Saturday, March 29, 2008


Deterring Democracy Copyright © 1991, 1992 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter 4: Problems of Population Control Segment 9/11
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6. The Usual Victims

The Colombian operation illustrates other facets of the Drug War. The military aid program for Colombia finances murderous and repressive elements of the military with ties to the drug business and landowners. As commonly in the past, the current U.S. drug programs are likely to contribute to counterinsurgency operations and destruction of popular organizations that might challenge elite conceptions of "democracy." These prospects were illustrated at the very moment when the President made his grand declaration of an all-out war on the drug merchants, featuring aid to the Colombian military, in September 1989. As the media blitz peaked, the Andean Commission of Jurists in Lima published a report on the Colombian military entitled "Excesses in the Anti-Drug Effort." "Waving as pretext the measures adopted against drug trafficking," the report begins, "the military have ransacked the headquarters of grass roots organizations and the homes of political leaders, and ordered many arrests." A series of illustrations follow from the first two weeks of September 1989. On September 3, two days before President Bush's dramatic call to battle, the army and the Administrative Security Department (DAS) ransacked homes of peasants in one region, arresting 40 laborers; the patrols are led by hooded individuals who identify targets for arrest, townspeople report. In a nearby area house searches were aimed principally against members of the Patriotic Union (whose leaders and activists are regularly assassinated) and the Communist Party, some alleged to have "subversive propaganda" in their possession. In Medell¡n, 70 activists and civic leaders were arrested in poor neighborhoods. Elsewhere at the same time, two union leaders, one an attorney for the union, were assassinated and another disappeared. Other leaders received death threats. Hired assassins murdered 3 members of the National Organization of Indigenous People, injuring others, while unidentified persons destroyed a regional office.45

These are examples of the regular behavior of the forces to whom President Bush pledged U.S. aid and assistance, published just at the moment of the domestic applause for his announcement -- but not available to the cheering section that pays the bills.

Ample publicity was, however, given to the capture of 28 people in mid-September charged with being leftist guerrillas working with the drug cartel, and to claims by the Colombian military that guerrilla organizations had formed an alliance with the Medell¡n drug traffickers and carried out bombings for them. The Colombian military in Medell¡n charged that staff members of the Popular Education Institute (IPC), arrested in a raid by security forces, were members of a guerrilla organization hired as terrorists by the cartel. Unreported, however, was the conclusion of the Andean Commission of Jurists that the charges are "clearly a set-up by the military forces which are looking to discredit the popular work [of] the IPC," a community-based organization working in popular education, training and human rights. The staff workers arrested -- all those present at the time, including the director -- were held incommunicado and tortured, according to the Colombian section of the Andean Commission. The Colombian Human Rights Committee in Washington reported increasing harassment of popular organizations as new aid flowed to the military in the name of "the war on drugs." Other human rights monitors have also warned of the near inevitability of these consequences as the U.S. consolidates its links with the Colombian and Peruvian military, both of whom have appalling records of human rights violations.46

The New York Times reports that senior Peruvian military officers say that they will use the new U.S. money "to intensify their campaign against the guerrillas and to try to prevent the smuggling of chemicals" (mainly from U.S. corporations, which suggests another strategy that remains unmentioned). U.S. officials concur with the strategy, though they profess to be uneasy that it "is steering clear of the growers and traffickers." In Bolivia, also a recipient of U.S. military aid and hailed as a great success story, the military does not match its Peruvian and Colombian colleagues in the scale of state terror, but there was no U.S. reaction to the declaration of a state of emergency by the President of Bolivia, followed by the jailing of "hundreds of union leaders and teachers who he said threatened his Government's anti-inflation policies with their wage demands."47 This is not, after all, Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, so passionate concern over human rights issues would have no purpose.

It should be borne in mind that human rights have only an instrumental function in the political culture, serving as a weapon against adversaries and a device to mobilize the domestic public behind the banner of our nobility, as we courageously denounce the real or alleged abuses of official enemies.

In this regard, human rights concerns are very much like the facts of past and present history: instruments to serve the needs of power, not to enlighten the citizenry. Thus, one would be unlikely to find a discussion in the media of the background for the state terrorism in Colombia that the Bush administration intends to abet. The topic is addressed in a discussion of human rights in Colombia by Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights. "Behind the façade of a constitutional regime," he observes, "we have a militarized society under the state of siege provided" by the 1886 Constitution. The Constitution grants a wide range of rights, but they have no relation to reality. "In this context poverty and insufficient land reform have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries of Latin America." Land reform, which "has practically been a myth," was legislated in 1961, but "has yet to be implemented, as it is opposed by landowners, who have had the power to stop it" -- again, no defect of "democracy," by Western standards. The result of the prevailing misery has been violence, including la Violencia of the 1940s and 1950s, which took hundreds of thousands of lives. "This violence has been caused not by any mass indoctrination, but by the dual structure of a prosperous minority and an impoverished, excluded majority, with great differences in wealth, income, and access to political participation."

The story has another familiar thread. "But in addition to internal factors," Vásquez Carrizosa continues, "violence has been exacerbated by external factors. In the 1960s the United States, during the Kennedy administration, took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads." These Kennedy initiatives "ushered in what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine,...not defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game...[with] the right to combat the internal enemy, as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine, the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean anyone, including human rights activists such as myself."48

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