Pubdate: Sat, 18 Nov 2000
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2000 Chicago Tribune Company
Contact:  435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-4066


Backed by foreign policy heavyweights on Capitol Hill, the Clinton
administration, like fools rushing in, turned the fight against
Colombian drug-trafficking into a multibillion-dollar international
military crusade.

Now some people are getting cold feet.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations
Committee, has done an about-face. The New York Republican sent a
letter to the White House last week withdrawing support from the
decision by President Clinton and the GOP-controlled House and Senate
to direct $1.3 billion in drug-fighting aid primarily to the military
in Colombia.

In the letter to White House drug policy coordinator Barry McCaffrey,
Gilman said he now believes this "Plan Colombia" may put America on
the path toward a "major mistake." He called for a "mid-course
correction" and a shift of all the approved aid to the Colombian
National Police.

What on earth was Gilman thinking when he voted last summer to approve
Plan Colombia, a $7.5 billion strategy concocted by U.S. and Colombian
officials to bolster the Colombian armed forces in their fight against
narcotics and to promote alternative crops and human rights? The plan
aims to halve production over five years in Colombia--believed to be
the source of most of the heroin and cocaine that comes to the U.S.

This plan has been a "major mistake" from the start. It showers money
on the Colombian military, but the Colombian military is a major part
of the problem in that country. Paramilitaries operate with impunity
under the nose of the Colombian armed forces. Critics wisely warn that
adding more helicopters and military aid to the mix could well
escalate the conflict with leftist guerrillas, who operate with drug
traffickers, and drag the U.S. into another civil war.

The Colombian army has shown itself to be manifestly ineffective so
far in fighting drug traffic in the south. There were plenty of human
rights organizations warning Clinton and Congress about the downside
of Plan Colombia. Why the rush to militarize the conflict?

So Gilman's abrupt reversal is welcome, but tragically late. Nor does
it go far enough.

He notes that the Colombian police have more experience fighting
drugs, have instituted reforms in their ranks and have been far less
guilty of human rights abuses than the military. But whether U.S. gold
rains down on the military or police, this still has the feeling of a
quagmire, one from which the U.S. may not be able to extricate itself.

It's time to think not just about switching this money from one
Colombian pocket to another. It's time to rethink the whole thing.
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