CIA, Cocaine, and Death Squads
by the Eco-Solidarity Working Group
CovertAction Quarterly, Fall / Winter 1999
Forty million people, along with the most biologically diverse,
endangered ecosystems in the world, are under attack by the U.
S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and mercenaries paid by oil
companies. This war is fought with bombs and bullets, as well
as with herbicides and media misinformation. The cause of the
war is as diverse as the region's terrain and its ethnic variety
The rapacious greed of multinationals like Occidental Petroleum,
Shell, BP, Texaco, and their counterparts in the Colombian elite
is the main problem, but cocaine use in the U.S. is the fuel that
fires this inferno. Drug exports pay for the weapons of the right-wing
government-backed death squads and the revolutionary guerrillas.
For years Colombia was banned from receiving U.S. military
or drug fighting money due to its poor human rights record and
its failure to cooperate in the drug war. In 1998 they received
$89 million, and this year the total reached $289 million. Despite
continued human rights abuses. Colombia is now the third largest
recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt. Direct
U.S. military intervention looms on the horizon for this region,
which exports more oil to the U.S. than the entire Middle East.
President Clinton is giving the nod to a death-squad offensive.
These squads work closely with Colombian military and together
they are responsible for the deaths of 25,000 people this decade-300,000
since 1945. Violence has displaced 1.2 million people in the last
three years (mostly women and children).
Death squads guard petroleum facilities and shipments of cocaine.
The head of these squads, Carlos Castano, is a key player in the
Cali Drug Cartel, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Castano took over the direction of the death squads from another
CIA asset, Colombian Army General Van Martinez. CIA involvement
in Colombia began in the 1950s and grew along with the drug trade.
In 1991 the CIA established a Colombian naval intelligence group
that became a key part of the death squads' continuing terror
campaign against guerrillas and anyone who speaks out for change
or peace. ~ Many death squad leaders graduated from the School
of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where thousands of Latin
American soldiers have been trained in counterinsurgency and torture.
Castano proudly takes responsibility for his massacres. He has
kidnapped Colombian senators and he speaks in radio interviews
about the need for more killing. Arrest warrants for Castano,
army officers and other death squad leaders gather dust on the
Attorney General's desk. Evidence mounts of collaboration between
the military and the death squads 2 In July, the largest Colombian
guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)
launched an attack against the mountain headquarters of Castano,
but were driven back by the Colombian army with U.S. intelligence
Hundreds of U.S. military personnel are on the ground, training
elite units of the Colombian Army Sophisticated U.S. spy planes,
like the U.S. RC-7B, inform and direct combat operations. DynaCorp
and East Inc. operate a private air force used to eradicate poppies
and coca plants, dousing hundreds of square miles of the countryside
with herbicides. Monsanto's Roundup is the toxin of choice, but
the U.S. has pressured Colombia to use Dow Chemicals more lethal
tebuthiuron. Trade named Spike, it comes in a granular form making
it easier to apply Colombia is the only country in the hemisphere
where drug crops are sprayed from the air. Genetically engineered
viruses are also being developed for the drug war arsenal. Despite
this toxic rain, coca production has risen dramatically In July,
two DynaCorp employees were killed along with five U.S. military
personnel when an intelligence-gathering aircraft hit a mountain
or a FARC missile in southern Colombia.
The news media have confused the issues and kept secret U.S.
culpability in this dirty war. They create an impression that
the FARC and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), Colombia's
other major guerrilla group, have long controlled most of the
drug trade, but, in fact, "ELN until now has been a minor
player." Moreover the guerrillas are presented as unwilling
to lay down their arms as part of a peace plan. In the late 1
980s, guerrillas put down the gun for the ballot box. They were
met with the votes of many people and a hail of bullets from the
death squads. Almost 5,000 members of the opposition political
party, Patriotic Union, have been killed by the right wing since
The oil companies and the government must be held responsible
for the violence and the pollution that is the byproduct of their
oil operations. Oil is Colombia's most important legal export
(27 percent of total exports). Coffee is second (15 percent).
The U.S. imports 260,000 barrels of Colombian oil every day In
the U'wa region alone, 1.7 million barrels of oil have spilled
onto the soil and rivers in the last 12 years. Colombia has the
worst human rights record in the Americas, and the area around
the U'wa has the worst record in Colombia. Robin Kirk, author
of "War with Colombia and International Law," supports
the contention that the death squads make their massacres as brutal
and gruesome as possible to make sure the message is understood.
They often carry lists of trade unionists, Catholic priests, human
rights observers and guerrilla supporters.
A biological paradise, Colombia has the greatest number of
bird species (1,780) of any country in the world. It is second
in plants and amphibians and third in reptiles. Only Brazil, which
is seven times larger, surpasses Colombia in total number of species.
The Macarena region contains Colombia's first biological preserve,
established in 1942. Half of the worlds orchids bloom here, and
a dazzling variety of jaguars, dolphin, primates, giant otters,
spectacled bears, agoutis, kinkajous and the FARC live here too.
The Macarena has been its headquarters for decades, and it has
earned respect from biologists for establishing some order over
the squatters who are a constant threat to the region's biological
Besides the war, the oil spills, dams and herbicides, there
is the usual devastation from cattle, road construction, logging
and mining-the social and environmental externalities that come
with the U.S. model of economic development. Manatees, tapirs,
and macaws are but a tiny fraction of the species that are on
the edge of extinction in Colombia. Most species have not even
been classified here.
In this threatened ecosystem, the guerrillas are fighting
for their lives and the tens of thousands of relatives they have
lost to U.S. and narco-death squads. Thousands of young people
have joined the guerrillas bid to end the right wings forty years
of collusion with oil company exploitation and death squad violence.
Their goal is to stop this neo-liberal madness that devastates
people and the environment in a chase for profits.
Eco-Solidarity seeks an end to the phony drug war that the
U.S. wages against the land and the poor people of Colombia. The
most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world are at risk
here. Almost two million people have been displaced by a brutal
civil war that is financed and directed by the U.S. and its covert
operations. Refugees, mostly women and children, are crowded into
slums or driven further into the rainforests.
and Third World