About six months ago, I got a phone call from a reporter who claimed he was calling from Colombia. I automatically assumed he meant the institution of higher learning in upper Manhattan.
"Columbia University?" I asked.
"No, Colombia the country," he replied, without a hint of condescension.
The man was looking for some background info on ARD, an international development firm headquartered on Bank Street in downtown Burlington. (Former Mayor Peter Clavelle took a job there after his unsuccessful bid for governor.) Why call Seven Days? In 2007, I'd written a short piece about ARD after it was bought out by a much larger firm, Tetra Tech, of Pasadena, California, which has close ties to the U.S. military.
The reporter, whom I can only assume now was Teo Ballvé, said he was working on an investigative piece for the Nation about Plan Colombia and ARD's work in that country. He asked me about a half-dozen questions about ARD and its Burlington offices — none of which seemed particularly relevant to international narco-trafficking — then thanked me for my time and said he'd email me the story when it came out.
I never heard back from him and assumed he'd lost my email address, the story had been killed or he'd been. (Hey,drug traffickers don't waste their time sending nasty emails to your editors when you piss them off.)
This morning, Ballvé forwarded me a link to this week's story in the Nation, "The Dark Side of Plan Colombia". In it, he alleges that USAID grant money, channeled through firms such as ARD, "appears to have put drug war dollars in the hands of a confessed narco-paramilitary and two accused paramilitary-linked drug traffickers," a possible violation of federal law.
Clearly, a lot of time and research went into this story. Give it a read, and let us know what you think.