U.S. Aid to Colombia 

U.S. Aid to Colombia 
Posted by FoM on February 16, 2000 at 15:53:31 PT
With Robert E. White - Transcripts
Source: Washington Post Live Online
Robert E. White, president of the Center for International Policy and former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, was online Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. discussing the Clinton administriation's proposal to send $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia to combat drug trafficking and the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who are supported by drug profits. 
Congress will begin discussion on the Clinton administration's proposal, one of the largest of its kind, next week. Supporters of the program, including The Washington Post editorial page, contend the anti-drug rationale is sufficient to support this billion dollar aid package. Critics like Robert E. White say that such a proposal "amounts to intervention in another country's civil war." In a Feb. 8 Washington Post column, White argues that "neither the president nor the secretary of state has given the American people any coherent explanation of what is at stake in Colombia or of how massive military assistance can do anything but make matters worse." During his 25-year Foreign Service career, White specialized in Latin American affairs with particular emphasis on Central America. In his early career he served in Honduras and Nicaragua. Among other posts he held were Latin American Director of the Peace Corps, Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, Ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador. In 1977 and 1978, White served as the President's Special Representative to the Inter-American Coference on Education, Science and Culture.After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1981, White served as a Senior Associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. White is currently the president of the Center for International Policy. Read The Transcript Below. QUITO, ECUADOR: With more involvement by the US government, isn't there a fear of "VIETNAMIZATION" of this problem. Also with more US government involvement, isn't there a possibility of drawing Columbia's nieghbours into the conflict. Robert E. White: In Vietnam we had no defined objectives, we had no strategy to know when we achieved victory. It is the same in Colombia. Glassboro, NJ: What is the source of the FARC income and what is its relation to the American people? Robert E. White: The FARC receives its income from kidnapping and ransome, and taxing the growing of coca leaves within the zones they control. They say they are friends of teh American people. They claim they are willing to be helpful to ending coca production. And it is true they have begun a United Nations sponsored program of crop substitution within the zone that they control. New York, NY: How does this aid package differ from previous military aid packages? It seems that it is just a continuation of the same failed policies of the past, the US continues to focus on the supply side aspects of the drug trade while doing virtually nothing to address our domestic demand? In study after study it has been reported that drug treatment and prevention programs are much less costly and much more affective than the militarized approach that focuses on eradication and interdiction, with that known why isn't more being done to address the demand? Robert E. White: You have made an excellent point. All of the evidence that we have is that drug interdiction does not work. Yet we are spending billions of dollars on this failed policy. At the same time in this country addicts are turned away because there are not enough drug treatment centers. Richmond, VA: I have confidence in your 'take' on the situation in Colombia as expressed in the Washington Post. In my experience, Latin American attitudes are a mixture, even in one person, of a sentiment that the U.S. should mind its own business while at the same time criticizing the U.S. for not helping to solve their problems. Which attitude seems to you to be prevalent among the Colombians right now? Have there been any pleas among Colombians living in the U.S. for military aid? Robert E. White: You are right about the ambivalence with which Colombians and other South Americans regard the US. Colombia has been at war for almost a half century. The last thing Colombia needs is an intensification of that war. We should be working for a cease fire, a support for pastrana's peace process, and we should put most of our resources into economic and social projects designed to help the 60% of Colombians who live in absolute poverty. Andres Torres, Bogota, Colombia: Ambassador White, Do you believe Congress will pass the proposed aid? Are the Republican’s generally supportive of it? To what extent does there exist bipartisan support? Do you believe that and extensive alternative crop substitution program along with substantial economic development programs could be more effective than military aid? Thank you very much, Andrés Torres U.S. Fulbright Scholar, Bogotá COLOMBIA (Edited for space) Robert E. White: All the indications are that the congress will pass this bill. There may however be substantial amendments. There is great concern that military aid will harm the Colombian people and drag the United States into that civil war. There is a substantial group in congress that are skeptical about military involvement and would like to emphasize economic development and alternative programs. Arlington, Virginia: Why do you call this a civil war? There is nothing civil about the 15,000 bandits that are attacking the 35 million Colombians who do not support them nor share their criminal ways. The U.S. has had a tradition of intervening in foreign wars, both actively and passively -sending equipment and training-, and the world is a better place because of this -WWII, Irak, etc.- and is thankful for it. Colombia is not asking for the U.S. intervention, but only an aid that would level the playing field against narcoguerrillas that have better equipment than the army's thanks to the drug money that ironically comes from the U.S. So, is it O.K. for the U.S. to supply the narcoguerrillas with state-of-the-art arms but not O.K. to help the army that is doing the work for the U.S.? Robert E. White: You make an important point: that is American consumption fuels the guerilla movement. But it is a civil war because it is confined within the boundaries of Colombia. Moreover, it is unrealistic to put all of the blame on one group of guerillas. 80% of the human rights violations are committed by the paramilitary forces in conjunction with local military commanders. I strongly support President Pastrana's peace process. New York City, New York: The Washington Post's editorial claimed that the aid would help the negotiations and accused those who disagree with that analysis of "falling for the FARC's bluff." If you disagree with this view, could you tell us please what's wrong with it? Robert E. White: The Post editorial assumes that the Colombian military will carry the war into guerilla territory in some effective way. I believe it is far more likely that the FARC will shoot down our helicopters and turn back the Colombian army. Therefore, instead of putting pressure on the guerillas, the result of our assistance could well be serious setbacks to the Colombian military. Washington DC: Could you to comment on the FARC's percieved fear of U.S. aid to COlombia right now? It seems that they are already truly afraid and more willing to negotiate for peace now that they see the U.S. is serious about stopping the drug trade via Colobia. In fact the FARC have even asked the pope for his "blessing" of the peace process Robert E. White: Negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC are more than two years old. These negotiations have been slow and laborious but they have produced a common agenda. And in Europe there has apparently been further progress. The FARC would undoubtedly like to avoid US intervention in Colombia, indeed the threat of military support may help the negotiations. But, this is the error we have made. Had the US actively supported the peace process and said: "unless we get progress we would be forced to consider military involvement" that would have been a better strategy. The moment your military assitance arrives inside colombia, you've lost that negotiating lever. In other words, the threat of military assistance is far more effective than actual military assistance. Takoma Park, MD: What are the comparisons you'd make between US policy toward Colombia today and US policy toward El Salvador when you were Ambassador in the 1980s? Some of my questions: Are we contributing to the militarization of the country at the expense of democracy? Are we supporting the major perpetrators of human rights? Why are the American people not interested in where $1.6 billion tax dollars are going? Robert E. White: When you support, as we did in El Salvador, a ruthless, bloodthirsty and ineffectual military, you are following a doomed policy. The big difference between El Salvador and Colombia is that El Salvador is a tiny country-- as big as Maryland-- while just the territory the FARC controls is the size of California. If this misconceived military assistance is approved I believe it will not be long before the American people understand that we are headed for yet another disaster. Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia: Do you know that paramilitary squads have been created by the colombian army following instructions of the conterinsurgency manuals wrote and furnished by the U.S. Army? Do you think that a "pocket human rights card" currently used by members of the colombian army is enough to evoid human rights abuses of an army accustomed to hurt and kill disarmed colombian citizens? Robert E. White: It is true that the Colombian paramilitary forces had an official status as an auxilliary to the Colombian military until around 1990. It is also true that the Colombian military still works on a regional, local level with paramilitary forces. This is one of my chief concerns... to make war upon the FARC is to put the US on the same side as the drug dealing, terrorist paramilitary forces. New York, NY: We are arming and training one of the most brutal and corrupt militaries in all of Latin America, what amendments -Leahy Law implementation, end-use monitoring- might be tacked on to the aid package and how can we be sure that they will be enforced in goodfaith? End-use monitoring has failed miserably in the past. Robert E. White: I would support enforcement from the Leahy amendment and end-use monitoring. However, I am very much afriad that once the war is accelerated that the situation becomes so confused and violent that it becomes a war of your truth against my truth, your version of reality against my version of reality. This is exactly the game the Reagan administration played in El Salvador. Evanston, IL: All sides in the Colombian civil war--the military and its clients the paramilitaries, and the guerrillas--are involved in drug production and trafficking. Both the military-paramilitaries and the guerrillas commit human rights violations -the military-paramilitaries are responsible for the majority-. Both sides have displayed intransigence in peace negotiations. What is the real reason the U.S. government is supporting the military-paramilitaries against the guerrillas? Robert E. White: Excellent point. This is a counter-guerilla strategy mascarading as a counter-narcotics program. Illegal narcotics are Colombia's third largest export. No enterprise of that magnitude can exist without the colaboration of important figures in business, banking, transportation and government... military aswell as civilian Washington, DC: Doesn't the use of the term "narco-terrrorist" by the Administration preclude the possibility of a negotiated solution? Have we just backed ourselves into a diplomatic corner? Robert E. White: Pres. Pastrana rejects the term narco-terrorist. An elected president can negotiate a peace with insurgents who have a politcal agenda. He cannot negotiate honorably with socalled narco-terrorists. The use of this term by high US officials directly undermines Pres. Pastrana's peace initiatives. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Drug interdiction is being cited as one of the primary rationales behind the aid that is being proposed for the Colombian government. Is there is any reliable evidence that conclusively establishes that the Colombian government isn't itself involved or benefitting from drug trafficking? Robert E. White: Yes. In 1998, the chief of the Air Transport Command (Colombia's air force) landed his plane in Miami. The DEA inspected the plane and found a half ton of cocaine on the plane. GUADALAJARA, JALISCO, MEXICO: Drug interdiction has been cited as a primary rationale for the proposed aid. Is there any reason to believe that the Colombian government itself isn't also somehow benefitting from the narcotics trade? And, if that is that case what measures have been proposed to deal with that issue? Robert E. White: The United States has turned a blind eye to the complexities of our relations with Colombia. They have reduced this complicated country and its multifaceted challenges to a single issue: the revolutionaries who are involved in a drug protection racket. The United states should respond to Colombia's challenge with diplomatic support, social and economic help... we should not intervene on one side of another country's civil war. Washington, DC: Your February 8th article opposes the military aid provided in the President's aid package, yet you seem to suggest that supporting development projects and a crop substitution program would be a better policy. How can such a policy have a chance of succeeding when such aid projects historically only work when the rule of law is strong and there exists readily available market access, a situation that does exist in Colombia? Robert E. White: The precise point that I tried to make in the Post article was that Colombia need farm to market roads in order that the Colombian campasinos can get there product to market. 90% of colombians live in cities. But there are no roads connectign guerilla territory to the urban areas. These highways would also peacefully carry increased government authority into these neglected zones. In my visits to the FARC dominated area, the government had built no schools, no hosptials, no municipal or state buildings of any kind. It's no wonder you have revolution. Cabin John MD: In a recent press conference, Secretary Albright stated, "strangly enough, our successful -drug policy] in Peru and Bolivia has lead to the current situation in Columbia." Do you believe that this current package before Congress will stop Columbia's cocaine factory? And if so, do you believe that a cocaine factory will "strangly" appear elsewhere? Robert E. White: What we are up against in Latin America, particularly the Andes, is not a particular country or group. We are against and international market cartel. It's a major, multifaceted, global industry. When they feel pressure in one country, they simply spread out their prodcution schedules and begin cultivation in other countries. If there sould be some pressure in Colombia, they will move to Ecuador. If there is pressure in ecuador, they'll move to NW Brazil... the more pressure you put on drug traffickers, the higher the price, and the more incentives there are for new traffickers and new routes to be established. Herndon, VA: Mr. Ambassador: Having served as a very junior foreign service officer in Bogota in the late 70's, and seeing attempt after attempt to stem the drug problem collapse, I believe this latest U.S. initiative is doomed to failure. Do you believe there are any effective steps which can be taken? I'm almost at the point of favoring legalization of every addidictive drug there is, just to dry up the narcotrafficers flow of money. Robert E. White: Most Americans know in their heart that drug interdiction does not work. Most Americans believe strongly that the United States should not get involved in other countries civil wars. The tragedy of this policy is that it is unsustainable. There will be, within a very short time-- 2 or 3 years-- the US will be under pressure at home to end our military involvement. It's premature, not well thought out and has no well defined objectives. Baltimore, Maryland: Mr. White: I am a retired military officer who was involved in the counternarcotics mission during the late 1980's. My experience tells me that when the choice comes down to providing the toys for boys, i.e., helicopters, arms, etc. to support a Latin American military in its struggle against the traffickers, or investing in the country's infrastructure to provide alternatives to coca production, the toys win. After all, they're sexy, make for better photo ops, and also keep the factories at home humming. Who cares about promoting development in some backwater where half the aid will go into some local official's wallet? I may sound cynical but it seems to me that many of these decisions are made for domestic reasons. Robert E. White: I agree. The United States now spends more on military preparedness than the rest of the world combined. That is an astonishing statistic. At the same time, we cut the budget the State Dept, we cut foreign aid. When countries turn to us for help, the only things we have offer are attack helicopters. Wednesday, February 16, 2000© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company Related Articles:Fighting the New Drug Lords - Newsweek International Anti-Drug Plan Draws Hill Fire Over US-Colombia Policy A School That Should Be Closed 
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