Monday, August 27, 2007

Mark Malloch Brown - The Colombian Connection

With the arrival of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, there was much talk about the appointments he made and whether they indicated shift from the his neo-conservative predecessor. As usual, much nonsense was spun out that this government was going to be different, this government was going to be a government of 'all the talents' a more representative style of government. While there has been a slight shift in the choice of language (no more 'war on terror' thankfully), upon examining the detail, the truth is very much different.

Melanie Phillips, the representative of the far-right, has been quick to present the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown as causing 'dismay in Washington DC'. She also claims that he played a vital role in the oil-for-food scandal, the removal of Wolfowitz and portrays him as an opponent of the Iraq war. The combination of these factors allow Phillips to portray Malloch Brown as anti-American, corrupt and disreputable. This, of course, would lead to some on the right to suspect that Malloch Brown is therefore closely associated with the left. However, there is more to Malloch Brown than Phillips would have you believe, and it certainly seems unlikely that the US is really concerned about his appointment.

During the late 1980s, Malloch Brown was on the payroll of Washington's Sawyer Miller political consultancy group. The Sawyer Miller group were actively involved in the political situation in Colombia during the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s. Their role? They were instructed to present the Colombian government in a positive light. Central to this was addressing the concerns that the government was linked to paramilitaries. The director of Sawyer Miller declared that:

"the main mission is to educate the American media about Colombia, get good coverage, and nurture contacts with journalists, columnists, and think tanks. The message is that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ people in Colombia and that the government is the good guy."

Their appointment was made when the Colombian government was at its lowest standing with the American people. Opinion polls at the end of the 1980s found that 76% of all Americans thought Colombia was corrupt and further 80% wanted sanctions imposed. Sawyer Miller (and Malloch Brown) were given the task of presenting the Colombian government in a more positive light. They certainly seemed to profit from their task. The group earned nearly a million dollars in fees and expenses in the first half of 1991 alone.

The main role of the group, who had signed up former Reagan administration Ed Rollins and PR star John Scanlon on as partners, was to pressure journalists into spinning for the government. They distributed pamphlets, sent letters to editors signed by government officials and placed full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Washington Post. All American journalists were required to go through Sawyer Miller before they could interview government officials. According to one reporter, Sawyer Miller declined a request for an interview with President Gaviria because the network also wanted to interview former U.S. drug czar Bob Martinez, who had criticized the Colombian government. The reporter claimed:

"Sawyer/Miller did not want to give the perception that the Colombian government and the U.S. had differences."

Producers even claimed that Sawyer Miller tried to change the content of the programme.
Sawyer Miller also attempted to pressurise editors who were unsympathetic to Colombia's ties with drug barons. Sawyer Miller reuqested a meeting with the editor of the Miami Herald when it described the Colombian government as a 'weakling'. According to the editor:

"They were sharp and even followed up the meeting with a couple of phone calls. Yes, we did tone down our criticisms, but it was mainly because the president explained that he was following public opinion in Colombia."

Sawyer Miller has also played a key role in skewing the 'war on terror' in Colombia. As a result of PR activities conducted by the group, FARC is considered the 'most dangerous international terrorist group based in the Western Hemisphere'. However, this is mainly due to the work of Sawyer Miller and the Colombian military who, according to the US ambassador to Colombia in 1996, 'considered it a way to obtain U.S. assistance in the counterinsurgency'. And this assistance has continued to this very day. Colombia continues to be on of the largest recipients of American military aid in the world.

Colombia's links to narcotics and right-wing paramilitaries are well documented (click on the Colombia label below), Sawyer Miller's role was to cover this up and present Colombia as a country free from corruption. Sawyer Miller helped to convince the American public that Colombia wasn't the corrupt country that they had been led to believe, and that there were no such links to narcotics. The recent revelations over Uribe's administration have given lie to that and yet, such was the effectiveness of this PR campaign, Uribe maintains a level of popularity far in excess of most corrupt administrations. The fact that Malloch Brown played such a key role in producing propaganda for the Colombian government, much to the delight of Washington, truly gives lie to the claim that Gordon Brown has shifted the government to a more humane position in global politics. There are still those at the heart of government that are eager to do the bidding of the United States around the world. Melanie Phillips can sleep easy.