Private Corporate Interests, APublic Opinion,@ and Political Expediency

Just as the government war effort and human rights violations in Colombia have been largely Aprivatized@ through the use of paramilitary groups, the military involvement of the United States as well as Apublic opinion@ have privatized, in part, by the role of military contractors and other corporate lobbyists.

This spring, Newsweek reported (4/3/00) that the White House decision to step up U.S. involvement in Colombia was motivated by public perceptions that drug use was on the rise and that the Democrats would be blamed, hurting them in the November elections. This perception was reported by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. He was hired by the giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the P-3 radar planes used to track drug shipments.

Other corporations lobbying for the aid package include helicopter manufacturers Textron (Bell Huey helicopters) and United Technologies (Sikorsky Aircraft), which between them account for the 60 helicopters to be provided to Colombia; Occidental Petroleum, which has sizeable investments in Colombia and is at loggerheads with the U=wa people; and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, which reportedly lobbied for the aid in the hope of forestalling a lawsuit by the Colombian Government in federal court in New York, in which Philip Morris is alleged to have worked with Colombian drug dealers to engage in cigarette smuggling and money laundering (Legal Times, 6/26/00).

In addition, the Dallas Morning News reported (2/27/00) that six U.S. firms are poised to receive contracts under Plan Colombia, mainly to support the 60 helicopters. AProbably, it is more costly to send an active-duty general to be present full-time in Colombia than it is to send a retired officer,@ working privately, said Colombian defense minister Luis Fernando Ramírez. A former deputy assistant secretary of defense told the Morning News that the use of retired military personnel under contract, in dangerous places like Colombia, provides a higher level of expertise with lower overall costs and minimal political risks.


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