Pubdate: Sun, 10 Sep 2000
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2000, The Tribune Co.
Section: Commentary, page 2
Author: George F. Will
Note: George F. Will's column is syndicated by The Washington Post Writers 
Bookmark: additional articles on Colombia are available at


WASHINGTON - President Clinton's assurances that the United States will not 
get involved in the Colombian civil war that the United States already is 
involved in (with military personnel, equipment, training, financing, 
intelligence) make sense if you think of the helicopters as farm 
implements. The 60 transport and attack helicopters and most of the other 
elements in the recent $1.3 billion installment of U.S. aid look warlike. 
However, the administration says the aid is essentially agricultural. It is 
all about controlling crops - particularly the coca fields that provide 
upward of 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches the American market.

The law governing U.S. intervention includes this language: "Me president 
shall ensure that if any helicopter procured with funds under this heading 
is used to aid or abet the operations of an illegal self-defense group or 
illegal security cooperative, then such helicopter shall be immediately 
returned to the United States." Imagine how reliably this will be enforced.

Conceivably, important U.S. interests are implicated in the Colombian 
government's fight with the more than 17,000-strong forces of Marxist 
insurgency in the civil war, now in its fourth decade, that has killed 
35,000 people and displaced 2 million in the last 10 years. Political 
violence has killed 280,000 since the middle of the 19th century. Do makers 
of U.S. policy understand this long-simmering stew of class conflict, 
ideological war and ethnic vendettas?

THEY ADVERTISE their policy as drug control through crop extermination. The 
president, delivering the money that will buy military equipment, said: "We 
have no military objective." And: "Our approach is both pro- peace and 
anti-drug." As though the civil war and the anti-narcotics campaign can be 
separated when the left-wing forces that control half the country are 
getting hundreds of millions of dollars a year by protecting and taxing 
coca fields.

The U.S. policy - peace through herbicides - aims to neutralize the 
left-wing forces by impoverishing them. But already those forces are 
diversifying. The Wall Street Journal reports: "Armed with automatic rifles 
and personal computers, guerrillas often stop traffic, check motorists' 
bank records, then detain anyone whose family might be able to afford a 
lucrative ransom." There are an average of seven kidnappings a day, and the 
Journal reports that every morning Colombia's largest radio network links 
its 169 stations with its stations in Miami, New York, Panama and Paris. It 
opens its lines to relatives of kidnap victims who broadcast messages they 
hope will be heard by their missing loved ones."

SPEAKING OF DIVERSIFICATION, does anyone doubt that, in the extremely 
unlikely event that Colombia is cleansed of the offensive crops, 
cultivation of them will be promptly increased elsewhere? In spite of 
Colombia's efforts, coca cultivation increased 140 percent in the last five 
years, partly because the United States financed the reduction of Bolivia's 
coca crop. However, the pressure on Colombia's coca growers is "working": 
Some of them have planted crops (and the seeds of future conflicts) across 
the border in Peru. And guerrillas have made incursions into Panama and 
Ecuador for refuge. And the price of cocaine in the United States has 
plummeted for two decades.

Will the United States ever learn? As long as it has a $50 billion annual 
demand for an easily smuggled substance made in poor nations, the demand 
will be served. An anecdote is apposite.

A presidential adviser was fresh from persuading the French government to 
smash the "French connection" by which heroin destined for America was 
refined from Turkish opium in Marseilles. Boarding a helicopter to Camp 
David to bring his glad tidings to President Nixon, the adviser, Pat 
Moynihan, who then still had Harvard's faith in government's efficacy, 
found himself traveling with Labor Secretary George Shultz, embodiment of 
University of Chicago realism about powerful appetites creating markets in 
spite of govemments' objections. When Moynihan (who tells this story) told 
Shultz about his achievement in France, this conversation ensued.

Shultz, dryly: "Good."

Moynihan: "No, really, this is a big event."

Shultz, drier still: "Good."

Moyrnhan: "I suppose you think that so long as there is a demand for drugs, 
there will continue to be a supply."

Shultz: "You know, there's hope for you yet."

That is more than can be confidently said for U.S. policy in Colombia, 
which seems barren of historical sense. 93The enduring achievement of 
historical study,94 said British historian Sir Lewis Namier, "is a 
historical sense -- and intuitive understanding -- of how things do not 
work." Such a sense should produce policy. Instead, the most that can be 
hoped is that U.S. policy in Colombia may, painfully and tardily, produce 
such sense.

George F. Will's column is syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group.
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