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Rainy Season In The Drug-war Zone

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l;HJ3:iia:M.MJi!7TmM Edltor's Note: Eric Jackson, an Associate Editor of AGENDA, fíled this report from Panama, where he has been IMng since mid-February. □ s this is writte n, rain s pouríng down in volumes that one never sees in Michigan. From late March thorugh midDecember it rains for at least a few minutes almost every day here on Panama's Atlantic Side. The few rainless days happen when hurricanes suck our storms away and dump them on neighbors to the north. If rain spoils your day, this time of the year is no fun. Especially when one considere that rainy season is also bug season. But this is when the tropical environment stands up and cheers. Mangoes and passionfruit are in season. Count the things now blooming in Michigan, square that number, and you still can't match the jungle's flowers. The Pacific surf is up. The Caribbean is smooth as glass, perfectforexploring coral reefs. It's also less expensive to visit now. Tourists who need pools and air conditioning can find that They generally come in dry season, when Michigan is cold and Panama is dry and relatively bug-free. But l'll take cheaper lodging and rainy-season-green over Marriottsterility on a dry brown background any time. Rainy season visitors boost new "eco-toursm" industries in these parts. This provides a powerful economie argument that helps Latin American environmentalists who are working to save the rain forests. Today's jungle vacation ups the odds that the forests will exist tomorrow. The Unusual Suspects In Cartagena, Colombia, the leaders of Spain, Portugal and theirf ormer American colo nies recently held a summit. It was mostly a gathering of business-oriented politicians, ers of countries whose labor movements are on the run, whose rural poor have no say. Most want to join an Americas-wide NAFTA. Yet it was no celebration of a U.S.-oriented "New Worid Order." In the post-Cotd War era, Latín American business elites aren't eager customers for the old deals. (t's not hard to see why. UN statistics say that the total foreign debt of Latín American and Caribbean countries increased by $19 billion in 1993. The few countries which reduced their debt- El Salvador, Guatemala, TrinidadTobago and Panama - did sothrough vicious social policies, the kind that breed crime and political turmoil that hurt business. Other countries stayed afloat with one-time cash infusions from selling assets like govemment-owned phone companies, but still lost ground. Hard-nosed business judgement says that this can't go on forever. Thus one hears Latin American govemments saying "no" to the International Monetary Fund more often these days. The summiteers didn't support Fidel Castro's cali fora radical new ecomomic order, but neither did they buy made-in-USAplans. They denounced U.S. subsidies for food exports and quotas on agricultural imports. They also announced another of their own free trade zones, a MexicoColombia-Venezuela pact. At Cartagena they showed unusual diplomatic independence, as well. Most of the leaders rejected the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Even Paraguay, which always supported antiCuban measures in the past, asked the U.S. to cali it off. The summit's final resolution called for "the elimination of coercive ecomonic and trade measures which affect the free development of international commerce and hurt the living conditions of Ibero-American people." This wouldn't have happened a few years ago. But the U.S. was the world's biggest creditor then, and now it's the biggest debtor. Latin Americans notice, and have adjusted their positions. Fundamentalist's Southern Front On June 19, Colombia had a presidential runoff in which Liberal Ernesto Samper beat Conservativo Andrés Pastrana They virtually tied in May's first round, with the leftist M-1 9's Antonio Navarro third at 3.9% and 14 others tratling behind. Samper rejected runoff alliances. But Pastrana made a deal with two Protestant fundamentalist parties for the second round. The alliance was historie for Colombian Conservati ves. They once fought to make Catholicism the official religión. And they advocated a ban on Protestant missionaries. Samper made a big issue of the fundamentalists, and many Catholics- upon whose votes Pastrana depended - stayed home. Itpropelled the Liberáis to a narrow win. But born-agains are a growing regional forcé. In Panama's elections the Assemblies of God (of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert disrepute) had their own political party. Guatemala's murderous, evangélica! ex-dictator, Efrain Ríos Montt, plans to run for president. The fundamentalists have different strengths, weaknesses and hot-button issues down here. But they're tied to the same folks whom AGENDA readers may be opposing over abortion rights, school policies or anti-gay initiatives. Jesse Helms has ties to Nicaragua's far right, Pat Robertson is Ríos Montt's buddy, and Ollie North made his biggest splash south of the border. Be aware. From the War Zone Drug wars continue to rage. The otherday I heard tires squealing and men shouting, and looked outside to see Panamanian cops busting an alleged drug dealer. When the supect started to reach for his ID, a plainclothesman hit him in the kidneys with the butt of an M-1 6 rifle. As they bundled the moaning prisoner into the back seat of the unmarked pólice car, a cop slammed the door on his shins. One more injured inmate in an overcrowded Panamanian cel I. One finds many Latin Americans who believe that the U.S. "War on Drugs" is a disaster. They don 't like the pólice brutality, corruption, overcrowded prisons, swamped court dockets and U.S. military intervention that it has brought to their countries. But few politicians are willing to openly say so. For example, Colombia's Pastrana and Samper both denounced their country 's recent supreme court decisión legalizing the use of marijuana and cocaine. Both offered similar drug war strategies. In the campaign, Samper accused Pastrana of bugging his office, which was denied. But after the vote Pastrana produced wiretap recordings to show that the Cali Cartel gave money to Samper' s campaign. Then a fugitive cartel leader told reporters that the drug lords donated to many campaigns, including both Samper's and Pastrana's. Meanwhile, U.S. officialsare bickering. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, head of the U.S. Southern Command, refuses to share radar data with Latin American govemments. The stated reason is that this practice has in the past led to wrongful attacks on civil ian aircraft. McCaffrey's order, and his insistence that U.S. troops working in various Latin American countries answer to him and not U.S. ambassadors, offends the State Department Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced a bilí to immunize the U.S. from lawsuits if nf ormation -sharing leads to the loss of innocent lives. There seems to be more here than is stated. Anti-drug missions in Latin America are often foiled by leaks. Giving inf ormation to Colombia's army means sharing it with the Cali Cartel. Peru's and Bolivia's armies and drug traffickers have close ties. Only dubious assum ptions about the relative corruptibility of North and South American officials support the notion that drug lords don 't also buy information from U.S. sources. McCaffrey's moves narrow the circle of those who know, thus reducing the possibility of crippling leaks. However, drug war secrecy creates many of the same problems that carne with Cold War covert actions. It c onceáis important facts from the American people, stifling nformed debate about U.S. foreign policy.


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