Eye-opening look at the drug war in Colombia, which involves lots of American troops and money.
Canadian journalist Leech (Political Science/Cape Breton Univ.; Crude Interventions: The United States, Oil, and the New World (Dis)Order, 2006, etc.) has been working the drug-war beat since 2000, and he takes the “war” part of the description seriously, investigating the little-visited corners of Colombia where few gringo reporters dare wander. The framework of this narrative is an 11-hour period that Leech spent in captivity after venturing in search of a story into a drug-producing district that is contiguous with La Macarena National Park, and that the government had just sprayed with particularly harmful pesticides, even though the park contains many civilians and villages. “The story is important,” he writes, “because the fumigations mark an escalation in the war on drugs, since it is the first time the Colombian government has succumbed to pressure from the Bush administration to spray coca crops cultivated in one of the country’s biologically diverse national parks.” Entering on the heels of a devastating spraying, Leech was thought to be a spy or narc. Fortunately, his time in captivity was less than harrowing, even if it had its rough moments. His imprisonment affords him a frame by which to hang a larger story of how the drug war is conducted (corruptly, of course), how it relates to the encompassing war between the government in the city and Marxist guerrillas on the outskirts, and how the production of coca articulates with the local economy—indeed, keeping many of those country people from starving. Leech writes critically of those in power but admiringly of ordinary Colombians, whom he depicts as generous to a fault, suffering in a war that the United States is sure to lose. The author also looks at how the game of foreign correspondence is played, often in the shadows, often working with spies and counterspies.
Excellent reportage—highly recommended for would-be journalists as well as those interested in geopolitics.