Cocaine capitalism: part two

(For part one click here)

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 95, June/July 1990


‘It is a sad commentary on the state of mankind at the end of the twentieth century that the bulk of our vast productive energies is devoted to our own destruction’. So lamented UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar during April’s World Ministerial Summit on Drugs in London. Illegal narcotics now exceed oil and automobiles and are second only to weapons as the world’s most valuable trade. Each year they pump an additional $300 billion through the capitalist banking system. Drugs house soldiers in palaces, furnish police and customs officials with luxury, buy guns and missiles for Afghan and Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, prop up entire Latin American economies and fend off a multi-national banking collapse triggered by the unpayable trillion-dollar Third World debt. TREVOR RAYNE continues his examination of the drugs trade.

Like all capitalist wealth, drug profits are wrung out of the misery and squalor of the oppressed: the 130 million Latin Americans in hunger and poverty who provide the child assassins for the drug barons’ armies; the peasant coca farmers who receive 0.5 per cent of cocaine’s final retail price; the 45 per cent of black and 39 per cent of Hispanic children born in the USA who exist below the poverty line; the street corner lookouts earning $35 for a twelve hour shift with an expectancy of three to six months ‘work’ before arrest and imprisonment. 23 per cent of US black men aged 20-29 are in gaol, on parole or probation. For every two young black US males who gain entry into higher education, three are held in some form of custody. This is cocaine capitalism, the face behind the dazzle from the designer sunglasses of Miami Vice.

Just as capitalism cannot resist profit so cocaine has come to Britain. Crack, the cocaine derivative known also as ‘wash’ and ‘rock’, is described as a ‘standard commodity in dealing networks in major cities in England . . .’ in an internal Home Office memo dated 23 March.

Since 1987 the police have systematically blamed black people for the growth of cocaine use in Britain, regardless of the evidence. Last year they staged a Los Angeles-style police raid on Broadwater Farm Estate with television crews and journalists in attendance, ostensibly searching for crack dealers - none were found, but the police were pleased with the headline coverage: it reinforced their message - black people equal drugs equal crime. The majority of cocaine enters Britain via Europe in steel containers. To take one example, two thousand containers enter the French port of Le Havre every day, but there are only enough customs officers to search one container thoroughly each week. Rotterdam, Hamburg and Liverpool are similarly placed. Should one port individually increase the delay in freight transit time while searches are made, such is the competition that traders would switch to rival ports. Containers go sealed direct from sender to receiver. They contain not a few grammes that might be concealed about a body, but hundreds of kilos of cocaine worth millions of dollars. This is big business but the police target the black working class.

Mrs Thatcher told the London summit that the British government was donating a £21 million aid package to the underdeveloped nations with an additional £4.5 million for Colombia. Each year Latin America alone transfers $30 billion in debt repayments to the capitalist metropoles. The fall in world coffee prices will cost Colombia this year eighty times Mrs Thatcher's special package. Every month British customs officers seize drugs worth more than the entire British aid programme. The poison will keep on flowing.

Imperialist exploitation of the oppressed nations has left narcotic production as one of the few means of capital accumulation available to its bourgeoisie (see FRFI 92: Cocaine Capitalism - part one). The unregulated movement of enormous drug profits threaten to destabilise the capitalist financial system. At the same time a section of the Latin American bourgeoisie has emerged whose economic base places it in an ambiguous relationship to imperialism: dependent upon it for markets, but potentially in conflict with it over prices and access to the state power which its wealth claims. Nevertheless, as a bourgeoisie it is in alliance with imperialism against the working class and peasantry.

Eighty per cent of US and British drug related aid is in the form of military supplies. British warships, SAS units and police have now joined US troops stationed in Latin America, ostensibly to fight drugs. Their priority is to ensure that Latin America continues to transfer over $30 billion a year to the multinational banks and corporations.




Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez recounts that in 1984 Pablo Escobar, reputed head of the Medellín cartel, was negotiating with the Colombian government to end the drug trade, repatriate profits and pay off the country’s then $12 billion foreign debt in exchange for the lifting of the threat of extradition to the USA. Negotiations were ended by the new US ambassador Lewis Tambs ‘who arrived in Bogotá amidst a great fanfare with a slogan newly-minted for the occasion, ie: “narco-guerrilla”.’ Tambs claimed that the site of a recent police seizure of cocaine had been guarded by Communists. Colombian police reported that there were no Communists, no uniforms and no propaganda anywhere near the site. The US State Department commented that ‘Tambs got ahead of the evidence’.

By 1985 a State Department report on Soviet influence in Latin America warned of an ‘alliance between drug smugglers and guerrillas.’ In 1986 a US Presidential directive elevated drug smuggling to a ‘national security threat’ because of what then Vice President Bush said was ‘a real link between drugs and terrorism’. US delegates to the Conference of Latin American Armies urged the assembled general staffs to unite against ‘narco-terrorism’. The right-wing, London-based Institute for Strategic Studies announced in 1988 that ‘narco-terrorism’ is now ‘on a par with Communism a threat to Western interests in Latin America’. These statements are not just propaganda, they are directives for action.

The Panamanian government was overthrown and General Noriega kidnapped in the name of the ‘war on drugs’. In 1984 President Reagan won a Congressional vote resuming military supplies to the contras using fabricated evidence that the Sandinistas were drug smugglers; evidence which even his own Drug Enforcement Agency later refuted. The Cuban merchant ship Hermann was harassed and attacked by the US coast guard on the pretext of searching for drugs in January this year. In April a Mexican doctor was kidnapped from Mexico and taken to the US to face criminal charges connected with the murder of a US narcotics agent in 1985. The Mexican government implicates US government agents in the kidnap.

Using the pretext of fighting drugs the US military is systematically trampling over the sovereignty of Latin American nations, seeking to reinforce its domination of the hemisphere. Doing this in the name of the ‘war on drugs’ has reduced opposition to such ventures from within the USA itself; it is an antidote to the ‘Vietnam syndrome’.

Seven US military units are currently stationed in Peru (3), Colombia (2) and Bolivia (2). The operation in Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley, a major coca growing district, is modelled on the intervention in Vietnam. A US-constructed military airbase houses eight US manned helicopter gunships and three British supplied ‘Hotspur Hussar’ armoured attack vehicles. They are to be joined by US Green Beret Special Forces with river patrol boats, ground attack jets, and even a fleet of the infamous Huey helicopter gunships, symbols of the US war in Vietnam. The Upper Huallaga Valley is partly controlled by Sendero Luminoso guerrillas fighting the Peruvian government and imperialist domination of Peru. They also ensure that the Colombian cartels pay a negotiated price to the coca peasants and do not use their private armies against them. Over the past year Peruvian authorities claim to have killed over 1,000 Sendero Luminoso in the region surrounding the airbase.

Three hundred US troops arrived in Bolivia in April 1989 to work on the Potosi airport-widening project. Two months later they launched what the Bolivian United Left called a ‘US military intervention’ and local press ‘a savage and crazed shoot-out’ against the civilian population of Santa Ana de Yacuma. House to house searches were followed by a helicopter gunship opening fire killing three people, two of them children. Eight people ‘disappeared’. With the collapse of the tin mining industry the Bolivian coca peasants are a major source of opposition to the Bolivian government and basis for radical political movements.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) under the leadership of the Communist Party has been waging armed struggle since the 1960s. M-19 was formed in 1972 by elements from FARC and the urban left movement. In order to protect their wealth and power from the revolutionary movement the ranchers, drug cartel and sections of the Colombian military united to exterminate the left. Senior military officers and drug barons coordinate the death squads. Over 1000 members of the legal and Communist-supported Patriotic Union have been assassinated including three of its leaders, the most recent being presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo in January this year. In April Carlos Pizarro, the candidate of M-19, which in March laid down its arms to participate in elections, was slain. Pizarro had recently won ten per cent of the vote for the Mayor of Bogotá.

Imperialism knows full well that the social conditions it is generating in Latin America will give birth to powerful revolutionary movements too strong for the local bourgeoisie to suppress. Since the 1970s its death squads have been free to ply drugs across the continent as a reward for their services. Now the death squads are not pitted against revolutionary organisations alone but whole populations, and they are insufficient. Imperialism's armies are dispatched as reinforcements. 




In 1973 a meeting took place in a Bologna cafe between José López Rega, former policeman, nightclub bouncer and then private secretary to Argentina’s Juan Perón and an Italian, Stefano Delle Chiaie. Three months later one of Latin America’s most sinister death squads was set up, the Triple A (Argentina Anti-communist Alliance). López was head of the Triple A and promoted to Minister of the Interior. He and 150 Argentine police were taken by the US Drug Enforcement Agency for special training in the USA. They returned to the Triple A which was responsible for the murder and disappearance of hundreds of left wing Montoneros.

In 1974 López said ‘We hope to wipe out the drug traffic in Argentina. We have caught guerrillas after attacks who were high on drugs. Guerrillas are the main users of drugs in Argentina. Therefore, the anti-drug campaign will automatically be an anti-guerrilla campaign as well.’

A 1975 Argentine Congressional investigation revealed López Rega to be the head of a drug smuggling network. He collaborated with General Andrés Rodríguez of Paraguay. Rodríguez replaced General Stroessner as President in February 1989. Asked about Rodríguez’s role in drug trafficking the US Ambassador to Paraguay remarked, ‘A dynamic society like ours is only interested in the present and the future. The past is for the history books.’

Delle Chiaie is wanted for the bombing of Bologna railway station in 1980 which killed 85 people. Following this fascist atrocity, Delle Chiaie fled to Bolivia where he worked with ‘cocaine king’ Roberto Suarez’s Los Novios de la Muerte (‘The Fiances of Death’), a private paramilitary army used to defend his trafficking business and support the government of General García Meza. Fellow ‘Fiances’ of Delle Chiaie’s included the ‘Butcher of Lyons’ Klaus Barbie, OAS torturer Napoleon Leclerc and several ex-Waffen SS. The Fiances were recruited into Bolivia’s National Drug Control Agency. Smaller coca producers were shut down, those who resisted were tortured and killed. Delle Chiaie served as intermediary between the Italian Mafia and the Latin American cocaine producers when negotiating the latter’s entry into the North American and European drug markets. Delle Chiaie has six recorded different CIA operational contacts. 



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