From The NY Transfer BBS 718-448-2358 Interview COLOMBIA'S MONTANA DISCUSSES DRUGS, DEBT A
From The NY Transfer BBS 718-448-2358
COLOMBIA'S MONTANA DISCUSSES DRUGS, DEBT AND THE WAR AGAINST THE POOR
Insight Features, May 1990
Colombia, one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, is constantly being rocked by bombings in the cities, armed skirmishes in the countryside and terrible assassinations anywhere, anytime. Those who work for social change are the main targets of the violence. One organization, the Patriotic Union (UP), has 1044 members at the hands of death squads since its inception in 1986. The UP's senior leader, Diego Montana, recently visited the U.S. and Insight Features interviewed him on the "drug war," U.S. policy and the future of Colombia.
First some bibliography: Diego Montana Cuellar first answered his political calling when he was elected student representative to the City Council of Bogota in 1934. He went on to become a Congressmen, Secretary of Government, Acting Mayor of Bogota, Embassy Secretary in Chile, Council General in Santiago, Advisor to Worker's Trade Union of Fedepetrol, Professor at Free University and National University, author, and Acting Chairman of the Patriotic Union (a coalition movement of the left). He was re-elected to Congress this March and visited the U.S. in April. The following interview was conducted in Chicago by Alynne Romo, an associate editor of Insight Features and a steering committee member of the International Forum Coalition.
Q: Due to the limitations of the media, our view of Colombia from the U.S. is distorted and a bit murky. Almost all the news we hear about your country is associated with the drug question. How did drug-trafficking become such a large component of Colombian life?
Montana: There have been three great bonanzas in Colombia. The first arose some years back with the mining and trade in emeralds. Prior to that, it took many generations to become rich in Colombia. After the emeralds, prosperity came with marijuana along with coffee smuggling. When Colombian marijuana became inferior to the marijuana now grown here in your country, the prosperity associated with cocaine emerged on the scene.
So there are now three professions in which fortunes can be acquired in a few weeks; three jobs that can make certain lowlife people very rich: the hired hitmen, emerald hunters and, above all, drug smugglers.
Remember that Colombia is not a great cocaine producer or consumer--it is the corridor through which drugs are moved from Peru and Bolivia to North America. The primary importance of Colombia to cocaine smugglers is that we have remote jungle regions that permit traffickers to set up large processing plants.
The second greatest factor is the development in Colombia of a transport system to move the drugs, especially skilled pilots, who run the risk of transporting the coke on American aircraft, through American defenses, and largely to benefit the accounts of American interests. The cocaine traffic requires a very complex infrastructure from one end to the other and a very powerful network of support.
Ultimately, the final beneficiaries of the cocaine trade are the great bankers of the U.S. Some Colombian economists like Salman Kalmanowitz state that only 15% of the money earned goes to Colombia, while 85% goes to the income of the American, Japanese and European financial network.
Of Colombia's drug cartels, those based in the cities of Medellin and Cali are the largest. Medellin is the most bloody--that is the one the notorious Gacha used to belong to. He was a demented person. He acquired a million hectares of land. He was a killer of members of the UP, including two of our senators. He bragged about being anti-communist. He was captured by the Colombian armed forces and killed last December.
The Cali cartel is more "civilized." It is made of high-class businessmen. There is a saying in Colombia--that the CIA works with Medellin, and the DEA works with Cali!
Q: From the perspective of Latin America, how do you view the involvement of the U.S. government in the drug wars?
Montana: When the Cold War ended with an pact with Gorbachev, the U.S. military and its friends needed something to keep themselves in business. Now with the excuse of combating drugs they are arming the contras--all the contras in this world.
At this moment in Latin America, U.S. militarism is seeking to maintain the struggle that once existed between East and West. Except now it is being redirected into a conflict between North and South. The essence of U.S. foreign policy is to have the counter-revolution first, before the revolution even gets a chance to get off the ground. They do this by setting up counter-insurgency programs.
This is the "National Security Doctrine" developed by the Pentagon. It sees the security threat to be faced by the armed forces of a given country as coming, not from abroad, but from the people of the country itself. The armies in Latin America have been trained in and structured around this doctrine.
For example, the Colombian government, under pressure from the left and other forces, is struggling against the drug traffickers. The U.S. government stepped in and offered planes and helicopters. However, those weapons are not that useful against drug traffickers, but they are effective against peasants. The U.S. government is seeking to impose its military force on the people of Colombia.
The Colombian government refused to accept the intervention of U.S. troops. President Bush's response was to mobilize air craft carriers to watch the Colombian coast and to do overflights. The massive opposition of the people forced the Colombian government to stand up and reject the U.S. coercion.
Q: You're suggesting that the U.S. aircraft offered to Colombia is really intended for use against popular rural movements. Could you give us some perspective on those struggles?
Montana: The guerrilla movement, which has existed for 40 years, arose because of the repression of peasants in their struggle for land. The peasants who took up arms had been forced to move from developed areas to peripheral areas through what was really a form of armed colonization. The most distant areas where the government's influence never reached--like near the Amazon--is where these "new colonies" were established.
In 1985 these guerrillas made a truce with the government. The government agreed to broaden democracy and the rebels agreed to end the armed struggle. The Patriotic Union was then born. The UP sought to allow the incorporation of these forces into legal activities. So, in 1986 we took part in the elections. We received great support in rural areas and elected 15 congressmen, hundreds of municipal council members and some 60 mayors. It was quite a historical victory.
Then began the war of extermination against us. The Senator and the Representative from the State of Meta were both murdered. The Representative of Magdalena Medio, an oil producing zone, was murdered. Mayors and city officials in Uraba, a banana producing area were murdered.
These selective exterminations had the goal of preventing a movement that had momentum and support from becoming a majority movement. They were eliminating a possibility.
In the beginning, the extermination was limited to leaders. Then came the attacks on the masses. By 1988 there were genocides of entire towns who were only suspected UP sympathizers. Or they were banana workers dancing at a fiesta or an Easter celebration. Since 1985, 1044 members of our organization have been killed.
Q: By whom--the drug traffickers?
Montana: In Colombia, the struggle against land reform has been reinforced by organizing the property-owners into regional groups. Using the pretext of guerrilla activities and kidnappings, the landowners organize militarily. The army gave them arms and training. They then formed paramilitary groups.
The drug traffickers, who launder funds by buying large tracts of land, import mercenaries from Australia and Great Britain who teach them how to kill efficiently. There are schools for the hitmen. The exterminations benefit the counterrevolutionaries, drug-traffickers and landlords.
Q: How do you propose to deal with the drug issue?
Montana: There are really two problems; one we can do something about, the other we can't. The demand for drugs is a world problem that must be solved by the United States and the other consumer countries. Narco-terrorism, on the other hand, is a problem that can be solved in Colombia. The government has approached the trafficking problem. There is a sector of the armed forces that has been fighting against traffickers. But there are two groups in the armed forces--one against and one supporting the Medellin cartel. There is a network of informers and none of the big crimes are under investigation.
Q: There have been a number of summits on a range of issues throughout Latin America in the past couple of years. The most recent was the Anti-Drug Summit in Cartagena de las Indias, Colombia, a few months ago. Was anything accomplished?
Montana: Something important was happening in Cartagena. Not for Bush--he was just there to campaign for himself. But Barco, Alan Garcia [of Peru] and Zamora [Bolivia] were very together on a number of important points. For one, they agreed that the problem of drug production can't be resolved without substituting an alternative crop.
The production of coca, as opposed to refined cocaine, is ancient in Peru and Bolivia. Chewing the coca leaf wards off hunger and altitude sickness. This is how people could walk long distances in the times of the Incas. It's an old custom.
For the people native to these regions, it used to be that there was corn growing next to the coca leaf. But there wasn't much of an external market. Now along come some Americans in planes and the people have a some of money. This is the first time they've really had enough to eat, to live decently. That's why, if we are going to take away the cocaine, we need a profitable replacement. We need to invest in land research and infrastructure reform, so we can develop and plant other products.
Generally, the Third World needs a new world economic order. The United Nations agreed on that in 1974. But it has not been fulfilled in reality. Take for example, foreign debt: development based on dependence equals foreign debt. Look at a rich country like Brazil. Look at a technologically developed country like Argentina. All have the same "drainage" problem.
The non-payment of the foreign debt is the beginning of the movement toward independence--which is what Latin America needs.
The structure of the loans has systematically forced the countries of Latin America to export our capital for the development of the highly developed countries! In the last ten years Latin American countries sent out more than double the loans they had received. It's not ethical.
The continued paying of debt will hold back the social development of the Latin American peoples. The non-payment of the debt is central to the economic, political and social integration of Latin America.
Q: If Americans could do anything to help, what would it be?
Montana: U.S. public opinion is very important. A large part of the ruling class listens to the dominant opinion in the U.S. It is imperative that the American people understand that we are more than an appendage of the U.S.
We would ask that you help prevent the U.S. shipment of the chemicals that are used to process drugs to Colombia. This would prevent the processing of drugs in Colombia. We would ask that the U.S. government please patrol and control its own coast instead of worrying about the departure of drugs from Colombia. The attempt to dominate our coastal waters is not acceptable to us. We need you to understand that the military aid to Colombia is simply not to hunt drug traffickers. They are not being used to hunt Escobar [of the Medellin Cartel]. The attack helicopters are being used to attack our peasant movements.
What is most important is that the U.S. people see that the drug problem is determined mostly by consumption. Drug addiction is a product of U.S. society of the advanced capitalist consumer society. The struggle against this aspect of the drug business cannot be resolved in Colombia. I know that here in the U.S. the drug situation weighs heavily on the poor. That struggle is as much in the interests of the Colombians as it the people of the U.S.
Q: And what will happen now in Colombia?
Montana: Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin American. In Colombia the President and Congress are elected. There is a separation of powers and freedom of the press. Why is it that with so much "democracy" the popular majority is not in power? Because the formal "democracy" is a lie. This is reflected in the fact that of 17 million voters, only 4 million--therefore a minority--elects the power structure.
We feel that there is a political solution to our problems. Peace is a necessity for the Colombian people. We must broaden our movement. We must go beyond the left and all the democratic sectors must work together. When I return to Colombia I will attend a convention that will initiate a call for all the left and democratic forces to come together for peace and democracy. We will not have a candidate in the May 25 presidential elections [the UP's presidential candidate was assassinated March 22] but will support a plebiscite that will call for a constitutional assembly made up of political parties and social forces. The coalition that is forming now will call for housing reform, urban and rural reform and a human rights policy.
The Colombian struggle is for democracy--as is the case with Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba and elsewhere. Justice in Colombia has been destroyed. We will reconstruct it. We are determined to have a home with justice.
Q: What does the U.S. think of your plan for a political convention?
Montana: They do not like the plan. Even though they don't say it, they are very interested in maintaining things as they are. They still manipulate the government through the army.
The day after this interview Carlos Pizarro, the presidential candidate of the April 19th Movement (M-19) was assassinated on an airplane in Colombia in spite of the 14 body guards who accompanied him on the plane. M-19 had recently turned in their weapons and agreed to participate in the democratic process. Montana returned to Colombia amid heavy security.
The convention of which he spoke was held and resulted in the formation of the Democratic Alliance and was attended by 267 groups including the Patriotic Union, the Popular Front, M-19, the Trade Union Confederation (CUT), the peasant unions, intellectuals, regional and civic movements, religious leaders and individual members of other groups including In Struggle, the Communist Party, the Social Conservative party, and the Liberal Party. Diego Montana was elected one of the top leaders of the Democratic Alliance. The plebiscite will be on the May 25 ballot.
Source: PeaceNet - cdp:nfd.ifeatures
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank