Feature

A double standard for drug dealers

U.S. behavior toward Americans caught smuggling cocaine out of Colombia

Cocaine has corrupted the U.S. military, said Cecilia López Montano in Cartagena’s El Universal. Four American soldiers, part of the very force sent to Colombia to train our military in anti-drug operations, have been arrested for smuggling 35 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. on a military plane. U.S. authorities searched the plane the second it landed in Texas a few weeks ago; obviously, they’d been alerted that there were drugs on board. Someone had allowed these drug runners to leave the country, so they could be arrested on their home soil. “New evidence” indicates that the soldiers were part of a ring that has been smuggling drugs since at least 2003. Some of the Pentagon’s civilian contractors—“mercenaries,” really—may also be involved. We welcomed U.S. forces under Plan Colombia, a cooperative effort to stamp out the drug trade, and this is the thanks we get? Maybe it’s time to call the whole operation off.

It would be a shame to jeopardize our close relationship, said Bogotá’s El Pais in an editorial. Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Egypt and Israel, and our militaries have been working well together to combat the drug trade. “Thanks to this closeness,” over the last five years we have cut the acreage devoted to coca farming in half. “More important still,” production of refined cocaine dropped from 700 tons to 432 tons in the same period. As a condition of all this U.S. aid, Colombia long ago signed treaties exempting U.S. government personnel from prosecution, “even when they commit serious crimes.” We were willing to do that because we needed the help, but that “should not be interpreted as granting automatic impunity.” Out of respect, the Americans should throw the book at these criminals.

Past U.S. behavior is hardly encouraging, said Bogotá’s El Tiempo in an editorial. Remember back in 1999, when the wife of Col. James Hiett, a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy, was found to have shipped cocaine to the U.S. in her husband’s diplomatic pouch? Both Hietts were tried in the U.S., and they got off with insultingly light sentences. The wife was sentenced to five years in prison, while the colonel, who covered up her crime and laundered her profits, served a mere five months. Their Colombian driver, meanwhile, who was tried in Colombia, got eight years in prison and is there still. It would be “crushing to the morale of all who fight drug trafficking,” especially those who risk their lives in Colombia, if another such “miscarriage of justice” were to occur. The “narcosoldiers” must be punished publicly—not in some secret military court—martial, but openly, “so all Colombians can see.”

Antonio Navarro Wolf

La Nación

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