by Bob Fitrakis

They’re here. Yes, indeed. New evidence published in this week’s issue of The Nation directly links Columbus’s own Southern Air Transport to the Contra cocaine network reputedly protected by the Central Intelligence Agency.

In December 1985, Robert Perry, now the director of The Nation Institute’s Investigative Unit, co-wrote the first news story about Contra drug trafficking for the Associated Press.

After the October 5, 1986 crash in Nicaragua of a Southern Air Transport aircraft that was carrying arms to the U.S.-backed Contras, Perry flew to Nicaragua and copied down the entries in the crashed plane’s flight logs. The entries made by co-pilot Wallace “Buzz” Sawyer, who, along with two others, died in the crash, indicated that Sawyer flew a Southern Air L-382 from Miami to Barranquilla, Colombia on October 2, 4, and 6, 1985.

In 1986, Wanda Palacio broke with Colombia’s Medellin Cartel and became an FBI informant. According to The Nation, Palacio also informed Massachusetts Senator John Kerry that she had witnessed cocaine being loaded onto Southern Air Transport (SAT) planes, an admitted CIA-owned airline from 1960-’73, then under contract to the Pentagon.

On September 26, 1986, Senator Kerry hand-delivered an 11-page statement from Palacio to William Weld, then an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. Palacio asserts that she was with cocaine kingpin Jorge Ochoa at the airport in Barranquilla in ’83 as a cocaine shipment was loaded onto a SAT plane, according to The Nation. She claims that Ochoa told her it was “a CIA plane and that he was exchanging guns for drugs.”

Palacio claims in early October 1985 she again witnessed Ochoa’s aides loading an SAT plane with cocaine. She also confirmed to Kerry staffers that Sawyer was one of the SAT pilots she saw loading cocaine in Barranquilla in early October. SAT officials admitted that Sawyer flew their planes, but steadfastly deny involvement in cocaine smuggling.

Not that we would expect them to admit it. On August 7, 1987 in a Senate deposition, Palacio stated that “the FBI stopped working with me all of the sudden because of this Southern Air Transport deal…Justice doesn’t want to hear me.”

With the CIA-Contra drug connection now national news after the publication of Gary Webb’s series in the San Jose Mercury News, and recently reprinted in the Dispatch, questions need to be asked about the use of taxpayer’s money to bring the infamous Southern Air Transport to Rickenbacker Air Base.

Webb documents how the Contra cocaine network spread crack into the inner cities of Cincinnati and Dayton. Evidence suggests that there was clearly a Colombian cocaine connection in Columbus in the late ’80s and early ’90s. In 1990, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department under Earl Smith made the single largest drug bust in its history when they confiscated 48 pounds of cocaine from Fernando Solar.

Solar, according to Smith, led the Sheriff’s Department to New York and an apartment building where vehicles were being compartmentalized for drug trafficking. They issued a warrant for one Carlos Wagner. Wagner was later detained by U.S. Customs Agents who confiscated half a million dollars from him and allowed him to return to Colombia. He was later arrested in Houston when he re-entered the U.S. Wagner turned out to be a “mule,” Smith says, for Colombian drug dealer Rudolphio Trahiellio in San Francisco.

In 1992, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department played a vital role in Trahiello’s arrest in cracking one of the largest drug rings in the U.S. Solar, Wagner and Trahiello are reportedly in prison, but Southern Air Transport remains at Rickenbacker Air Base, courtesy of Ohio taxpayer’s dollars. Why?

Buck up in the September 4 Columbus Alive, I wrote a news article entitled “The High Price of Bucking the System” about the firing of Voinovich administration official Joe Gilyard. Gilyard, former director of the Office of Criminal Justice Services, repeatedly claimed that Voinovich Company lobbyist Phil Hamilton continually pressured him to illegally release money for Voinovich Company projects.

When I asked him why there was so much pressure, Gilyard claimed that “Pauly Voinovich and [the governor’s former chief of staff and former Voinovich Companies vice president] Paul Mifsud were in a hurry to repay money to a savings and loan they had busted out.”

Gilyard offered no substantiation. But, a Cleveland Plain Dealer article dated September 8, 1994 provides additional insight. Seems Pauly defaulted on a $6.8 million construction loan for a housing project in 1990, just before Gilyard was appointed. The lender was Columbus-based Mid-America Federal Savings & Loan, which later failed and was taken over by the Resolution Trust Company.

Dale Bissonette, a former chief financial officer of the Voinovich Company, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in connection with the case. Good thing we got Pauly V building the Franklin County jail for $2 million-oops! forgot the overruns-$9 million. Gilyard was fired; Voinovich is at large in Franklin County. Stop him before he builds again.

Tuesday, December 22 – 7:30pm
Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Bexley

Door Prizes!
Discussion to follow.
Can the U.S. learn anything from the rest of the world about how to run a health care system? This documentary examines five capitalist democracies and how they do it – each has a health care system that delivers health care for everyone – but with remarkable differences. The countries are the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland and the movie focuses on how doctors practice in each country, universal coverage vs. socialized medicine, and the cost of drugs.

Sponsored by the Free Press, the Drexel, and the Central Ohio Green Education Fund


You may be interested in two new items from The Free Press:

The Fitrakis FIles: Cops, Cover-Ups & Corruption – $15
by Bob Fitrakis

In this sixth volume of “The Fitrakis Files,” columnist and investigative
reporter for the Columbus Free Press and Columbus Alive Bob Fitrakis
exposes the corruption that law enforcement officials and politicians
cover up.


Free Press 40th Anniversary 2010 Calendar : $5
Celebrate the Free Press’ 40th anniversary in 2010 with a one-of-a-kind
calendar! Featuring progressive historical events and Free Press newspaper
covers from 1970-2008. Printed on recycled paper.


In peace…

The Free Press

Tuesday, December 15 – 7:00 pm

Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Bexley

CALL+RESPONSE is a first of its kind feature documentary film that reveals the world’s 27 million dirtiest secrets: there are more slaves today than ever before in human history. CALL+RESPONSE goes deep undercover where slavery is thriving from the child brothels of Cambodia to the slave brick kilns of rural India to reveal that in 2007, Slave Traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.

Luminaries on the issue such as Cornel West, Madeleine Albright, Daryl Hannah, Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, Nicholas Kristof, and many other prominent political and cultural figures offer first hand account of this 21st century trade. Performances from Grammy-winning and critically acclaimed artists including Moby, Natasha Bedingfield, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu, Imogen Heap, Talib Kweli, Five For Fighting, Switchfoot, members of Nickel Creek and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Rocco Deluca move this chilling information into inspiration for stopping it.

Music is part of the movement against human slavery. Dr. Cornel West connects the music of the American slave fields to the popular music we listen to today, and offers this connection as a rallying cry for the modern abolitionist movement currently brewing. Written, directed and produced by Justin Dillon of the band, Tremolo.

Tickets – On Sale Now! $5 in advance and $7 General Admission/$6 Students at the door. Tickets are available online at www.drexel.net, at Drexel Theatre Box-Office or by calling Samantha Sudai at
(614) 493-7930. Call + Response is presented by Bexley resident & student Samantha Sudai. More information on the film is available at www.callandresponse.com

6:30 PM – Midnight
Holiday Salon. Join local progressives to meet, network, and socialize, with music, art, food. Refreshments. Sponsored by the Free Press and the Central Ohio Green Education Fund.

1021 E. Broad St., parking in front or rear, come to the side door.

Bob Fitrakis
December 2, 2009

There can be no greater gift that you can give your loved ones, or the world, this holiday season than Robert Greenwald’s documentary “Rethink Afghanistan.”
While President Barry Obama was busy resuscitating Lyndon Johnson’s “bright and shiny” Vietnam lies in his national address Tuesday night, the American people should instead have been given a more sober assessment by Greenwald as we forge into the valley of fallen empires.

Obama is President primarily because, as a state senator in Illinois, he made a speech opposing the folly of occupying Iraq after 9/11. During his presidential campaign, famed Afghan hawk Zbignew Brzezinski emerged as a key advisor on central Asia. In his book, The Grand Chessboard (1997), Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor makes it clear that controlling the oil and gas fields of central Asia and the pipeline that runs through Afghanistan and Pakistan are the keys to dominating the 21st century.

The joke among hardcore peace activists during the Obama campaign was that Obama had an “exit strategy” from Iraq – sending the troops to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the American empire proves all too predictable. Obama pitched his strategy as “disrupting, dismantling and defeating” the Taliban, al Qaeda, and extremists. The problem is that the 30,000 troops in Afghanistan will embolden, empower, and resurrect the Taliban, al Qaeda, and extremists.

The U.S military will be no more successful in occupying the difficult terrain of Afghanistan than was the once powerful Soviet Red Army. Every new armed American troop will serve as a recruitment poster for the Taliban. The insurgent strategy is quite simple. Go into a village, fire rounds toward U.S. troops, flee, and wait for the inevitable American military response by artillery, planes, or drones.

The devastated villages that we’re destroying in order to save them, then become prime recruiting grounds for the extremists we claim to be fighting. President Obama is absolutely correct when he says that the status quo in Afghanistan is not sustainable. That status quo includes more than 250,000 war refugees, a government that defrauded the people and stole the last election, massive corruption and drug-running.

We’ve spent nearly $200 billion in Afghanistan, and as Greenwald points out, for $4 billion we could hire the 40% of Afghan people who are unemployed to rebuild their own country. Afghanistan is unsustainable because it’s filled with desperate and poor people who are being occupied by a foreign empire from the western hemisphere, whose chief interest is in the country’s geo-strategic importance in the battle over the central Asian oilfields to its north.

So when the Taliban pays $8 a day to fight the infidels, it’s often the best option available for the war-ravaged people.

Obama argues that U.S. security is at stake in Afghanistan. It’s not. The Taliban, originally supported financially by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and incubated in the madressas of Pakistan, are primarily nationalists who stayed within the borders of Afghanistan. Sure they harbored al Qaeda, but the Taliban is not an international terrorist network. Al Qaeda was, for the most part, because it was U.S. trained and financed to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Occupying Afghanistan because al Qaeda used to be there makes less sense than bombing Florida, New York, and Oklahoma because al Qaeda operatives who attacked us on 9/11 trained to fly there in the 1980s.

The most bizarre part of Obama’s speech was when he told the Afghan people that the United States has “no interest in occupying your country.” But Afghan people know that the armed American soldiers are not coming over to participate in a “hug-a-thon against hunger” and that the high-tech U.S. tanks are not bookmobiles.

Obama seeks to “isolate” those who are killing innocents. Surely he will be successful, since it is the United States with its massive military presence that will be killing the innocent people of Afghanistan, isolating us from positive world opinion.

Obama claims that those of us who argue that this is his Vietnam misunderstand history and points to the 43 nations that are backing us in Afghanistan, implying we were alone in Vietnam. We weren’t. Some of our NATO allies sent troops to Vietnam as did our SEATO allies: Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Also, South Korean troops joined us.

Also, the other similarity is obvious: a corrupt immoral South Vietnamese government that was tied to the drug trade.

Obama once again borrowed from Lincoln and talked about government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In reality, Obama is pitching a war of “volunteers” drawn disproportionately from the ravaged American working class, by a president who was elected in the name of peace, and for a small group of oil oligarchs whose only real concern are the oil and gas deposits in the former Soviet republics just to the north of Afghanistan.

Bob Fitrakis is Editor of https://freepress.org, where this article first appeared.