Is it Aid - or a $1.6b Bomb? 

Is it Aid - or a $1.6b Bomb? 
Posted by FoM on February 06, 2000 at 18:23:02 PT
By Ana Carrigan
Source: Boston Globe
President Clinton's proposed $1.6 billion in new military aid for Colombia, expected to go before Congress this week, is a radical policy departure with potentially grave regional implications.Packaged in the rhetoric of ''counter-narcotics'' and support for a civilian government in trouble, this aid to the failed Colombian Army for its counterinsurgency fight against that country's guerrillas threatens to draw the United States into the vortex of a 40-year civil war whose chief target is the civilian population. 
It also threatens to destroy a delicate peace process that has, finally, just gained traction.As Congress debates the aid package, 85 percent of which is slated for the army and security forces, lawmakers should be aware of three things:First, the war into which the administration is dragging the United States is not about drugs. It is about a failed political system, sustained for half a century by state terrorism and corruption.Second, this war is fueled by deep political, social, and economic causes that predate the appearance of Colombian coca by more than 30 years.Third, this aid package is not designed to deal with the true and urgent needs in Colombia. Rather, it is a Democratic strategy to claim action on drugs in this election year.Members of the New England delegation will lead the fight against the measure. Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy of Vermont have already written to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright opposing military aid as a violation of human rights. Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts, the only member of Congress to personally visit the Colombian rebels, will spearhead opposition in the House.The aid package is intended to finance 63 attack helicopters and two 950-member, US-equipped and trained counter-narcotics battalions. A third Special Forces-trained battalion is already on duty in Colombia.By year's end these 3,000 fresh troops are to be deployed in what US officials refer to as ''the southern campaign,'' to drive the guerrillas - known by the acronym FARC, for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - out of territories they have controlled for more than 30 years.Clinton and Albright assert that the aid is solely to counter the narcotics trade. But the plan's chief architect, US drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, says bluntly that its purpose is to help the Colombian Army ''recover the southern part of the country, currently under guerrilla control.''This military incursion portends broader dangers. As the war escalates in response to Washington's investment, refugees will flee across Colombia's porous borders, pursued by their enemies, and followed by drug traffickers seeking less contested territories in which to operate. From Panama to northern Brazil, from Venezuela to Peru and Ecuador, Colombia's neighbors will be unable to insulate themselves from the chaos.Today, FARC - the Western hemisphere's largest surviving 1960s-style guerrilla group - controls some 40 percent of Colombian territory, increasingly populated by peasants displaced by the war. Deprived of all legal means of livelihood by a global market that rejects their traditional products - coffee, bananas, rice, beans - instead they grow coca and poppies under FARC protection. This qualifies their crops for McCaffrey's flagship program, aerial eradication.Spraying peasants' fields in faraway places to ''eradicate drugs at the source'' enjoys bipartisan congressional support. It is the centerpiece of the US drug war.Since Clinton authorized the first flight by an American spray plane in 1994, the United States has spent billions to spray millions of gallons of herbicide on Colombia's coca fields. It has not been money well spent. Between 1992 and 1999, coca cultivation soared from 81,000 acres to 222,000 acres, and so has poppy cultivation. By contrast, aerial eradication has succeeded in recruiting for the FARC. They too have also almost trebled their forces in the last decade.The guerrillas, who come out shooting when US planes fly in to fumigate the fields, tax the drug crops and extort protection fees for drug labs and airstrips. McCaffrey and the Republicans say these activities have turned the FARC into narco-guerrilla drug traffickers.Their view is not shared by the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Colombian government. Eradicating coca production manually, with FARC collaboration, and investing in crop substitution programs for peasant farmers, has long been at the center of President Andres Pastrana Arango's peace process. ''They are willing to fight drugs,'' Pastrana has said of FARC.Washington is not listening. Officials are silent, too, about how alternative development funds, included in the aid package, might ever reach farmers trapped in a battlefield. This is not surprising since - unlike the World Bank and the United Nations Drug Control Program, who are working in FARC territory with the government in alternative crop projects - administration policy prohibits investment in territory not under government control.The human rights implications of the new policy are ominous. The administration's creation of ''new'' battalions vetted for human rights abuse ostensibly complies with US law prohibiting aid to units that abuse rights. Yet absent any mechanism to isolate these battalions from corrupt colleagues and senior commanders, or from military intelligence agents linked by government investigators to death squad activities, the entire exercise could quickly become an end-run around the law.Claims by Clinton officials that the Colombian Army has severed links with paramilitaries who butcher civilians, traffic drugs, and are accounted responsible for 80 percent of the counterinsurgency savagery lack all credibility. Administration and Colombian denials to the contrary, the army-paramilitary alliance, once centered in the north, now operates virtually countrywide. Unless strict human rights conditions are enforced, this aid package will render the United States complicit in the rampant impunity that has shredded the rule of law and threatens the last vestiges of civilian governance.Colombia, and the stability of the region, should not have to go down this desolate road just as peace prospects are brightening.Last weekend, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators announced a six-month deadline to discuss the first four items on an agreed-upon 12-point peace agenda. This weekend - with support from UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan's recently appointed special adviser to Colombia, Norwegian diplomat Jan Egeland - FARC leaders and government negotiators are in Stockholm so the rebels might spend 10 days studying Scandinavia's social and economic models. Those who justify military aid to Colombia by questioning the rebels' desire for peace might want to think again.If the United States is serious about solving the Colombian drug crisis, instead of financing a failed strategy that will have minimal effect on drug production and will comfort the enemies of peace, it should support a diplomatic offensive to rally international support and investment behind the peace process and alternative development. It should also help arrange massive, sustained financial support to improve and strengthen Colombia's shattered judicial system.If invested in development and peace - instead of ordnance and pesticides - Clinton's $1.6 billion could achieve miracles in Colombia's south.Ana Carrigan is a freelance writer and author of ''The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy.''The AmericasThis story ran on page G01 of the Boston Globe on 2/6/2000.  Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company. Related Articles:U.S. Antidrug Plan to Aid Colombia Is Facing Hurdle Veteran of the Drug War Fires at U.S. Policy Expects Protests Over Drugs 
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