The U.S. Struggle to Battle Drugs in Colombia

The U.S. Struggle to Battle Drugs in Colombia
Posted by CN Staff on May 26, 2002 at 07:34:14 PT
By Christopher Marquis
Source: New York Times
In the late 1980's, Washington decided to make a priority of shutting off the pipeline of cocaine from Colombia, which provided 80 percent of the United States' supply. But Colombia — with a history of bloody conflict pitting a small population of rich against a huge population of poor — was mired in a decades-old civil war. American officials offered counternarcotics aid to the Colombian national police, but, worried about being sucked into "another Vietnam," stipulated that it not go to fighting guerrillas. 
There were always suspicions, however, that the line between the two wars was blurring, especially as both rebels and paramilimitary groups — created by landowners to protect their holdings — cut deals with drug traffickers. Now, the Bush administration is urging Congress to let Colombia openly use the equipment and training from the United States against the rebels. Colombia has received about $1.8 billion worth of American aid since 2000, mostly for the police and military. And as Colombians go to the polls to elect a new president today, the strong front-runner is Álvaro Uribe, an ultraconservative who wants to double the size of the army's combat force to fight the guerrillas. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental, nonprofit research center in Washington, offer a timely look at the hidden aspects of past American involvement. • The United States and officials in Colombia were at cross-purposes from the start. A July 1992 memo by the Central Intelligence Agency reveals what the American government was unwilling to admit in public.Andean governments are likely to continue to stress the links between local insurgencies and the drug trade . . . to persuade the U.S. that funding counterinsurgency operations with counternarcotics aid would lead to major gains against traffickers. However, we do not believe that the drug industry would be substantially disrupted in the short term by attacks against guerrillas. Indeed, many traffickers would probably welcome, and even assist, increased operations against insurgents. Moreover, we believe officials in Lima and Bogotá, if given antidrug aid for counterinsurgency purposes, would turn it to pure antiguerrilla operations with little payoff against trafficking.The right-wing paramilitaries grew throughout the 1990's. Because some Colombian Army units gave them intelligence and logistical help, Congress placed human rights conditions on aid. A 1997 American intelligence report, "Paramilitaries Gaining Strength," suggests the government of President Ernesto Samper, weakened by charges that his presidential campaign had accepted drug money, was not confronting paramilitaries — contrary to its public stance. Possible military links to these groups are of particular concern because of the upsurge in human rights violations attributed to paramilitary groups in recent years. Victims of paramilitary violence are most commonly unarmed civilians who are murdered for suspected ties to guerrillas.. . . President Samper and other top officials have said that the government is prepared to take firm action against the paramilitaries, but so far they have not matched their words with deeds. Prosecutors have investigated only a fraction of the many serious incidents that have taken place in recent years, and . . . some outstanding warrants have not been enforced. We see scant indications that the military is making an effort to directly confront the paramilitary groups or to devote additional men or resources against them. . . .The growth of paramilitary violence is likely to complicate U.S. interests in Colombia in the areas of human rights and counternarcotics. . . . Many military officers have been embarrassed by several high profile, rebel-inflicted setbacks over the past year, and some . . . may see tolerance or support for the paramilitaries as one avenue for striking back. These officers tend to blame the military's shortcomings on the government's failure to adequately support the armed forces.Colombia's police have had staunch allies among the House Republicans managing drug policy. In 1997, Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other House Republicans sought to lift the human rights restrictions on aid to Colombia. The existing law barred the State Department's counternarcotics funds from being used to buy weapons for foreign military and police units whose personnel were credibly accused of serious human rights violations, unless those men were prosecuted. A May 1997 cable from the American ambassador, describing Mr. Hastert's breakfast meeting with Colombian officials, reveals how the United States was speaking with two voices. In fact, Mr. Hastert's office said, the reference to the people "living outside of the U.S." refered to State Department officials in Clinton administration. Congressman Hastert . . . said that he and the committee would work to remove conditions on assistance. He said he and like-minded members of Congress are "sick and tired of people who spend most of their lives living outside of the U.S. inhibiting the process by placing conditions on military aid when the lives of U.S. children and youth are being destroyed by drugs." He decried "leftist-dominated" U.S. Congresses of years past who "used human rights as an excuse to aid the left in other countries," and vowed that he was committed to "correcting" that situation and expediting aid to U.S. allies in the war on drugs. He closed by telling the military and police that they already knew they could bypass the U.S. executive branch and communicate directly with the Congress; he encouraged them to continue to do so.One way to get around Congressional restrictions was to redefine them. In 1997, the United States and Colombia signed an agreement that was intended to guarantee that the counternarcotics aid be used only in drug-producing areas and exclusively for fighting drugs, a zone referred to as "the box." But three years later, the two nations expanded the definition of the box, a change little noted at the time.Key change . . . is the dissolution of the previously designated "box" outside of which [U.S. government] material aid [or related training] for counternarcotics operations could not be used. . . .The government of the Republic of Colombia and the government of the United States hereby designate the following areas as the "designated areas" . . . : the entire national territory of the Republic of Colombia, including its territorial waters recognized by the international law, and its airspace.The Clinton administration, which approved a major increase in aid under Plan Colombia, a counternarcotics and development strategy, struggled to identify antidrug units that were not tainted by suspected human rights violations. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked the American ambassador, Curtis W. Kamman, to look into reports that an American-supported battalion (including Bravo company) was dependent on the Colombian Army's 24th Brigade, which was under scrutiny for suspected atrocities. In a July 2000 memo, Mr. Kamman acknowledged the difficulty Washington faced in separating allies from suspects.When not conducting operations in the field, Bravo company is bedding down at the headquarters of the 24 Brigade's 31st battalion (which has been tasked to provide Bravo Company with logistical support). . . . The 24th Brigade would provide any quick reaction force needed to reinforce Bravo company should the need arise.Post views this deployment as wholly consistent with the purposes for which the battalion was vetted, but, given the questioned vetting status of the 24th Brigade, wished to note this deployment for the record. Complete Title: The U.S. Struggle to Battle Drugs, Just Drugs, in ColombiaSource: New York Times (NY)Author: Christopher MarquisPublished: May 26, 2002Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Colombia Drug War News Colombian Vote's Sinister Side Rebels Could Be Target in Terror War Expects a Wider War on Two Fronts in Colombia
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on May 26, 2002 at 18:56:11 PT
..Well,,,Whaduya know....
...What a surprize!...I just heard that Uribe has "won" the election in Colombia,,and there will be no runoff election.......Now,,we will begin to hear obscured news of bloody slaughters...The "news" reports will be similar to reports from Afghanistan,and the West Bank....The reports will claim that terrorist rebel forces were defeated by Colombian military forces...Most articles will mention "Narco-terrorists",,and "FARC rebels funded by cocaine." ...All civilian casualties will be blamed on the "rebels",,and "terrorists".....The slimeball US empire of oilPigs,will be supplying arms,and support for the puppet Uribe regime....This aint gonna be pretty...,,it's already pretty ugly........dddd
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