Tracknum: 253220.127.116.11.1.0.20001220100017.009f0e00 Pubdate: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA) Copyright: 2000 San Francisco Chronicle Contact: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103 Feedback: http://www.sfgate.com/select.feedback.html Website: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/ Forum: http://www.sfgate.com/conferences/ Author: Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer Note: The last item of a series. The others, in publication order, are at http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1888/a10.html http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1896/a05.html http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00.n1904.a01.html http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1893/a01.html http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1900/a08.html COSTLY DRUG WAR BACKED BY FRAGILE CONSENSUS Criticism In U.S. Emerging From Left And Right In the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan sent weapons and CIA agents to fight leftist revolutionaries in Central America, debate raged in Congress and protests flared on U.S. streets. More than a decade later, with President Clinton gearing up a similar military effort in Colombia, the reaction has been little more than a yawn. The difference is the peculiar politics of drugs. Lawmakers and average Americans alike have supported the $1.3 billion Colombian aid package, which passed Congress in June and began to be delivered in September, as a necessary step to stop the flow of cocaine and heroin to U. S. streets. Because Colombia produces about 90 percent of the cocaine and 65 percent of the heroin used in the United States, few American politicians are willing to buck the hard line on Colombia. "No one wants to seem soft on drugs," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, a critic of current U.S. policy. "The White House and Congress don't ever want to be seen as not doing all they can to stop the flow of drugs -- even if it's the wrong policy." Gradually, however, dissent is emerging along a confusing jumble of ideological fault lines. Many politicians and analysts are predicting that the aid to Colombia may soon become as controversial as Reagan's anti-communist crusades in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Although President-elect Bush said little about Colombia during or after the election campaign, leading Republican lawmakers have indicated that the new administration may either increase the aid program's military component or eliminate it altogether. "The current approach is not working and is doomed to fail miserably," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said last month. GOP criticism was confirmed in an October report by the General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, which concluded that the Colombia aid is beset by problems and will take years to have any measurable benefits. Many Republicans are even more eager than Clinton to invest U.S. military resources in Colombia -- but without the strings attached to the current plan, such as the requirement that the president "certify" the Colombian government as abiding by strict human-rights standards. In a letter to the White House drug policy director, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, urged "a serious debate" on the need to go beyond mere counternarcotics aid and to directly help Colombia's military fight the guerrillas. "I have no doubt that after such a public debate, the U.S. would commit to help the Colombian military in its counterinsurgency struggle," Gilman wrote. Some liberals warn that any move to get directly involved in Colombia's civil war -- without the moral cover of fighting drugs -- would cause a complicated political battle. Controversy is expected next month, when Clinton is expected to use executive authority to waive the human rights certification requirement -- a necessity because the Colombian government's rights record continues to be poor. And in the spring, the Bush administration is expected to request several hundred million dollars in additional aid. "We're at ground zero in the debate about Colombia, similar to the early days of the debate over El Salvador," said Winifred Tate, analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a liberal think tank. A similar debate has been occurring within the Clinton administration over whether the Colombian government should negotiate with the rebels or simply wage war. McCaffrey shocked President Andres Pastrana during a visit to Colombia last month by calling the creation of a demilitarized zone, where peace talks have been held, "a naive mistake on the part of the government." But Ambassador Anne Patterson has supported the negotiations. In September, she even took the unusual step of using her power as ambassador to veto a Pentagon decision to station a U.S. Army general in Colombia to oversee Washington's aid. Her little-noticed move to keep out Gen. Keith Huber (whose resume includes a 1987-88 stint as adviser to the Salvadoran military), was viewed by some analysts as an attempt to prevent a Pentagon takeover of the Colombia program. In the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations gave the rightist Salvadoran governments more than $1 billion in military aid to fight leftist guerrillas. The aid became a black mark on U.S. diplomacy because of the Salvadoran army's death squad killings and massacres. However, unlike during the 1980s debate, when the Salvadoran rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front enjoyed support from some liberals, the Colombian guerrillas are shunned because they, too, have bloody hands. "There are no good guys" in Colombia's war, said Adam Isacson, an analyst for the Center for International Policy in Washington. "I don't know of anyone at all who's rooting for the guerrillas." Much of liberals' distaste for the rebels dates from February 1999, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, kidnapped and killed three liberal American activists. The victims -- Terence Freitas, Laheenae Gay and Ingrid Washinawatok -- were visiting the U'wa Indian tribe, which was protesting government plans to allow oil drilling near its lands. The FARC has defied international demands for justice in the case, merely sentencing two low-ranking rebels to two months' work on a road-building crew. Another challenge to current U.S. policy comes from critics who say Washington should spend less money on the supply side of the drug problem (fighting production and trafficking in South America) and more on the demand side (reducing U.S. drug use by improving programs that treat addicts and educate nonusers). Pelosi, for example, cites a 1996 Rand study, sponsored by the White House and the Pentagon, which found that money spent on drug treatment was 7 times more effective than domestic law enforcement, 11 times more effective than police interdiction on the high seas or the nation's borders, and 23 times more effective than fighting drug production in nations such as Colombia. Current treatment programs reach only 2 million of the 5.5 million U.S. drug addicts. This fall, voters in California, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts and Nevada adopted measures that mandate substance abuse treatment programs, rather than jail terms, for drug abusers. The new policies echo similar policies in the Netherlands and Portugal that have proved successful. Pelosi, who unsuccessfully sponsored legislation this year to increase treatment and prevention programs by 25 percent -- to $1.3 billion, the same amount as the Colombian aid plan -- says the federal government needs to get the message. "I think it would be great if the president would talk seriously with the American people about how to prevent drug use, instead of just using the politics of fear and military hardware solutions," she said.