Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2000
Source: International Herald-Tribune (France)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2000
Contact:  181, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, 92521 Neuilly Cedex, France
Fax: (33) 1 41 43 93 38
Author: Paul Wellstone
Note: The writer, a Minnesota Democrat in the U.S. Senate, contributed this 
comment to The New York Times


WASHINGTON - Earlier this month I traveled to Colombia to learn more
about the nearly $2 million a day that the military there is getting
in aid from the United States.

I paid a visit to Barrancabermeja, an oil-refining port city on
Colombia's Magdalena River. "Barranca," a city of 210,000, is one of
the most dangerous places in one of the world's most dangerous
countries. This year so far, violence in Barranca has killed at least
410 people. According to local human rights groups, most of those
killed were the victims of right-wing paramilitary death squads.

These human rights groups operate in the midst of a 40-year-old civil
war now in one of its most violent phases. Every year, the violence in
Colombia kills nearly 4,000 people, most of them poor, powerless
noncombatants. About 300,000 - more than half of them children - are
forced from their homes each year. Another 3,000 people are kidnapped.
Ransoms, extortion and the drug trade finance armed groups on the
right and left.

In the name of the drug war, the American aid package approved this
year allocates approximately 75 percent of its resources to Colombia's
security forces. But Colombia's military is a deeply troubled
institution, even though it has taken steps to improve its human
rights record.

The State Department recently reported that "civilian management of
the armed forces is limited" in Colombia, and that in 1999 "the
authorities rarely brought officers of the security forces and the
police charged with human rights offenses to justice, and impunity
remains a problem." Many members of the security forces continue to
collaborate with the right-wing paramilitaries, who commit about
three-quarters of the politically motivated murders in Colombia.

The country's two main guerrilla groups, meanwhile, are supported in
part by skimming from the drug trade, as are the paramilitaries, and
commit about a fifth of killings while terrorizing the population. Yet
even in these circumstances, I met many individuals in Colombia who
are working for peace as prosecutors, investigators and journalists,
and as workers in dozens of nongovernmental organizations. These
people have little room for maneuver. A shocking number disappear, are
assassinated or are forced to leave the country.

Now Washington has made their jobs harder. As part of an anti-drug
strategy that has failed so far, the new aid package is escalating the
fighting and dealing a severe blow to President Andres Pastrana's
already troubled peace talks with the guerrillas.

Before things get worse, the administration of George W. Bush would do
well to take Colombia policy back to the drawing board. A more
effective approach has to include support for Colombia's peace
process, strong new protections for human rights defenders and
initiatives to make drug production less attractive to economically
desperate peasants by providing support for sustainable alternative

In the meantime, short-term improvements are needed. The American aid
package itself offers a guide.

The Senate's version of the aid package included strong human rights
conditions. It would have cut off military aid until the U.S.
government could certify that Colombia's armed forces were
disentangling from paramilitaries and punishing criminal conduct in
their ranks. A House-Senate conference watered down this safeguard by
giving the president the ability to waive it - essentially making the
human rights conditions optional. The State Department recognized that
Colombia's military did not meet the standards, but the administration
waived the conditions in August.

The waiver sent a terrible signal to Colombia's military and to its
beleaguered defenders of human rights. The waiver eliminated what
could have been an important source of leverage with the government
for those working for human rights.

Next month, the U.S. government must again certify that Colombia's
military satisfies the conditions, so that delivery of anti-drug aid
can continue in 2001. This time, the Bush administration must take a
tough stance - no waiver and no aid until all human rights conditions
are met. Americans should not support a partnership with a military
that does not meet these basic standards.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake