Pubdate: Sun, 06 Feb 2000
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
Contact:  P.O. Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378
Author: Ana Carrigan
Note: Ana Carrigan is a freelance writer and author of ''The Palace of
Justice: A Colombian Tragedy.''


Clinton's $1.6 Billion Will Buy Bombs And Pesticides

President Clinton's proposed $1.6 billion in new military aid for
Colombia, expected to go before Congress this week, is a radical
policy departure with potentially grave regional implications.

Packaged in the rhetoric of ''counter-narcotics'' and support for a
civilian government in trouble, this aid to the failed Colombian Army
for its counterinsurgency fight against that country's guerrillas
threatens to draw the United States into the vortex of a 40-year civil
war whose chief target is the civilian population. It also threatens
to destroy a delicate peace process that has, finally, just gained

As Congress debates the aid package, 85 percent of which is slated for
the army and security forces, lawmakers should be aware of three things:

First, the war into which the administration is dragging the United
States is not about drugs. It is about a failed political system,
sustained for half a century by state terrorism and corruption.

Second, this war is fueled by deep political, social, and economic
causes that predate the appearance of Colombian coca by more than 30

Third, this aid package is not designed to deal with the true and
urgent needs in Colombia. Rather, it is a Democratic strategy to claim
action on drugs in this election year.

Members of the New England delegation will lead the fight against the
measure. Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy of
Vermont have already written to Secretary of State Madeleine K.
Albright opposing military aid as a violation of human rights.
Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts, the only member of
Congress to personally visit the Colombian rebels, will spearhead
opposition in the House.

The aid package is intended to finance 63 attack helicopters and two
950-member, US-equipped and trained counter-narcotics battalions. A
third Special Forces-trained battalion is already on duty in Colombia.

By year's end these 3,000 fresh troops are to be deployed in what US
officials refer to as ''the southern campaign,'' to drive the
guerrillas - known by the acronym FARC, for Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia - out of territories they have controlled for more than 30

Clinton and Albright assert that the aid is solely to counter the
narcotics trade. But the plan's chief architect, US drug czar General
Barry McCaffrey, says bluntly that its purpose is to help the
Colombian Army ''recover the southern part of the country, currently
under guerrilla control.''

This military incursion portends broader dangers. As the war escalates
in response to Washington's investment, refugees will flee across
Colombia's porous borders, pursued by their enemies, and followed by
drug traffickers seeking less contested territories in which to
operate. From Panama to northern Brazil, from Venezuela to Peru and
Ecuador, Colombia's neighbors will be unable to insulate themselves
from the chaos.

Today, FARC - the Western hemisphere's largest surviving 1960s-style
guerrilla group - controls some 40 percent of Colombian territory,
increasingly populated by peasants displaced by the war. Deprived of
all legal means of livelihood by a global market that rejects their
traditional products - coffee, bananas, rice, beans - instead they
grow coca and poppies under FARC protection. This qualifies their
crops for McCaffrey's flagship program, aerial eradication.

Spraying peasants' fields in faraway places to ''eradicate drugs at
the source'' enjoys bipartisan congressional support. It is the
centerpiece of the US drug war.

Since Clinton authorized the first flight by an American spray plane
in 1994, the United States has spent billions to spray millions of
gallons of herbicide on Colombia's coca fields. It has not been money
well spent. Between 1992 and 1999, coca cultivation soared from 81,000
acres to 222,000 acres, and so has poppy cultivation. By contrast,
aerial eradication has succeeded in recruiting for the FARC. They too
have also almost trebled their forces in the last decade.

The guerrillas, who come out shooting when US planes fly in to
fumigate the fields, tax the drug crops and extort protection fees for
drug labs and airstrips. McCaffrey and the Republicans say these
activities have turned the FARC into narco-guerrilla drug

Their view is not shared by the Drug Enforcement Administration or the
Colombian government. Eradicating coca production manually, with FARC
collaboration, and investing in crop substitution programs for peasant
farmers, has long been at the center of President Andres Pastrana
Arango's peace process. ''They are willing to fight drugs,'' Pastrana
has said of FARC.

Washington is not listening. Officials are silent, too, about how
alternative development funds, included in the aid package, might ever
reach farmers trapped in a battlefield. This is not surprising since -
unlike the World Bank and the United Nations Drug Control Program, who
are working in FARC territory with the government in alternative crop
projects - administration policy prohibits investment in territory not
under government control.

The human rights implications of the new policy are ominous. The
administration's creation of ''new'' battalions vetted for human
rights abuse ostensibly complies with US law prohibiting aid to units
that abuse rights. Yet absent any mechanism to isolate these
battalions from corrupt colleagues and senior commanders, or from
military intelligence agents linked by government investigators to
death squad activities, the entire exercise could quickly become an
end-run around the law.

Claims by Clinton officials that the Colombian Army has severed links
with paramilitaries who butcher civilians, traffic drugs, and are
accounted responsible for 80 percent of the counterinsurgency savagery
lack all credibility. Administration and Colombian denials to the
contrary, the army-paramilitary alliance, once centered in the north,
now operates virtually countrywide. Unless strict human rights
conditions are enforced, this aid package will render the United
States complicit in the rampant impunity that has shredded the rule of
law and threatens the last vestiges of civilian governance.

Colombia, and the stability of the region, should not have to go down
this desolate road just as peace prospects are brightening.

Last weekend, the Colombian government and FARC negotiators announced
a six-month deadline to discuss the first four items on an agreed-upon
12-point peace agenda. This weekend - with support from UN
Secretary-General Kofi Anan's recently appointed special adviser to
Colombia, Norwegian diplomat Jan Egeland - FARC leaders and government
negotiators are in Stockholm so the rebels might spend 10 days
studying Scandinavia's social and economic models. Those who justify
military aid to Colombia by questioning the rebels' desire for peace
might want to think again.

If the United States is serious about solving the Colombian drug
crisis, instead of financing a failed strategy that will have minimal
effect on drug production and will comfort the enemies of peace, it
should support a diplomatic offensive to rally international support
and investment behind the peace process and alternative development.
It should also help arrange massive, sustained financial support to
improve and strengthen Colombia's shattered judicial system.

If invested in development and peace - instead of ordnance and
pesticides - Clinton's $1.6 billion could achieve miracles in
Colombia's south. 
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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea