Colombia Aid Bill Nears Approval

Colombia Aid Bill Nears Approval
Posted by FoM on June 21, 2000 at 21:51:47 PT
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
The Senate yesterday endorsed a massive escalation in U.S. military involvement in Colombia, as lawmakers neared final approval of almost $1 billion in aid the Clinton administration says will begin to stem the flood of illegal drugs from South America. In a day-long debate, the Senate roundly defeated amendments that would have sharply reduced the package, shifted its balance from support of the Colombian military to increased funding for social and economic programs, and transferred a substantial part of the funding to domestic drug treatment programs.
The Colombia funds are part of a larger foreign aid spending bill that was headed for Senate passage today. In March, the House passed a $1.7 billion version  more than the $1.6 billion the administration requested for Colombia  and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday that the Senate's $934 million package was likely to be "increased somewhat" in conference.Yesterday's action was a major if belated victory for the White House, which has described the package as essential to preserving Colombia's struggling democracy as it fights both escalating drug traffic and a civil war.President Clinton first asked in February for the aid to be approved in an emergency appropriation. Although the House complied, Lott insisted that the Colombia aid package be dealt with in the normal Senate appropriations process, where it languished for months while the administration complained that Colombia was falling apart.The administration, still awaiting final action on the overall bill, had no comment on yesterday's action. The overall Senate bill, at $13.4 billion, is $1.7 billion less than what the administration asked for to cover U.S. economic and foreign military assistance, as well as funding for such organizations as the World Bank and the Peace Corps.Unlike previous U.S. overseas involvement, particularly in Latin America, supporters and opponents of the Colombia initiative have been spread across the political spectrum. Yesterday, senators weighed the seemingly conflicting priorities of fighting drugs and helping a democratic ally under siege from the left while defending human rights and the budget and avoiding wider U.S. involvement in a foreign guerrilla war.Opponents in yesterday's debate, led by Sens. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), criticized the Colombian military's human rights record and argued that the United States, in the course of fighting illegal drugs, would be inexorably drawn into the Colombian government's decades-long war against leftist guerrillas."The capacity of this body for self-delusion seems to this senator to be unlimited," Gorton said in asking for deep cuts in the package. "Mark my words, we are on the verge . . . of involvement in a civil war in Latin America, without the slightest promise that our intervention will be a success. . . . This is a down payment, and a down payment only. Next year we are likely to hear we need more money and more men."Gorton's amendment to cut all but $200 million from the package was defeated 79 to 19, with 13 Republicans and six Democrats  including Maryland's Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes  in favor. A Wellstone amendment to transfer $225 million of the money to domestic drug treatment lost 89 to 11. Two Republicans and nine Democrats, including only Mikulski among local senators, voted against killing the Wellstone measure.No senator rose in strong defense of the Colombian military, or denied the risk of deeper U.S. involvement. Instead, supporters defended the package as a flawed but vital measure to keep a quickly deteriorating national drug crisis from becoming worse and to bolster a pro-U.S. government in Latin America's longest-lasting democracy."This is a close national security interest for our own country," said Lott. "To those worried about slipping toward being involved" in Colombia, he asked, "Where better to be involved?""This is not a perfect package," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). But "whether we like it or not, we are engaged . . . in Colombia. This is not some distant conflict without any ramifications here at home."According to the White House, Colombian cocaine exports have doubled in the past two years and now constitute more than 80 percent of the U.S. market. Colombia also provides an increasing percentage of heroin entering the country. Several factors complicate U.S. involvement with the Colombian government, including its long-running war against the largest and best-financed leftist guerrilla group in the hemisphere, and perhaps in the world.The guerrillas  and powerful, privately funded right-wing paramilitary groups  operate freely in much of Colombia's drug-producing territory, taxing drug producers and charging traffickers for protecting their operations. Administration efforts to draw a distinction between the counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics wars have been met with skepticism inside and outside Congress.The paramilitary organizations, originally funded by private landowners and business leaders to combat the guerrillas in the face of an inept Colombian military, are held responsible for the bulk of widespread human rights abuses of civilians. The paramilitaries traditionally have had strong ties to the Colombian army."We're going to give this military a massive infusion of money for a campaign in southern Colombia," the heart of the drug-producing region, "with American advisers with them?" Wellstone asked, citing State Department human rights reports as well as those of international rights organizations. "The practical effect is to militarize, and escalate the conflict, not to end it."Proponents insisted that the package includes sufficient guarantees on human rights and on keeping U.S. aid, and U.S. personnel, away from the war against the guerrillas.In addition to containing only slightly more than half the amount of aid approved by the House, the Senate package differs in other ways, including more money for regional anti-drug programs in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. The funds for those increases come from the most significant Senate change: the substitution of 60 Huey II helicopters worth $188.5 million for the $388 million requested by the administration  and approved by the House  for 30 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.The change came after an intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying battle between Texas-based Bell Helicopters Textron, which manufactures the Hueys, and Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., which makes the Black Hawks. The Pentagon has argued that the Black Hawks, while costing more per aircraft, can fly higher and farther and carry more troops to drug-producing areas. Opponents maintained it was better to get twice as many aircraft for less money.A Dodd amendment to leave the helicopter decision to the Pentagon and the Colombian government  effectively guaranteeing the Connecticut-made Black Hawks  drew heavy fire from Huey proponents."There's no reason for anybody to be ashamed to fly a Huey into combat," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who has voiced concern about the cost of the administration package. With the expensive Black Hawks and their high operating costs, he said, "you're going to start a trend line that this budget cannot sustain into the future."Dodd's amendment failed by the closest vote of yesterday's Colombia debate  51 to 47.Staff writer Eric Pianin contributed to this report.By Karen DeYoungWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, June 22, 2000; Page A01  2000 The Washington Post Company Related Articles:Colombia's Drug Battle Grounded's War On Colombia Fights War Without End
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on June 22, 2000 at 11:40:52 PT:
Words needed saying
Never mind how long it might take, Dan; we need to hear it. This country seldom gets into wars, off-the-cuff. There exist contingency plans, sitting on shelfs, gathering dust. Plans about invasions for nearly every country on Earth. All just wating for the right 'incident' to spark the neeeded 'response' and thus triggering US 'involvement'. (Such a nice, neutral sounding word: involvement. Using such twisted means of euphemising, I suppose murder could be called 'finishing') 'Plan Colombia' is just the latest, public moniker for something that has been in the wind for years. Just as Operation Just Cause was for Panama.In an aside, my late mother had worked for the Navy Department long ago, back in the early 50's. Her job was to be a secretary for some mucky-muck having responsibility for collecting data about foreign harbors. She once told me that she had a hard time with it because the spelling of the names of the harbors had all kinds of curlicue symbols attached to them, and even though the letters were in the Roman alphabet, they just didn't make any sense.Years later, she got a cold shock, when in the 60's , she recognized some of the names she had seen before. On the the nightly news... in Vietnam. We were planning our 'involvement' way back in 1953. None of this is accidental.There's a lesson here... are we smart enough to see this for the trap it is? I hope so. 
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Comment #2 posted by Dan B on June 22, 2000 at 06:35:12 PT:
I Watched Much of the Debate...
All of the arguments against Senator Wellstone's amendment calling for diversion of $225 million destined for the military showed a blatant disregard for the facts. At least two senators actually said that there is no civil war in Colombia. No joke! Senator Mike DeWine, from Ohio, made a bogus argument that in 1987 we had a balanced drug control budget (in 1987, 37% was spent on domestic law enforcement; 33% on interdiction, what the Colombia aid is part of; and 29% was spent on demand reduction, which includes treatment and "prevention"), but by 1995 this balance was off (53% on law enforcement, 12% on interdiction, and 35% on demand reduction). He claimed that we had better success in 1987 than we had in 1995 in terms of controlling drug use. He then argued that the 2000 budget allowed for 51.6% law enforcement, 14.4% interdiction, and 34% demand reduction--saying that we are beginning to get back on balance. I guess he thinks that spending over half of the federal budget on hunting drug users down and locking them up is a wise use of taxpayer dollars! But all of this is a straw man anyway, since we know from experience that interdiction does not work. That is why we started spending down in that area in the first place. We also know that the most cost-effective strategy for battling addiction is treatment, yet that figure is actually decreasing. Wellstone's amendment was an attempt to rectify this problem, but all Senator DeWine could see was that his "golden balance" would be offset if we did not send aid to known human rights abusers (read: torturers and murderers).Senator Wellstone, in a brilliant move, went ahead and posed the inevitable question of whether the senators were taking sides in the Colombian civil war by sending this aid to the military, to which at least one senator (off camera) sang out, "yes." And so, the real motivation surfaced...Senator Joseph Biden from Delaware gave an empassioned speech arguing that "we must send this money," blindly disregarding the fact that Senator Wellstone did not disagree with sending money, as long as the money sent did not escalate the already-too-costly civil war in Colombia. Senator Barbara Boxer of California was a high point, offering newspaper editorial after newspaper editorial (from the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Sacramento Bee, and many others) arguing against the aid to the Colombian military. She also more than held her own when Senator Biden chimed in with questions impertinent to the Wellstone Amendment. In short (and sorry this is so long), this was the debate that wasn't. The majority of the senators had already made up their minds that America needs another Vietnam. This is exactly how that war started--with a promise of financial aid and military training.
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on June 22, 2000 at 01:58:32 PT
I always find it quite astonishing,when I actually hear what these good ol' boys say,when giving their 2 cents worth,in front of their buddies. Some of my favorite highlites are statements like;"This is a close national security interest for our own country," said Lott. "To those worried about slippingtoward being involved" in Colombia, he asked, "Where better to be involved?">>>>>>GOOD GRIEF!!!Another gem is;"This is not a perfect package," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). But "whether we like it or not, we areengaged . . . in Colombia. This is not some distant conflict without any ramifications here at home."These guys are IDIOTS,,,,no,,they're not idiots,,they're just having a tough time coming up with any plausible or relevant statements to sleeze this absurd,"package",past the public,,so the check can be cut,,from our taxes,and palms can start getting greased.....This was obviously not a serious debate,,,it was just pretending to discuss something,that was already a done deal.....dddd
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