The cops nobody wants to talk about

Posted: Jul 21, 2000 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- The so-called mainstream media loves stories about cops. Cops in New York City, cops in Los Angeles and cops in Philadelphia have all become fair game for columnists, commentators and critics. But when a cop does his duty -- and more -- it's rarely reported. So when Congressmen Dan Burton and Ben Gilman, Chairmen of the House Government Reform and International Relations Committees, hosted a July 19th congressional retirement reception for a courageous cop, the event was hardly mentioned in the press and barely noted by the political potentates on the Potomac. And that's a shame, because the cop they were honoring has repeatedly risked his life to protect Americans from criminal violence -- and he's not even a U.S. citizen. For more than five years, General Rosso Jose Serrano served as Director General of the Colombian National Police -- arguably the most dangerous job in the world. When he retired this month at the age of 57, he brought to a close more than 40 years of service -- and more than 30 assassination attempts -- because he was an honest cop. To most of his countrymen, Serrano is revered as the man who broke the back of the cocaine cartels. The few Americans who have taken the trouble to get to know General Serrano admire his leadership, courage, tenacity and integrity. As DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall acknowledged in his tribute to Serrano, "he was the one man in Colombia we could trust." With accolades like these, one wonders why more has not been said or written about General Serrano and his singular effort to staunch the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Colombia. Much of the answer resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Having sat on their hands for more than seven years, the administration now contents itself with belatedly providing $1.3 billion in "emergency aid" to help Colombia's National Police. Meanwhile, the White House is mute on the horrific human cost of their failed policies. The Clinton team has opted for silence rather than to call attention to the body bags that have been quietly coming home from their utterly failed "war on drugs." Blood-soaked Colombia, with its 40,000 dead, its roving bands of narco-guerrillas and its right-wing paramilitaries, isn't one of the bright spots on Maddy Albright's radar screen. But administration silence doesn't exonerate a Fourth Estate that a decade ago reported in detail on practically every Contra-Sandinista fire fight in Nicaragua. Why has there been so little ink, so few inches of videotape, devoted to Colombia's beleaguered National Police -- or for that matter, the Americans who have been waging a lonely, often deadly struggle in the Andes mountains against those who produce and import 85 percent of the cocaine and 75 percent of the heroin on our streets? How bad has the coverage been? A year ago this month, when a U.S. Army RC-7 intelligence aircraft crashed on a covert mission in the Colombian jungle, killing five Americans and two Colombians, it barely deserved honorable mention. The administration chose the occasion to trumpet the success of a space shuttle mission, piloted by the first female command pilot. And instead of greeting the bodies of the dead American soldiers and offering solace to their grieving families, our impeached commander-in-chief chose to make a statement about the crash of another aircraft -- one piloted by John F. Kennedy, Jr. The media obliged by offering countless hours of coverage of the flotilla of ships and the fleet of aircraft deployed to search the waters off Martha's Vineyard for the Kennedy plane. The crash of the RC-7 and the dead Americans in Colombia were promptly forgotten. Because media coverage of the secret war on drugs outside our borders has been so scant, most Americans don't even know the toll it's taking in U.S. lives. In 1995, five DEA Special Agents were lost in a crash in Peru. Since 1997, three U.S. State Department contract pilots have been lost in air crashes on drug eradication missions. The five lost in last year's mysterious RC-7 crash brings the secret war's death toll to 13, more than Bosnia and Kosovo combined. Given their abysmal record in the region, it is perhaps understandable that the nice folks in the Clinton administration would go out of their way to ignore the sacrifices being made in the Andean mountains. The national media, for reasons less clear, have gone out of their way to disregard them as well. Thankfully, that's not the case for a retired cop from Colombia. Jose Serrano knows how to honor courage. In expressing his thanks to the congressmen who had honored him on Capitol Hill, he noted that yes, his countrymen had suffered much because of the scourge of drugs. But, when his country needed help, "America not only sent material aid, you also sent brave men to help us in our time of need." It's too bad Bill Clinton and others in his administration can't acknowledge as much.