- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Another side of the drug-trade story

In response to Robert Charles’ “Colombian terrorists” (Op-Ed, Aug. 25): In July, National Geographic magazine published a story about the cocaine culture in Caqueta, Colombia, by photojournalist Carlos Villalon.

Granted rare access over a three-year period by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) to the jungles of southern Colombia under its control, Mr. Villalon had the extraordinary opportunity to live among the rural people of Colombia and document their daily lives. He observed basically good people caught in a tragically difficult situation, trying to eke out a living the only way they could — by growing coca. What he observed poses a direct challenge to the belief held by many people, particularly those fighting the narcotics trade, that in places such as Caqueta, all is black-and-white.

It is undeniable that FARC has committed and continues to commit unspeakable violence against the people of Colombia and foreigners. To charge, as Mr. Charles has done, that National Geographic glorifies FARC and, in doing so, seeks to portray a somehow softer side of cocaine is to purposefully misconstrue our story, which begins, “A drug that devastates lives around the globe also afflicts the remote province of Caqueta.”

What we have put forth for our readers is another element to the complicated and often tragic situation surrounding the growing and selling of coca. In Caqueta, the farmers Mr. Villalon met believe they have no viable alternative but to participate in the backwater economy ruled by cocaine.

We at National Geographic did not close our eyes to what is happening in Colombia, as Mr. Charles accuses. Rather, we have drawn into sharp focus what is actually happening in the villages there and revealed subtle details and complexities that are too often neglected in the outside perspective.


Editor in chief

National Geographic


Trouble in Iran

Who has a better plan for dealing with Iran’s nuclear aspirations, Sen. John Kerry or President Bush?

Just this week, Sen. John Edwards revealed that a Kerry administration would offer Iran a deal that would allow Tehran to have nuclear power plants in exchange for the promise of not developing nuclear weapons (“Demagoguery on Iran,” Editorial, yesterday). Wait a second: Didn’t Bill Clinton already try this approach with North Korea? Yes, he did, and Pyongyang is a nuclear power.

Mr. Edwards made a suggestion that is worrisome in its basic assumption: that if Iran fails to take what he called a “grand bargain,” essentially it would confirm that it is building nuclear weapons. We do not need to be hit by lightning to know there is a thunderstorm above our heads.

Mr. Edwards argued that if Iran failed to take the Kerry deal, “our friends in Europe” would join America in imposing sanctions on Iran. Hey, Mr. Edwards, where do you think Iran got the expertise and the materials for its nuclear-energyprogram? (France, Germany and Russia)

What about Mr. Bush? He recognized Iran as a member of the “axis of evil.” His administration surely recognizes the threat that would come to the world if Iran acquired nuclear arms. I am sure Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and underlings Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith have a detailed plan for blowing Iran’s nuclear facilities into ashes.

How would Americans react if Mr. Bush talked about the need to go to war to prevent a Middle Eastern nation from developing weapons of mass destruction? Not very well, I assume. Though Mr. Bush has it right on Iran, he does not have the public credibility to pursue his plan.

So who has a better plan for dealing with Iran’s nuclear aspirations? I am not sure. Let’s just hope we won’t need the Israeli air force to help us out again, as it did in 1981.


Assistant professor

Manship School of Mass Communication

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge

Trading tantrums

The World Trade Organization decided Tuesday that eight member nations, including the European Union and Brazil, are authorized to retaliate against U.S. exports because Congress failed to rescind the so-called Byrd amendment by the stated deadline of December 2003 (“WTO allows barriers on U.S. exports,” Business, yesterday).

The amendment, popularly named for West Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert C. Byrd and officially titled the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act, collects punitive tariffs from countries whose exports violated our trade laws and then distributes the funds to American companies injured by the illegal foreign trade. The Byrd amendment is expected to provide $180 million to injured American companies in 2004; $750 million reportedly was paid out in the past three years.

President Bush imposed Section 201 tariffs against illegally dumped steel only to have the WTO rule that his action violated its rules. What is not widely reported, however, is that the WTO has never upheld any nation’s safeguard action when illegal imports wreak havoc with their domestic industries, as was the case with illegally dumped steel.

The problem with the WTO is that it is made up of member nations with widely different economic systems. How can the WTO harmonize its adjudication of grievances from capitalist, socialist and communist economies? We complain that foreign products entering our country are subsidized by their governments (enabling them to undercut American producers), but isn’t that what socialism does — subsidize?

China reportedly is manipulating its currency by as much as 40 percent to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace, driving American companies out of business or forcing them to relocate to China, taking the jobs with them. Why doesn’t the WTO investigate these allegations, documented by the Fair Currency Alliance and others, and rule against the Chinese if they are proved to be true?

Unfortunately, our voice in the WTO is a lot like our voice in the United Nations. If we cannot persuade U.N. member nations to abandon their business ventures with criminals such as Saddam Hussein, how can we hope to successfully plead our case for fair trade in the WTO? Unfortunately, American interests are not being well-served by membership in these world bodies, but resigning from them would only make matters worse.

The conflicts that exist between American trade law and WTO rules need to be addressed by Congress. American companies and their workers should not become victims in a chess game that rewards the biggest cheaters.


North Olmsted, Ohio

Stopping judicial activism

I think it is a grand idea that Reps. Steve King of Iowa and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin are promoting (“Explain thyself,” Inside the Beltway, Nation, yesterday). When federal judges overstep their oath to support and defend the Constitution by making law from the bench, they should be brought to account. Bring them before Congress and let them explain their verdicts when they are arguably unconstitutional.

For too long, we have let these judges, along with the Supreme Court justices, get away with their activism. It is time to hold some control over our constitutional destiny. There was no intent by the Founding Fathers, I am sure, to allow these judges to have free rein without any sort of oversight by the people.

We don’t want to stifle any judicial decrees, but when they run counter to the Constitution, the people must speak.


Livingston, Texas

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