Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.
Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
Sir Walter Scott, Marinon, 1808
Into the abyss we go. Deeper and deeper down a darkened hole. A series of apparently unconnected events—based largely on the lie of fighting the Drug War—have recently occurred in Colombia, which, when strung together into a single skein may cost thousands of Colombians their lives and tens of thousands more their homes and nobody seems to have noticed.
by Peter Gorman
Don’t run away just ‘cause I started with a touch of class for once. There’s a reason for that quote being at the top of this column. It’s there because the last domino in a line of several has just fallen and by the time it stops moving it will have cost thousands of Colombian peasants and Indigenous will have lost their lives and tens of thousands more their lands. And only dopes like me didn’t see it until Vanna White had pretty much turned over every letter on the damned board!
During the past several years, five apparently separate events have taken place involving Colombia that are actually quite interrelated: The first was that during the late 1990s, massive oil resources were discovered in the southern areas of Colombia predominantly controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) the leftist rebels who’ve been waging a civil war for 40 years. The second is that Colombia and the US have been working on a Free Trade Agreement which just passed this past February 27. Third, last year Colombian President Alvaro Uribe successfully pressured the Colombian Congress into writing an amendment to the Colombian Constitution that will allow him to run for a second consecutive term. The fourth occurred in early March, 2006, when General Mario Montoya Uribe (no relation to the president) was put in charge of the Colombian military. The fifth and last domino fell in late March, 2006, when 50-members of the FARC were indicted (with huge rewards placed on their heads) by the US government for alleged massive cocaine trafficking. While many will see these as separate events, they’re probably better seen as separate pieces of a complex puzzle.
Until the massive oil reserves were discovered in Putumayo and other provinces held by the FARC, the FARC were permitted to control a large portion of southern Colombia as an autonomous zone—as long as they stayed within their zone, the Colombian government wouldn’t send its military in after them. All that changed with the discovery of the oil, which shortly thereafter led to Plan Colombia and the disastrous spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been raining down on the jungle and villages in southern Colombia for several years now. While some saw the frequently errant spraying—which hit more jungle than coca plants—as accidental, the truth probably lies in that it is impossible to get a good satellite read on the location of oil beneath the ground surface when the surface is covered with trees. The spraying cleared huge swaths of that jungle cover and ‘incidentally’ displaced thousands of peasants and indigenous from the region—which by luck freed up the areas the oil people wanted to look into.
Add to that that President Uribe, Bush’s closest ally—though crony is a better word—in the War on Drugs south of Texas, sees himself as lord and master of Colombia, which isn’t entirely untrue as he currently controls, and has, in the past, been a vital player, in the country’s cocaine economy, without which the country would sink like a stone. Uribe couldn’t see himself put all this oil and glyphosate business in motion and then leave office to have someone else either ruin his plans or take the glory and gelt, so last year he managed to get himself a chance at running for a second term in office. He pressured the Colombian Congress into writing an amendment to the Colombian Constitution permitting it, something other Colombian presidents have tried but at which he succeeded. He’s a shoe-in to win before this column hits the streets.
Assured of a second term, he went to work diligently to get the Bush-proposed Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US passed. As noted above, that just recently happened. Looking over the agreement, much time is spent on things like the reduced or eliminated tariffs US companies will have to pay to ship cotton, chicken legs and so forth into Colombia. All of those elements will work toward eliminating Colombian peasant farmers from the market, particularly in the deep rural areas—such as Putumayo. But deep in the agreement are several items related to Colombia’s ‘energy’ and ‘oil’ industries. Close reading shows that US companies will now be able to purchase Colombian land, utilize US—rather than Colombian—personnel to work their oil rigs, bid on formerly Colombian-only contracts for Colombian oil and be entitled to the same agreements Colombian companies are offered in relation to all Colombian energy. Shorthand? The US just took over the Colombian oil market, and its open season on those reserves.
But that open-season doesn’t mean a thing if there continues to be a civil war raging in the new oil regions. And Plan Colombia thus far hasn’t eliminated it, which is what was hoped for. To step that effort up, General Mario Montoya has just been named the head of the Colombian military. General Mario Montoya has a history—dating back 30-years—of collaborating with the paramilitaries in killing innocent peasants, slaughtering villages, and generally being one of the worst 25 humans of the last century. He’s been sanctioned by the UN, criticized by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and once ran a battalion, the 24th, which was so rife with human rights abuses that it was cut off from US funding. He was also a student, and later, in 1993, a teacher at the US School of the Americas, the notorious training ground for blood-thirsty US-flunkies who go on to rule central and South America’s militaries and politics. Former students include Bolivia’s Pinochet, Chile’s Hugo Banzer, Panama’s Noriega, and Peru’s Vladmiro Montesinos—quite a list. Montoya’s specialty was training troops against insurrections.
To give his job relevance, 50-FARC leaders were indicted in late March as cocaine traffickers with prices as high as $5 million put on each of their heads. The indictment accuses the FARC of being behind “50 percent of the world's cocaine trade and 60 percent of the cocaine exported to the United States.” At the announcement of their indictments, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said, "We believe these men are responsible for not only manufacturing and exporting devastating amounts of cocaine, but enforcing their criminal regime with violence.” Some of that is obvious hyperbole, as many of the charges try to link the FARC commanders with cocaine operations either nowhere near where they operate or to operations that occurred long before the FARC were involved in the drug trade.
Some of them are undoubtedly involved in the trade—even my FARC-sympathizer friends concede that the FARC have moved from taxing coca farmers to trying to get a piece of the trade in recent years. But by naming 50, rather than half-a-dozen known traffickers, every mercenary and paramilitary in the hemisphere will be going after them. Worse, they’ll be going after those suspected of protecting and harboring them as well—which means it’ll be open season on peasants and the Indigenous in the region as the shmucks claw their way to the $5 million dollar bonanzas. And any villagers who get caught in the crossfire will not be noticed by the international press as they will have been perceived as aiding and abetting hard drug terrorists.
To drive that point home, Colombia’s Defense Minister Camilo Ospina noted to the press that the indictment showed “a big decision has been made to carry out the final battle against narcotrafficking and terrorism.”
Montoya’s job? Capture the 50 most wanted FARC and eliminate anyone he considers may have been cooperating with them. The goal: displace or eliminate anyone in the way of access to the rich oil reserves. With 30-years of human rights abuses under his belt, it will be a job he will relish. And when the smoke clears and the bodies stop burning, Uribe will be a hero to the US companies who’ll make out big in the deal and wind up on their boards after he retires. George Bush will dress up in a military uniform and declare Victory while standing on a drilling rig. And the coca trade, still controlled by the paramilitaries, will continue to thrive.
. Monsters, all.
A quick note to those who think I’ve forgotten about marijuana this month. I havn’t. I just finished a big story on the 10-longest prison sentences for pot being served in the US for the other Canadian dope zine and want to tell you it’s tough to choose between a guy who’s served 23-years of a life-with-possibility-of-parole on a bogus bust and another guy who has only served 19 of a life-without-parole. And there are hundreds of them. Not a dozen, not two-dozen. Hundreds. And the day after I finished the piece I get a call out-of-the-blue from a guy named Bobby Vik. I’d written about him more than 10-years ago in High Times. He was my first Prisoner of War column. At the time he was in his 14th year of a 30-year sentence for a $40-buck bag of pot he sold an undercover. He’d had a prior or two, nothing major, and decided to take the case to trial rather than take the 10-years he was offered on a plea. He lost and got 30. He served it up in Illinois’ tough The Walls penitentiary. He finally got out after about 16-years. And you know what? Even if he was still inside he’d almost not have made the cut on the 10 longest sentences being served. That’s how bad it is down here in the States. You guys in Canada, well, I know it’s not good but it’s not as bad as it could be.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.