CURRENT POLITICS - Colombia
Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror, U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia is more than the title of a great book. Those words summarise life and death from the Mexican border down to Cape Horn. Their realities have operated ever since the Spanish invaders launched the genocide retold by Galeano in The Open Veins of Latin America.
Australian activists and academics Oliver Villar and Drew Cottle have added another profit-and-loss column to the black book of capitalism. For instance, state terrorism slaughtered thousands of the supporters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when they tried to participate in the 1989 elections. That massacre is but one of the atrocities organised by the U.S. through its School of the Americas and Operation Condor. These crimes continue with the assassination of unionists.
One virtue in this book is its shattering the propaganda about the FARC’s having deteriorated into just another drug cartel. The revolutionaries do tax coca as they do many goods to fund the services they provide to the populations in the liberated zones. Moreover, the coca chewed by the locals is both traditional and a million dollars away from the cocaine snorted on Wall Street, around the White House and at Foxtel.
Villar and Cottle position the conflict in its historical context. The FARC is the current expression of a 500-year war waged by wealthy invaders against the indigenous and the landless. Violent resistance did not start with Maoists in the 1964. The battle will not go away even if the FARC were to be wiped out.
The most radical aspect of how Villar and Cottle analyse Colombia is their treatment of cocaine as just another capitalist commodity, like oil or coffee. Cocaine has become one more means for extracting surplus value on which to realise profits and thus accumulate capital. This materialist approach highlights why the drug trade is not a moral choice by individuals. Nor is it just a political problem of removing corrupt politicians in Washington’s hip pocket. Illegal drugs, like those from Big Pharma, are one more instance of the political economy of over-production.
The authors also reveal how drugs have played their part in the financialisation of capital since the 1970s. In the wake of the 2008 global implosion, money laundering increased. The legit businesses bankrolled by the drug lords have not been subject to the credit squeeze. Cocaine is a stimulus for global capital as much as a physical one for its other addicts.
To publish studies like this one inside Colombia will get you arrested for supporting terrorism. In one sense, that accusation is justified. To tell the truth about state terrorism is to threaten U.S. imperialism and by encouraging further opposition to its rule. They are crimes according to the skewed justice of class rule and exploitation. Drug running is business as usual.
(This review is based on the speech that Humphrey McQueen made when launching the book at Gould’s Book Arcade in March. It is published by Monthly Review Press and sells here for $23.95)