Cocaine, Colombia and the Cartels

On March 1, in a widely publicized incident, Colombian troops invaded Ecuador, where they killed 26 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), including Raúl Reyes, a long-time FARC leader. This incursion into Ecuadorian territory set off a brief diplomatic firefight in which Venezuela sided with Ecuador.

The incident ended peacefully, but not before the Colombian government claimed that its troops had left the scene of the raid with a laptop computer that had belonging to Reyes. This laptop, Colombia’s police chief said, contained numerous documents, including one proving that Venezuela had paid $300 million to the FARC.

In response, Vice President Ramón Carrizales of Venezuela said, “We are used to the Colombian government’s lies.”

After the initial anger had given way to calm reflection, it appeared that the entire incident might be forgotten. But on March 14, the New York Times reported that an anonymous American official had said that “American investigative teams” were helping the Colombians “pull information from recently seized computers.” These computers had been gathered at the site of the March 1 raid, and they had inexplicably multiplied from one to more than one.

Just to show how concerned they were, George Bush and Condi Rice began to talk about Venezuelan support for “terrorists.” For the United States, anyone we don’t like is now simply a “terrorist,” and the Iraqis know what we do to people like that.

Then, on March 30, reporter Simon Romero stated that the Colombians had given the Times 20 files and that they “appear to tie Venezuela’s government to efforts to secure arms for Colombia’s largest insurgency [FARC].”

If 20 files don’t seem like much, please note that “[Colombian] Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview that officials had obtained more than 16,000 files from three computers Two other hard drives were also captured, he said.” Santos added that Colombia had “invited Interpol to verify the files.” He didn’t say how much additional FARC computer hardware might materialize in Bogotá before Interpol finished the job.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela remains unmoved by all this creative computing: “This computer is like à la carte service, giving you whatever you want. You want steak? Or fried fish? How would you like it prepared? You’ll get it however the empire decides.”

Like President Chávez, I remain skeptical about our computer experts and what they may have found or created in their 16,000 computer files. And I don’t care much for the recent history of the United States and Colombia. It’s time to review cocaine, Colombia, and the cartels.

In 1999, a U.S. Army DeHavilland RC-7 spy plane left an airbase somewhere and flew over the rainforest of southern Colombia on a moonless night. The crew included the pilot, the co-pilot, three other U.S. soldiers, and two Colombians. At about 3:00 AM on July 23, the plane slammed into the side of a mountain. There were no survivors.

The plane was officially doing antinarcotics surveillance. Unofficially, it was looking for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, although we weren’t supposed to know that. The Army said that the plane crashed by accident, but some people found that hard to believe.

In January of 2000, six months after the crash of the DeHavilland RC-7, Laurie Anne Hiett pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and was sentenced to five years in prison. According to the New York Times (July 14, 2000), Hiett had shipped heroin from the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá to confederates in the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens.

Hiett’s conviction created something of an embarrassment to the Army, owing to the fact that she was married to Colonel James C. Hiett, the commander of 200 U.S. soldiers who were busily conducting training for Colombian drug-control personnel.

After an investigation, the Army concluded that James Hiett had not participated in his wife’s drug-smuggling business. Nonetheless, in July 2000, Judge Edward R. Korman of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn sentenced Hiett to five months in prison for not reporting his wife’s scheme. Proof that he knew about the scheme lay, among other places, in the fact that he had paid numerous family expenses with thousands of dollars that came from Ms. Hiett’s heroin trade.

During the trial, the mother of one of the U.S. soldiers who died in the crash of the Army’s DeHavilland RC-7 spy plane in Colombia asked Judge Korman to investigate that incident. She claimed that Colonel Hiett had caused the death of her adult child by, according to the Times, “revealing secret information about military surveillance flights to Colombian drug traffickers.” She believed those traffickers had shot down the plane, presumably with a surface-to-air missile made in the USA.

After expressing his sympathy, Judge Korman stated that he lacked the authority to conduct such an investigation.

The War on Drugs in Colombia revealed another side of its never-ending history on August 1, 2004, when the National Security Archive released a previously confidential report by U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials in Colombia. The Archive had obtained the report by means of the Freedom of Information Act.

This report, dated September 23, 1991, concerns the notorious Pablo Escobar, the Medellín Cartel, the Cali Cartel, and other topics. It contains 14 single-spaced pages. The document begins with this summary: “This report provides information on the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the cartels for security, transportation, distribution, collection and enforcement of narcotics operations in both the US and Colombia. These individuals are also contracted as ‘hit men’ for assassinations by the cartel leaders.”

The report then presents profiles of dozens of individuals, such as Manuel Noriega and Iran-Contra arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. It also includes “Álvaro Uribe Velez-a Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín Cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US. His father was murdered in Colombia for his connection with the narcotic traffickers.”

This Álvaro Uribe Velez is, of course, the current president of Colombia. The DIA report says that Uribe “has worked for the Medellín Cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar.” This is the same Álvaro Uribe who now claims that Hugo Chávez paid $300 million to FARC.

Chávez said that Uribe was a “mob boss” and a “liar.” George Bush says the mob boss is a champion of democracy and a close ally. Manuel Noriega was also a close ally until he lost his usefulness during the pontificate of George I. The CIA had recruited Noriega when George I himself ran the spy shop. President Uribe might want to take note of these troubling facts in the history of mob bosses and the Bush family.

The evidence for Uribe’s initial attack on Chávez was contained in the original laptop computer that allegedly belonged to the assassinated Raúl Reyes. The specific passage from the laptop said, “With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call ‘dossier,’ efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo, which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.”

I’ve read this repeatedly, and I still can’t get it to say “$300 million from Chávez to the FARC.” Maybe the new laptop computers will clarify the statement.

When the DIA report linking Álvaro Uribe with the Medellín drug cartel burst on an unprepared Colombian president in 2004, his government quickly recovered and issued a statement denying the worth of the document and maintaining the innocence of the president. Uribe said, “As a politician, I have been honorable and accountable.” Since then he has evinced a need not to discuss the matter.

The National Security Archive then and now maintains that the DIA report “differs from the average field report in several ways,” all of which suggest its validity. The ultimate way to test its validity would be to consider the person who wrote it. But the DIA refuses to say who that person was.

Despite Pablo Escobar’s long association with certain politicians, he eventually became a liability. Colombian agents gunned him down in 1993 as he ran across a rooftop in Medellín. More recently, the United States has been giving the Colombian government about $600 million a year, adding up thus far to a total of $5 billion. According to the evening news, there’s still plenty of cocaine on the street.

All this leaves me with little appetite for anything Colombia and the United States might claim to find on any computer. If Colombia wanted verification of what these computers contained, why didn’t it give them to Interpol to begin with? U.S. law enforcement is far too adept at inventing and planting its own evidence. I’m prepared to accept the truth when I see it. In this case, the mob bosses have had too much time and freedom to invent their own version of the truth.

PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at