Drug War and Colombia Deny and Escalate 

Drug War and Colombia Deny and Escalate 
Posted by FoM on May 15, 2000 at 08:25:47 PT
By Arianna Huffington
Source: Arizona Daily Star
The Colombia-drug-war package that sailed through the House earlier this year is mercifully hitting some speed bumps in the Senate. During the Appropriations Committee debate Tuesday on the $1.6 billion package, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., offered an amendment eliminating all but $100 million of the proposed aid and, instead of being laughed out of the committee room, the motion received 11 votes. 
The surprisingly close 15-11 vote makes it clear that a queasiness is growing on both sides of the aisle about helping fund Plan Colombia. Yet its proponents continue to spew their empty rhetoric. "Without a strong Colombia," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, "an abundant and steady flow of illicit drugs will head for the United States." Abundant and steady flow of illicit drugs is what we have right now, senator, and will continue to have as long as there is a demand for it. It's ironic how tough-minded conservatives who swear by the laws of supply and demand on economic issues suddenly start proclaiming that rain will surely follow the drug-war rain dance no matter how many times it doesn't. On the same day as the Appropriations Committee mark-up, members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control were hearing evidence of the dramatic increase in heroin use among teens  the average age of first-time heroin users has plummeted from around 27 in the late '80s to about 17 in 1997. Caucus co-chair Joe Biden, D-Del., responded by urging his colleagues to approve the Colombian aid  as if after more than $250 billion in failed drug-war spending since 1980, another billion spent on helicopters and military training in Colombia will do the trick. While unable to derail the Colombia package, opponents on the Appropriations Committee were able to force a number of improvements on a spending proposal that should never have been offered in the first place. Among them: lowering the total cost to about $1.1 billion; placing strong human-rights conditions on the aid; reducing the military component of the package by downgrading the helicopters from top-of-the-line Blackhawks to less expensive Hueys; requiring congressional approval for any additional funding for Colombia. These changes show that minds can still be moved by evidence  so overwhelmingly against aiding Colombia that only deep denial could have gotten us this far. In fact, the Colombia package is the clearest proof yet that the drug war is the new Vietnam: Behind the scenes, political leaders will tell you that it has failed miserably, but in public they continue to call for its escalation. It's almost as if drug czar Barry McCaffrey is channeling Robert McNamara. How else to explain the mission creep that is turning our Colombian drug-fighting efforts into a counter-insurgency campaign  and inexorably drawing us into a four-decades-old civil war? And just in case this sounds like flower-child, lefty talk, the most virulent critics of this drug-war initiative are the Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies  more than 100 retired military officers who have written a letter to McCaffrey setting out the military arguments against our involvement in Colombia. Indeed, one of the group's founders, Lt. Cmdr. Sylvester Salcedo, returned to the president the medal he earned fighting the drug war in protest of our Colombian "drug-control" policy. "The military," Salcedo says, "doesn't have any clear goals, there is no definition of victory, there is no exit strategy, and we haven't considered whether a long-term occupying force will be required to prevent coca cultivation." It's as if we've learned nothing from the military lessons of the past. Or from the drug-war failures so far. As Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy points out: "No eradication or interdiction program in the past 35 years has had any serious impact on the supply of illegal drugs in the U.S." When we shut down marijuana imports in the '80s, the traffickers simply shifted to cocaine. And when we put the clamps on Peruvian coke in the early '90s, the cartels just moved their base of operation to Colombia. It's what Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has called a "whack-a-mole" policy  alluding to the game in which you hammer a mole down in one hole and it pops up in another. The next mole already popping up is methamphetamine  a domestically produced, powerful form of speed that is making huge inroads in the drug trade. And if any further proof of the wrongheadedness of the U.S. approach in Colombia is required, one need only know that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright really, really wants the drug-war aid package to pass. "He needs the money now," said Albright of Colombian President Andres Pastrana. The last time Albright really wanted something, we got Kosovo  and with each passing month the evidence mounts on just how disastrous that "victory" was. At the same time the Appropriations Committee approved aid to Colombia, it voted to cut off funds for the continued deployment of troops in Kosovo by next summer. The Colombia initiative is a six-year undertaking. The Senate should stop it now, before we all regret it later. Arianna Huffington's new book is "How to Overthrow the Government." This piece was distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Published: Monday, 15 May 2000The Arizona Daily Star Online Related Articles & Web Site:Arianna Online And The Drug War
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