Bush’s Bolivian Mercenaries

“War”: a potent, pliable word. Under the rubric of “war”–which implies dire emergency, imminent threat, the abandonment of normal life and the normal rule of law–there is no limit to the moral erosion that can occur. The previously unthinkable becomes routine practice: for example, a respectable democracy funding mercenary armies and terrorist forces in foreign countries, like the jihadists in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua–and now the “Expeditionary Task Force” in Bolivia.

There, the Bush Regime is paying–lock, stock and barrel–for a band of local mercenaries taking part in Bolivia’s campaign to eradicate coca production in the jungle region of Chapare, the Washington Post reports this week.

The mercenaries are attached to regular army units, so they are not, officially, “paramilitaries.” But the many human rights charges they’ve spawned–murders, beatings, rapes, torture, illegal detentions–sound like that old sweet song of yesteryear, when Reagan-Bush proxy armies prowled the Latin American night, killing tens of thousands of innocent people to keep Yankee investments and American-backed elites safe from riff-raff.

The coca plant has been cultivated in Chapare since time immemorial, used as a healing medicine and pain reliever. In the second half of the 20th century, the sale and manufacture of its powerful derivative, cocaine (along with various opium derivatives), were taken up by organized crime and its allies in the Western security services as a high-yield money-maker. The Mob used the profits to buy political influence and augment its already-considerable infiltration into the “legitimate” business world; elements in the security agencies used the money to fund various covert and terrorist operations.

The highly addictive nature of the coca derivative guaranteed unimaginable profits when the full flood of the cocaine trade broke upon the lucrative American market. As in so many cases, a “blowback” then occurred. With so much money in play, previously acquiescent co-conspirators, like Panama’s Manuel Noriega, got uppity and had to be crushed, while innumerable rogue operators muscled in on the action. Whole nations were upended by warring drug lords who passed in and out of official favor as the political winds shifted in Washington and other capitals.

Having lost control of the profits from the drug trade–and having unleashed a social devastation on the American population that even the most cynical CIA player could not have foreseen–Washington then launched the “war on drugs.” This has proven every bit as profitable as the drug-running itself–perhaps even more so, as corrupt officials now can play both sides, drawing huge amounts of tax dollars for the “war effort” while also raking in bribes from favored crime bosses to keep the trade thriving.

In short, the insane attempt to criminalize–rather than regulate–the perhaps regrettable but clearly ineradicable human desire to escape reality on occasion has led to a vast, pervasive corruption–of governments, societies, cultures, institutions–unprecedented in history. From Al Capone to al Qaeda, outlaw enterprises have entwined with state power to feed on this pool of illicit profit and blight the lives of millions.

And now the “war on drugs” is merging with the “war on terror,” with a corresponding growth in scale and firepower, offering excellent potential for long-term profits for the “defense”-related industries that hold such a disproportionate sway in international politics. This merging also accelerates the moral corrosion that flourishes under the acidic metaphor of “war”–as we can see in Bolivia.

When it was first foisted upon on a supine Bolivian government 18 months ago, the ETF kept a low profile. But in the new dispensation after September. 11, they have, as one Bolivian officer puts it, “gotten out of hand.” The ETF is now under investigation for allegedly killing an unarmed union leader during a protest by local farmers in January. Bolivia’s official human rights ombudsman has logged charges of four other ETF murders and more than 50 instances of torture and theft since the Sept. 11 empowerment.

To please their overlords in Washington, the Bolivian government has forbidden the farmers of Chapare to ply their ancient trade. When it banned coca cultivation, the government promised economic aid to help farmers switch to alternate crops and gain access to international markets for their new products. But little of this aid has been forthcoming, and now the 40,000 indigenous families of Chapare face ruin and starvation, the region’s Roman Catholic officials say.

So the farmers try to grow coca again–and they are burnt out by the ETF. They protest their lack of access to markets for legal crops–and they are shot dead by the ETF. Every bullet the mercenaries fire into the body of a farmer is paid for by the Bush Administration. But the pious Pilates in Washington deny all responsibility.

“We don’t believe them, the human rights allegations,” a Bush spokesman said, even after videotape of the January murder was produced. And anyway, Washington has contracted with a private company to pass its blood money to the mercenaries; this Enron-like accounting trick means the U.S. has no “official responsibility” for any of the ETF’s actions, the Bush Regime claims.

But some Bolivians disagree. “These are soldiers with no clearly defined loyalties, and a foreign power is funding them to run around our country with guns,” says Juan Quintana, an official with the Defense Ministry. “The existence of this force is a violation of the Bolivian constitution.”

Ah, Juan, you just don’t understand–this is “war.” Anything is possible.

Chris Floyd is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. He can be reached at: cfloyd72@hotmail.com


US Role in Coca War Draws Fire,” Washington Post, June 22, 2002

Coca Grower Killed in Bolivia,” Corpwatch.org, Feb. 7, 2002

Profound concern over the violent social conflict in Bolivia sparked by U.S. funded counternarcotics operations,” Letter of Four U.S. Congressman to the State Department

CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade,” Interview with Alfred McCoy, Nov. 9, 1991

The CIA’s Drug Confession,” Consortiumnews.com, Oct. 15, 1998

Otto Reich: Our Man in Little Havana,” American Prospect, May 25, 2001

Guatemala: Memory of Silence,” Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification,”

Narcotics Traffickers and the Contras,” Senate Committee on Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy

The Reagan-Bush Crime Syndicate,” Consortiumnews.com, 1996

US Role in Salvador’s Brutal War,” BBC, March 24, 2002

Enron’s Pipe Scheme in Bolivia,” Corpwatch.org, May 9, 2002

Plan to Lift Limit on Colombia Aid, Add Counterterrorism Effort,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2002

The Bush Oil-Igarchy’s Old Friend Oxy,” Alternet.org, Feb. 21, 2002

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Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

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