Financing violence

Daily Vanguard

Capitalism, Colombia and the U.S. government

By Khalid Adad

Under capitalism the purpose of a business is to maximize profit, and in the U.S. corporations are required by law to do just that. Businesses must search for opportunities for profitable investment. Whenever they find these opportunities they must eliminate impediments to profit making, whatever those happen to be.

After World War II the U.S. was the most powerful state in history, and U.S. leaders designed domestic and foreign policy to preserve and perpetuate this system throughout the world.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Colombian military and its drug-trafficking, right-wing paramilitaries murdered 99 trade unionists last year, more than 68 percent of the total killed worldwide, according to an International Confederation of Free Trade Unions report released last week. It is no surprise because U.S. influence is greater in Colombia than in any other country in the Western Hemisphere.

The U.S. has trained, armed, and funded the Colombian military for the past 40 years, although different presidents have used different pretexts to justify this policy. According to the Kennedy administration, which designed and implemented the policy in 1962, its original purpose was to "execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents."

The U.S., of course, had the right to carry out terrorist activities against communists in foreign nations, and "communist" was a broad category that included trade unionists, human rights activists, social workers and priests. For the U.S., the poor and anyone who tried to help them out of poverty were "communists," and peasants organizing to demand human rights were antidemocratic, Stalinist clones.

What was called a "communist" is now called a "narcoterrorist," as the Kennedy policy continues under the "war on drugs" and the "war on terrorism." U.S. support for the capitalist system in Colombia increased in 2000 and was given a new name, Plan Colombia.

Under Plan Colombia, which continues until at least 2006, the U.S. is "dedicating military aid to protect multinationals' interests in the country," according to PBS's Frontline.

Our government gives our tax money to U.S. weapons producers, who then give weapons to the Colombian military. The Colombian military uses these weapons to protect U.S. corporate investments and to remove any obstacles to profit making.

Occidental Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, Drummond, Dole Food Co. and Coca-Cola, among others, all have business operations in Colombia, and all have been accused of human rights violations. For example, in 2000, Occidental used the military to break up an indigenous tribe's nonviolent blockade of a drill site, killing three children. In 2001 the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit in Florida alleging that Coca-Cola uses paramilitary death squads to kidnap, threaten, torture and murder union leaders at the company's bottling plants.

These and other corporate interests in Colombia lobbied for approval of the plan, and two in particular -- Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.-- have made very nice profits indeed from their efforts. They spent $1.6 million to convince Congress to buy their aircraft and continue coca eradication in Colombia. By 2002 our government had given $365 million to Bell and Sikorsky, who then delivered 40 Bell Huey II helicopters and 30 Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters to Colombia.

DynCorp, which had a five-year, $170 million contract to conduct operations in Colombia through 2002, used these helicopters to spread herbicides through aerial fumigation, also known as chemical warfare.

Ostensibly, this is part of the "war on drugs" meant to prevent coca production through source eradication. But, unfortunately for Colombians, herbicides are not choosey. They exterminate coca crops and anything else they touch, including food crops, and they poison the farmers who grow them.

The price of cocaine on U.S. streets has not changed, which means supply has not decreased, but the policy remains. In Colombia, the effect of our chemical warfare has been to destroy farmers' livelihoods and remove them from their farms. Multinational corporations can then take over, and our government has another U.S. interest to protect in Colombia, along with, we hope, profits.

As before, the same groups, peasants who organize and demand their rights and those who help them, are the primary impediments to another capitalist success.