Squeezing a Balloon: Plan
Colombia and America’s War
VOLKER C. FRANKE AND JUSTIN REED
February 13, 2003, 9:00 AM. The single-engine Cessna 208 landed hard after the pilot reported engine trouble minutes before the plane was scheduled to reach the provincial capital Florencia. The plane was carrying four Americans on contract with the CIA and a Colombian military intelligence officer. The men were photographing Colombia’s southern coca fields for tracking and targeting purposes as part of the Bush administration’s intensifying war on drugs in Latin America. Colombian soldiers, who arrived at the rugged crash site within thirty minutes of the accident, found two of the passengers—one American and the Colombian—shot to death. The other three were missing. The plane was riddled with rounds from an M-60 machine gun, but Colombian investigators claim the gunfire did not cause the crash.
The plane had crashed in a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by their Spanish acronym FARC), a Marxist-oriented guerilla group classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department. Soon after the crash, the FARC admitted to killing the two observers at the scene and taking the others hostage. The three Americans, the FARC offered, could be exchanged in a broad prisoner swap, however, the Colombian and U.S. governments both refused.1 The guerrilla attack comes as part of a renewed escalation in the violence that has tormented the entire Andean region for more than five decades.
Colombia, the world’s leading producer and distributor of cocaine, provides about 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States and some two-thirds of the heroin found on the East Coast. In addition to supporting independent traffickers and cartels, the drug trade serves as a major source of funding for the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN),