Barry McCaffrey’s Goodbye Tour

Retiring U.S. drug czar General Barry McCaffrey showed up last week in Colombia for a final meeting with President Andres Pastrana, but his visit only raised more questions about what many see as confusion in the U.S.-aided fight against the cocaine cartels. Appearing before a handful of local and international reporters in the capital city of Bogotá, McCaffrey issued this daring prediction: “It is my professional judgment, from watching your own leadership, that in the coming five years you will achieve your objective of separating drug money from the FARC, the ELN and the AUC, contributing to the peace process and the economic recovery in this huge beautiful country.”

Now, as far as many Colombians were concerned, McCaffrey might as well have been reading tea leaves, for all the objective reality underlying his bold assertions. As of now, peace talks between Colombian government officials and the country’s leading guerrilla group — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — are on ice. The FARC says it’s unhappy with the government’s approach to dealing with paramilitary groups, known as AUCs. Meanwhile, rebel groups have set up blockades and cut off the main roads to the Putumayo region of the country, where much of the coca is grown, leaving most of that state without food, medical supplies and other basic provisions.

Even McCaffrey’s attempt at courtesy, a special mention in his opening remarks of top Colombian drug official Maria Inez Restrepo, backfired. Just two days after McCaffrey’s visit, a teary-eyed Restrepo — a member of Pastrana’s inner circle in charge of the crop-substitution-and-eradication program — addressed the country after her son was arrested in Miami for alleged possession of cocaine while attempting to enter the U.S.

McCaffrey’s primary reason for coming to Colombia was to stump for Plan Colombia, Pastrana’s $7.5 billion proposal for addressing mounting violence that in recent years erupted into a civil war that has cost thousands of lives. Leftist guerrillas are said to be using the profits from the sale of drugs to finance their forces. The U.S. has pledged $1.3 billion to the plan, most of that in military assistance. For their part, Colombian rebels have denounced Plan Colombia and promised to target U.S. officials in their country as well as to abandon any talks to bring a peaceful end to the conflict.

McCaffrey was joined in his remarks by Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, who startled observers by declaring that Plan Colombia was already yielding important successes in the battle to curb drug production and consumption.

When asked what results he could be referring to, Pickering replied, “First and foremost, the major success has been both the development of the plan and the international cooperation that goes with that. Secondly, the tremendous amount of financing that has been put in place for the future not only from the United States, but international financial institutions of countries as far afield as Europe and Japan, as well as Colombia itself.”

So, just having an expensive plan is enough. Perhaps that explains how McCaffrey could issue his rosy five-year prediction in the face of a recent congressional study that found Plan Colombia isn’t likely to cut drug production within six years, according to an Associated Press report.

In any event, McCaffrey insisted that the U.S. won’t be directly involved in Colombia’s civil war, but rather will supply only intelligence, and Justice Department and political support in the international community. “The United States’ principal contribution to Plan Colombia will be the reduction of drug use in the United States,” McCaffrey contended. Then why did so many military officials accompany the general on his farewell tour?

—Sandra Hernandez


In recent weeks, orange fliers have popped up on Silver Lake telephone poles alerting residents to sightings of the “Silverlake Reservoir Snorkel Monster,” a creature “hungry for latte-drinkin’ SUV drivers who drive WAY too fast in the Silverlake area . . .” The posters purport to be from “EMERSON’s SilverLAKE & PALM AIR Times-Gazette,” a make-believe publication whose title is a takeoff on the early-’70s bombastic supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, not Ralph Waldo.

The humor is not particularly threatening, but OffBeat wonders if the fliers could be the start of something big. Anti-yuppification sentiment in the increasingly exclusive, formerly boho Latino/gay/artist enclave of Silver Lake is on the rise. At a recent meeting on a proposal to “make Silver Lake more like Brentwood” with the implementation of the first “permit only” parking zone, lines were sharply drawn between affluent, middle-aged homeowners and the much younger patrons of Silver Lake rock & roll haunt Spaceland.

And what forms might increased anti-yuppie hostility take in Los Angeles? Look no further than San Francisco’s Mission District, where dot-com money has sent property values and rents skyrocketing, pricing artists, musicians and working families out of loft space. In response, loose-knit, more or less anonymous anti-gentrification groups like Mission Yuppie Eradication Project (MYEP), AARGG! (All Against Ruthless Greedy Gentrification) and Art Strikes Back have begun fighting back aggressively. One MYEP poster drew the battle lines sharply: “Over the past several years the Mission has been colonized by pigs with money. Yuppie scumbags have crawled out of their haunts on Union Street and the suburbs to take our neighborhood away from us.” Dot-commies like “Buffy and Chip are moving into ‘lawyer lofts’ built by real estate speculators . . .”

The MYEP Web site offers these helpful tips to neighbors intent on resisting yuppie colonization, including “Vandalize their cars: Mercedes, Lexus, Porsche, Jaguar, and anything that your family wouldn’t be able to afford,” “Don’t patronize Yuppie establishments,” and “Spread rumors about increasing crime in the neighborhood.”

In May 1999, San Francisco police arrested MYEP originator (and former OffBeat college acquaintance) Kevin Keating on suspicion of posting “terrorist threats” in fliers that appeared to advocate violence against chic restaurants and bars in the neighborhood.

“Officers searched Keating’s second-floor duplex apartment on Folsom Street, where they seized dozens of anarchist and communist books, computer disks, tapes and writings. Seven months later, all the materials were returned to him when the district attorney decided not to file charges,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Now, there’s nothing in the snorkel-monster poster suggesting MYEP-level hostilities. Still, as Silver Lake attempts to navigate through the treacherous shoals of its sudden grooviness, we think residents would do well to remember that its winsome little hills and dales are not a preserve for Richard Neutra–loving ironicists but rather a neighborhood whose diversity is its greatest charm.

—Sandra Ross


A small circle within L.A.’s Latin American community was in a flurry last week over what was billed as a farewell ode from Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.

A Chilean activist in Los Angeles forwarded a sentimental message, ostensibly written by the 73-year-old writer from his deathbed, to members of an e-mail group that included OffBeat. Among the lines attributed to the father of magical realism were “I might not say all that I think, but I would surely think all that I say. I would give value to things, not for what they are worth but for what they mean . . . I would understand that for each minute we close our eyes we lose sixty seconds of light.”

García Márquez acknowledged in a New Yorker interview last year that he had been treated for lymphatic cancer, but there have been no confirmed reports that the disease is terminal. (The Los Angeles Times reported that the author traveled to Los Angeles for a second opinion confirming the cancer diagnosis.) Last week’s message appears to have been a hoax that’s been riding the Internet express for almost a year. In June, the Peruvian daily newspaper La Republica ran a poem titled “La Marioneta” under García Márquez’s name. The poem was actually the work of a little-known ventriloquist named Johnny Welch, Reuters said. Mexico City dailies reproduced the poem, and it was read on radio stations.

“Gabriel García Márquez sings a song to life,” read a headline in Mexico City’s La Cronica, which published the poem superimposed on a photo of the novelist on its front page.

“My God, if I had a bit of life I would not let one instant go by without telling the people I love that I love them,” the poem said.

Sources told OffBeat that García Márquez had been quoted as saying that if he had written something so corny, he would “die right now.”

Welch told Mexican radio he felt like he’d been robbed.

“I’m feeling the disappointment of someone who has written something and is not getting credit,” said Welch, who has worked for 15 years as a ventriloquist in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Welch said he composed the poem for his puppet sidekick Mofles.

“I’m not a writer,” he confessed. No shit, Sherlock. Is it the false authority of the Internet, or something more fundamental, that would convince a sentient human being that the author of 100 Years of Solitude also wrote such drivel as “I would give value to things, not for what they are worth but for what they mean”? Some readers even found the doggerel revelatory. More proof that what passes for literary discrimination is often no more than star-fucking.

—Eric Pape


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