The last time we ever heard there was a serious effort to do this was in the 1980s and only because of much pressure, where George Bush Sr was forced to act in what was known as “Operation Greenback”.
What happened was that they started to find an increasing number of drug money-laundering receipts in Florida and other southern parts of the United States. This started to work, they put pressure on the financial companies which were actually involved in that process – and then he suspended it all, the whole investigation. That would have been an opportunity to actually do something, but of course it was suspended, and ever since we haven’t seen any serious effort, despite the rhetoric, to actually do something.
LS: Why is it that the [George W] Bush and Obama Departments of Justice have spent trillions of dollars on a war on terrorism and a war on drugs, while letting US banks launder money for the same people that the nation is supposedly at war with”? 
OV: That is another issue that is part of the contradiction of imperialism, or the process that I call “narco-colonialism”. The stated objectives are very different to the real objectives. They may claim that they are fighting a war on drugs or on terror, but in fact they are fighting a war for the drug financial revenue through terror, and by doing that they have to make alliances with the very same people who are benefiting from the drug trade as we see in Colombia.
The main landlords and the business class who own the best land have connections with right-wing paramilitaries, which the DEA knows are actually exporting the drugs, and have direct connections to various governments and presidencies throughout recent Colombian history. These are the same people who are actually being given carte blanche to fight the war on terror in the Western hemisphere – yet this is a contradiction that no one ever questions.
So I think it’s not about fighting the real terrorists, it’s about fighting and financing resistance to that problem, and in Colombia there has been a civil war for quite a number of years. It’s really the same paradox; it’s funding the very same state mechanisms to allow the whole thing to continue.
LS: What should our readers know about the political economy of the drug trade created by the war on drugs?
OV: What we should know is that there needs to be a complete restructure and revision in the way we examine the drug trade. First of all, it’s not crime that is at the center of the political economy, but it is the state, imperialism and class – that I think is essential, or at least I find it very useful in examining the drug trade.
We can see that clear in Colombia, where you have a narco-bourgeoisie which is essentially the main beneficiary there. These aren’t just the landlords, these are also the paramilitaries, key members of the police, the military and the government; but also the connection to the United States, which is a political relationship, which is financing them to fight their common enemy, which is at this point in time the left-wing guerrillas, predominantly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC.
So this again goes back to your previous question about this contradiction: why are trillions of dollars being waged to fight the drug trade in Colombia, but also in Afghanistan, when like in Colombia, everybody knows Afghanistan has a very corrupt regime and many of them are drug lords themselves who are the main beneficiaries in that country?
It has little to do with drugs, it has little to do with terrorists, it has everything to do with empire building, of which the main beneficiary is the United States.
LS: Since you already mentioned it, what is the major importance of the narco-bourgeoisie in Colombia seen from a market perspective?
OV: This goes again back to the notion of who is managing the drug trade, and Catherine Austin Fitts’ perspective includes the government, and I sympathize with that approach, but we must bring class to that political economy of drugs. Why is class important? Why is a narco-bourgeoisie important? Well, it’s because without a class that not only is growing, producing, and distributing the drugs and has the state resources to do so thanks to US financial assistance and military training and operations, we would not have a cocaine trade.
So the narco-bourgeoisie is essential and the main connection to that imperial relationship that the United States has. Without that kind of arrangement there would be no market in Colombia. So from a market perspective, these are the people who are essentially arranging and managing the drug trade in order to let the cocaine trade actually flourish. In the past, the same kind of people were fighting communists; today they are fighting “terrorists” supposedly.
LS: You are arguing in your book that the war on drugs is no failure at all, but a success. How do you come to that conclusion?
OV: I come to that conclusion because what do we know so far about the war on drugs? Well, the US has spent about US$1 trillion throughout the globe. Can we simply say it has failed? Has it failed the drug money-laundering banks? No. Has it failed the key Western financial centers? No. Has it failed the narco-bourgeoisie in Colombia – or in Afghanistan, where we can see similar patterns emerging? No. Is it a success in maintaining that political economy? Absolutely.
So I have to say when we are looking at it from that political economy / class basis approach with this emphasis on imperialism and the state rather than simply crime, it has been a success because what it is actually doing is allowing that political economy to thrive.
I mean, we have to ask the question: how can such a drug trade flourish under the very nose of the leading hegemonic power in the Americas, if not the world, the United States? You had the Chinese Revolution, you had even authoritarian regimes, fascist regimes, that were able to wipe out the drug trade. Why can’t the Western powers with all the resources that they have put a dent on it?
But instead they have actually exacerbated the problem. It’s getting worse, and the fact is there is never a real end in sight, and they don’t want to change their policies, so someone is clearly benefiting and suffering from this.
The logic, if we can call it that, is the conclusion that it is part of that paradox and part of their interest to maintain this political economy. We can look at it from a different angle, if you like.
Look at oil, our dependence on hydrocarbons. We know that is bad for our environment, we know what scientists call “Peak Oil”, and we know we will have problems with that form of energy system, but it continues. So is it in their interest to stop this? No, it isn’t. This is what I see as the very fabric of capitalism and imperialism, and that the logic becomes the illogical and the conclusion becomes part of the contradiction. That’s why I don’t see it as a failure at all but very much in the interest, stubbornly or not, of US imperialism to drag on this war on drugs.
LS: Can you tell us some of the reasons for the period in Colombian history that is called “La Violencia” and how it played a role ideologically in the Cold War as it was fought in Colombia?
OV: “La Violencia” was a period in Colombian history and probably the only time that the Colombian state acknowledged that the country was in a war with itself, a civil war, if you will. In 1948, there was a popular liberal candidate named Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a populist leader, who was promising land reform, and he promised at least to the landless and the poorest in Colombia that something would change in the country.