As Attorney General John Ashcroft has said, "terrorism and drug trafficking go together like rats and the bubonic plague -- they thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other." Links between terrorist organizations and drug traffickers take many forms, ranging from facilitation -- protection, transportation, and taxation -- to direct trafficking by the terrorist organization itself in order to finance its activities.
Authorities in Costa Rica and the United States have now arrested four men charged with conspiring to deliver some twenty-five million dollars in weapons to the so-called United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia, or A-U-C, a group designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. government in September charged the A-U-C's leader, Carlos Castano-Gil, with narcotics trafficking. According to the indictment, Castano directed cocaine production and distribution activities in A-U-C-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting coca-processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine, and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside of Colombia. He remains at large despite his public announcement at the time of his indictment that he would turn himself in to face the charges against him in an American court. He has boasted that seventy percent of A-U-C financing comes from illegal drugs.
Colombian authorities estimate that A-U-C terrorists have committed more than eight-hundred assassinations, more than two-hundred kidnappings, and some seventy-five massacres that killed more than five hundred victims. Had the weapons deal not been thwarted, A-U-C terrorists would have acquired shoulder-fired missiles, nine-thousand assault rifles and machine guns, three-hundred handguns, grenade launchers with some three-hundred-thousand grenades, and more than fifty-three million rounds of ammunition.
The A-U-C is not alone in financing its terrorist activities through narcotics. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice charged three members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, with conspiracy to import cocaine into the U.S. According to the State Department, since 1980 the FARC has murdered thirteen Americans and kidnapped over one-hundred others, including three U.S. missionaries abducted in 1993 and now believed to be dead. Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson said the FARC drug shipments were destined not only for the U.S. but also for other countries such as Mexico, Suriname, Paraguay, and Spain. The FARC, A-U-C, and Colombia's third foreign terrorist organization, the National Liberation Army, known as the E-L-N, all vie for control of Colombia's coca-producing territories.
As Attorney General Ashcroft has told the American people, "At a time when we see clearly the evil interdependence between the terrorists and illegal drugs, surrender to either of these threats is surrender to both. Surrender is not -- and cannot be -- an option."