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October 1, 2001

Narco News 2001


"Terrorist" List:

Road Through Afghanistan

Leads to Colombia

By Al Giordano

Special to The Narco News Bulletin

Part II of a Series

"Our war… will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated…. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

-- George W. Bush, Sept 20, 2001

Two historic blunders by United States officials are converging into a boomerang upon all América.

The first is Washington's confusing and arbitrary definition of "terrorists," and the State Department's hodgepodge blacklist of "foreign terrorist organizations." That list fails to distinguish between groups that cross international borders to do violence and those that do not. It mixes national liberation or independence movements with others that wish to eliminate governments that are not their own. In some cases, the accused "terrorists" are no different from the American colonists of 1776 who fought for independence from the British Crown. But the "war on terrorism" drifts inexorably toward aggressors and defenders alike, constituting a betrayal of the very principles of self-determination upon which the United States of America were founded.

The second official blunder shall be the nitrogen added to the glycerin of the first: It is the U.S.-forced export of a prohibitionist drug policy upon the nations of the world, a policy that is, as Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen noted, the "root and branch of terrorism" because it funds and arms violent political factions on all sides of this planet earth.

Much ado will now be made of the poppy fields of Afghanistan that supply 75 percent of the world's heroin. The crop-dusters that take-off from Afghan runways, however, are likely to land on this side of the ocean and the rebirth of a plan that already failed once, and now seeks its second fracas: Plan Colombia.

Washington's biggest, most expensive, foreign military project before the September 11th attacks was the so-called Plan Colombia. Two billion dollars - mainly for weapons and helicopters - had already been budgeted to combat a 40-year-old South American insurgent movement, abusing, once again, the pretext of the drug war to serve other agendas.

Although the Colombian insurgents do not attack U.S. or foreign soil, two rebel armies - counting with an estimated 20,000 guerrilla troops - have been classified by the U.S. government as "foreign terrorist organizations." This classification is simply wrong, and has profound consequences for democracy, human rights, the fragile Amazon eco-system, public health and peace with justice. It also promises dire consequences for the economy of the United States and all America.

Executive Disorder in Washington

Plan Colombia was not going well for its sponsors. The United States project - recently renamed as "the Andean Initiative," had been isolated by Europe and by the rest of America for stated reasons that included Plan Colombia's lack of defined goals, its aerial spraying of herbicides destructive to the environment and human health, and its dishonesty: Few in the world believed that Plan Colombia was, in fact, an "anti-drug" campaign, but, rather, a Cold War style meddling on behalf of a corrupt regime against a national liberation movement.

Since the launch of Plan Colombia, civil society in Colombia and the rest of America, North and South, including in Canada and within the United States, took a sharp turn against the Plan's foundation: the U.S.-imposed policy of drug prohibition in Our America and across the globe.

Narco News has offered extensive coverage throughout this immediate history: In the past month, we have reported that the Colombian Congress, its 31 governors, the Andean Parliament, and even Colombia's president have now publicly questioned the drug prohibition policies that cause the harm that Plan Colombia claimed to combat. We have also translated the tantrum by U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson and her threats against Colombian society if it makes democratic decisions that disagree with U.S.-imposed drug policies.

Precisely because the "anti-drug" pretext has faded as a credible justification for this military intervention, Washington - prior to September 11th - increasingly cited opposition to "terrorism" as the Plan's new reason to exist.

The U.S. Department of State classified the country's two major insurgent groups, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) as "terrorist organizations." More recently, in a bizarre twist of double-speak, the State Department added the insurgents' paramilitary opponents - the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) - to the "terrorist" list; even as it continued to back a government narco-regime in Colombia that protects the paramilitaries in their massacres of civilians.

Although U.S. President George W. Bush did not mention Colombia in his post-attack remarks, his vow to defeat "every terrorist group within global reach" and defining of any government that "harbors or supports terrorism" as a "hostile regime" could not have been more thinly veiled in its threat upon Colombia and Latin America.

The "war on terrorism" is already the excuse to push legislation to strip civil liberties within the United States and justify a more interventionist policy abroad. The railroad quality of policy-making in wartime America was never clearer when, last weekend, administration officials warned of new terror attacks on the United States and pressured Congress with a Friday deadline to approve domestic surveillance and judicial shortcuts that, as proposed by the administration, can be abused even against doctrinaire pacifists who have any contact at all with the peace process in Colombia.

Washington today speaks mainly of enemies in the Middle East region, because it has succeeded - without clear evidence - in convincing the public and press to blame the attacks on U.S. soil upon groups from that region previously defined as terrorists by the State Department.

The human anguish and outcry against the massacre committed in New York by suicide bombers is being manipulated by government and media to cause a sweeping new set of laws and expenditures that, based upon the wording of their legal texts, can and will be swiftly applied to other agendas, such as Plan Colombia and the drug war, foreign and domestic.

Nothing in the recent executive orders by the White House or the legislation and multi-billion dollar expenditures being rammed through Congress limits their scope to combating the culprits of the September 11 attacks. To the contrary, the reversal of domestic liberties and foreign policy doctrines can and will be used for other purposes that are not stated by their sponsors today.

Given that Washington never gave up on its failing Plan Colombia, all the current official maneuvers must be analyzed with an eye on how they will apply to the Andean war-to-come.

Narco News has spent much of these weeks analyzing the potential consequences of current moves in Washington for the region that we cover: North, South and Central America, and upon the policy issue that we report on; the "war on drugs."

We begin with the U.S. State Department's official list of "terrorist organizations," the fountain that feeds today's rhetorical cascade.

The "Terrorist" List

The official list of "foreign terrorist organizations" by the United States government - prepared prior to the September 11th attacks on U.S. soil - includes groups in at least 23 countries. And it accuses 14 national governments of backing, to various degrees, the organizations on the blacklist.

But a majority, 25 of the 43 organizations declared as "terrorist" by Washington, are not located in the Middle East. Yet the new executive orders, legislative programs and massive government expenditures are designed in such a way to apply to all of them, from the Irish Republican movement, to the Basque liberation movement in Spain, to domestic insurgents in Japan, the Philippines, Greece, Africa and here in Latin America.

Of the 18 officially-designated "terrorist" groups from the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions, a half-dozen are Palestinian liberation organizations that are not Islamic, but, rather, made up of members who are Christian and Druze.

In a hypocritical slight of hand, the list singles out governments that support "terrorist" organizations, with nary a mention of governments that themselves engage in the exact same acts of violence and brutality that define terrorism. Unspoken but obvious in Washington's definition of "terrorism" is that, whatever it is, it does not include actions by governments themselves.

Current events also demonstrate the shifting fidelity by Washington to its own list. Among the states it listed as backing terrorist groups are newfound "allies" in today's version of the "war on terrorism." They include Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Lebanon.

An executive order by President George W. Bush on September 24th - "Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions with Persons Who Commit, Threaten to Commit, or Support Terrorism" - defines the T-word broadly:

According to the presidential dictate, "the term 'terrorism' means an activity that (i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (ii) appears to be intended (A) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (B) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (C) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking."

The definition is not limited to groups or individuals that do all these things, but, rather, is expanded to include groups or individuals that engage in any one of them.

In the Colombian civil war, the rebels and the government have each taken prisoners of war. The peace process has included exchanges of these hostages; Colombian police and military officials for rebel soldiers. There have also been kidnappings, for ransom, of members of upper classes by rebel forces. Whatever one thinks about this kind of aggression, it demeans the battle against whoever was responsible for the September 11th massacre by shoehorning a national liberation movement into the same "terrorist" category of the suicide bombers and their possible intellectual authors.

Yet, there it is: the justification, by presidential decree, to expand the Hunt of Black September into Hemisphere War I.

Mitigating Factor I: Oil

There are two key mitigating factors that would, in a sane administration, give Washington a healthy hesitation before jumping anew into Plan Colombia. The first is oil.

U.S. officials are today caught between a public furor that they themselves helped to manipulate - the raging public impulse for military retaliation - and the difficulty of all retaliatory scenarios. Invading impoverished Afghanistan, at first blush, seemed like the easy way to comply with the manufactured thirst for revenge. But - ask the Russians and every other world power throughout history that has tried it - taking and holding Afghanistan is not as easy as it sounds. The potential for counter-productive reactions in Pakistan, in Iran, even in Russia, is high. So is the possibility of provoking a region-wide hardening of the Islamic world against the United States that could cut off major oil imports to the West.
Latin American oil - particularly from the Andes - thus takes on new geopolitical importance.

More than half the oil consumed in the United States - 57 percent - comes from other countries. But many Americans would be surprised that the Persian Gulf supplies only 11.6 percent of their oil. The majority comes from the rest of America.

There is one nation on earth that supplies more oil to the United States than any other country, more than Canada and more than the monarchy of Saudi Arabia (a government without a parliament, elections or even a pretense of democracy). That government is Venezuela.


Color Code: Country Imports (Million barrels p/day)

Percent of Import Percent of Domestic product supplied

1. Venezuela...................1,682.........15.9%............9.1%
2. Canada........................1,446.........13.7% ...........7.8%
3. Saudi Arabia..............1,386..........13.1%...........7.5%
4. Mexico.........................1,379..........13.0%...........7.4%
5. Nigeria............................574...........5.4%.............3.1%
6. Iraq..................................542............5.1% ............2.9%
7. Angola............................509............4.8% ............2.7%
8. United Kingdom..........373.............3.5%............2.0%
9. Colombia.......................352.............3.3%............1.9%
10. Virgin Islands...............288.............2.5%............1.4%



OPEC Countries..................4,793...........45.2%.........25.9%

Persian Gulf Countries.......2,153..........20.4%.........11.6%

Here we see how short-sighted and regressive U.S. foreign policy has been in recent years. Part and parcel of Washington's bellicose plans for the Andes has been the vilification of Venezuela's democratically elected president Hugo Chavez. Surrogates for the State Department have frequently accused Chavez of being a sympathizer with, or directly supporting, the Colombian guerrilla movement. Venezuela opposes Plan Colombia and forbids use of its airspace for warplanes by any nation. Chavez, a believer in social justice, has been a particular thorn in the side of Washington's imperial dreams over South America. He has constructed a strong alliance with Cuba, and worked with the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other nations to plant the seeds of a European Union-style renaissance for Simon Bolivar's dream of a Latin America united against the impositions from above.

Yet in the aftermath of September 11th, Chavez, competent, practical and a shrewd statesman, condemned the attacks and pledged support for the United States.

An escalation of Plan Colombia as annex to the "war on terrorism" could jeopardize the United States' most reliable oil import source not only from Venezuela, but also from Colombia (which supplies 3.3 percent of US oil imports), and even from Mexico (the fourth largest supplier offering 13 percent of US oil imports), where a Latin American ground war sponsored by the United States could well cause a chain-reaction with severe consequences for the government of a key U.S. ally, President Vicente Fox. A third of U.S. oil imports - more than supplied by the entire Persian Gulf combined - is at play.

On the other hand, a war scenario in the Andes could also serve as the pretext for a Pinochet-style U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela, or, if the U.S. Congress restores the CIA's permission to assassinate foreign leaders - a shift recently called for by Washington hardliners - the most nefarious scenarios could become reality.

The retaking of the Panama Canal, reported by Narco News hours after the September 11 attacks, indicates the concern in Washington over Andean oil supplies. A renewed Plan Colombia could make Andean oil wells a new target, and jeopardize those supplies. A subsequent attempt to take Venezuela's oil fields militarily would spark all-out war in this hemisphere.

Mitigating Factor II: Opium

In addition to oil, there is another possible mitigating factor: Opium supplies.

Students of narco-history recall that during World War II, Japan controlled most of the world's opium supplies. In wartime, morphine, a product of the same poppy plant that produces opium and heroin, is not a demonized drug but an important medicine for wounded soldiers and civilians.

As Jake Bergmann reported for the PBS Frontline program:

Japan gained control of the Asian opium supply and the U.S. military needed morphine for its soldiers. So the U.S. turned to Mexico for help. "We were concerned that our supply of opium or morphine would be cut off because the world was at war. So we needed a supply close by. But,that was one of those black box things. Who knows when it happened, who did it, and why." says Edward Heath. During this period of a government-tolerated opium trade, many Sinoloans made their fortune. "Everybody was growing it, it was institutional. Some government officials bought the harvest from the farmers to export themselves. There were even soldiers up in the hills caring for the plants," explains Dr. Ley Dominguez, a 77-year-old life long resident of Mocorito, one of Sinaloa's most notorious opium regions. After Japan's defeat, however, the U.S. no longer needed Sinaloa's inferior strain of opium. But many farmers continued to produce opium and heroin; operations became more clandestine, and a smuggling network was set up.


A protracted U.S.-fought ground war in Afghanistan or anywhere in the world would cause a greater demand for morphine. Mexico, Colombia and Peru would be the logical lands to produce it.

Although the behavior of the U.S. government toward its soldiers and veterans - from Vietnam to the Gulf War - suggests that Washington is not above experimenting pharmacologically on its own, or of getting a new generation of G.I.s hooked on synthetic pain-killers like Oxycontin, a morphine drip is still the preferred post-surgery treatment. If there is war, Washington will need opium.

A sensible response by the U.S. government would, of course, be to call off the drug war and stop wasting resources upon its criminal and military elements. One could even imagine a crop substitution program of Andean coca for production of morphine medicine. However, unless the root-cause prohibition policy is reversed, Washington would merely end up repeating the lessons cited above from the Mexican state of Sinaloa: after the war, American hemisphere heroin production would merely be strengthened in its illicit basis.

This scenario - of "Opium for Victory" - has not been reported elsewhere and thus may seem far-fetched to those who do not remember history. However, the realities of World War II remind us that there was an urgent need for hemp fiber for battleship ropes, sails, parachutes and other material of war. This crop, too, was controlled at the time within the territory of the Japanese empire. Although the U.S. government had prohibited marijuana - the plant that produces hemp fiber - in 1937, by 1942 the U.S. Department of Agriculture had enlisted farmers in Kentucky and other states to plant 36,000 acres of seed hemp; and 50,000 acres by 1943. After the war, upon return of marijuana prohibition, these regions continued, through the present day, to be major domestic marijuana producers.

Conflicting Wars

A serious policy to prevent future atrocities like those of September 11th must, if waged intelligently, now cancel the "war on drugs."

Every dollar and piece of military hardware that continues to be wielded in a foolish and unwinnable drug war is a resource robbed from more pressing needs.

The prohibition on drugs - a global underground economy amounting to an estimated $300 billion to $500 billion dollars annually - is precisely what funds the buying of arms by organizations that can honestly be defined as terrorist, and also by rebel and paramilitary organizations in all lands. It is the aforementioned "root and branch" of violence. The recent wave of press coverage of the Taliban and Afghanistan's near-monopoly on opium production underscores the counter-productive nature of the drug war. Fools will blame the drugs themselves. But even if the Taliban was responsible for the September 11th attacks (a speculation, not a proven fact) mere poppy plants do not fund suicide bombers. It is their prohibition that artificially inflates the price to wreak havoc in so many ways.

And the rhetoric of the "war on terrorism" drifts so inexorably toward Colombia and the Andes that it now jeopardizes domestic oil supplies in the United States and stability in the hemisphere.

But Washington is stuck between the thinking of the past and the realities of the present.

If serious about preventing future atrocities like those of September 2001, U.S. policy and its commander-in-chief must issue two immediate orders of "about face."

First, it must pull back its definition of "terrorism" so that it no longer includes national liberation movements or insurgents who are only fighting within the borders of their own countries. To fail to order this redefinition is to leave a fuse burning toward Colombia and an explosion that will backfire upon the U.S. economy with irreparable consequences.

Second, Washington must stop, now, the foolish policy of drug prohibition, that fuels the violence and institutional impotence on all sides.

A writer to Narco News recently summed it all up: "All politicians should be asked this question: 'Are you for the drug war because it supports criminal organizations at home or because it supports terrorist organizations abroad?'"

A nation that does not have the will to correct these two destructive mistakes in the definition of its "wars" against drugs and terrorism lacks the will to win either war.

The United States must change course. The citizenry must grab the controls of its government, its media, and itself, and steer away from a suicide mission against its own twin towers of Civil Society and Economic Health. The current flight plan is a thoughtless, undefined, trajectory that promises success in rhetoric, but brings about failure in deed.

See Part I of this Series:

"War on Terrorism,"

a Recipe for Disaster

For more Narco News, click here

Hard Reality for Hard Times