Forget Magazine - Remember, Remember, Remember

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Today we open part two of our series looking at the relationship between western governments and drug dealers from around the world. This week we will focus on the consequences of the political-drug link.

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Bad Political Karma
by Alejandro Bustos

Let's begin with an urban parable:

A crack addict strolls up to you and asks for $1 million. "I want to buy some expensive presents for my mother," he tells you. Impressed with his sincerity you cough up the money.

A few months later you're enjoying an evening walk when you come across the addict on the street. His eyes are bloodshot; his clothes dirty and ripped. In short, hes a wreck. "What did you get your mother?" you naively ask.

"Nothing," the addict responds. "I used if for crack."

Which begs the question: Why did the CIA give Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru's former head of intelligence, a reported $1 million a year to fight drugs after receiving reports of his links to Colombian narcotraffickers?

And why did the U.S. assist Kosovo guerrillas in the past few years, and right-wing rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s, after both groups were tied to drug running?

To answer these questions I will divide the responses into two parts. This week we will look at the consequences of getting close to corrupt officials, some of whom are involved in the narcotics trade. Next week we will look at the political reasons for these alliances.

"U.S. anti-drug money spent on Latin America has been funneled through corrupt military, paramilitary and intelligence organizations and ends up violating basic human rights," the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity Investigation said in a study released in July.

In its study, the center focused on Peru, Mexico and Colombia, countries that have all received funding by Washington for anti-drug efforts.

As we saw last week (Drug War 10), Montesinos is facing a slew of charges in Peru. What makes this story really troubling, however, is how the disgraced intelligence chief received CIA support even though Washington was receiving reports of his involvement in drug dealing.

"During the decade that his leadership of Peru's spy agency won U.S. praise and support, Montesinos build a billion-dollar criminal empire based on drug trafficking, arms dealing and judicial and political corruption," the San Francisco Bay Guardian said this past February.

"What's more, according to Peruvian prosecutors, Montesinos used drug profits to finance death squads, which were responsible for torture, extra-judicial executions and the disappearance of 4,000 government opponents. By choosing Montesinos as its main ally in Peru, the CIA turned a blind eye to human rights abuses as well as his involvement in the drug trade."

Washington eventually dumped the former Peruvian spy chief last year when the CIA discovered that Monstesinos had sold arms to left-wing guerrillas in Colombia, the same rebels the U.S. is helping Bogota to fight.

What about Kosovo, another region which we touched on last week?

"Law enforcement officials in Europe have suspected for years that ties existed between Kosovar rebels and the Balkan drug smugglers," Mother Jones magazine said last year.

"But in the six months since Washington enthroned the Kosovo Liberation Army in that Yugoslav province, KLA-associated drug traffickers have cemented their influence and used their new status to increase heroin trafficking and forge links with other nationalist rebel groups and drug cartels."

Nicaragua is another country that sparks debate. We have already discussed the 1996 series by Gary Webb, the former San Jose Mercury News reporter who wrote how the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, and how the CIA turned a blind eye to this activity.

The CIA has repeatedly denied that it was involved in drug dealing, while dismissing Webb's findings (Drug War 5). Nevertheless, in 1998, the New York Times reported that the CIA, "continued to work with about two dozen Nicaraguan rebels and their supporters during the 1980s despite allegations that there were trafficking in drugs." The articles quoted a classified CIA study as its source.

The CIA study quoted by the Times said the drug dealers mentioned by Webb had nothing to do with the agency. Even if this is true, the fact remains that the CIA has admitted that it worked with other people in Nicaragua who were linked to drugs.

As we will see next week, this does not mean Washington was interested in becoming the next drug king. However, it does underline a massive hypocritical position by the U.S. This form of hypocrisy will be the focus of the next column.

Alejandro Bustos is bad.  Nation-wide.

Supporting Documents

Center for Public Integrity press release: +++

Feb. 12, 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian story: +++

March 26, 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian story: +++

Jan./Feb. 2000 Mother Jones article: +++

July 17, 1998 New York Times article on the CIA: +++

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