Pubdate: Sun, 10 Sep 2000
Source: Daily Gazette (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The Gazette Newspapers
Contact:  P.O. Box 1090, Schenectady, NY 12301-1090
Fax: (518) 395-3072
Author: George Will
Note: George Will is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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: "The 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, than 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

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.

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 guerillas
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 governments' 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."

Moynihan: "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.
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MAP posted-by: Don Beck