Pubdate: Fri, 17 Nov 2000
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2000 The Miami Herald
Contact:  One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693
Fax: (305) 376-8950
Authors: Christopher Marquis, Juan Forero


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International 
Relations Committee, has abruptly withdrawn his support from the decision 
to funnel $1.3 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia, arguing that the 
United States is on the brink of a "major mistake."

Gilman, R-N.Y., sent a letter this week to the White House drug policy 
coordinator, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, contending that the U.S. plan to 
increase the Colombian military role in the drug fight will end 
disastrously, because the armed forces have undermined their political 
support after a history of corruption and human rights abuses. That 
position echoes other critics of the plan.

Gilman called on the Clinton administration to redirect its assistance, 
including at least 40 Black Hawk helicopters, from the Colombian armed 
forces to the national police. Gilman has long admired the police, which he 
views as more effective and less tainted by human rights violations.

"If we fail early on with Plan Colombia, as I fear, we could lose the 
support of the American people for our efforts to fight illicit narcotics 
abroad," Gilman said. "If we lose public support, we will regret we did not 
make the mid-corrections for Colombia that I have outlined here."

Last summer, Gilman voted to support Plan Colombia, a $7.5 billion strategy 
drafted jointly by U.S. and Colombian officials and passed by Congress.

In addition to the military spending, the program allocates money to 
promote alternative crops, economic renewal and human rights. The plan 
seeks to halve drug production over five years in Colombia, reportedly the 
source of most of the cocaine and heroin that enters the United States.

Congressional sources said Gilman was troubled by recent military failures 
in rural areas where rebel forces operate.

It is unclear what effects, if any, Gilman's change of view will have.

Critics of Plan Colombia argue that the military aid would merely intensify 
the conflict in which two rebel groups have joined with narcotics 
traffickers against the government, a conflict that could eventually draw 
the United States directly into fighting the rebels.

Leaders of Colombia's neighbors also have expressed fears that the fighting 
will spill into their countries.

Washington counters that Colombia's increasingly jumbled battle lines make 
it necessary to equip and deploy the armed forces in the fight against 
drugs. The U.S. plan calls for training three counternarcotics battalions, 
a total of up to 3,000 troops.

The administration also has promised to watch over the military record on 
human rights. A spokesman for McCaffrey, Robert Weiner, said Thursday that 
denying aid to the armed forces on the basis of past performance would 
ensure defeat.

"Granted they're not a superpower," Weiner said. "One of the major purposes 
of the Plan Colombia is to provide the military with the resources they 
need. This actually scares the cartels to death."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens