U.S. Drug Enforcement Chief Warns Colombia of Risk

U.S. Drug Enforcement Chief Warns Colombia of Risk
Posted by FoM on March 01, 1999 at 07:32:06 PT

BOGOTA - Colombian democracy could be hijacked by Marxist rebels with links to the drug trade if President Andres Pastrana made mistakes in the fledging peace process, U.S. anti-drug enforcement chief Barry McCaffrey warned in an interview published Sunday. 
In this week's edition of the Semana political magazine, McCaffrey said Washington would make "an enormous increase" in funding for Colombia's police and army this year but called for a complete overhaul of the beleaguered armed forces. The peace process -- which Pastrana vowed to make his top priority -- is currently in limbo after the country's two main rebel groups suspended talks and demanded new political concessions from the government in return for resuming talks. "I feel tremendous anxiety. I don't know what the right answer is and how (Pastrana) should manage 16,000 FARC rebels and 5,000 ELN guerrillas," McCaffrey told Semana. "Pastrana and his team have a problem. And if they're not careful, when they leave office (in 2002), Colombia will be just a step away from losing its democracy to criminal drug organizations," he added. Washington has consistently said it will not get involved in Colombia's counterinsurgency efforts. But by branding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) "narco-guerrillas", the United States has opened the way for anti-drug aid to be used against the rebels in certain circumstances. In addition, Washington certified Colombia as a full ally in the drug war Friday, reducing restrictions on handing over other U.S. aid, including military funding. Pastrana pulled all government troops out of a Switzerland- sized area of the southeast to allow FARC leaders to take part in peace talks without fear of attack. But the FARC suspended talks last month, demanding that the government crack down on the ultra-right death squads that have been fighting a "dirty war" against rebel sympathizers. The ELN, which also made peace overtures to Pastrana, refused to negotiate further until Pastrana created a demilitarized zone, similar to that granted to the FARC, in the north of Colombia. Critics believe Pastrana has already given too much to the rebels for nothing in return and that the guerrillas are simply creating a base from which to plan more nationwide assaults. The U.S. administration has voiced support for Pastrana's peace efforts. However, McCaffrey admitted that Washington felt "a certain modesty about what it could contribute". But with U.S. anti-drug aid to Colombia set to increase fourfold to some $230 million this year, political analysts believe both the drug war and the anti-guerrilla campaign will surge to new levels if the peace process collapses. "The only thing I know is that the United States doesn't have the solution. But without doubt there will be an enormous increase in aid for development, (drug) crop substitution and for the army and police," McCaffrey said. The military has suffered a string of heavy defeats at rebel hands over the last two years, leading U.S. officials to fear that the FARC, the hemisphere's oldest and largest guerrilla group, has become a regional threat and could take power by force within five years if not held in check.
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