re tired of being unable to provide your family with the things they deserve. You might not dedicate all of your land to Coca, you might not dedicate much land at all, with most of your land taken up by another, entirely legal crop. One day, you are sent a message by the US and Colombian governments, telling you to immediately stop growing the coca plant, or face the consequences. You do not know what to do, the crops have come along, to lose them now would mean that you couldn’t make ends meet; a harvest with an incomplete field’s worth of crop would leave you significantly out of pocket.
So you decide to carry on with the plant until the end of the harvest, then to never grow the crop again. One day, a US plane comes along. Your children, frightened by the loud engines, run in fear. Your wife looks at you in fear. The plane swoops down, coating the land in a gassy chemical which is sprayed from the belly of the steel beast. Your entire field is coated in the stuff, not to mention your home. And with that, the plane is gone, leaving your field and everything you own coated in a strange chemical, which gives off a foul stench. You don’t know it, but you and your field have been coated in herbicide. Not just your Coca plants, but the bananas too. And in the coming days your plants will turn to dead stalks before your eyes, the field will never be usable ever again, for the herbicides have sunk deep. To add insult to injury, your children have gained respiratory problems from the chemicals; they may suffer eye and nose problems for months.
The world you knew was farming, and now that that is gone, you have nothing. You had little money to begin with, with American offshore imported plants undercutting your humble harvest, but now you are totally destitute. In this desparate situation you are approached by an organisation you heard talk of in the village, the ‘Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia’They talk kindly to you, explaining that they represent you, and are committed to stopping things like this from ever happening to anyone else. They complement you on your healthy family, and then make a proposition. You give the FARC your land, and your pledge to join them in their crusade, and you and your family will be well provided for. Your family will be given room and board, and you will be trained in the arts of war, the FARC wouldn’t let you go against their enemy with nothing more than farming skill. And there, without knowing it, you’ve joined, you’re a terrorist in the eyes of the US and Colombian governments. Even though you wouldn’t have even thought of touching an AK-47 if it hadn’t been for a horribly inadequate way of combating the drug problem, you’re now being swept along with a cadre of warriors who believe that only through violence they can acheieve their aims. In fighting the War on Drugs, America is, every day, feeding an enemy in Colombia. The figure given earlier is not set in stone, no one outside the FARC knows how many people are in, and the figure’s growing all the time. I feel that everyone agrees that the Cocaine influx is a bad thing, but what has to be understood is that there are other ways of fighting the war on drugs without leaving thousands of people homeless and poor, and feeding a terrorist organisation. Just another example of US policy irony.
What’s that you say?
It’s a one off?
Well not exactly, dear reader. I leave you to consider the Taliban. Before the US war in Afganistan, the aforementioned reigning group had a strict anti-drugs policy. The US invaded, kicking the Taliban out of the cities, leaving them to hide on the fringes, which benefitted women and others who’d been hurt by the Fundamentalist edicts of the group, admittedly. But while the Taliban had cracked down on the opium and heroin exportation operations, the US didn’t make any significant to control the opiate situation. So the amount of drugs leaving Afganistan went up, and didn’t really stop going up. The opposite of Colombia’s situation, where the War on Drugs made things difficult for the War on Terror, here the War on Terror makes things a bit tricky for the War on Drugs.
This is an original Hashmark article by Nathan Goreing, written in early 2006