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6 March 1997 Edition

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US drugs hypocrisy

By Dara MacNeil

Each year at the end of February, the government of the United States indulges in a remarkably slick propaganda exercise designed to convince its citizenry that the US is the innocent party in the ongoing `war on drugs'.

With great ceremony a government spokesperson reveals the names of those countries which will be subjected to punitive sanctions for their `supposed' failure to properly combat the drug menace. Under the terms of this process, individual countries the US `believes' to be energetically combating the narcotraffickers receive `certification'. Those who fail to measure up to the US standard are `decertified'. Once decertified a country loses access to US aid programmes and finance and can also be subjected to punitive trade sanctions. These can include a refusal to allow commercial flights from decertified countries access to US airspace.

Last week the US revealed its 1997 blacklist. As expected, Colombia was one of the countries decertified, mainly due to the continued presence in power of President Ernesto Samper, whose ascension to office was fuelled largely by $4 million from Colombia's drug cartels.

However, it seems strange that the US should suddenly turn on a once treasured ally. After all, the Colombian government has been operating hand in glove with the country's drug cartels for many years now, principally by using the spurious `war on drugs' as a cover for their dirty war against the country's left-wing opposition.

Since 1986, they have managed to wipe out almost the entire grassroots activist element of the left-wing Patriotic Union (UP). In that time, Colombia has witnessed over 30,000 political murders. In the process, the `war on drugs' has driven some 300,000 campesinos from their land, thus freeing up 21% of the country's arable land - for the cartels. None of these factors compelled the US to impose sanctions on the country previously.

In reality, the certification process - as pointed out by Latin American analysts - is a rather sophisticated US control mechanism. It allows the US huge control over a given country's judiciary, security forces and spending.

If these do not meet with Washington's approval, punishing sanctions are imposed. Perhaps Colombia proved a little reticent about devolving control to US agencies. Or perhaps, a tarnished Samper is no longer a credible ally for Washington, as became the case with the CIA's most famous recruit, General Noriega.

Colombia's treatment contrasts sharply with Mexico's. Closely linked with the US through the NAFTA trade agreement and forced to rely on Washington for aid to prop up its collapsed economy and battle insurgent groups, Mexico has become remarkably pliant of late. It received certification.

This despite the head of Mexico's anti-drug agency, General Gutierrez, being arrested on 18 February on suspicion of links to Mexico's biggest drug bosses. And just minutes after Mexico's certification was confirmed, the country's largest drug lord - Humberto Garcia - ``inexplicably'' escaped from the custody of Mexican police.

The certification process - which involves 32 countries - is despised in Latin America. In recent days two Colombian senators have proposed an alternative. Their plan is for Latin America as a whole to judge each year how well the US has succeeded in combating the drug trade. Failure would mean sanctions on the US.

After all, the argument runs, without demand for drugs there would be no supply. Every year over 50% of all drugs produced in the world are produced to satisfy the voracious US market. Isn't this the law of free trade the US constantly promotes?

But the beauty of the `certification' process is that it turns logic on its head and presents the US as the innocent party in this sordid affair. And that's without even mentioning Iran/Contra.

Bibi bent on conflict

There are few things in life as reliable as Benjamin Nethanyahu. Just when it looks as if the (flawed) Middle East peace process might be in for a bout of uninterrupted negotiations, along comes Benjamin (Bibi to his friends).

His decision to proceed with the Har Homah settlement is the decision of a man bent on conflict, of a man uneasy with peace.

Not only is the settlement - of 6,500 houses - to be constructed on occupied land, but it also breaches the Oslo Accords because it is to be built in Jerusalem, whose status was to be decided in the final round of negotiations. It is the second such settlement to be constructed - an obvious attempt to make Jerusalem a `Jewish city.' Little else is to be expected from Bibi.

This, after all is the man who made his name in the West as an expert on `terrorism.' In his 1986 classic - Terrorism: How the West Can Win - Bibi imparted the following pearls of wisdom: political violence is essentially without cause; without the media it would not exist. This led Bibi to a magisterial conclusion: ``The press has become the unwilling - and in some cases the willing - amplifier of the terrorists' publicity campaign.''

A true man of vision.

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