FOR U.S.-COLOMBIAN RELATIONS
Colombia ranks as the third-largest recipient of U.S.
aid, which is directed towards counter-narcotics programs exclusively.
before narcotics trafficking became the primary focus of U.S.
policy in the region, Washington perceived Colombia as a part
of its larger Latin American strategy.
the late 19th century, the U.S. was involved in Colombia to advance
its other goals, such as supporting the revolt in Panama that
lead to the construction of the canal the U.S. sought. Even into
the early 1960's, historians argue U.S. policy towards Colombia
was as much about preventing the spread of Cuban-style communism
or promoting laissez-faire trade policies than it was about bilateral
BIRTH OF THE CARTELS
the early 1970's, a surge in marijuana production began in the
northern part of the country. Soon some 70 percent of the marijuana
that came into the U.S. was grown in Colombia. Also around this
time a relatively small amount of cocaine began to be processed
and shipped out of the Andean region.
early as 1974, a small number of U.S. Drug Enforcement agents
were working from the Colombian capital of Bogota. They focused
on training Colombian police to crack down on the growers and
interdict shipments. But the efforts were small and, according
to State Department officials stationed in the region at the time,
the Colombian government did not perceive the drug cartels or
the burgeoning drug trade as a major threat.
the drug networks grew quickly in its power and audacity. On December
13, 1976, a drug informer that the U.S. later believed was on
a cartel's payroll, walked into the DEA headquarters and gunned
down Octavio Gonzalez, the special agent in charge of the Bogota
office. The murder, the first official U.S. casualty of the drug
war in Colombia, added pressure on the incoming Carter administration
to focus on the narcotics issue.
the U.S. began to pressure Colombia to clean up the corruption
that drug money was causing within the ranks of the national police
and the government bureaucracy. As the cocaine industry exploded
in the late 1970's and early '80's, the money flowed to loosely
organized cartels that used the cash to buy-off or threaten officials
who stood in their way.
newly elected president of Colombia, Julio Cesar Turbay, promised
the U.S. that he would crack down on both drug traffickers and
the communist guerillas that continued to operate in many remote
parts of the country. Turbay's regime quickly implemented a series
of repressive rules -- known as the "anti-subversive
laws," and, according to U.S. officials in Colombia at that time,
gave the Colombian military free rein to crush lawlessness.
invoked a state of siege that was to last nearly all four years
of his presidency. Under the state of siege, the military stamped
out much of the marijuana production and cut into the cocaine
shipments, garnering the approval of the U.S. But, the military
also punished peasants associated with the drug cartels or those
living in areas believed to be sympathetic to the communist rebels.
During this time the main rebel groups fought back with an intensity
not seen since the early fighting of the 1960's.
to Robert Drexler, a senior diplomat who spent several tours of
duty in the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, the Reagan and later the
Bush and Clinton administrations centered their Colombian foreign
policy on the eradication of the narcotics trade, regardless of
the social and economic issues that were driving much of the drug-related
fighting in Colombia.
policy focus, however, would lead to a diplomatic battle between
the two countries and a bloody war on the streets of Bogota over
the idea of sending drug "kingpins" to the U.S. to face trial,
rather than allowing potentially corrupt courts in Colombia to
try alleged drug lords.
the 1980's dawned and the hardline Turbay administration neared
its end, Colombia agreed to a treaty authorizing the extradition
to the United States of narcotics traffickers accused of crimes
in that country. Turbay also established the Judicial Police to
work only in the investigation of narcotics-related crimes.
extradition treaty, a major focus of U.S. initiatives, sparked
widespread violence within Colombia. Many, including the Colombia's
incoming president Belisario Betancur, opposed the treaty based
on nationalist reasons. Others, including the rebel group M-19,
viewed the move as American neocolonialism. The drug cartels also
opposed the move, but demonstrated it with acts of brutal violence
extradition treaty intensified the campaign of bombings and assassinations
that had already plagued Colombia for years. In April 1984, Colombian
Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who had crusaded against
the drug cartel based in the city of Medellin, was assassinated
by a group of gunmen on motorcycles, known as "sicarios." The
move, perceived as an attack on the pro-extradition officials,
appeared to backfire when Betancur responded by endorsing the
idea of sending drug cartel members to the U.S.
months, the first suspects were transferred to American custody.
Yet, the battle against the extradition treaty blew up into a
total war in November of 1985 when guerillas linked to the Medellin
cartel attacked the Colombian Palace of Justice. At least 95 people
were killed in the 26-hour siege, including eleven Supreme Court
justices. Due to a fire sparked by the fierce battle within the
court, all pending extradition requests and other key counter-narcotics
documents were destroyed.
May 28, 1987, the Colombian Supreme Court, having endured a barrage
of personal threats from the traffickers, voted 13-12 to annul
the extradition treaty with the U.S. Nevertheless, the strong
civic outrage over the assassinations of Colombian public figures
continued to fuel the government's consideration of extradition
response to this potential threat, drug cartel leaders formed
a death squad called the Extraditables to target judicial and
political leaders who supported sending suspects to the U.S. The
Extraditables were blamed for the murders of the attorney general,
several key lawyers and judges and numerous newspaper editors
in a flurry of violence that lasted from 1987 to 1991.
extradition debate continued until Colombia adopted a new constitution
in 1991 that explicitly prohibited extradition of Colombians wanted
in other countries. But, the battle over extradition left hundreds
dead, compromised the integrity and effectiveness of Colombia's
courts and electoral system. Several key figures were sent to
the U.S. for trial, but according to American officials who worked
with Colombians at the time, the extradition treaty made the country's
Colombian government] tried to do the courageous thing, and suffered
major consequences for it," Jack Lawn, a former DEA chief from
1985 to 1989, told Frontline. "They found then in the accreditation
process that folks in the United States were saying, 'The Colombian
government isn't doing enough.' And looking internally at their
sacrifices, I'm sure they began to question, well, until someone
faces the tally sheet that we face - the tragedies that we're
living with day to day, don't judge us on how well we're doing
in this war on drugs. So did they have second thoughts? Indeed,
they did. Should they have had second thoughts? Based upon on
subsequent action in the United States, indeed, I think they should."
foreign policy in Colombia was complicated by another underground
battle that raged between rebel groups and right-wing paramilitary
organizations. These two sides held diametrically opposed political
beliefs, but both relied on terrorist actions -- like targeting
politicians, police officials and their family members -- to influence
the government. In the late 1980's, right-wing militants gunned
down several presidential candidates, including left-wing candidates,
who advocated certain policies contrary to the right's agenda.
According to various reports, these right-wing fighters were often
supported by the Colombian military, and, consequently, the U.S.
faced criticism for their ongoing training and supplying of the
entering office in 1993, the Clinton White House ended more than
a decade of heavy U.S. support for the disreputable Colombian
military and government. The Clinton administration cited the
military's abysmal human rights record as the main reason for
gutting financial aid to the country.
U.S. stepped up its pressure on Colombia following the 1994 presidential
election of Ernesto Samper. From the outset of the new administration,
the U.S. believed Samper won with the help of considerable campaign
contributions from the Cali drug cartel. Colombia later cleared
Samper of this allegation, but sent Samper's defense minister
to jail. American officials later told the NewsHour in 1996 that
Samper and his ministers had conspired with corrupt members of
the Colombian congress to thwart key narcotics legislation.
growing fissure between the U.S. and Colombia finally cracked
apart in March of 1996 when the Clinton administration officially
decertified Colombia. This move was the U.S.' official way of
reprimanding Samper's government for not cooperating with the
U.S. war on drugs. Dertification consequently terminated all forms
of foreign aid and lead to trade sanctions that further weakened
the economically troubled nation.
election of a new Colombian president in June of 1998 prompted
the U.S. to re-engage with the Colombian government. The new administration
of Andres Pastrana promised to crack down on the drug industry
and initiate talks to end the decades-old civil war against rebel
groups. U.S. military and economic assistance exploded during
the Pastrana administration; military aid increased from $88 million
in 1997 to $309 million in 1999. Social and economic aid also
increased from zero in 1997 to $9 million two years later.
visited Washington officials with a comprehensive plan to bring
peace to his war-torn nation and to stem the flow of cocaine and
other narcotics. The U.S. support for "Plan Colombia" continued
to increase military and economic aid to such a level that Colombia
would become the third highest recipient of foreign aid after
Israel and Egypt.
-- By Lee Banville, Online NewsHour
Part One: Anti-Narcotics Foreign Policy
Two: Expanding the Front
Part Three: Drugs & The War on Terror