Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2000
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Address: P.O. Box 9136, Corpus Christi, TX 78469-9136


Clinton Visits One Of The World's Most Hopeless Countries

President Clinton is not visiting Vietnam today. He's making a drop-in 
appearance in Colombia, a country that has become an eerie reminder of the 
early days of U.S. involvement in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Clinton's one-day visit to Cartagena, following his trip to Africa, 
underlines the release of $1.3 billion in military aid to help fight 
Colombia's drug traffickers and Marxist guerrillas.

We are committing a lot of American dollars, military hardware, and 
military advisers in an almost hopeless battle in the world's most 
dangerous place.

Consider the situation on the ground in Colombia. More than 300,000 
Colombians fled their homes last year to escape political violence. 
Colombia's 23,000 killings last year gave it a murder rate 10 times higher 
than that in the U.S. Kidnappings, extortion and executions have become 
common tactics of the FARC, the largest guerrilla group. Violence by 
right-wing paramilitary groups exploded in the past year; one new method of 
killing developed in Colombia is to place a PVC collar filled with 
explosives around the neck and set it off with a remote detonator. The 
country is home to the world's biggest illegal drug industry and the most 
vicious of the world's drug overlords. The country's economy is at its 
lowest point in 70 years and, if the list is not long enough, recent peace 
talks between the government and guerrillas failed to achieve results.

The only bright spot for this tragic country is that the United States is 
releasing the recently approved package of aid totaling $1.3 billion.

We must move carefully in Colombia. The aid package does not in itself mean 
that the United States is on some slippery slope to greater involvement in 
Colombia's seemingly insurmountable problems. But it should make us feel a 
bit uneasy. Much of the money will pay for helicopters - including 
Blackhawks - that will be used by three new army battalions to fight FARC 
guerrillas in the remote, coca-producing areas of southern Colombia. U.S. 
advisers will help train these new army battalions. The aim of the United 
States is to help the government of Andres Pastrana reduce the flow of 
drugs from the guerrilla-held areas.

One danger is that this war can spread to neighboring countries. Another is 
that it has the potential to involve the U.S. military in more than a 
supporting role. We should not always look for the specter of Vietnam in 
foreign trouble spots, but neither should we ignore it when it's there.

Colombia, a struggling democracy, deserves our help, in large part because 
it would not be in the sad state it is in now if it were not for the 
insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States.

When will we get around to the task of putting as much effort on reducing 
the demand for, and the consumption of, illicit drugs in this country as we 
do in trying to stop the supply at its source? Who will certify that we are 
doing a good job on the home front? Blackhawk helicopters won't help us win 
the war at home, and that's ultimately where it will have to be fought and won.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens