Rebellion Against Narco-Militarization
Rocks Colombia, Mexico

By Bill Weinberg

Peasant and Indian resistance to the Washington-mandated anti-drug militarization of Colombia and Mexico--the top producer and transporter of cocaine, respectively--is growing fast. In both cases, Washington is pressuring regimes completely enmeshed in the drug trade to crack down on campesinos and guerillas--proving once again that the Drug War has replaced the Cold War in the permanent Pentagon/White House effort to maintain Yankee power over Latin America.
COLOMBIA: Peasants Revolt
Against Spraying Crops,
Army Declares War Zones

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Colombia is now iced from US aid for its supposed Drug War failures. In June, Colombia's Congress had voted not to impeach President Ernesto Sam-per on charges of having accepted huge cash donations from the Cali cartel. But in July hearings on Capitol Hill, a masked woman identified only as "Maria" testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she had witnessed money change hands between President Samper and repre-sentatives of the Cali cocaine cartel.

Top figures in the Samper admini-stration--including the attorney general and the president himself--have had their US visas cancelled. The besieged Samper is desperate to get back in Uncle Sam's good graces.Samper hoped to recoup his losses with the much- hyped collapse of the Cali cartel. In August, the last Cali kingpin still at large, Helmer Herrera, was about to surrender to authorities after months of negotiations. Ironically, Herrera was go-ing to prison mere weeks after his an-cient rival, Medellin cartel kingpin Jorge Ochoa, was released after five years to retire to his sprawling ranches and haci-endas. But this was not to be the hour of glory Samper had anticipated.

In July, army anti-riot squads broke up a cross-country march in the Ama-zonian state of Guaviare, where 15,000 peasants were protesting aerial spraying of glyphosate herbicide to wipe out coca and opium crops--the only ones that will fetch any return on the market for the struggling campesinos. The government had declared a "special zone of public order" in Guaviare suspending civil

liberties during the spraying. The marchers demanded a new drug policy "independent of the pressures of the US." As they reached the state capital, Mitu, army roadblocks barred their way and troops used tear gas to disperse them. But the movement only spread.

By August the protests were joined by over 100,000 in neighboring Putu-mayo and Caqueta states. Army com-mander Gen. Harold Bedoya Pizarro claimed the campesinos were forced by the guerillas of the Colombian Revolu-tionary Armed Forces (FARC) to join the march. Campesino leaders denied the charge. Many campesinos see them-selves as caught between the FARC and the army. On August 8, soldiers used tear gas to stop campesinos from occu-pying facilities of the state oil company Ecopetrol in Orito. But when the FARC dynamited Ecopetrol pipelines in Putu-mayo in the midst of the protests, the campesinos sent representatives to the oil facilities to say they had nothing to do with the attacks and didn't support terrorist actions.

Peasant protestors successfully occupied the Putumayo capital of Mocoa, but were stopped by the army's barbed-wire barricades 20 kilometers outside Caqueta's capital, Florencia. Clashes ensued in which four were killed and several wounded. But protes-tors battled police and attacked banks and public buildings in Florencia any-way. The army was called in and a cur-few imposed to restore order. Tanks pa-trolled the streets. A scandal ensued as Colombian TV cameras caught govern-ment troops unloading tear gas cannis-ters from a truck disguised as a Red Cross vehicle.

On August 31, the FARC took advantage of the chaos to launch an unprecedented national offensive against military targets across Colombia, leaving nearly 100 dead. The army base at Las Delicias in Putumayo was overrun and destroyed, with 27 troops killed and 60 seized as "prisoners of war." The rebels "have shown a capacity for destruction that's unprecedented in the life of our nation," said Attorney General

Alfonso Valdiveso. FARC strength is growing as peasants are angered by the coca eradication program. Gen. Bedoya said the army would have to increase its troop strength threefold to counter the new FARC threat.

Things finally seemed to de-escalate in early September when accords were reached calling for the campesinos to eradicate the coca crop themselves in exchange for government economic aid and barring the military from spraying while the campesinos do so. Samper ac-tually visited Florencia to guarantee the government would respect the accords. But simultaneously, Samper's Vice President Humberto de la Calle stepped down and called upon Samper to resign as well, citing the drug scandal and Colombia's state of ungovernability. Then it got worse.

When Samper flew to New York to address a UN

meeting on global anti- drug strategy, the Colombian Air Force's drug-sniffing dogs found 3.7 kilos of heroin stashed on his official jet. The president was reduced to taking a commercial Avianca flight. He was also travelling on a special diplomatic visa, the US having revoked his tourist visa. The next week, fighting intensified. A Samper aide was forced to admit that, for the first time in nearly 40 years of guerilla activity, "the country is at war." The Army and Air Force pounded Indi-an land in the highland state of Antio-quia to dislodge FARC roadblocks on the highway to Medellin. The death toll was put at a minimum of 20. Local Em-bera Indians requested a three-day truce to allow their people to leave the war zone. The National Indigenous Or-ganization of Colombia (ONIC) pro-tested that Embera villages were being bombed. At an Indian march in Cauca state against a recent wave of violence, the banner read: "Paramilitary and guerrilla groups out of indigenous terri-tories."

The government claims that the FARC is a "narco-terrorist" group funded by drug sales. But Colombia's security forces are at least

equally enmeshed in the drug trade. Cali traf-fickers recently racked up a $200,000 phone bill on a number assigned to Brig. Gen. Ismael Trujillo, head of the federal Judicial Police, to coordinate drug shipments. Meanwhile, Colombian agents in Mexico succeeded in shutting down the FARC World Wide Web site (, where the mainframe was based. FARC leaders protested that the web site was legal and vowed to get it back on the Internet.

Despite the apparent power vac-cuum left by the demise of the Cali cartel, coca remains the only profitable crop for Colombia's peasants, and undi-minished quantities of cocaine flow from the country. With the cocaine economy temporarily dispersed back into the invisible network of local bosses--protected by corrupt elements of the army, police, right-wing

paramilitary groups or the FARC--it is a matter of time before a new cartel begins to re-establish hegemony.

The Washington Drug War is pitting the army against Colombia's civilian government. During the anti-eradication protests, local Caqueta Judge Alejandro Molina actually had the temerity to sen-tence Gen. Bedoya and regional army commander Gen. Nestor Ramirez to 30 days in prison and a $23 fine for viola-ting local residents' freedom of transit at the barricades. The decision was overturned on appeal, and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Esuerra subse-quently asked the High Judiciary Coun-cil to investigate Judge Molina. Many speculate the army may now be ready to apply pressure to Samper himself--or even overthrow him. US ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette told a Colombian reporter in August that she met in 1995 with "a group of civilians, speaking on behalf of military officers, who requested my support for a little coup against Samper." An outraged Samper immediately protested that Fre-chette had not gone to him with the information.

MEXICO: Zapatistas
Support Legalization,
Pentagon Ponders Intervention

The guerillas of Mexico's Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), who have banned drugs and alcohol from their territory, finally embraced legali-zation as a means of halting Mexico's spiralling Drug War militarization. The Maya Indian rebels in the southern state of Chiapas are holed up in a remote jungle and attempting to organize a civilian movement while sporadic peace talks with the government sputter on and off. A recent international confer-ence they hosted in their territory issued a proclamation against the Drug War, calling for "legalization of soft drugs throughout the planet." The move comes as federal army troops pour into campesino communities searching for guerrillas and narco gangs in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Puebla and Veracruz. Paranoia has escalated with the emergence of a mysterious new rebel group, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR).

The EPR dramatically demonstrated its power on the night of August 28 with coordinated

attacks on military and po-lice targets in seven states in the Mexi-can south and center, leaving 12 dead. Since then, numerous skirmishes and human rights abuses have been report-ed as the army presence is beefed up in the Sierra Madre, with tanks and heli-copters scouring the hills and troops occupying villages. Mysterious men in military fatigues with AK-47s attacked an army convoy in Michoacan, killing one soldier.

President Ernesto Zedillo of the long-entrenched Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) vows to take a hard line with the EPR, and has boosted military spending and the Army's troop strength by 15% since tak-ing office two years ago. EPR Coman-dante Jose Arturo says the group financed their arms purchases by "bank expropriations and the kidnapping of big business people," suggesting a hand in the recent wave of such crimes in Mexico.

The EPR is believed to be linked to Clandestine Workers' Revolutionary Party Union of the People (PROCUP), an extremist sectarian-left group best known for a series of bombings against other groups on the left. Now thought by many to be completely infiltrated (if not outright controlled) by government agents, PROCUP is a surviving remnant of the crushed insurgency of rebel schoolteacher Lucio Cabaas, who took up arms in the Guerrero mountains 20 years ago. The Cabaas insurgency brief-ly kidnapped then-Guerrero Governor Ruben Figueroa in 1974. Last year, his son Ruben Figueroa Alcocer was forced to step down as Guerrero's governor af-ter he was implicated in the massacre of 17 campesino protestors at Aguas Blancas.

At a one-year anniversary commem-oration of the massacre in June, masked EPR rebels first emerged from the mountains and announced their exis-tence. The Mexican army is now asking the government to suspend civil rights "in specific zones where the presence of

subversive groups is suspected." A re-cent Pentagon intelligence study of the Mexican situation (procured via the US Freedom of Information Act and re-printed in the Mexican daily La Jor-nada) noted that anti-gringo sentiment in the Mexican army would make US military intervention "improbable," but also stated: "It is conceivable that an eventual deployment of US troops in Mexico might be received favorably if Mexico's government is confronted the threat of being overthrown as the result of widespread economic and social chaos." A third following paragraph was censored.

Ironically, just as Mexico is for the first time sending troops to be trained at the Pentagon's School of the Ameri-cas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, GA, media reports reveal that the SOA instructed foreign troops in torture, assassination and blackmail in the 1980s. "Counterin-telligence" (CI) manuals used at the SOA between 1982 and 1991 were re-leased by the Pentagon following a long activist campaign.

With names like Handling Sources and Terrorism and the Urban Guerilla, the manuals instructed in such tactics as imprisonment and beating of "sources" and arrest of their families. One passage reads: "Another function of CI agents is recommending CI targets for neutralizing. The CI targets can include personalities, instal-lations, organizations, documents and materials." Examples of "personality tar-gets" are "governmental officials, politi-cal leaders and members of the infrastructure." "Neutralizing" is an intelligence euphemism for assassination.

Among the masterminds of torture trained at the SOA in the 1980s are the late Salvadoran death-squad boss Roberto D'Aubisson, Guatemalan secret police honcho Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, deposed Haitian outlaw despot Col. Michel Francois and imprisoned Panamanian narco-dictator Manuel Noriega. The Mexican army has already demonstrated

a penchant for such tech-niques. Four of the eight men yet ar-rested by Mexican authorities as EPR members have recanted their confes-sions, stating they were extracted through torture, including suffocation with plastic bags and electro-shock to the testicles.

The mysterious EPR poses itself as more radical than the EZLN. EPR Comandante Jose Arturo openly said at a press conference at a clandestine location, "We seek power. We won't carry on a dialogue with the murderous government." The EZLN's Subcoman-dante Marcos addressed the EPR in a communique. While expressing "respect" for the EPR's military "forcefulness," he stated: "You fight to take power. We fight for democracy, freedom and jus-tice. It's not the same thing. Even if you are successful and win power, we will go on fighting for democracy, freedom and justice." However, he also decried the government's "game that promotes con-frontation between the 'good' guerillas and 'bad' guerillas." Its getting hard enough to tell the "good" cops from the "bad" cops.

The NAFTA boom town Tijuana, where PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated in 1994, is home to Mexico's top cartel, and has co-opted much of the local police. The Tijuana cartel's battle for supremacy with the rival Juarez cartel is playing itself out in a string of gangland murders of anti-drug officers across Mexico. The once-hegemonic Gulf car-tel has largely collapsed since the arrest of kingpin Juan Garcia Abrego--who was turned over to the FBI to face trial in the US. Attorney General Antonio Lozano Garcia's much-touted campaign to clean up the notoriously corrupt federal Judicial Police has led to the firing of over 700 officers. But drug- related violence and intrigue in Mexican officialdom has not slowed. Saul Tapia Contreras, chief of staff to the Governor of Jalisco--home to Guadalajara, Mexi-co's second city--was forced to step down after he was accused of being a key figure in the Juarez cartel by an arrested trafficker.

At US insistence, the army is increas-ingly taking over the anti-drug effort, especially in the mountains of the Mexi-can south where peasants are organizing against the government. In contrast to the secretive EPR, the EZLN continues to hash out positions and strategy in an open democratic process, especially as they attempt to build a civilian move-ment. In August, the EZLN hosted an International Encuentro in their jungle territory, attended by supporters from around the world. Along with pledges to build cross-border resistance to the Free Trade order, the Zapatista Encuentro issued a call to end the Drug War and "legalize the consumption of soft drugs." The Zapatista statement said the Drug War "has converted narcotrafficking into one of the most successful clandestine means of obtaining extraordinary pro-fits" and called for "channelling the resources destined for combatting nar-cotrafficking into programs of develop-ment and social welfare."

Mexican agents can do nothing to shut down the Zapatistas' Web presence--a recent search for "zapatistas" turned up over 3000 documents all over the internet.

(Thanks to: Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York)

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