Once again, U.S. officials involved in fighting the drug war in South America have been tied to drug trafficking.
DynCorp, a private U.S. firm hired by Washington to fly eradication missions in Colombia over coca and poppy fields - the raw material for cocaine and heroin - has now been implicated in a drug smuggling scandal of its own.
The revelation, made in the British and U.S. press in early July, came to light after The Nation magazine and the Observer newspaper in Britain obtained a document from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration written last year.
The document described how the Colombian National Police intercepted and opened a U.S.-bound package on May 12, 2000, that contained, “two small bottles of a thick liquid."
The liquid, “when tested, was found to be laced with heroin worth more than $100,000 (US),” said The Observer in a story published July 1.
The DEA document then revealed that the package belonged to an unnamed DynCorp employee, who was shipping the package from Colombia to the company's Andean operations headquarters at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
The Nation, in a story published July 3, quoted a DynCorp spokeswoman who said the liquid tested by the Colombians was not laced with heroin. Rather, it was simply, “oil samples of major aircraft components.”
The U.S. embassy in Bogota, however, told the magazine in a statement that the Colombians, “detected the presence of heroin in unspecified amounts,” in the confiscated liquid.
Colombian police, the embassy went on to say, did not pursue the matter with DynCorp or U.S. government officials in Colombia.
In the midst of the current DynCorp scandal, ICI, a British chemical company, has withdrawn from Washington's controversial plan to spray coca and poppy fields in Colombia with herbicides, reported the Observer.
Critics of the fumigation program, a critical part of Plan Colombia, the $1.3-billion anti-drug plan funded by the United States, say the eradication of drug crops is having a terrible impact.
“Hospitals in sprayed areas have reported increases in skin rashes, diarrhoea, stomach aches and respiratory problems,” wrote the Observer.
A story this past March by The Associated Press, meanwhile, said one-half of crops fumigated in southern Colombia were legal food crops. The wire service quoted Ivan Guerrero, the governor of Putamayo state, as its source.
A second U.S. firm has also been tied to the Colombian drug trade.
On July 12, American Home Products, a pharmaceutical company based in Madison, N.J., paid $2.5 million to the U.S. government after it was revealed that two of its subsidiaries did business with firms owned by Colombian drug dealers.
The payment, reported in an AP story, was made after it was revealed that the company's Colombian branches and affiliates - Wyeth-Ayerst International Inc. and Whitehall International Inc. - engaged in business transactions between 1995 and 1997 with a drugstore chain and affiliated businesses owned by narcotics traffickers.
The drugstore chain, Drogas la Rebaja, is owned by two Cali drug cartel leaders, the U.S. Treasury Department has said.
A spokesman for American Home Products said the company was not aware at the time that its subsidiaries were dealing with businesses tied to Colombia's drug trade.
The above two cases are only the latest scandals tying U.S. citizens to drug traffickers in South America.
In May of last year, the wife of a colonel in the U.S. army was sentenced to five years in jail for smuggling $700,000 of heroin from Colombia to New York between May and June of 1999.
In December of 1999, Laurie Anne Hiett, wife of Col. James Hiett, initially plead innocent to charges that she used the U.S. diplomatic mail service to smuggle drugs. The following month she changed her plea to guilty.
What made the story shocking, however, was that Hiett's husband was in charge of U.S. anti-drug operations in Colombia at the time of her drug dealing. After the sensational story hit the press, James Hiett was cleared of any involvement in drug trafficking by the U.S. army.
Nevertheless, in April of last year, Col. Hiett plead guilty to concealing knowledge of a felony. He was sentenced to five months in jail on July 14, 2000. Colombia's chief prosecutor called the sentence ludicrous.
“This is a ridiculous sentence,” Reuters quoted Alfonso Gomez as saying at the time. “Seeing that they apply such low sentences to U.S. citizens in the United States this would seem to vindicate those who say there's different treatment (for Colombians).”
If all of this wasn’t embarrassing enough for Washington, a Reuters story dated July 12, 2000, quoted Hiett's former driver as saying that a DEA official helped to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the U.S.