-- Simón Bolívar
March 29, 2001 Publisher's Note: This is an interview with exiled Colombian journalist Alfredo Molano that we conducted in Barcelona last July about the hidden agendas of Plan Colombia.
The Colombia Media Project, through the Colombia Labor Monitor, has invited readers in the New York area to meet Alfredo Molano on Monday, April 2, 2001, at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbia University Law School, 435 West 116th Street (off Amsterdam Ave.)
For more information call the Colombia Media Project at (212)802-7209
Alfredo Molano is one of the most conscientious and precise critics of the Plan Colombia military aid package and we highly recommend attendance at this forum next Monday night in New York. Here are his words from last Summer, many of which predicted exactly what is happening today...
Hidden Motives for a War
A Conversation in Exile
Exiled Colombian Journalist Alfredo Molano Speaks with Narco News and says:
Washington's Plan Colombia will not slow the illegal drug trade.
But Plan Colombia will
spread the cocaine crop to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and to Northern Colombia
increase the narco-power of violent paramilitary squads and their impunity to commit human rights atrocities (and to threaten journalists)
displace Colombian peasants with the motive of constructing a new Atlantic-Pacific canal within Colombia
cause grave environmental harm to the Amazon jungle
AUGUST 7, 2000; BARCELONA: Colombian journalist Alfredo Molano and his family received death threats from US-backed military and paramilitary forces because he criticized them in his Sunday newspaper column in the daily El Espectador of Bogotá. Today the Molano family lives in exile, in Europe, in the Catalonian city of Barcelona.
Molano, a leading expert on agriculture and the substitution of coca crops, granted an interview to The Narco News Bulletin in his apartment in a traditional fisherman's neighborhood of Barcelona on July 31, 2000. The interview with publisher Al Giordano was conducted in Spanish and translated to English for this report. Narco News also offered some of our own analysis about why certain conservative-libertarian sectors of the US drug policy reform movement don't want to listen to what their natural allies in Latin América are saying about the drug war, and the greater América's important contribution of developing a legalization argument from the Left.
Here, Molano speaks on the imminent danger to his country posed by the $1.3 billion "Plan Colombia" military aid package from Washington. He cites the importance of Europe's refusal to participate and affirms, "The best way to fight against drug trafficking is to legalize it." He also explains why the Latin American Left increasingly embraces the legalization cause.
July 31, 2000
NARCO NEWS: Let's talk first about "Plan Colombia." Here in Europe, according to Le Monde of Paris, there is a lot of resistance by European countries to give money to this plan by Bogotá and Washington, a plan that is, essentially, a military plan. What's your opinion?
ALFREDO MOLANO: Well, for us, the Colombians, we want there to be a negotiation between the State and the Guerrilla. It seems to us very fortunate that Europe has been divided over this and has resisted endorsing Plan Colombia as elaborated by Washington. The Plan was first proposed by the Colombian government and then brought to Washington, and was reworked by people in the State Department and maybe some university academics. The lobbyists for "Black Hawk" helicopters also participated in changing the Plan.
It was a plan made to fit the vested interests in Washington, the foreign businesses, the military contractors that also influence the Colombian government. And naturally the Washington interests to create more favorable conditions for North American investments, to create the basis for an offensive against drug trafficking and the guerrilla movement.
To us it seems that Plan Colombia is not only a plan against drug trafficking nor a plan exclusively for Colombia. In fact it is a regional plan. It's evident, very much so, more than ever, that Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and to a less dramatic extent Brazil will be swept into it. There is great social and political instability in Bolivia, in Panama and also in Brazil. And this is considered a threat against the security of the interests behind economic opening, or as we say, the globalizing hegemony of the United States. I don't say this is a very dangerous threat but rather a situation that can create difficulties for certain interests in the United States.
Plan Colombia from the point of view of the Colombian state is a very important thing. It means weapons to strengthen the military forces and obligate the guerrilla to negotiate below conditions more favorable to the government. And if the government is strengthened and the guerrilla doesn't succeed, naturally, they're going to be forced to negotiate more cheaply.
Here surges the first question: Is it possible that this reorganization of military forces, this military offensive against the guerrilla, is going to bring them to their knees? Or is it more likely that this will generalize the war to such a degree that it will spread to a regional level? Already they are feeling the effects, prior to the war, in Ecuador. There are demonstrations and movements
NARCO NEWS: already there are Colombian refugees swarming into Ecuador, and there is the military base there in Manta
MOLANO: but not only in Manta. To me it appears that it won't be easy to bring the guerrilla to negotiate on its knees. What is going to happen is that the war will escalate and become more complex. Because the guerrilla is going to say, "If you attack our financial bases, which are kidnapping and taxing the cultivation of drugs in the country, then we will also hit the economy of the enemy." This is what happens in any war. To attack the financial sources of the enemy is to attack the enemy. Thus, they will attack the electric infrastructure, the petroleum infrastructure, the exploration. Did you know that Colombia already has a deficit economy? It has improved a little bit but continues being negative. Imagine, with the economic structure of Colombia so delicate already without serious attacks on the electric and economic infrastructures. If these are touched, the country will be paralyzed.
NARCO NEWS: In spite of all the dollars that supposedly are going to come with Plan Colombia, you are saying that in the end, it will damage the economy more than help it?
MOLANO: Yes. The dollars will never arrive in Colombia because 80 percent of the dollars come in the form of weapons. They come in helicopters, in fuel, in herbicides. This doesn't enter the Colombian economy. A little bit does, but, really, only about 20 percent.
That Plan Colombia as a strategy will simply explode our internal war but also will threaten to involve the entire region.
NARCO NEWS: And yesterday Hugo Chávez won reelection in Venezuela, which worries Washington a lot.
MOLANO: Very much so, more than even Colombia, because if Colombia falls into war, nothing will happen to the economy in North America. But if Chávez cuts the oil, it complicates things. Above all because the price of oil is rising and this raises interest rates.
Alright, let's look at Europe. The Colombian government delivered two Plan Colombias, one to Washington, for the weapons, and the other to Europe
NARCO NEWS: for the hospitals and refugee camps that will be required because of the weapons.
MOLANO: The Europeans are not clowns. They know that to enter into this plan is to enter into a war. And it is a war that has no benefits for Europe. It will only complicate things in Europe because it will harm the investments it already has in Colombia. And so Europe has been divided over the plan.
NARCO NEWS: What does it mean that Europe is not going for Plan Colombia?
MOLANO: This is very important. It means that the interference by Washington is more visible.
NARCO NEWS: more isolated.
MOLANO: Yes, Washington is isolated. Europe has given a little bit of money. Spain gave $100 million, Norway, $20 million. And the loans by the Inter-American Bank include $300 million dollars to Plan Colombia that were transferred from America as loans for the European part of the plan. That was about public relations. It doesn't mean much.
NARCO NEWS: But Washington pushes forward with Plan Colombia with or without Europe?
MOLANO: Yes, of course, but this makes it appear more interventionist. Now the big question about Plan Colombia is: Will it be able to stop the drug trade? That's the huge question. Will it stop the cultivation of drugs?
I maintain that the same thing will happen with the coca crops that happened with marijuana in the 80s when they fumigated in Colombian zones. The marijuana crop ended up escaping to the United States. In Peru and Bolivia during the 90s coca crops were eradicated and substituted - not the indigenous coca but the commercial coca - and this crop has relocated to Colombia. I see the same thing happening with Plan Colombia. The coca crop will move to Ecuador, which hasn't had it, and they will return to planting coca in Peru. Certainly in Bolivia this will happen, where there is a very powerful indigenous-popular movement of peasants. And coca will start to be grown in Brazil.
Venezuela doesn't have this problem because there are not peasant farmers there like in Colombia. But Ecuador will be the most affected. Ecuador will enter into the production of coca.
NARCO NEWS: So what is Washington's motive to displace the coca crop to these other countries?
MOLANO: That is the question. There will be two types of displacement: one to the border countries, and the other inside of Colombia. Inside of Colombia it is likely that the crops will be displaced from the South, where the guerrilla is based, to the North, where the paramilitaries are based.
I believe that one of the objectives is to displace the coca from the South to the North and give control over the crops to the paramilitaries, who will be the infantry of the war. Because the United States will manage the air war with the airplanes, with the Black Hawk helicopters, but the concrete troops will be those of the paramilitaries, who are right now very limited in what they can do. Because in the United States there are viewed as corrupted and as violators of human rights.
NARCO NEWS: Which economic interests have the strongest connections with the paramilitaries?
MOLANO: First, the drug traffickers. This is very clear. The guerrilla doesn't manage the drug trade, it simply taxes the crops. But it is the paramilitaries who manage the exportation. They are the ones who take the drugs out of the country.
NARCO NEWS: They're the middlemen.
MOLANO: And they are going to get more involved in the drug trade. A few days ago five tons of cocaine that belonged to the paramilitaries was seized. And there are other interests: those of the great landowners. As the guerrilla has been growing within their zone, various things have happened. First, the large landowners can be kidnapped and made to pay taxes to the guerrilla. Second, the sale value of the land goes down. Because of this the owners pay the paramilitaries with money, with impunity and with land. Because the zones where the peasants are displaced become the zones where the paramilitary gains control. Economically, this is to say that the regions where they have kicked out the peasants are the zones that fall into the hands of the paramilitaries. This is business. And the foreign business interests want to see them win.
And now there is another great interest for which they are putting the paramilitaries in place: The Atrato-a-Trando Canal. This is a Canal that could replace the Panama Canal. It would go from the Rio Atrato to the Pacific town of Trando to join two rivers together.
The Atrato River meets the Atlantic Ocean at the city of Turbo on the Colombia-Panama border.
Plan Colombia will aid efforts by ranchers and paramilitary squads to displace thousands of peasants from this region to remove opposition to plans for an Atlantic-Pacific canal.
The ranchers are in this region. The paramilitaries are working in the entire zone, which is called Darien. The ranchers are in favor of constructing the canal, clearly.
And there is another project that is even more important. It is the Panamerican highway, which is interrupted precisely in this region. And this is exactly where they have kicked out the people. Why? Because people protest and this makes for conditions in which the guerrilla can enter.
Thus, these are the two big projects. And they are displacing the population from there to avoid having to deal with the guerrilla. The guerrilla is based further south. Nobody has removed them from there.
NARCO NEWS: In 1993 the then-Attorney General of Colombia Gustavo de Greiff traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, invited by its mayor Kurt Schmoke. And there he gave a speech saying that the only way to end the violence and instability associated with the drug trade is to legalize drugs. The response of the US government - which had previously declared de Greiff a hero of the war-on-drugs - was to attack this man. They accused him, without evidence, of being corrupt and took away his visa to travel in the US. Even after their allegations were proven absolutely false they continued to withhold his visa. And some other Colombians have told us that they are in agreement with de Greiff and with legalization but they are afraid to say so publicly because they fear the same could happen to them. What do you think?
MOLANO: I'll tell you something. Legalization has a lot of support in Colombia. It has support in academia. It has a lot of support in many sectors of the middle class. And it is supported by the Left.
NARCO NEWS: Including the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) this year came out for legalization .
MOLANO: Yes, including the FARC. These sectors think that this is the solution. But the Colombian government is allied with Washington, not with legalization. There are not opportunities to partially legalize in Colombia or in the region. But I believe that in the long term this is one of the solutions. It's true that Washington punished de Greiff in this way. And to a certain degree they did the same to President Ernesto Samper. Did you know that Samper, 20 years ago, as president of a professional association proposed the legalization of marijuana? And this is one of the reasons that Washington, step by step, got revenge on him. The United States, one way or another, works to associate the people who favor legalization with the people who help the drug traffickers. That is totally contrary to what would happen if drugs were legalized and to what we think.
The best way to fight against drug trafficking is to legalize it. I believe it is a very worthy movement. But my worry is that this tendency has lost momentum. When the Nobel economist Milton Friedman came out for legalization, there had been a big movement. The British magazine The Economist also advocated for it. Some major columnists did the same. There was a movement. In Italy they succeeded in decriminalizing. And what happened to this movement?
NARCO NEWS: Not just Italy but Spain decriminalized. And this month the movement has succeeded in Portugal. And in September, Portugal is likely to go even further toward legalizing.
There is a movement including in the United States. First, something like eight states have legalized marijuana for medicine through voter referenda. And this wins, each time, by greater margins. There are today, for the first time, two governors, Republican Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Independent Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, who have publicly called for legalizing marijuana and for a drastic reform of the drug war system. As we speak today in Barcelona, the US Republican party holds its convention in Philadelphia. And there is a Shadow Convention led by Arianna Huffington and other politicians and members of Civil Society saying that the drug laws must be reformed. Not all of them use the word legalization. Some say decriminalize, others talk about harm reduction, but all of them aimed against the current prohibition.
But I think you are right in one sense: Precisely because the legalization movement for so many years was led by the libertarian right, associated with people like Friedman and William Buckley, the movement has not developed in the United States a coherent argument from the Left or even for liberals. And without this wing developed the movement lacks a center, too. Thus, the US reformers don't understand how significant it was this month when in Portugal all the political parties of the Left united behind decriminalization. Some of the economic libertarians don't want to understand it. This gives a lot of strength, also, to the movement in Latin America, in Venezuela - where Chávez is intelligent on these issues - in Colombia and in Mexico where there is a lot of support that is not yet visible because the movement has not had a concrete public issue to focus upon.
What everybody in Latin America says is that no country can do it alone. If Colombia did it
MOLANO: they would flatten us.
NARCO NEWS: if not with military invasion, then with economic blockade. But in this scenario, Mexico has a great power, because Washington cannot afford to invade Mexico militarily nor blockade it economically. And this is because each time the Mexican Peso goes down in value, another million Mexican immigrants stream over the US border. And this is a bigger problem for the gringo politicians.
Thus, the theory is that a Pan-American alliance can create more space and backing for something to happen in Mexico to pressure Washington. And Washington is terrified of this. Washington is completely involved in the Vicente Fox pre-presidency as it was in the PRI before him. Many of the 500 CIA agents that Washington has on the ground in Mexico are dedicated not to questions of national security but rather to preventing any drug reform movement from happening.
But there is a lot of conscience in Mexico that the war on drugs is phony. The Zapatistas know it. The Mexican Left knows it. The youth knows it. There are members of Vicente Fox's own PAN party who know it and also members of the PRI who believe in this. The Mexican people are not ideologically committed to drug prohibition. But there is money from Washington to create mercenary officials at all levels in the service of prohibition; this is the other kind of drug war corruption of officials. Some are taking money from the narco and from Washington. If Mexico heard more noise out of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, more Mexicans would be speaking out for legalization.
MOLANO: Legalization is something that all the large sectors of my country support. To create a legalization movement would be very important.
About two years ago a man named Carlos Alonzo collected a million signatures to put legalization on the ballot. And the government challenged it, complicated it, created legal traps to prevent this from coming to a referendum. Because it would have been a very high vote for legalization, they did not allow it to happen.
What has happened, now, is that the legalization cause doesn't have as much importance because of the war. The war is of such a nature that we are all involved in that. Our first wish is to end the war, not the drug trade, although if we think logically, only by ending the drug trade can we end the war. And the only way to end the illicit drug trade is through legalization.
NARCO NEWS: And while the population is involved in the issue of the war, the guerrilla movements are more involved in the issue of legalization. Explain to our readers how the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, came to the decision to support legalization after so many years of silence on the theme. What happened?
MOLANO: I think they understand that the question of legalization affects the question of the crops, the production and the consumption of drugs. Their position is very logical. Not only politically, but also economically. The only way to end the drug trafficking is to legalize. As for the crops, maybe not: that is an economic question, because the illicit crops are grown also due to the lack of an agrarian reform. And the corruption of the authorities has permitted drug trafficking. Clearly, it's the price of the drugs that drives it. The high price pays for the corruption.
NARCO NEWS: As someone who has a long background as an expert on crop substitution, how would legalization affect the enactment of agrarian reform and a crop substitution program?
MOLANO: I believe that legalization of drugs would make agrarian reform more possible. Crop substitution is possible to the extent that there are economic alternatives to growing coca. If the price of coca goes down, naturally they can grow other crops. It would also ease the transport of other farm products. It would facilitate the substitution. Lowering the price of coca, really, raises the value of other crops. This is one of the difficulties. The quality of the drugs each day turns more refined, more pure. The peasants keep growing it and the quantity they grow remains more or less unchanged. It stays at about 110,000 hectares of coca. But these are hectares that move from place to place in the jungle because of the prohibition.
Legalization, for example, would serve not only crop substitution, but also the jungle. The jungle, the Amazon, is being destroyed mainly because of the cultivation of coca and because the people are moving the crop around. It destroys more and more jungle. There is a very direct connection between legalization and the defense of the environment. In this case the connection between the two issues is absolutely concrete and very clear.
A more important aspect of legalization, for me, than the fact that legalization will help the environment, is that it will affect the social conflict, the armed conflict. It might make a negotiated solution more possible.
NARCO NEWS: You're saying that if there weren't such economic interests fighting over the tremendous profits
MOLANO: Imagine, two to three billion dollars a year come to Colombia for the coca. That's 12 billion dollars over six years. The US cocaine economy is much larger but this is what enters Colombia.
NARCO NEWS: But does this great quantity of money stay in Colombia? Or does it leave the country by route of money laundering into foreign banks?
MOLANO: It seems to be that the investments of narco-capital are not made in Colombia because Colombia is not offering conditions of economic security because of the war. The narcos are diverting their money to Singapore, to Chile, to Mexico, to other regions, but not in Colombia.
Colombia stays in the route of the drugs but the dollars are not invested here. What remains here is basically what they need to manage the drug trade. But the large quantities of money are diverted to other places. We are assigned the sin of narco-trafficking but not the silver!
NARCO NEWS: Explain for our readers in the United States why a Colombian journalist like yourself finds himself in Barcelona, in Europe.
MOLANO: The reality of the threats against me is that I am a man of the Left and of the university, more or less. I continue being very critical in Colombian society of the political system, including of the army and naturally the paramilitaries. This doesn't mean I'm totally in agreement with the guerrilla, although I agree with them on many things. I agree with agrarian reform. I agree with the reforms they've proposed for the army. I agree with the reforms of the media and the justice system. But naturally I don't agree with everything. First, because the guerrilla has Stalinist roots. They are military forces and this gives a lot of force to authoritarian tendencies. I place myself at a distance from that. But my critiques of the system, of the great landowners, of the ranchers, of the army, of the paramilitaries, these are what caused the threats. And the threats grew until I saw that not only was I in danger but my family and those close to me.
NARCO NEWS: As a member of the Latin American Left, could you address a few words to the Left within the United States, where there is not this level of consciousness about drug legalization. Some even look at the likes of Milton Friedman and confuse the cause as something to do with free trade. They don't hear Latin American voices through the media and not even much through the US legalization movement. What should the Left in New York or Texas or California or Chicago know about the importance of this issue to the Left in Latin America?
MOLANO: I repeat what is certain: It's that the war is costing my country a lot of blood, including on the Colombian Left, that is not the armed Left, but rather the civil Left, the social movements. The war makes all the struggles more difficult. And it has a lot to do with the drug issue. If we were to have a Left that was more independent from the guerrilla we might accomplish more. But it has not been possible, it is not possible and I don't believe it will become possible because the war is every day invading more political terrain. To legalize would be a great advance because it would notably lower the pressures that create the war. And it would permit the Latin American Left, in Peru, in Venezuela, in Ecuador, and above all in Colombia, to breathe a little more.
NARCO NEWS: Might the motive of stopping the social movements, more than the pretext of fighting drug trafficking, explain why Washington wants the war?
MOLANO: Yes, it has that conflict of interest.
See our fact-check on Tim Johnson's Miami Herald column on Colombia.
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