The U.S. government can beat its chest and act indignant over Iraq, yet there’s a massacre going on in this hemisphere–and it’s actively funded by U.S. dollars under “The War on Drugs.” U.S. “drug money” (the enforcement funds that arm and train militaries and paramilitary groups to slaughter civilians and indigenous people in coca-growing countries) is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the last fifteen years; and is nowhere as brutal as in Colombia.
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights has called Colombia the most dangerous country in Latin America. In Colombia, ten political assassinations are committed daily, one person is tortured every 24 hours, and one person is kidnapped every two days. Approximately 30,000 people die from political violence every year, and the drug war (combined with a war against left-wing rebels), has produced a total death toll exceeding 200,000 and left nearly half of the nation in living in extreme poverty.
The number of refugees and displaced people within the country is astronomical; most of these people have fled the violence of paramilitary forces armed and trained by plantation owners conducting private campaigns to rid the countryside of leftist rebels and to bring their plantation workers under control. The paramilitary groups exist under the benevolent eye of the Colombian military, which often ignores pleas by local magistrates and human rights groups to intervene as the massacres are occurring.
Some Colombians have accused the army and top politicians of not only turning a blind eye to the massacres, but of arming and training the paramilitary groups. Jesus Maria Valle Jaramillo, a human rights worker in Medellin, was one of the few who spoke out about political and military support for the vigilantes. He was murdered last Friday by a squad of paramilitary gunmen in his office in Medellin.
In describing the torture methods of a Colombian paramilitary group that calls itself the Self-Defense Campesinos of Cordoba and Uraba, one eyewitness said: “Some [of the victims] were hung and skinned like chickens.” Another witness of the same incident, which occurred recently in El Aro, Antioquia, where 20 adults and children were murdered, confirmed this story: “They took three people, peeled away some pieces of their skin, and then killed them.” Other civilians have described similar instances of torture and murder in villages under attack by Colombia’s 450 vigilante groups. According to data from the U.S. State Department (if we can really believe them when they funnel money directly to the Colombian army), the paramilitary groups are responsible for about 60% of the political murders in Columbia, with the military responsible for another 8%. Undoubtedly, this is a low estimate.
Further damning evidence was provided by the former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Myles Frechette. Shortly before leaving his assignment in Colombia, he stated that the Colombian army’s intelligence unit was assisting in the creation of these death squads. Of course, he neglected to mention that the Colombian army’s intelligence personnel have all received their training in torture techniques and “counter-insurgency measures” here in the good ol’ USA–at the U.S. Army’s School of Americas (commonly referred to as the “School of Assassins”) at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Colombian government and military are major recipients of U.S. drug war funds. In spite of overwhelming evidence that the drug war is killing innocent people in Colombia, the money and military aid continues to flow unabated, because literally no one with the power to do so is pointing the accusing finger at Congress, the CIA, the Clinton Administration, arms manufacturers (Boeing, Westinghouse, GE, et. al.), and other business interests lobbying for a continuation of the drug war.
The U.S. media has shirked its journalistic responsibility, preferring to whip up public anger against more convenient targets in the Middle East: Iraq, Algeria, Iran, etc. As long as the news is manufactured by our own government and fed to us through media owned by major corporations (Westinghouse, GE, etc.), we’ll never have to face our own dirty little secrets. While Jesus Jaramillo was slain in Medellin last Friday, in New York Dan Rather was caught on camera rehearsing an announcement of bombing raids on Iraq, and the announcement was mistakenly beamed via satellite to CBS affiliates all over the world. We have truly entered an Age of Unreason.