A week and a half ago news emerged from Havana that the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the Colombian government had reached a framework for a final peace agreement to be signed within six months. This was hailed as a breakthrough in the half-century-old conflict and an opportunity to bring peace to the people of Colombia. But by adopting the government’s narrative, mainstream media have failed to recognize the primary cause of the violence and the inevitability that it will continue in the future.
The decades-long policy of the Colombian government has been a national security strategy of counterinsurgency, developed in the late 1950s under the sponsorship of the US military. The goal of the US government was to maintain a business-friendly political system that would implement economic policies amenable to multinational corporations and foreign capital. Resistance to such policies was deemed subversion, and people who sympathized with such resistance were branded as internal enemies to be eliminated or neutralized by military means.
The narrative of the national security doctrine holds that if the insurgent threat is eliminated, then peace will be restored. The implicit assumption is that the FARC rebels have always been the side standing in the way of peace. According to this interpretation, when the FARC initiated their military operations the state was acting for the benefit of the nation as a whole by organizing a counter response.
But this narrative is historically inaccurate. The Colombian conflict is not a battle of society at large against a group of guerillas, but a battle of a small group of elites controlling the state apparatus against the majority of the population.
“As in many other Latin American countries, we can find the seeds of present-day social inequality and strife in the concentration of Colombia’s land and resources under the control of a tiny minority, matched by the progressive dispossession of the majority of people, which originated with colonialism in the sixteenth century,” explains Jasmin Hristov in her book Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia. 
After the FARC developed as the armed wing of the Communist Party in Colombia, the counterinsurgency doctrine – developed by the US military and codified in manuals distributed as early as the 1960s – taught the US’s Colombian counterparts to view any advocacy for social justice or democratic reform as a form of Communist insurgency. In addition to armed rebels, clergy, academics, labor leaders, human rights workers, and other members of civil society became potential insurgent targets.
To further extend their reach into Colombian society, the government legally authorized paramilitarism in 1965 with Plan Lazlo to form “civilian defense forces” armed and incorporated into the Colombian military system.  These forces serve the government’s goal of preserving the status quo by carrying out their dirty work through the use of death squads, assassinations, torture, intimidation and disappearances while providing cover and the appearance of distance from the state itself.
The Colombian conflict cannot be understood without recognizing the true nature of the actors involved and the interests they represent. “The paramilitary has never been, and is even less so now, a third actor (the state and the guerillas being the other two), as portrayed in mainstream security discourses,” writes Hristov. 
Writing in the New York Times after the peace agreement was announced, Ernesto Londoño declared the “three-way fight among guerilla factions, government forces and right-wing paramilitary bands that often acted as proxies for the state had killed more than 220,000 people and displaced an estimated 5.7 million.”
Dan Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, disputes the notion that paramilitaries merely occasionally serve as proxies: “It is impossible to talk about the paramilitaries as separate from the Colombian state, for the Colombian state helped create the paramilitaries, and human rights groups have concluded year after year that the state has provided them with weapons, logistical support and has carried out joint operations with them, Even federal courts confronted with this questions under the Alien Tort Claims Act have concluded that the paramilitaries are sufficiently integrated with the state that their misdeeds constitute state action.”
Aside from inaccurately describing the fighting, Londoño’s statement uses statistics about the cumulative violence without describing who holds responsibility for the deaths and displacements. Later in his editorial, Londoño implicitly blames the FARC for the majority of the violence: “Dozens of victims traveled to Havana to speak about abuses they endured at the hands of the guerilla leaders. Some implicated government forces in brutal acts… The special war tribunals the government intends to start adjudicating crimes will be dismissed as kangaroo courts by those who would have favored a military defeat of the FARC.”
If one accepts the national security narrative that most violence by the government amounts to collateral damage as a result of reaction to insurgent aggression, then guerillas would be responsible for the majority of deaths and injuries. But this is hardly the case.
Kovalik notes that “human rights groups have consistently concluded that the Colombian state and its paramilitary allies commit the lion’s share of the human rights violations in that country – in the worst years, at least 80% of the abuses can be attributed to these forces.”
US Government Intervention and Plan Colombia
Londoño also credits US policy with providing the impetus to achieving peace: “Washington’s forceful intervention in the war, an intervention that began in the late 1990s, enabled the Colombian government to weaken the FARC and ultimately set the stage for peace negotiations.”
Washington’s counterinsurgency policy is seen not only as an instrument for peace, but as the primary factor enabling its achievement. This is stunning historical revisionism that portrays the instigator and sponsor of massive violence that has lasted decades as an honest broker for ending this violence.
In reality, Washington’s intervention began 40 years earlier than Londoño claims, and it created the war that has raged ever since. By any objective measure, US policy in Colombia has been an abject failure. Under US direction, funding and training, the Colombian state has had one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere. Many human rights organizations attest to this, and have demanded an end to US military aid to Colombia.
“Year after year US policy has ignored the evidence and the cries of the United Nations, Colombian and international non-governmental organizations and the people of Colombia. Plan Colombia is a failure in every respect and human rights in Colombia will not improve until there is a fundamental shift in US foreign policy,” writes Amnesty International USA.
A Human Rights Watch report declared that: “all international security assistance should be conditioned on explicit actions by the Colombian Government to sever links, at all levels, between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups. Abuses directly attributed to members of the Colombian military have decreased in recent years, but over the same period the number and scale of abuses attributed to paramilitary groups operating with the military’s acquiescence or open support have skyrocketed.”
Bogotá professor and historian Renán Vega Cantor, in a study of U.S. involvement in Colombia, writes that: “State terrorism that has been perpetual in Colombia since the end of the 1940s feeds off the military support and financing of the United States, as much as the interests of the dominant Creole classes, to preserve their wealth and power and deny the fulfillment of elemental economic and social reforms that are redistributive.”
What the New York Times and the mainstream media miss in their analysis is that the current neoliberal Colombian sociopolitical system necessitates the continuance of violence to accommodate capital.
“The guerilla was not the cause of the Colombian conflict but rather one of its symptoms, and simultaneously became a contributing factor in the sense that its very existence has provided the ideological substance for the pretext and justification behind state-sanctioned violence and militarization, Thus unfortunately the presence of the guerilla has been used by the powerful to legitimate the onslaught on social forces that challenge the power of the dominant classes,” writes Hristov in her latest book, Paramilitarism and Neoliberalism: Violent Systems of Capital Accumulation in Colombia and Beyond. 
Hristov says that in order for the government to meet FARC’s demands, they would have to invest in social programs at the expense of the military-security apparatus currently in place. But since these systems serve the neoliberal economic restructuring that funnels land and resources from the masses to the tiny elite minority, it would be naive to assume this will happen.
“Even in a post-FARC era the state would always have a pretext, such as BACRIM [criminal bands with roots in nominally disarmed paramilitary groups] or the existence of other guerilla groups, to maintain its high level of militarization,” Hristov writes. 
The portrayal of the Colombian conflict in the New York Times and other mainstream media replicates state propaganda, in the form of the national security doctrine, while failing to account for the inherent violence of the economic system in Colombia that has driven the perpetual militarism and coercion in the country.
While any agreement offering the prospect of decreased bloodshed is encouraging, the fact that the Colombian state continues to abide by the Washington Consensus and its neoliberal socioeconomic model sadly signifies that the country is inevitably headed for continued violence, dispossession, and suffering by the vast majority of the population.
When the Colombian government and the western media recognize that Washington intervention exacerbates the violence, rather than helps minimize it, then possibly Colombia can begin to extricate itself and pursue a course that will enable the Colombian people to achieve lasting peace and social justice.
 Hristov, Jasmin. Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia. Ohio University Press; 1 edition, 2009. Kindle edition.
 Hristov, Jasmin. Paramilitarism and Neoliberalism: Violent Systems of Capital Accumulation in Colombia and Beyond. London: Pluto Press, 2014. (pg. 153)
 Hristov, 2014 (pg. 157)
The government of Argentina is getting fed up with the United States after repeated efforts to track down its ex-spy chief, believed to be hiding in Miami, have resulted in silence from Washington.
Argentinian officials have made eight formal requests to the Obama administration for help locating Antonio Stiuso, who led the now-disbanded intelligence secretariat until January, when he fled Argentina. According to media reports, Stiuso is in Miami but there has been no official confirmation of that.
Stiuso has been implicated in the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was killed in his home in January only days after he accused President Cristina Fernández of conspiring to cover up alleged Iranian involvement in a 1994 bomb attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, according to The Guardian. Fernández in turn has accused Stiuso of orchestrating Nisman’s death to incriminate her and destabilize her government.
Argentina wants Stiuso handed over, and Fernandez’s government has warned the Obama administration that its lack of cooperation in the matter could jeopardize the two countries’ relationship.
“We ask ourselves sometimes: ‘Is the United States ready to allow the bilateral relations between it and Argentina to worsen for a man they all say has no importance, no strategic value for the United States?’” Anibal Fernández, Argentina’s cabinet chief of staff, told reporters.
Another official, Oscar Parrilli, head of Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency, said the U.S. ambassador to Buenos Aires may be summoned to explain “the absolute lack of response and in some ways complicity in this situation.”
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires said, according to Reuters, “We don’t comment on requests for assistance in criminal matters and we respond to these requests through established judicial channels.”
To Learn More:
Argentina Warns U.S. to Cooperate in Heightened Search for Fugitive Spy Chief (by Uki Goñi, The Guardian )
Argentina Intensifies Effort to get Ex-Spy Chief, Blasts U.S. (by Peter Prengaman, Associated Press )
The Shady History of Argentina’s Intelligence Secretariat (by Uki Goñi, The Guardian )
Argentina Government Accuses U.S. of Smuggling Spy Equipment (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
September 24 marks the day one year ago when the National Victims Table was set up as an important part of the Colombian peace process. Exactly one year later, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the Colombian government of Manuel Santos are announcing an agreement on victims and justice, a bilateral ceasefire, and a signing date for the peace agreement.
It is a big step forward for the Colombian peace process, with the issues of prisoners, setting aside arms, and then implementation to be agreed upon next. Although the number of Colombian political prisoners is around 7000, there is one prisoner who stands out because he is held under cruel and unusual circumstances. That is FARC negotiator Simon Trinidad (aka Ricardo Palmera).
Held for 11 years as a political prisoner of the U.S. Empire, the 65-year-old Trinidad is in solitary confinement at the Florence Supermax in Colorado, the “Guantanamo of the Rockies.” Trinidad is a good man who embodies the struggle of the Colombian people for freedom, and the FARC say that without him, they will not sign an agreement.
It is President Barack Obama who can set Simon Trinidad free, to take his rightful place at the Colombian peace negotiations. President Obama can send a loud and clear message that the U.S. backs the peace process. For President Obama, the time to act is now, and it is likely to add momentum to the peace process.
Earlier this week, I marched with thirty-five activists from nine U.S. cities on a rural highway in the Rocky Mountains to demand, “Free Simon Trinidad! Peace for Colombia!” We marched to the modern underground dungeon where prisoners can be held with no human contact for years on end. Across from the guardhouse of the Colorado supermax, we held signs saying, “President Obama free Simon Trinidad!” and “Send Simon Trinidad to peace talks!”
As we marched back up Highway 67 to the small town of Florence, I kept thinking how strange it is, surreal in fact, that our efforts to end the U.S. war and intervention brought us to this place. The scenery is beautiful and breathtaking, but when you think of the men being held underground with no access to sunlight or fresh air, and no other human to talk to, the prison seems doubly vicious, consciously dehumanizing. Only the strongest of people, someone like Simon Trinidad, can persevere under these conditions.
With September 24 being the starting date of the National Victims Table, that date has great significance for me and my friends who organize solidarity with Colombia and Simon Trinidad in particular. For I am one of the Antiwar 23, raided by the FBI in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Grand Rapids, five years ago today. Over 100 FBI agents raided seven homes, scaring our children, and taking away our computers, phones and boxes of whatever else they wanted. When I left our house to write a press release, I realized I was being followed. I drove to my wife’s job where the FBI subpoenaed us to the grand jury in Chicago. It was shocking. Like all of the Antiwar 23, we refused to appear. No witch hunts for us.
I don’t like to think of myself as a victim, but the U.S. government did target us because of our effective organizing. The U.S. government claimed the Antiwar 23 were sending money and providing material support to the FARC and PFLP. The FBI said we faced 15-year prison sentences. However, when the U.S. government spy could not find any evidence, she and her FBI handlers attempted to create a crime. It did not work. We are still organizing solidarity, such as the campaign for a Palestinian American women’s leader “Justice for Rasmea Odeh”.
Over time we learned that the U.S. government political repression began when we protested outside the four trials of Colombian revolutionary Simon Trinidad. Our small group of solidarity activists did our part to expose the injustice of the four trials of Simon Trinidad and the U.S. government was angry with us. We protested and reported to the media on the unfair procedures and rulings. We were there in the courtroom when the cheating Judge Hogan was forced to step down after the first trial. We helped turn what should have been the triumph of the Empire, into a shameful display of corruption.
Today, I find September 24 to be a day for reflection and for re-dedication to the cause of stopping U.S. war and intervention in Colombia and everywhere else too. Plan Colombia is a colossal failure and needs to be brought to an end. We will continue to act in solidarity with the people of Colombia for a lasting peace with justice. We say “Free Simon Trinidad! Peace for Colombia!” Now is the time for President Obama to act.
Tom Burke is the spokesperson for the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera (Simon Trinidad)
Background: Who is Simon Trinidad?
On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño pledged to end the country’s internal conflict by March 26, 2016.
Ever since La Violencia—Colombia’s infamous civil war lasting from 1948 to 1958—the polarization of the country’s political parties and ideological factions has led to an escalation of a deep-seated violence throughout Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) was initially formed as an armed peasant movement in 1964 that demanded comprehensive land and social reforms. Since then, the government and right-wing paramilitaries have waged a violent conflict against the FARC in rural Colombia that has resulted in a total of 220,000 deaths and over 5.7 million displacements.[i]
Negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government have been ongoing since 2012, but Wednesday marked President Santos’ first appearance at the peace talks, and the beginning of a more visible role as a major force for concluding the peace accord. The two sides have agreed to create special tribunals to try former FARC combatants as well as government troops and rightist paramilitaries. Those found guilty of human rights violations will be required to pay reparations to their victims and will face a maximum sentence of eight years under special conditions, if they voluntarily opt to cooperate with the judicial process.[ii] Combatants who do not cooperate and are convicted could face much longer sentences. Those who sign the peace deal, accept responsibility, face charges and pay reparations will be safe from extradition if they are wanted by the United States on drug trafficking charges.[iii]
Pressured into the peace talks by the Colombian public, Bogotá has spent billions of dollars on efforts to combat the FARC (the 2015 budget for armed forces and police is $12.2 billion),[iv] while the United States has contributed over $9 billion for military operations since the birth of Plan Colombia in 2000.[v] Meanwhile, the FARC have suffered from sharply diminishing membership numbers (16,000 in 2001 to 7,000 in 2013) over the past decade and a half.[vi]
However, this momentous agreement comes with historical antecedents. The FARC recently demanded an inclusion of right-wing paramilitary groups in the current peace talks.[vii] These were agreed to by President Santos on Wednesday.[viii] Previous administrations have attempted to implement comprehensive demobilization and reinsertion programs with guerrilla groups but have failed due to the exclusion of paramilitary forces. In Colombia’s last peace agreement, the Betancur administration (1982-1986) legalized guerrilla members that accepted the amnesty as political actors in 1985, and the FARC subsequently demobilized and established the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, UP), their political party. However, over 3,000 UP members paid dearly for this tactical mistake; having put down their weapons and rejoined civic life, they were later assassinated by paramilitary elements.[ix]
This changed with the election of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), who refused to negotiate with the FARC and instead opted for supporting talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), the largest paramilitary group in the country,[x] which has subsequently splintered off into several small criminal gangs.[xi] Since the demobilization of the AUC under Uribe, however, Colombian diplomats had not engaged in peace talks with the FARC until 2012.
COHA is cautiously optimistic about the shift in character of the Colombian government that has allowed for the promise of peace. However, insufficient funding, an inadequate monitoring of demobilized combatants, and a lack of consultation with host communities in the past have impeded Colombia from successfully maintaining peace. Although it has yet to be seen whether these agreements will prove to be successful in the long-term, President Santos’s government and the FARC are to be lauded for having taken a crucial step toward sustainable peace in Colombia.
[i] “World Report 2015: Colombia.” Human Rights Watch. 2015. Web.
[ii] Acosta, Nelson, and Daniel Trotta. “Colombia, FARC Rebels Vow to End 50-year War within Six Months.” Reuters. September 23, 2015. Web.
[iii] Lander, Rose. “Colombia Govt, FARC Agree to Maximum Prison Sentences for War Crimes.” Colombia Reports. September 23, 2015. Web.
[iv] Muñoz, Sara Schaefer. “Colombia Unlikely to Cut Defense Budget If FARC Deal Is Reached, Officials Say.” The Wall Street Journal. January 20, 2015. Web.
[v] Arsenault, Chris. “Did Colombia’s War on Drugs Succeed?” Al Jazeera. May 22, 2014. Web.
[vi] Renwick, Danielle, and Stephanie Hanson. “FARC, ELN: Colombia’s Left-Wing Guerrillas.” Council on Foreign Relations. December 1, 2014. Web.
[vii] Alsema, Adriaan. “The FARC’s Biggest Fear: Colombia’s Paramilitary Groups.” Colombia Reports. July 10, 2015. Web.
[viii] Acosta, Nelson, and Daniel Trotta. “Colombia, FARC Rebels Vow to End 50-year War within Six Months.” Reuters. September 23, 2015. Web.
[ix] Laplante, Lisa J, and Kimberly Theidon. “Transitional Justice in Times of Conflict: Colombia’s Ley De Justicia Y Paz.” Michigan Journal of International Law 28, no. 49 (2006): 59-61.
[x] Ibid: 61-62.
[xi] McDermott, Jeremy. “The BACRIM and Their Position in Colombia’s Underworld.” InSight Crime. May 2, 2014. Web.
Argentina’s Parliament approved Wednesday by a wide majority the launch of an investigation into economic complicity by civilians during the country’s last military dictatorship.
The aim of the investigation is to determine how businesses and people participated in the crimes committed by the dictatorship, which disappeared thousands of people.
The bill passed with 170 votes against 14. The main party opposing the bill so far has been the Republican Proposal party (PRO), who’s presidential hopeful Mauricio Macri – currently the Mayor of Buenos Aires – is the leading opposition candidate, trailing behind the government party’s candidate Daniel Scioli.
The bill will now have to be approved by the Senate, which is largely dominated by the governing Front for Victory, which backs the proposal.
Once approved, a Congressional Commission of Truth, Memory, Justice, Reparation and Strengthening of Democratic Institutions will be created, which will have judicial powers to investigate and charge individuals.
According to the text of the bill, the investigations will target people who cooperated with or who benefited from their ties to the dictatorship.
The lawmakers that voted against the bill did not provide any explanation for their decision.
Apart from determining individual responsibilities, the Congressional commission would have to publish a report at the end of its investigations which would explain the economic consequences of the dictatorship and how State-sponsored terrorism helped particular businesses.
PRO’s negative vote could be linked to its repercussions on Argentina’s two main newspapers, El Clarin and La Nacion. Both have been repeatedly singled out for their ties to the military dictatorship, with which they created a paper-import company Papel Prensa S.A.
Through their joint venture with the dictatorship, the newspapers would have obtained preferential prices on paper fees and would have manipulated the market to drive competitors out.
The fate of the Garifuna people of Honduras hangs in the balance as they face a Honduran state that is all too eager to accommodate the neoliberal agenda of U.S. and Canadian investors. The current economic development strategy of the Honduran government, in the aftermath of the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, has not only benefited the political and economic elite in Honduras, but it has also encouraged the usurpation of some of the territories of indigenous peoples of this Central American nation. The often-violent expropriation of indigenous land threatens the Garifuna’s subsistence.
The Garifuna people are descendants of African slaves and two indigenous groups originally from South America—the Arawaks and the Carib Indians. In 1797, the British deported 5,000 Garifuna, also known as Black Caribs, from St. Vincent to Roatán. Since then, the Garifuna people have immigrated throughout North and Central America.[i]
Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra are home to two of the forty-eight Honduran Garifuna communities along the Honduran Atlantic coast corridor. Due to an ecologically rich geopolitical position, these regions have attracted foreign-backed investments, including tourist and recreational centers, natural resource extraction industries, and self-governing corporate zones. The concept of “self-governing” does not apply to democratic procedures of native citizens, but to the domination of foreign elites who view the Garifuna land as a mere means to the private accumulation of wealth.
Mega development projects have been advertised as a stimulus to economic growth and employment within the country. However, in practice, they have aggravated discrimination and harassment against indigenous and ethnic groups, whom developers generally perceive as obstacles to the expansion of such economic projects. Hence, the Honduran political system, in thrall to ambitious tycoons and foreign interventionism, has infringed on the Garifuna community’s relationship to and management of their ancestral lands. The displacement of these Honduran Afro-descendant communities from their ancestral lands for the development of economic projects accelerated after the coup d’état of June 28, 2009 against the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, and the installment of a U.S. backed golpista regime.
The United States and Canada perceived the center-left policies of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as an intolerable restraint on American and Canadian investment objectives in Honduras. The alignment of Honduras with the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe along with stricter domestic reforms to rein in the damage caused by neoliberal policies, emboldened the U.S.-Canadian intervention in the Honduran political system. The coup brought the golpista regime of Roberto Micheletti (June 28, 2009 to January 27, 2010) to power and was followed by the subsequent election of two right wing presidents. Tegucigalpa has pursued policies that are more obedient to the economic consensus of Washington and Ottawa, reversing its march towards progressive land and labor reforms and opening the doors wide to foreign investors. As a result, Honduras has been the bloody stage for human rights violations against those who have resisted some of the more intrusive features of the neoliberal economic model.
The Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, for example, possessed title deeds of full ownership to their ancestral territories. However, the U.S. and World Bank-backed 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law not only led to the expansion of Tela’s city boundaries, but also stimulated future transactions of ancestral lands without consent of the Garifuna community members.[ii] Grahame Russell is the director of Rights Action and has devoted his life to protecting human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Russell points out: “All along the north coast, most particularly in the Tela Bay and Trujillo Bay areas, Garifuna villages are being pressured—with false legal documents, with forced sales and with repression—to sell their lands and territories to international tourism operators that are supported by the illegitimate and repressive Honduran regime.”[iii]
The municipality of Tela sold ancestral territories to a corporation called Inversiones y Desarrollos del Triunfo S.A de C.V. The municipality later issued construction permits for the development of tourist projects, such as the Indura Beach and Golf Resort.[iv] Government officials and foreign investors have overlooked the Garifuna people’s opposition to these projects. In turn, there have been frequent territorial disputes between the investors and members of the Garifuna community. In 2014, the Honduran national police and military officials attempted to violently dislodge the Garifuna population from their lands. Despite the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring that the Garifuna culture is one of the nineteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2001), violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities. Oscar Bregal and Jesus Alvarez, two committed Garifuna leaders, were murdered in 1997 while protesting against the violation of the human and civil rights of the Garifuna communities. Oppression and harsh conditions been the principal causes of displacement and emigration of the Honduran Garifuna inhabitants
According to the Indura Beach investors, the first phase of this US $120 million tourist-complex development has created 400 direct jobs and 800 indirect jobs.[v] The Honduran Tourism Institute insists that these jobs have primarily benefited the communities around the complex, especially the Garifuna communities. These benefits, however, have not reached the hands of the Garifuna population. As a matter of fact, unsustainable tourist projects have threatened the Garifuna people’s food sovereignty. As stated by Miriam Miranda, leader of The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), the Garifuna people cannot continue to exist without the land required to grow their subsistence crops. Foods like rice, beans, and yucca not only make up the Garifuna daily diet, but also represent critical components of the Garifuna culture. The women of the communities sow and harvest the land for household consumption and income. The Honduran state’s failure to protect the interests of these Honduran citizens has led Garifuna indigenous communities to request the intervention of international organizations.
From August 24 to August 29, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held its 53rd period of extraordinary sessions in Honduras. During the sessions, the court visited the Garifuna Communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra to commence proceedings against the Honduran state. OFRANEH— speaking on behalf of the Garifuna inhabitants of Triunfo de la Cruz, Punta Piedra, and Cayos Cochinos—claimed that Honduras has failed to ensure these communities’ right of land ownership as well as their right to free, prior, and informed consent. Although Honduras has ratified the International Labour Organization Convention no. 169, and the Honduran constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous and ethnic peoples, the Honduran Garifuna communities continue to face discrimination and harassment within the Honduran economic and political systems. The petition of the Honduran Garifuna communities was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights on October 29, 2003. [vi] Following the commission’s hearings, the Honduran state agreed to put in place measures to protect the property rights of the Garifuna people. The state, however, has failed to uphold this agreement.
In February 2013, the commission submitted the case Garifuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members v. Honduras to the Inter-American court after the Honduran government failed to inform the Commission of the measures it had taken to enforce the property rights of the Triunfo de la Cruz inhabitants.[vii] This case not only confirms state collaboration with the violation of Garifuna people’s rights in Honduras, but it also challenges the effectiveness of the international community—in this case the court’s jurisdiction, in protecting those rights.
It has been 12 years since the petition was presented to the commission and the Honduran Garifuna communities are still living in despair and fear. Do we hear their call for justice in the North? Russell remarks that “while OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities are waiting for the Inter-American Court to render its final decision, which—if justice is to prevail—will find in favor of the Garifuna people, against the actions and omissions of the Honduran State, they are not depending on it.” Furthermore, Russell adds that the Honduran Garifuna communities, “resist peacefully, resolutely, on and on, from one community to the next.”
The usurpation of ancestral territories by multinational corporations backed by the political and security structure of the Honduran state has evoked justified skepticism among the Honduran Garifuna communities in regards to neoliberal economic policies that put profits before human needs and respect for participatory democratic procedures. While the Garifuna communities are still waiting for the court’s final decision on their case against the State of Honduras, they have been committed to voicing their grievances. The leadership and determination of the Honduran Garifuna has encouraged other indigenous and ethnic groups in the western hemisphere to fight against hegemonic neoliberal policies that threaten their ability to live and develop in community.
Featured Photo: Chachahuate, a small Honduran island inhabited by Garifuna communities. From: Dennis Garcia
[i] Escure, Geneviève, and Armin Schwegler. “Garifuna in Belize and Honduras.” In Creoles, Contact, and Language Change Linguistics and Social Implications, 37. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=622399.
[ii] Brondo, Keri V. “La pérdida de la tierra y el activismo de las mujeres garífunas en la costa norte de Honduras.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 9, no. 3 (May 2008): 374.
[iii] Grahame Russell, e-mail message to author, September 20, 2015
[iv] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 159, 160.
[v] Diario El Heraldo Honduras. “Lista Primera Etapa De Indura Beach and Golf Resort.” Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.elheraldo.hn/alfrente/566419-209/lista-primera-etapa-de-indura-beach-and-golf-resort.
[vi] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 1.
[vii] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (2013). IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court. Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2013/076.asp [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].
The International Court of Justice in The Hague is preparing to rule this Thursday on whether or not it will hear Bolivia’s claim demanding access to the Pacific Ocean, which has revived an age-old dispute between them and neighboring Chile.
Bolivia brought its claim against Chile to the ICJ in 2013, based on almost a century’s worth of diplomatic and historical documents in which Santiago committed to resolve the issue of Bolivia’s access to the sea. The coastal territory was taken from Bolivia in The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) between the two countries, and Peru.
Meanwhile, the Chilean government says Bolivia’s claim has no bearing in the international court, saying the issue was resolved by a treaty signed by both nations in 1904, and has asked to have the claim dismissed.
Both countries were given four days with the ICJ earlier this year to justify their positions regarding how much jurisdiction the court should have on the territorial dispute. The court will finally announce their decision Thursday, which could go either way.
Both sides stand to gain economically by controlling the coastal region. For Bolivia – one of only two landlocked countries in Latin America – it could boost the country’s trade. According to figures from the World Bank, landlocked developing countries trade on average 30 percent less than coastal countries.
As a result of higher transportation costs, Bolivia’s exports are 55 percent more expensive than those from Chile and 60 percent more expensive than those from Peru, according to Global Risk Insights.
For Chile, many Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals and pipelines are spread throughout its northern shoreline, the territory under dispute. LNG is imported by sea and is a major source of electricity for the country, which is not rich in hydrocarbons. It is unlikely Chile will be willing to give up this territory.
The Hague could rule either way Thursday. If it rules in favor of Bolivia and agrees to hear its claim, both countries will be invited to return to the court to present oral arguments as to why Bolivia thinks Chile has a legal obligation to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific. Chile will of course argue the contrary.
This entire process, if it moves forward, will likely take another three to five years, with lawmakers saying any changes are not expected until at least 2020.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has said that he will commit to The Hague’s ruling, regardless of how it decides, explaining that the ICJ had been set up by the United Nations to achieve justice.
However, many speculate that regardless of ICJ’s decision Thursday, relations between the two South American nations have already been strained.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has reportedly rejected the appointment of a hardliner as Israel’s envoy to her country, saying it could be understood as support for the illegal Israeli settlements.
According to an article published on Israeli website Ynetnews, Rousseff has sent a message to the Tel Aviv regime, expressing her discomfort with the appointment of Dani Dayan, an extremist in charge of running the affairs of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The rejection has been part of some covert communications between Brazil and Israel with Rio de Janeiro warning the Tel Aviv regime that it should not go ahead with Dayan’s nomination to the job or mutual relations could seriously be endangered.
Various organizations and individuals have been pressuring Rousseff to reject Dayan due to his background in opposing the rights of Palestinians and his contribution to the illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank. A petition in August called the appointment “a violation of the international legitimacy and sovereignty of Brazil.”
From 2007 to 2013, Dayan was the chairman of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of settlement councils in the Occupied West Bank. He is also a renowned opponent of the so-called two-state solution.
A group of activists submitted a request to the Brazilian government on Monday, demanding the rejection of Dayan as Israel’s ambassador. According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the activists met with Brazilian envoys to the occupied territories as well as Brazil’s envoy to the Occupied West Bank and reiterated that accepting the appointee would help legitimize the settlement enterprise.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Dayan’s appointment three weeks ago. Based on diplomatic protocols, once Dayan’s appointment is officially confirmed by Israel, the Brazilian government will be sent a request to endorse the decision.
It is rare for a host country to reject a foreign envoy but if Netanyahu decides to insist on his choice, he could face a formal rejection. Israel has always sought better relations with Brazil as one of the most prosperous economic countries in the world and a major power in South America.
By Eric Zuesse | Aletho News | September 21, 2015
On September 18th, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights headlined “Statement of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns Ukraine: Lives lost in an accountability vacuum,” and condemned there the current Ukrainian Government in strong language, regarding not only the coup which had brought them to power in February 2014, but regarding also the massacre of the people who on 2 May 2014 had been peacefully demonstrating in Odessa against the coup. Specifically, the ongoing cover-ups by the Ukrainian Government concerning both of these matters were condemned by him.
The High Commissioner, Christof Heyns, said:
By allowing almost immediate access of the scene to ‘pro-unity’ protesters, members of the public or to municipal authorities, investigators lost a large proportion of potentially valuable forensic evidence. Meanwhile I am worried by indications that the Government has significantly reduced the size of the team investigating these events in the past year, before it has had an opportunity to report. The slow progress of the investigation and the lack of transparency with which it is being conducted have contributed to a great deal of public dissatisfaction and provided a fertile environment for rumour and misinformation. It is disconcerting that the Special Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that investigates the 2 May events cancelled our appointment in Odessa at short notice, without any explanation.
I am further concerned that administrative and personal impediments seem to have been imposed to prevent or at least discourage the families of those who died from obtaining the status of suffering or affected persons before the Courts. Meanwhile I am greatly alarmed by reports of the extent to which authorities are tolerating both verbal and physical intimidation both of families attending court proceedings and of the judges of those cases, not only outside the court building, but also inside it and in the court room itself.
Here is a brief video on the massacre, on 2 May 2014, in Odessa’s Trade Unions Building.
Also of interest might be the following articles:
The Obama Administration has a strong record of installing anti-Russian governments — not only in Ukraine. Obama enabled the 28 June 2009 coup that overthrew Honduras’s progressive democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya to succeed, and enabled the coup’s junta to stay in power though no other head-of-state supported it; and the great investigative journalist Wayne Madsen reports on 21 September 2015 that there is strong reason to believe that the Obama Administration was actually behind the recent coup in Burkino Faso. Furthermore, the Obama Administration has been involved in unsuccessful coup-plots in Venezuela and Ecuador, according to a 12 March 2015 study by the Council On Hemispheric Affairs. In addition, the Obama Administration bombed Libya and removed Muammar Gaddafi from power there, and is bombing Syria in order to remove Bashar al-Assad from power there. The Obama Administration also has continued the Bush Administration’s policy of “unsigning” to the legal authority of the International Criminal Court, but doesn’t use the same rabid rhetoric against the Court that Obama’s predecessor did. The Obama Administration has also taken a strong anti-Russian position on virtually everything at the United Nations, such as by voting against a Russian-supported resolution condemning fascism in all its forms (including Holocaust-denial), which resolution passed overwhelmingly and was opposed by only three governments: U.S., Ukraine, and Canada.
Obama is highly critical of Russia, and of its leader, Vladimir Putin. The U.S. White House in February issued its National Security Strategy 2015, and it used the pejorative term “aggression” 18 times, 17 of which referred to Russia.
So, the U.N. High Commissioner’s statement condemning the Ukrainian Government’s cover-ups might be viewed in Washington as simply the UN’s taking the pro-Russian side. Psychopaths could view it that way. But other people will (like the UN) oppose cover-ups — and oppose Obama’s international policies (such as those described). Indeed, the only U.S. President who has been as hostile toward the UN as Obama is, was his immediate predecessor, whose policies Obama publicly opposed when running for the U.S. Presidency in 2008. And, then, in his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama vocally criticized his opponent Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” But, now, Obama cites Russia 17 out of 18 times for “aggression.”
Geir Lundestad, who was the Director of the Nobel Institute, and Secretary of the Peace Prize Committee, at the time when Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, recently said that “giving Obama a helping hand” was the reason why the Committee awarded Obama the Prize, but that doing this “did not achieve what the committee had hoped for.” However, he denied “that it was a mistake to give Obama the Peace Prize.” Even all of those coups and massacres don’t mean it was a mistake. Maybe it wasn’t much different from “what the committee had hoped for.” After all: Norway, and its Nobel Institute, is a U.S. ally. Unlike the United Nations, it only pretends to represent the interests of all people everywhere.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
The outlawing of narcotic drugs at the start of the Twentieth Century, the turning of the matter from public health to social control, coincided with American’s imperial Open Door policy and the belief that the government had an obligation to American industrialists to create markets in every nation in the world, whether those nations liked it or not.
Civic institutions, like public education, were required to sanctify this policy, while “security” bureaucracies were established to ensure the citizenry conformed to the state ideology. Secret services, both public and private, were likewise established to promote the expansion of private American economic interests overseas.
It takes a book to explain the economic foundations of the war on drugs, and the reasons behind the regulation of the medical, pharmaceutical and drug manufacturers industries. Suffice it to say that by 1943, the nations of the “free world” were relying on America for their opium derivatives, under the guardianship of Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
Narcotic drugs are a strategic resource, and when Anslinger learned that Peru had built a cocaine factory, he and the Board of Economic Warfare confiscated its product before it could be sold to Germany or Japan. In another instance, Anslinger and his counterpart at the State Department prevented a drug manufacturer in Argentina from selling drugs to Germany.
At the same time, according to Douglas Clark Kinder and William O. Walker III in their article, “Stable Force In a Storm: Harry J. Anslinger and United States Narcotic Policy, 1930-1962,” Anslinger permitted “an American company to ship drugs to Southeast Asia despite receiving intelligence reports that French authorities were permitting opiate smuggling into China and collaborating with Japanese drug traffickers.”
Federal drug law enforcement’s relationship with the espionage establishment matured with the creation of CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services. Prior to the Second World War, the FBN was the government agency most adept at conducting covert operations at home and abroad. As a result, OSS chief William Donovan asked Anslinger to provide seasoned FBN agents to help organize the OSS and train its agents to work undercover, avoid security forces in hostile nations, manage agent networks, and engage in sabotage and subversion.
The relationship expanded during the war, when FBN executives and agents worked with OSS scientists in domestic “truth drug” experiments involving marijuana. The “extra-legal” nature of the relationship continued after the war: when the CIA decided to test LSD on unsuspecting American citizens, FBN agents were chosen to operate the safe houses where the experiments were conducted.
The relationship was formalized overseas in 1951, when Agent Charlie Siragusa opened an office in Rome and began to develop the FBN’s foreign operations. In the 1950s, FBN agents posted overseas spent half their time doing “favors” for the CIA, such as investigating diversions of strategic materials behind the Iron Curtain. A handful of FBN agents were actually recruited into the CIA while maintaining their FBN credentials as cover.
Officially, FBN agents set limits. Siragusa, for example, claimed to object when the CIA asked him to mount a “controlled delivery” into the U.S. as a way of identifying the American members of a smuggling ring with Communist affiliations.
As Siragusa said, “The FBN could never knowingly allow two pounds of heroin to be delivered into the United States and be pushed to Mafia customers in the New York City area, even if in the long run we could seize a bigger haul.”1
And in 1960, when the CIA asked him to recruit assassins from his stable of underworld contacts, Siragusa again claimed to have refused. But drug traffickers, including, most prominently, Santo Trafficante Jr., were soon participating in CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
As the dominant partner in the relationship, the CIA exploited its affinity with the FBN. “Like the CIA,” FBN Agent Robert DeFauw explained, “narcotic agents mount covert operations. We pose as members of the narcotics trade. The big difference is that we were in foreign countries legally, and through our police and intelligence sources, we could check out just about anyone or anything. Not only that, we were operational. So the CIA jumped in our stirrups.”
Jumping in the FBN’s stirrups afforded the CIA deniability, which in turn affords it impunity. To ensure that the CIA’s criminal activities are not revealed, narcotic agents are organized militarily within an inviolable chain of command. Highly indoctrinated, they blindly obey based on a “need to know.” This institutionalized ignorance sustains the illusion of righteousness, in the name of national security, upon which their motivation depends.
As FBN Agent Martin Pera explained:
Most FBN agents were corrupted by the lure of the underworld. They thought they could check their morality at the door – go out and lie, cheat, and steal – then come back and retrieve it. But you can’t. In fact, if you’re successful because you can lie, cheat, and steal, those things become tools you use in the bureaucracy.
Institutionalized corruption began at headquarters, where FBN executives provided cover for CIA assets engaged in drug trafficking. In 1966, Agent John Evans was assigned as an assistant to enforcement chief John Enright.
“And that’s when I got to see what the CIA was doing,” Evans said. “I saw a report on the Kuomintang saying they were the biggest drug dealers in the world, and that the CIA was underwriting them. Air America was transporting tons of Kuomintang opium.” Evans bristled. “I took the report to Enright. He said, ‘Leave it here. Forget about it.’
“Other things came to my attention,” Evans added, “that proved that the CIA contributed to drug use in America. We were in constant conflict with the CIA because it was hiding its budget in ours, and because CIA people were smuggling drugs into the US. We weren’t allowed to tell, and that fostered corruption in the Bureau.”
Heroin smuggled by “CIA people” into the U.S. was channeled by Mafia distributors primarily to African-American communities. Local narcotic agents then targeted disenfranchised blacks as an easy way of preserving the white ruling class’s privileges.
“We didn’t need a search warrant,” explains New Orleans narcotics officer Clarence Giarusso. “It allowed us to meet our quota. And it was on-going. If I find dope on a black man, I can put him in jail for a few days. He’s got no money for a lawyer and the courts are ready to convict. There’s no expectation on the jury’s part that we have to make a case.
So rather than go cold turkey, the addict becomes an informant, which means I can make more cases in the neighborhood, which is all we’re interested in. We don’t care about Carlos Marcello or the Mafia. City cops have no interest in who brings dope in. That’s the job of the federal agents.”
The Establishment’s race and class privileges have always been equated with national security, and FBN executives dutifully preserved the social order. Not until 1968, when Civil Rights reforms were imposed upon government bureaucracies, were black FBN agents allowed to become supervisors and manage white agents.
The war on drugs is largely a projection of two things: the racism that has defined America since its inception, and the government policy of allowing political allies to traffic in narcotics. These unstated but official policies reinforce the belief among CIA and drug law enforcement officials that the Bill of Rights is an obstacle to national security.
Blanket immunity from prosecution for turning these policies into practice engenders a belief among bureaucrats that they are above the law, which fosters corruption in other forms. FBN agents, for example, routinely “created a crime” by breaking and entering, planting evidence, using illegal wiretaps, and falsifying reports. They tampered with heroin, transferred it to informants for sale, and even murdered other agents who threatened to expose them.
All of this was secretly known at the highest level of government, and in 1965 the Treasury Department launched a corruption investigation of the FBN. Headed by Andrew Tartaglino, the investigation ended in 1968 with the resignation of 32 agents and the indictment of five. That same year the FBN was reconstructed in the Department of Justice as the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD).
But, as Tartaglino said dejectedly, “The job was only half done.”
Richard Nixon was elected president based on a vow to restore “law and order” to America. To prove that it intended to keep that promise, the White House in 1969 launched Operation Intercept along the Mexican border. This massive “stop and search” operation so badly damaged relations with Mexico, however, that National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Narcotics (the Heroin Committee) to coordinate drug policy and prevent further diplomatic disasters.
The Heroin Committee was composed of cabinet members represented by their deputies. James Ludlum represented CIA Director Richard Helms. A member of the CIA’s Counter-Intelligence staff, Ludlum had been the CIA’s liaison officer to the FBN since 1962.
“When Kissinger set up the Heroin Committee,” Ludlum recalled, “the CIA certainly didn’t take it seriously, because drug control wasn’t part of their mission.”
Indeed, as John Evans noted above, and as the government was aware, the CIA for years had sanctioned the heroin traffic from the Golden Triangle region of Burma, Thailand and Laos into South Vietnam as a way of rewarding top foreign officials for advancing U.S. policies. This reality presented the Nixon White House with a dilemma, given that addiction among U.S. troops in Vietnam was soaring, and that massive amounts of Southeast Asian heroin were being smuggled into the U.S., for use by middle-class white kids on the verge of revolution.
Nixon’s response was to make drug law enforcement part of the CIA’s mission. Although reluctant to betray the CIA’s clients in South Vietnam, Helms told Ludlum: “We’re going to break their rice bowls.”
This betrayal occurred incrementally. Fred Dick, the BNDD agent assigned to Saigon, passed the names of the complicit military officers and politicians to the White House. But, as Dick recalled, “Ambassador [Ellsworth] Bunker called a meeting in Saigon at which CIA Station Chief Ted Shackley appeared and explained that there was ‘a delicate balance.’ What he said, in effect, was that no one was willing to do anything.”
Meanwhile, to protect its global network of drug trafficking assets, the CIA began infiltrating the BNDD and commandeering its internal security, intelligence, and foreign operations branches. This massive reorganization required the placement of CIA officers in influential positions in every federal agency concerned with drug law enforcement.
CIA Officer Paul Van Marx, for example, was assigned as the U.S. Ambassador to France’s assistant on narcotics. From this vantage point, Van Marx ensured that BNDD conspiracy cases against European traffickers did not compromise CIA operations and assets. Van Marx also vetted potential BNDD assets to make sure they were not enemy spies.
The FBN never had more than 16 agents stationed overseas, but Nixon dramatically increased funding for the BNDD and hundreds of agents were posted abroad. The success of these overseas agents soon came to depend on CIA intelligence, as BNDD Director John Ingersoll understood.
BNDD agents immediately felt the impact of the CIA’s involvement in drug law enforcement operations within the United States. Operation Eagle was the flashpoint. Launched in 1970, Eagle targeted anti-Castro Cubans smuggling cocaine from Latin America to the Trafficante organization in Florida. Of the dozens of traffickers arrested in June, many were found to be members of Operation 40, a CIA terror organization active in the U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Mexico.
The revelation that CIA drug smuggling assets were operating within the U.S. led to the assignment of CIA officers as counterparts to mid-level BNDD enforcement officials, including Latin American division chief Jerry Strickler. Like Van Marks in France, these CIA officers served to protect CIA assets from exposure, while facilitating their recruitment as informants for the BNDD.
Many Cuban exiles arrested in Operation Eagle were indeed hired by the BNDD and sent throughout Latin America. They got “fantastic intelligence,” Strickler noted. But many were secretly serving the CIA and playing a double game.
By 1970, BNDD Director Ingersoll’s inspections staff had gathered enough evidence to warrant the investigation of dozens of corrupt FBN agents who had risen to management positions in the BNDD. But Ingersoll could not investigate his top managers while simultaneously investigating drug traffickers. So he asked CIA Director Helms for help in building a “counter-intelligence” capacity within the BNDD.
The result was Operation Twofold, in which 19 CIA officers were infiltrated into the BNDD, ostensibly to spy on corrupt BNDD officials. According to the BNDD’s Chief Inspector Patrick Fuller, “A corporation engaged in law enforcement hired three CIA officers posing as private businessmen to do the contact and interview work.”
CIA recruiter Jerry Soul, a former Operation 40 case officer, primarily selected officers whose careers had stalled due to the gradual reduction of forces in Southeast Asia. Those hired were put through the BNDD’s training course and assigned to spy on a particular regional director. No records were kept and some participants have never been identified.
Charles Gutensohn was a typical Twofold “torpedo.” Prior to his recruitment into the BNDD, Gutensohn had spent two years at the CIA’s base in Pakse, a major heroin transit point between Laos and South Vietnam. “Fuller said that when we communicated, I was to be known as Leo Adams for Los Angeles,” Gutensohn said. “He was to be Walter DeCarlo, for Washington, DC.”
Gutensohn’s cover, however, was blown before he got to Los Angeles. “Someone at headquarters was talking and everyone knew,” he recalled. “About a month after I arrived, one of the agents said to me, ‘I hear that Pat Fuller signed your credentials’.”
Twofold, which existed at least until 1974, was deemed by the Rockefeller Commission to have “violated the 1947 Act which prohibits the CIA’s participation in law enforcement activities.” It also, as shall be discussed later, served as a cover for clandestine CIA operations.
The Nixon White House blamed the BNDD’s failure to stop international drug trafficking on its underdeveloped intelligence capabilities, a situation that opened the door to further CIA infiltration. In late 1970, CIA Director Helms arranged for his recently retired chief of continuing intelligence, E. Drexel Godfrey, to review BNDD intelligence procedures. Among other things, Godfrey recommended that the BNDD create regional intelligence units (RIUs) and an office of strategic intelligence (SI0).
The RIUs were up and running by 1971 with CIA officers often assigned as analysts, prompting BNDD agents to view the RIUs with suspicion, as repositories for Twofold torpedoes.
The SIO was harder to implement, given its arcane function as a tool to help top managers formulate plans and strategies “in the political sphere.” As SIO Director John Warner explained:
We needed to understand the political climate in Thailand in order to address the problem. We needed to know what kind of protection the Thai police were affording traffickers. We were looking for an intelligence office that could deal with those sorts of issues, on the ground, overseas.
Organizing the SIO fell to CIA officers Adrian Swain and Tom Tripodi, both of whom were recruited into the BNDD. In April 1971 they accompanied Ingersoll to Saigon, where Station Chief Shackley briefed them. Through his CIA contacts, Swain obtained maps of drug-smuggling routes in Southeast Asia.
Upon their return to the U.S., Swain and Tripodi expressed frustration that the CIA had access to people capable of providing the BNDD with intelligence, but these people “were involved in narcotics trafficking and the CIA did not want to identify them.”
Seeking a way to circumvent the CIA, they recommended the creation of a “special operations or strategic operations staff” that would function as the BNDD’s own CIA “using a backdoor approach to gather intelligence in support of operations.” Those operations would rely on “longer range, deep penetration, clandestine assets, who remain undercover, do not appear during the course of any trial and are recruited and directed by the Special Operations agents on a covert basis.”
The White House approved the plan and in May 1971, Kissinger presented a $120 million drug control proposal, of which $50 million was earmarked for special operations. Three weeks later Nixon declared “war on drugs,” at which point Congress responded with funding for the SIO and authorization for the extra-legal operations Swain and Tripodi envisioned.
SIO Director Warner was given a seat on the U.S. Intelligence Board so the SIO could obtain raw intelligence from the CIA. But, in return, the SIO was compelled to adopt CIA security procedures. A CIA officer established the SIO’s file room and computer system; safes and steel doors were installed; and witting agents had to obtain CIA clearances.
Active-duty CIA officers were assigned to the SIO as desk officers for Europe and the Middle East, the Far East, and Latin America. Tripodi was assigned as chief of operations. Tripodi had spent the previous six years in the CIA’s Security Research Services, where his duties included the penetration of peace groups, as well as setting up firms to conduct black bag jobs. Notably, White House “Plumber” E. Howard Hunt inherited Tripodi’s Special Operations unit, which included several of the Watergate burglars.
Tripodi liaised with the CIA on matters of mutual interest and the covert collection of narcotics intelligence outside of routine BNDD channels. As part of his operational plan, code-named Medusa, Tripodi proposed that SIO agents hire foreign nationals to blow up contrabandista planes while they were refueling at clandestine air strips. Another proposal called for ambushing traffickers in America, and taking their drugs and money.
Enter Lucien Conein
The creation of the SIO coincided with the assignment of CIA officer Lucien Conein to the BNDD. As a member of the OSS, Conein had parachuted into France to form resistance cells that included Corsican gangsters. As a CIA officer, Conein in 1954 was assigned to Vietnam to organize anti-communist forces, and in 1963 achieved infamy as the intermediary between the Kennedy White House and the cabal of generals that murdered President Diem.
Historian Alfred McCoy has alleged that, in 1965, Conein arranged a truce between the CIA and drug trafficking Corsicans in Saigon. The truce, according to McCoy, allowed the Corsicans to traffic, as long as they served as contact men for the CIA. The truce also endowed the Corsicans with “free passage” at a time when Marseilles’ heroin labs were turning from Turkish to Southeast Asian morphine base.
Conein denied McCoy’s allegation and insisted that his meeting with the Corsicans was solely to resolve a problem caused by Daniel Ellsberg’s “peccadilloes with the mistress of a Corsican.”
It is impossible to know who is telling the truth. What is known is that in July 1971, on Howard Hunt’s recommendation, the White House hired Conein as an expert on Corsican drug traffickers in Southeast Asia. Conein was assigned as a consultant to the SIO’s Far East Asia desk. His activities will soon be discussed in greater detail.
The Parallel Mechanism
In September 1971, the Heroin Committee was reorganized as the Cabinet Committee for International Narcotics Control (CCINC) under Secretary of State William Rogers. CCINC’s mandate was to “set policies which relate international considerations to domestic considerations.” By 1975, its budget amounted to $875 million, and the war on drugs had become a most profitable industry.
Concurrently, the CIA formed a unilateral drug unit in its operations division under Seymour Bolten. Known as the Special Assistant to the Director for the Coordination of Narcotics, Bolten directed CIA division and station chiefs in unilateral drug control operations. In doing this, Bolten worked closely with Ted Shackley, who in 1972 was appointed head of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division. Bolten and Shackley had worked together in post-war Germany, as well as in anti-Castro Cubans operations in the early 1960s. Their collaboration would grease federal drug law enforcement’s skid into oblivion.
“Bolten screwed us,” BNDD’s Latin American division chief Jerry Strickler said emphatically. “And so did Shackley.”
Bolten “screwed” the BNDD, and the American judicial system, by setting up a “parallel mechanism” based on a computerized register of international drug traffickers and a CIA-staffed communications crew that intercepted calls from drug traffickers inside the U.S. to their accomplices around the world. The International Narcotics Information Network (INIS) was modeled on a computerized management information system Shackley had used to terrorize the underground resistance in South Vietnam.
Bolten’s staff also “re-tooled” dozens of CIA officers and slipped them into the BNDD. Several went to Lou Conein at the SIO for clandestine, highly illegal operations.
Factions within the CIA and military were opposed to Bolten’s parallel mechanism, but CIA Executive Director William Colby supported Bolten’s plan to preempt the BNDD and use its agents and informants for unilateral CIA purposes. The White House also supported the plan for political purposes related to Watergate. Top BNDD officials who resisted were expunged; those who cooperated were rewarded.
Bureau of Narcotics Covert Intelligence Network
In September 1972, DCI Helms (then immersed in Watergate intrigues), told BNDD Director Ingersoll that the CIA had prepared files on specific drug traffickers in Miami, the Florida Keys, and the Caribbean. Helms said the CIA would provide Ingersoll with assets to pursue the traffickers and develop information on targets of opportunity. The CIA would also provide operational, technical, and financial support.
The result was the Bureau of Narcotics Covert Intelligence Network (BUNCIN) whose methodology reflected Tripodi’s Medusa Plan and included “provocations, inducement to desertion, creating confusion and apprehension.”
Some BUNCIN intelligence activities were directed against “senior foreign government officials” and were “blamed on other government agencies or even on the intelligence services of other nations.” Other BUNCIN activities were directed against American civic and political groups.
BNDD officials managed BUNCIN’s legal activities, while Conein at the SIO managed its political and CIA aspects. According to Conein’s administrative deputy, Rich Kobakoff, “BUNCIN was an experiment in how to finesse the law. The end product was intelligence, not seizures or arrests.”
CIA officers Robert Medell and William Logay were selected to manage BUNCIN.
A Bay of Pigs veteran born in Cuba, Medell was initially assigned to the Twofold program. Medell was BUNCIN’s “covert” agent and recruited its principal agents. All of his assets had previously worked for the CIA, and all believed they were working for it again.
Medell started running agents in March 1973 with the stated goal of penetrating the Trafficante organization. To this end the BNDD’s Enforcement Chief, Andy Tartaglino, introduced Medell to Sal Caneba, a retired Mafioso who had been in business with Trafficante in the 1950s. Caneba in one day identified the head of the Cuban side of the Trafficante family, as well as its organizational structure.
But the CIA refused to allow the BNDD to pursue the investigation, because it had employed Trafficante in its assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, and because Trafficante’s Operation 40 associates were performing similar functions for the CIA around the world.
Medell’s Principal Agent was Bay of Pigs veteran Guillermo Tabraue, whom the CIA paid $1,400 a week. While receiving this princely sum, Tabraue participated in the “Alvarez-Cruz” drug smuggling ring.
Medell also recruited agents from Manuel Artime’s anti-Castro Cuban organization. Former CIA officer and White House “Plumber” Howard Hunt, notably, had been Artime’s case officer for years, and many members of Artime’s organization had worked for Ted Shackley while Shackley was the CIA’s station chief in Miami.
Bill Logay was the “overt” agent assigned to the BUNCIN office in Miami. Logay had been Shackley’s bodyguard in Saigon in 1969. From 1970-1971, Logay had served as a special police liaison and drug coordinator in Saigon’s Precinct 5. Logay was also asked to join Twofold, but claims to have refused.
Medell and Logay’s reports were hand delivered to BNDD headquarters via the Defense Department’s classified courier service. The Defense Department was in charge of emergency planning and provided BUNCIN agents with special communications equipment. The CIA supplied BUNCIN’s assets with forged IDs that enabled them to work for foreign governments, including Panama, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
Like Twofold, BUNCIN had two agendas. One, according to Chief Inspector Fuller, “was told” and had a narcotics mission. The other provided cover for the Plumbers. Orders for the domestic political facet emanated from the White House and passed through Conein to “Plumber” Gordon Liddy and his “Operation Gemstone” squad of exile Cuban terrorists from the Artime organization.
Enforcement chief Tartaglino was unhappy with the arrangement and gave Agent Ralph Frias the job of screening anti-Castro Cubans sent by the White House to the BNDD. Frias was assigned to International Affairs chief George Belk. When Nixon’s White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman sent over three Cubans, Frias interviewed them and realized they were “plants.” Those three were not hired, but, Frias lamented, many others were successfully infiltrated inside the BNDD and other federal agencies.
Under BUNCIN cover, CIA anti-Castro assets reportedly kidnapped and assassinated people in Colombia and Mexico. BUNCIN’s White House sponsors also sent CIA anti-Castro Cuban assets to gather dirt on Democratic politicians in Key West. With BUNCIN, federal drug law enforcement sank to new lows of political repression and corruption.
The Nixon White House introduced the “operations by committee” management method to ensure control over its illegal drug operations. But as agencies involved in drug law enforcement pooled resources, the BNDD’s mission was diluted and diminished.
And, as the preeminent agency in the federal government, the CIA not only separated itself from the BNDD as part of Bolten’s parallel mechanism, it rode off into the sunset on the BNDD’s horse. For example, at their introductory meeting in Mexico City in 1972, Ted Shackley told Latin American division chief Strickler to hand over all BNDD files, informant lists, and cable traffic.
According to Strickler, “Bad things happened.” The worst abuse was that the CIA allowed drug shipments into the U.S. without telling the BNDD.
“Individual stations allowed this,” SIO Director John Warner confirmed.
In so far as evidence acquired by CIA electronic surveillance is inadmissible in court, the CIA was able to protect its controlled deliveries into the U.S. merely by monitoring them.
Numerous investigations had to be terminated as a result. Likewise, dozens of prosecutions were dismissed on national security grounds due to the participation of CIA assets operating around the world.
Strickler knew which CIA people were guilty of sabotaging cases in Latin America, and wanted to indict them. And so, at Bolten’s insistence, Strickler was reassigned. Meanwhile, CIA assets from Bolten’s unilateral drug unit were kidnapping and assassinating traffickers as part of Operation Twofold.
BNDD Director Ingersoll confirmed the existence of this covert facet of Twofold. Its purpose, he said, was to put people in deep cover in the U.S. to develop intelligence on drug trafficking, particularly from South America. The regional directors weren’t aware of it. Ingersoll said he got approval from Attorney General John Mitchell and passed the operation on to John Bartels, the first administrator of the DEA. He said the unit did not operate inside the U.S., which is why he thought it was legal.
Ingersoll added that he was surprised that no one from the Rockefeller Commission asked him about it.
Joseph DiGennaro’s entry into the covert facet of Operation Twofold began when a family friend, who knew CIA officer Jim Ludlum, suggested that he apply for a job with the BNDD. Then working as a stockbroker in New York, DiGennaro met Fuller in August 1971 in Washington. Fuller gave DiGennaro the code name Novo Yardley, based on his posting in New York, and as a play on the name of the famous codebreaker.
After DiGennaro obtained the required clearances, he was told that he and several other recruits were being “spun-off” from Twofold into the CIA’s “operational” unit. The background check took 14 months, during which time he received intensive combat and trade-craft training.
In October 1972 he was sent to New York City and assigned to an enforcement group as a cover. His paychecks came from BNDD funds, but the program was reimbursed by the CIA through the Bureau of Mines. The program was authorized by the “appropriate” Congressional committee.
DiGennaro’s unit was managed by the CIA’s Special Operations Division in conjunction with the military, which provided assets within foreign military services to keep ex-filtration routes (air corridors and roads) open. The military cleared air space when captured suspects were brought into the U.S. DiGennaro spent most of his time in South America, but the unit operated worldwide. The CIA unit numbered about 40 men, including experts in printing, forgery, maritime operations, and telecommunications.
DiGennaro would check with Fuller and take sick time or annual leave to go on missions. There were lots of missions. As his BNDD group supervisor in New York said, “Joey was never in the office.”
The job was tracking down, kidnapping, and, if they resisted, killing drug traffickers. Kidnapped targets were incapacitated by drugs and dumped in the U.S. As DEA Agent Gerry Carey recalled:
We’d get a call that there was ‘a present’ waiting for us on the corner of 116th Street and Sixth Avenue. We’d go there and find some guy, who’d been indicted in the Eastern District of New York, handcuffed to a telephone pole. We’d take him to a safe house for questioning and, if possible, turn him into an informer. Sometimes we’d have him in custody for months. But what did he know?
If you’re a Corsican drug dealer in Argentina, and men with police credentials arrest you, how do you know it’s a CIA operation? DiGennaro’s last operation in 1977 involved the recovery of a satellite that had fallen into a drug dealer’s hands. Such was the extent of the CIA’s “parallel mechanism.”
The Dirty Dozen
With the formation of the Drug Enforcement Administration in July 1973, BUNCIN was renamed the DEA Clandestine Operations Network (DEACON 1). A number of additional DEACONs were developed through Special Field Intelligence Programs (SFIP). As an extension of BUNCIN, DEACON 1 developed intelligence on traffickers in Costa Rica, Ohio and New Jersey; politicians in Florida; terrorists and gun runners; the sale of boats and helicopters to Cuba; and the Trafficante organization.
Under DEA chief John Bartels, administrative control fell under Enforcement Chief George Belk and his Special Projects assistant Philip Smith. Through Belk and Smith, the Office of Special Projects had become a major facet of Bolten’s parallel mechanism. It housed the DEA’s air wing (staffed largely by CIA officers), conducted “research programs” with the CIA, provided technical aids and documentation to agents, and handled fugitive searches.
As part of DEACON 1, Smith sent covert agent Bob Medell “to Caracas or Bogota to develop a network of agents.” As Smith noted in a memorandum, reimbursement for Medell “is being made in back-channel fashion to CIA under payments to other agencies and is not counted as a position against us.”
Thoroughly suborned by Bolten and the CIA, DEA Administrator Bartels established a priority on foreign clandestine narcotics collection. And when Belk proposed a special operations group in intelligence, Bartels immediately approved it. In March 1974, Belk assigned the group to Lou Conein.
As chief of the Intelligence Group/Operations (IGO), Conein administered the DEA Special Operations Group (DEASOG), SFIP and National Intelligence Officers (NIO) programs. The chain of command, however, was “unclear” and while Medell reported administratively to Smith, Conein managed operations through a separate chain of command reaching to William Colby, who had risen to the rank of CIA Director concurrent with the formation of the DEA.
Conein had worked for Colby for many years in Vietnam, for through Colby he hired a “dirty dozen” CIA officers to staff DEASOG. As NIOs (not regular gun-toting DEA agents), the DEASOG officers did not buy narcotics or appear in court, but instead used standard CIA operating procedures to recruit assets and set up agent networks for the long-range collection of intelligence on trafficking groups. They had no connection to the DEA and were housed in a safe house outside headquarters in downtown Washington, DC.
The first DEASOG recruits were CIA officers Elias P. Chavez and Nicholas Zapata. Both had paramilitary and drug control experience in Laos. Colby’s personnel assistant Jack Mathews had been Chavez’s case officer at the Long Thien base, where General Vang Pao ran his secret drug-smuggling army under Ted Shackley’s auspices from 1966-1968.
A group of eight CIA officers followed: Wesley Dyckman, a Chinese linguist with service in Vietnam, was assigned to San Francisco. Louis J. Davis, a veteran of Vietnam and Laos, was assigned to the Chicago Regional Intelligence Unit. Christopher Thompson from the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam went to San Antonio. Hugh E. Murray, veteran of Pakse and Bolivia (where he participated in the capture of Che Guevara), was sent to Tucson. Thomas D. McPhaul had worked with Conein in Vietnam, and was sent to Dallas. Thomas L. Briggs, a veteran of Laos and a friend of Shackley’s, went to Mexico. Vernon J. Goertz, a Shackley friend who had participated in the Allende coup, went to Venezuela. David A. Scherman, a Conein friend and former manager of the CIA’s interrogation center in Da Nang, was sent to sunny San Diego.
Gary Mattocks, who ran CIA counter-terror teams in Vietnam’s Delta, and interrogator Robert Simon were the eleventh and twelfth members. Terry Baldwin, Barry Carew and Joseph Lagattuta joined later.
According to Davis, Conein created DEASOG specifically to do Phoenix program-style jobs overseas: the type where a paramilitary officer breaks into a trafficker’s house, takes his drugs, and slits his throat. The NIOs were to operate overseas where they would target traffickers the police couldn’t reach, like a prime minister’s son or the police chief in Acapulco if he was the local drug boss. If they couldn’t assassinate the target, they would bomb his labs or use psychological warfare to make him look like he was a DEA informant, so his own people would kill him.
The DEASOG people “would be breaking the law,” Davis observed, “but they didn’t have arrest powers overseas anyway.”
Conein envisioned 50 NIOs operating worldwide by 1977. But a slew of Watergate-related scandals forced the DEA to curtail its NIO program and reorganize its covert operations staff and functions in ways that have corrupted federal drug law enforcement beyond repair.
The first scandal focused on DEACON 3, which targeted the Aviles-Perez organization in Mexico. Eli Chavez, Nick Zapata and Barry Carew were the NIOs assigned.
A veteran CIA officer who spoke Spanish, Carew had served as a special police adviser in Saigon before joining the BNDD. Carew was assigned as Conein’s Latin American desk officer and managed Chavez and Zapata (aka “the Mexican Assassin”) in Mexico. According to Chavez, a White House Task Force under Howard Hunt had started the DEACON 3 case. The Task force provided photographs of the Aviles Perez compound in Mexico, from whence truckloads of marijuana were shipped to the U.S.
Funds were allotted in February 1974, at which point Chavez and Zapata traveled to Mexico City as representatives of the North American Alarm and Fire Systems Company. In Mazatlán, they met with Carew, who stayed at a fancy hotel and played tennis every day, while Chavez and Zapata, whom Conein referred to as “pepper-bellies,” fumed in a flea-bag motel.
An informant arranged for Chavez, posing as a buyer, to meet Perez. A deal was struck, but DEA chief John Bartels made the mistake of instructing Chavez to brief the DEA’s regional director in Mexico City before making “the buy.”
At this meeting, the DEACON 3 agents presented their operational plan. But when the subject of “neutralizing” Perez came up, analyst Joan Banister took this to mean assassination. Bannister reported her suspicions to DEA headquarters, where the anti-CIA faction leaked her report to Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson.
Anderson’s allegation that the DEA was providing cover for a CIA assassination unit included revelations that the Senate had investigated IGO chief Conein for shopping around for assassination devices, like exploding ashtrays and telephones. Conein managed to keep his job, but the trail led to his comrade from the OSS, Mitch Werbell.
A deniable asset Conein used for parallel operations, Werbell had tried to sell several thousand silenced machine pistols to DEACON 1 target Robert Vesco, then living in Costa Rica surrounded by drug trafficking Cuban exiles in the Trafficante organization. Trafficante was also, at the time, living in Costa Rica as a guest of President Figueres whose son had purchased weapons from Werbell and used them to arm a death squad he formed with DEACON 1 asset Carlos Rumbault, a notorious anti-Castro Cuban terrorist and fugitive drug smuggler.
Meanwhile, in February 1974, DEA Agent Anthony Triponi, a former Green Beret and member of Operation Twofold, was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in New York “suffering from hypertension.” DEA inspectors found Triponi in the psychiatric ward, distraught because he had broken his “cover” and now his “special code” would have to be changed.
Thinking he was insane, the DEA inspectors called former chief inspector Patrick Fuller in California, just to be sure. As it turned out, everything Triponi had said about Twofold was true! The incredulous DEA inspectors called the CIA and were stunned when they were told: “If you release the story, we will destroy you.”
By 1975, Congress and the Justice Department were investigating the DEA’s relations with the CIA. In the process they stumbled on, among other things, plots to assassinate Torrijos and Noriega in Panama, as well as Tripodi’s Medusa Program.
In a draft report, one DEA inspector described Medusa as follows:
Topics considered as options included psychological terror tactics, substitution of placebos to discredit traffickers, use of incendiaries to destroy conversion laboratories, and disinformation to cause internal warfare between drug trafficking organizations; other methods under consideration involved blackmail, use of psychopharmacological techniques, bribery and even terminal sanctions.
Despite the flurry of investigations, Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, reconfirmed the CIA’s narcotic intelligence collection arrangement with DEA, and the CIA continued to have its way. Much of its success is attributed to Seymour Bolten, whose staff handled “all requests for files from the Church Committee,” which concluded that allegations of drug smuggling by CIA assets and proprietaries “lacked substance.”
The Rockefeller Commission likewise gave the CIA a clean bill of health, falsely stating that the Twofold inspections project was terminated in 1973. The Commission completely covered-up the existence of the operation unit hidden within the inspections program.
Ford did task the Justice Department to investigate “allegations of fraud, irregularity, and misconduct” in the DEA. The so-called DeFeo investigation lasted through July 1975, and included allegations that DEA officials had discussed killing Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. In March 1976, Deputy Attorney General Richard Thornburgh announced there were no findings to warrant criminal prosecutions.
In 1976, Congresswoman Bella Abzug submitted questions to new Director of Central Intelligence George H.W. Bush, about the CIA’s central role in international drug trafficking. Bush’s response was to cite that a 1954 agreement with the Justice Department gave the CIA the right to block prosecution or keep its crimes secret in the name of national security.
In its report, the Abzug Committee said: “It was ironic that the CIA should be given responsibility of narcotic intelligence, particularly since they are supporting the prime movers.”
The Mansfield Amendment of 1976 sought to curtail the DEA’s extra-legal activities abroad by prohibiting agents from kidnapping or conducting unilateral actions without the consent of the host government. The CIA, of course, was exempt and continued to sabotage DEA cases against its movers, while further tightening its stranglehold on the DEA’s enforcement and intelligence capabilities.
In 1977, the DEA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement sent a memo, co-signed by the six enforcement division chiefs, to DEA chief Peter Bensinger. As the memo stated, “All were unanimous in their belief that present CIA programs were likely to cause serious future problems for DEA, both foreign and domestic.”
They specifically cited controlled deliveries enabled by CIA electronic surveillance and the fact that the CIA “will not respond positively to any discovery motion.” They complained that “Many of the subjects who appear in these CIA- promoted or controlled surveillances regularly travel to the United States in furtherance of their trafficking activities.” The “de facto immunity” from prosecution enabled the CIA assets to “operate much more openly and effectively.”
But then DEA chief Peter Bensinger suffered the CIA at the expense of America’s citizens and the DEA’s integrity. Under Bensinger the DEA created its CENTAC program to target drug trafficking organizations worldwide through the early 1980s. But the CIA subverted the CENTAC: as its director Dennis Dayle famously said, “The major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA.”
Murder and Mayhem
DEACON 1 inherited BUNCIN’s anti-Castro Cuban assets from Brigade 2506, which the CIA organized to invade Cuba in 1960. Controlled by Nixon’s secret political police, these CIA assets, operating under DEA cover, had parallel assignments involving “extremist groups and terrorism, and information of a political nature.”
Noriega and Moises Torrijos in Panama were targets, as was fugitive financier and Nixon campaign contributor Robert Vesco in Costa Rica, who was suspected of being a middle man in drug and money-laundering operations of value to the CIA.
DEACON 1’s problems began when overt agent Bill Logay charged that covert agent Bob Medell’s anti-Castro Cuban assets had penetrated the DEA on behalf of the Trafficante organization. DEACON 1 secretary Cecelia Plicet fanned the flames by claiming that Conein and Medell were using Principal Agent Tabraue to circumvent the DEA.
In what amounted to an endless succession of controlled deliveries, Tabraue was financing loads of cocaine and using DEACON 1’s Cuban assets to smuggle them into the U.S. Plicet said that Medell and Conein worked for “the other side” and wanted the DEA to fail. These accusations prompted an investigation, after which Logay was reassigned to inspections and Medell was reassigned and replaced by Gary Mattocks, an NIO member of the Dirty Dozen.
According to Mattocks, Shackley helped Colby set up DEASOG and brought in “his” people, including Tom Clines, whom Shackley placed in charge of the CIA’s Caribbean operations. Clines, like Shackley and Bolten, knew all the exile Cuban terrorists and traffickers on the DEASOG payroll. CIA officer Vernon Goertz worked for Clines in Caracas as part of the CIA’s parallel mechanism under DEASOG cover.
As cover for his DEACON 1 activities, Mattocks set up a front company designed to improve relations between Cuban and American businessmen. Meanwhile, through the CIA, he recruited members of the Artime organization including Watergate burglars Rolando Martinez and Bernard Barker, as well as Che Guevara’s murderer, Felix Rodriguez. These anti-Castro terrorists were allegedly part of an Operation 40 assassination squad that Shackley and Clines employed for private as well as professional purposes.
In late 1974, DEACON 1 crashed and burned when interrogator Robert Simon’s daughter was murdered in a drive-by shooting by crazed anti-Castro Cubans. Simon at the time was managing the CIA’s drug data base and had linked the exile Cuban drug traffickers with “a foreign terrorist organization.” As Mattocks explained, “It got bad after the Brigaders found out Simon was after them.”
None of the CIA’s terrorists, however, were ever arrested. Instead, Conein issued a directive prohibiting DEACON 1 assets from reporting on domestic political affairs or terrorist activities and the tragedy was swept under the carpet for reasons of national security.
DEACON 1 unceremoniously ended in 1975 after Agent Fred Dick was assigned to head the DEA’s Caribbean Basin Group. In that capacity Dick visited the DEACON 1 safe house and found, in his words, “a clandestine CIA unit using miscreants from Bay of Pigs, guys who were blowing up planes.” Dick hit the ceiling and in August 1975 DEACON I was terminated.
No new DEACONs were initiated and the others quietly ran their course. Undeterred, the CIA redeployed its anti-Castro Cuban miscreant assets, some of whom established the terror organization CORU in 1977. Others would go to work for Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a key National Security Council aide under President Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra drug and terror network.
Conein’s IGO was disbanded in 1976 after a grand jury sought DEACON I intelligence regarding several drug busts. But CIA acquired intelligence cannot be used in prosecutions, and the CIA refused to identify its assets in court, with the result that 27 prosecutions were dismissed on national security grounds.
Gary Mattocks was thereafter unwelcomed in the DEA. But his patron Ted Shackley had become DCI George Bush’s assistant deputy director for operations and Shackley kindly rehired Mattocks into the CIA and assigned him to the CIA’s narcotics unit in Peru.
At the time, Santiago Ocampo was purchasing cocaine in Peru and his partner Matta Ballesteros was flying it to the usual Cuban miscreants in Miami. One of the receivers, Francisco Chanes, an erstwhile DEACON asset, owned two seafood companies that would soon allegedly come to serve as fronts in Oliver North’s Contra supply network, receiving and distributing tons of Contra cocaine.
Mattocks himself soon joined the Contra support operation as Eden Pastrora’s case officer. In that capacity Mattocks was present in 1984 when CIA officers handed pilot Barry Seal a camera and told him to take photographs of Sandinista official Federico Vaughn loading bags of cocaine onto Seal’s plane. A DEA “special employee,” Seal was running drugs for Jorge Ochoa Vasquez and purportedly using Nicaragua as a transit point for his deliveries.
North asked DEA officials to instruct Seal, who was returning to Ochoa with $1.5 million, to deliver the cash to the Contras. When the DEA officials refused, North leaked a blurry photo, purportedly of Vaughn, to the right-wing Washington Times. For partisan political purposes, on behalf of the Reagan administration, Oliver North blew the DEA’s biggest case at the time, and the DEA did nothing about it, even though DEA Administrator Jack Lawn said in 1988, in testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary, that leaking the photo “severely jeopardized the lives” of agents.
The circle was squared in 1989 when the CIA instructed Gary Mattocks to testify as a defense witness at the trial of DEACON 1 Principal Agent Gabriel Tabraue. Although Tabraue had earned $75 million from drug trafficking, while working as a CIA and DEA asset, the judge declared a mistrial based on Mattocks’s testimony. Tabraue was released. Some people inferred that President George H.W. Bush had personally ordered Mattocks to dynamite the case.
The CIA’s use of the DEA to employ terrorists would continue apace. For example, in 1981, DEA Agent Dick Salmi recruited Roberto Cabrillo, a drug smuggling member of CORU, an organization of murderous Cuban exiles formed by drug smuggler Frank Castro and Luis Posada while George Bush was DCI.
The DEA arrested Castro in 1981, but the CIA engineered his release and hired him to establish a Contra training camp in the Florida Everglades. Posada reportedly managed resupply and drug shipments for the Contras in El Salvador, in cahoots with Felix Rodriguez. Charged in Venezuela with blowing up a Cuban airliner and killing 73 people in 1976, Posada was shielded from extradition by George W. Bush in the mid-2000s.
Having been politically castrated by the CIA, DEA officials merely warned its CORU assets to stop bombing people in the U.S. It could maim and kill people anywhere else, just not here in the sacred homeland. By then, Salmi noted, the Justice Department had a special “grey-mail section” to fix cases involving CIA terrorists and drug dealers.
DCI William Webster formed the CIA’s Counter-Narcotics Center in 1988. Staffed by over 100 agents, it ostensibly became the springboard for the covert penetration of, and paramilitary operations against, top traffickers protected by high-tech security firms, lawyers and well-armed private armies.
The CNC brought together, under CIA control, every federal agency involved in the drug wars. Former CIA officer and erstwhile Twofold member, Terry Burke, then serving as the DEA’s Deputy for Operations, was allowed to send one liaison officer to the CNC.
The CNC quickly showed its true colors. In the late 1990, Customs agents in Miami seized a ton of pure cocaine from Venezuela. To their surprise, a Venezuelan undercover agent said the CIA had approved the delivery. DEA Administrator Robert Bonner ordered an investigation and discovered that the CIA had, in fact, shipped the load from its warehouse in Venezuela.
The “controlled deliveries” were managed by CIA officer Mark McFarlin, a veteran of Reagan’s terror campaign in El Salvador. Bonner wanted to indict McFarlin, but was prevented from doing so because Venezuela was in the process of fighting off a rebellion led by leftist Hugo Chavez. This same scenario has been playing out in Afghanistan for the last 15 years, largely through the DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD), which provides cover for CIA operations worldwide.
The ultimate and inevitable result of American imperialism, the SOD job is not simply to “create a crime,” as freewheeling FBN agents did in the old days, but to “recreate a crime” so it is prosecutable, despite whatever extra-legal methods were employed to obtain the evidence before it is passed along to law enforcement agencies so they can make arrests without revealing what prompted their suspicions.
Reuters reported in 2013:
The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.
The utilization of information from the SOD, which operates out of a secret location in Virginia, “cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” according to an internal document cited by Reuters, which added that agents are specifically directed “to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony.”
Agents are told to use “parallel construction” to build their cases without reference to SOD’s tips which may come from sensitive “intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records,” Reuters reported.
Citing a former federal agent, Reuters reported that SOD operators would tell law enforcement officials in the U.S. to be at a certain place at a certain time and to look for a certain vehicle which would then be stopped and searched on some pretext. “After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said,” Reuters reported.
An anonymous senior DEA official told Reuters that this “parallel construction” approach is “decades old, a bedrock concept” for law enforcement. The SOD’s approach follows Twofold techniques and Bolten’s parallel mechanism from the early 1970s.
To put it simply, lying to frame defendants, which has always been unstated policy, is now official policy: no longer considered corruption, it is how your government manages the judicial system on behalf of the rich political elite.
As outlined in this article, the process tracks back to Nixon, the formation of the BNDD, and the creation of a secret political police force out of the White House. As Agent Bowman Taylor caustically observed, “I used to think we were fighting the drug business, but after they formed the BNDD, I realized we were feeding it.”
The corruption was first “collateral” – as a function of national security performed by the CIA in secret – but has now become “integral,’ the essence of empire run amok.
- For citations to this and other quotations/interviews, as well as documents, please refer to the author’s books, The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Verso 2004) and The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics, and Espionage Intrigues that Shaped the DEA (TrineDay 2009). See also Douglas Valentine’s website
Douglas Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Forgotten / Olvidados is one of the most important Bolivian films to emerge recently, marking a high point of technical achievement for the country’s film industry. The film serves as powerful indictment of the military personnel who were responsible for thousands of deaths and disappearances of political dissidents in Latin America during Operation Condor, estimated at 30,000 forced disappearances, 50,000 deaths, and 400,000 arrests. Beginning in 1975 the political campaign of repression spanned across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay—carried out by the right-wing military dictatorships and backed by the CIA. The ruthless campaign of suppression targeted opposition movements, including students, Marxists, Communists, and political parties that were deemed threats to the authoritarian governments.
Mexican actor, Damián Alcáraz plays General José Mendieta, a callous official tasked with the arrest, torture of dissidents under the guise of Operation Condor. General Mendieta shows some initial reluctance at carrying out the orders from his superiors. In his old age, the atrocities he committed in the past start to weigh on his psyche. The ruling class responsible for spearheading forced disappearances has rarely faced the justice system or been made to answer for their crimes. The perpetrators of such atrocities have grown old and frail, dying of old age, something denied to the many victims they executed.
After General Mendieta suffers a heart attack during a walk around the city, in which he encounters one of his former victims, he begins to craft a letter to his son Pablo (Bernardo Peña), now living in New York. In the letter he admits his involvement in the campaign of terror. In flashbacks we see how he was one of the masterminds of Operation Condor, where students, activists, and political opponents were followed, their meetings infiltrated by military personnel; when the order arrived, soldiers descended, forcibly taking their targets in broad daylight. The journalist Marco (Carlos Cotta) and his wife Luíca (Carla Ortiz) are among those taken by the military.
“Ramon Diaz. Thirty-nine. Monica Paz. Twenty-five. Luis Maldini. Sixty. Horacio Belette. Forty-two, Laura Gonzalez. Forty-three,” a jailed, dissident utters the names and age of those he shared his jail cell with the night before, but were taken away in the dark of the night by military forces. The repetition of their names serves as a mnemonic device to keep the identities alive, should any of the newly arrived prisoners manage to escape alive. While imprisoned the dissidents argue over their ideals that led to their imprisonment asking if their involvement in pursuit of social justice was it worth it.
The strength of the film lies in its painfully accurate portrayal of torture. The most powerful scenes occur in the jail cells, when the dissidents are subjected to torture and in the streets where protesters voice their opposition to the military dictatorship. The torture techniques used by the US officials in the Middle East against perceived terrorist threats were perfected decades earlier—in the CIA backed campaigns against political opponents in Latin America. When torture is still glorified by some political circles, the realistic portrayal of the toll of electrocution, water torture, rape, and isolation, dispels the fantasy that torture can be a useful method to extract information. The film makes evident, that anyone under duress will say what is needed to end the pain.
It is less successful in offering insight into the history of the region, offering but a glimpse of archival footage of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a brief look at the training of soldiers at the infamous School of the Americas by US military personnel.
Forgotten was directed by Mexican Carlos Bolado, whose filmography has focused on social justice themes including Tlateloco: Verano del 68, the documentary about the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City, and Colosio: The Assassination, a film about the murder of Mexico’s presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Filmed over 3 months in Bolivia, Chile and New York, the Chilean desert offers a lush backdrop—a jarring contrast against the brutality of the military repression.
The film was written and produced by actress Carla Ortiz who was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The film was years in the making, with Ortiz saying “that we urgently need to recuperate our historical memory, in order to not let history repeat itself” adding “it is important for the Americans to understand what their government keeps doing wrong or keeps on abusing its power for their benefit.” The disappearance of students, activists, and political dissidents, and the continued impunity and lack of prosecutions of the perpetrators of Operation Condor remains an injustice that plagues Latin America.
With the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of forty-three students from the Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Mexico approaching, Forgotten reminds us that military repression has a long and painful history across the continent, the tactics employed by repressive military forces now, have been perfected through decades of forced disappearances of dissidents.
The film opens in theaters on September 18, in New York and October 2, in Los Angeles followed by a December release on HBO Latino.
Sunlight filters through the trees and whiffs of vegetable beef stew float through the air as dozens of women, men and youths of the Nasa indigenous people congregate together in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca once a month for a “minga.” During the minga – a type of communal work found throughout the Andes – approximately one thousand people clear hundreds of hectares of sugarcane with machetes and controlled fires.
Replacing the “green desert” of monoculture sugarcane with their own crops is part of the “Liberation of Mother Earth” movement initiated in 2005 by the Nasa. Cauca is one of the most militarized provinces in the country, and indigenous communities have been heavily affected by violence from armed groups including state security forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas. After suffering displacement and the exploitation of their lands by multinational corporations, the Nasa are reclaiming their ancestral territory, sowing subsistence crops including corn, beans, plantains and yucca.
“The Liberation of Mother Earth is a strategy for the defense of life; it’s the protection of life. It’s for our community well-being and so, convinced by this ancient struggle, we are here today,” said one representative attending the July minga from the indigenous reservation of Jambaló.*
The newest phase of the Liberation movement began last December when over 3000 Nasa began peacefully occupying seven sugarcane farms in three different municipalities (Corinto, Caloto and Santander de Quilichao) in northern Cauca. On these farms, they discovered various indigenous artifacts buried in the land, relics from previous generations of Nasa who had been displaced over the last century by armed groups and corporate interests. Statistics from the United Nations indicate that 3.1 million internally displaced persons in Colombia have abandoned an estimated 4 million hectares since 1985.
Under a 2000 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), certain lands currently occupied by sugarcane farms are legally owed to the Nasa people after the 1991 El Nilo massacre, when 20 indigenous people were assassinated by members of the national police and other unknown armed actors.
The Colombian state agreed to title 15,663 hectares to the Nasa people as part of a collective reparations deal negotiated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). After a delay of more than ten years, the government turned over most of the land, but more than half of it is either infertile or located in protected forest reserves. The government argues that as the price of fertile land in the region has tripled in the intervening ten years, the national budget cannot cover purchasing land currently dedicated to sugarcane for reparations owed the Nasa.
When the government failed to fulfill the reparations agreement and guarantee their security – after El Nilo, three similar massacres occurred in 2001 nearby in the River Naya, Gualanday and San Pedro – the Nasa decided to take back their lands independently. They demand at least 20,000 hectares of land for their survival, adequate agrarian policy reform and special economic and social development programs tailored for indigenous peoples, as called for by Colombian government Decree 982 issued in 1999.
“We’re here because it is our right, but also because of necessity,” a representative from the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) said. “We don’t have anywhere to sow. . .We’re not going to wait for the government to say, ‘here, have this,’ so bit by bit we’re going to go about achieving our own goals and liberating Mother Earth, liberating her from all monoculture crops.”
According to the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), 56 percent of children in the region suffer from hunger or malnutrition and 6,000 of 25,000 local families have inadequate land for survival. Meanwhile, less than one percent of Colombia’s population owns 62 percent of all land, and eight sugar company giants possess over 330,000 hectares (about 1274 square miles) of local land which is planted horizon to horizon with sugarcane, used principally to produce foodstuffs, ethanol and molasses for both domestic consumption and export.
The Nasa have concentrated their occupation on the fields owned by INCAUCA, the multinational sugar company owned by Colombian billionaire Carlos Ardila Lülle. They contend his company represents a “transnational model of plunder and agribusiness.” The Nasa criticize this as an unsustainable model of development that depends upon the cultivation of monoculture crops (sugar, bananas, palm oil and flowers) for export.
“The story of capital and of those who accumulate capital is a project of death that ends up destroying all nature, including the lives of human beings. For us, the land is our mother and they are committing a crime against her,” wrote the ACIN in a 2010 statement.
Artisanal sugarcane production arrived in Cauca in 1538 after the Spanish invasion, and by the beginning of the 19th century, the first modern sugar mill was installed by the company Manuelita. Later railway expansion and mechanization led to a production boom in the 1930s and 1940s – a boom that corresponds with the first waves of indigenous displacement.
Although the Nasa’s recent land occupation is peaceful, since last December at least 143 indigenous people have been injured, 37 seriously, by firearms, tear gas, rubber bullets and confrontations with state security forces. On April 10, 19-year old indigenous guard Guillermo Pavi was killed after he was reportedly shot by the Colombian riot police (ESMAD) and the army. With the road blocked, his injuries proved fatal because his companions could not get him to a hospital.
On May 28, riot police attempted to evict people with tanks, tractors and tear gas, announcing over a megaphone that “this one will be worse than El Nilo.” State security forces have also repeatedly burned and destroyed newly planted crops, recently decimating 580 hectares of corn, beans, yucca and plantains in mid-June and returning for a second round of destruction in July.
The Nasa have received threatening letters, phone calls and text messages from neo-paramilitary groups such as the Aguilas Negras that falsely accuse them of being affiliated with guerrilla groups, which still have a strong presence in the region.
“The Aguilas Negras intelligence has a hundred names of people who are doing harm on the farms . . . who support the narco-terrorists [the FARC . . .] It won’t be a surprise when dismembered bodies appear among those Indian sons-of-bitches,” read one written threat.
Despite the attacks, the Nasa remain committed. Maintaining a constant presence and planting crops, they reclaim their territory day by day, hectare by hectare, advocating against the imposition of monoculture agriculture and extractive economic models, arguing that these do not lead to real development but rather the exploitation of the earth and people that can only be ended with the Liberation of Mother Earth.
“The truth is that today nature ought to be quite content because she has begun to feel our presence again,” said a CRIC representative. “Hopefully as soon as possible, we won’t see all of this sugarcane but rather we’ll see fruit, shade, water . . . This is the challenge each one of us has. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible.”
*Interviewees are unnamed at their request to emphasize the movement’s collective nature and because of concerns for their safety.
Lisa Taylor works for Witness for Peace in Colombia.