The Narco News Bulletin
February 25, 2018 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
The State Department is holding what's called an "industry day" on November 9 in Bogotá, Colombia to solicit proposals from multinational corporations to assist in logistics, maintenance, and training in a anti-narcotics program that partners with one of the largest police forces in the Western Hemisphere, the Colombia National Police (CNP). The program is called the Colombian National Police Aviation program, and focuses on aerial eradication, or the dumping of poisonous chemicals on coca leaf crops that could be used, through and elaborate process, to make cocaine. Another focus is aerial interdiction, which consists of military operations to target or neutralize a selected target.
This cartoon by Carlos Latuff for Narco News on drug war aerial fumigation of Colombian farmlands and forests was published in 2003. Seven years later, fumigation remains a big business in Colombia.
An industry day is a kind of seminar held by US government agencies where businesses are invited to learn about certain programs and eventually bid for contacts related to them. The last industry day related to the aviation program was in Orlando, Florida on August 11, 2009 to August 13, 2009. The event included more than thirty attendees from different defense contractors like Bell Helicopter and DynCorp International, according to a guest list obtained by Narco News. Bell manufactures military helicopters used in the aviation program, and DynCorp has been sued and criticized for spraying poisonous herbicides in Ecuador to eradicate coca plants.
It's unknown which corporations will attend the upcoming industry day in Bogotá, but some of those contractors will need a secret security clearance in order to work with NAS and the aviation program. A Power Point presentation presented by the agency during the last industry day in Orlando and dated June 2009 shows that the agency's total staff in Colombia includes 938 employees. Along with managing the aviation program, the NAS works with other elements of the Colombian military, and has had a total budget of $5.2 billion since 2000, according to the document. The presentation goes into detail about past aviation missions in 2008 and what air craft were used
It's clear from the presentation that the program is focused on aerial eradication. NAS reports record seizure and eradication numbers for 2008. The fumigation of these crops is a key component of Plan Colombia, a multi-billion dollar agreement signed in the 1990s where the US government supports the drug war through equipment and training to Colombia. However, the program was started in 1982, according to the presentation, and includes 1,250 members from the CNP. Despite lawsuits and Colombia court ordered suspensions of the fumigation, the NAS document shows that more than 3,000 aerial eradication missions were completed in 2008, the most popular mission type out of the entire program that year.
Slide From State Department Power Point Presentation on "Challenges For The Future."
NAS notes that "the contractor is responsible for maintaining its own safety, hazmat ,and environmental compliance program and complying with local and [US government] regulations," implying that the corporations will be in charge of making sure an environmental disaster doesn't happen. The agency doesn't appear to be happy with environmental protections that are hampering the aviation project either. In the presentation NAS writes that the agency has encountered numerous obstacles with the program, including environmental protections and miscommunications with the CNP.
Under a slide with the title "Challenges for the Future," there is a written list that includes " No Spray Zones (i.e. National Parks)," a "pressure to change strategy," an "aging air fleet that is flying at full capacity," and a "need for more police." Beneath the heading of another slide that says "Challenges," the presentation notes that there are problems with the competency of the CNP with the aviation program, and that many operations occur without the US government knowing about them. "Due to the maturity of the program and the CNP competency, sometimes critical decisions are made without consulting the contractor or [the US government]," according to the slide. "Colombian National Police don't always share same goals," and "CNP maintains operational control throughout the country, therefore, many repairs and aircraft events occur without the [US government] or contractor knowledge or presence."
Slide From State Department Power Point Presentation Shows Map of Aviation Program.
On those bases the aviation program has a total of 59 aircraft, with thirty Bell UH-1Hs, and ten Bell B-212 helicopters used mainly for manual eradication and interdiction targeting. With those helicopters and other airplanes the aviation program had logged 20,100 flight hours over Colombia by the time the presentation was created for the last industry day in mid-2009. In 2008, the aviation program also completed thousands of interdiction, instructional, and logistical missions.
The State Department expresses a desire to "nationalize" the aviation project, by eventually handing over control of the program to the CNP, but that doesn't mean US involvement will stop. New documents released with the announcement of the Bogotá industry day mention that the CNP will assume support for 22 older aircraft, while the US government takes on four additional Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
While the CNP is one of the largest police forces in the Western Hemisphere, it has also been tied to one of the largest US drug trafficking indictments in history. Former CNP colonel Danilo Gonzalez, a top officer in the organization, was accused by the US Justice Department in 2004 of being an "enforcer" for the North Valley drug trafficking group in Colombia, with charges of murder, torture, kidnapping, and bribery.
According to Baruch Vega, a US government informant who was interviewed by Narco News in 2006, Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Bogotá were leaking law enforcement intelligence to CNP members who were working with the North Valley group with the protection of paramilitary members:
The way things lined up, according to Vega, involved what amounts to the perfect narco-trafficking organization, which he describes as the "Devil's Cartel."
This so-called Devil's Cartel was an alliance of North Valley traffickers, many of them former Colombian National Police officials, along with active members of the Colombian National Police under the direction of a corrupt Colombian National Police colonel named Danilo Gonzalez.
Paramilitary forces under the leadership of Carlos Castaño, who headed the murderous United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (the AUC), provided the muscle and protection for this Devil's Cartel and its operations, Vega contends.
Gonzalez was later shot and killed in March 2004, while preparing to surrender to the US government.
As the State Department documents show, previous corruption charges, environmental poisoning, and an apparent lack of control over aviation missions are no reason to stop the CNP and US operatives from fumigating in Colombia, especially when multinational corporations who profit of off the drug war operations can hope to get a piece of the pie.