Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2000
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2000 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Arianna Huffington
Note: Arianna Huffington's new book is "How to Overthrow the Government." 
This piece was distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.


The Colombia-drug-war package that sailed through the House earlier
this year is mercifully hitting some speed bumps in the Senate.

During the Appropriations Committee debate Tuesday on the $1.6 billion
package, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., offered an amendment eliminating
all but $100 million of the proposed aid and, instead of being laughed
out of the committee room, the motion received 11 votes.

The surprisingly close 15-11 vote makes it clear that a queasiness is
growing on both sides of the aisle about helping fund Plan Colombia.

Yet its proponents continue to spew their empty rhetoric. "Without a
strong Colombia," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, "an abundant and
steady flow of illicit drugs will head for the United States."
Abundant and steady flow of illicit drugs is what we have right now,
senator, and will continue to have as long as there is a demand for
it. It's ironic how tough-minded conservatives who swear by the laws
of supply and demand on economic issues suddenly start proclaiming
that rain will surely follow the drug-war rain dance no matter how
many times it doesn't.

On the same day as the Appropriations Committee mark-up, members of
the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control were hearing
evidence of the dramatic increase in heroin use among teens  the
average age of first-time heroin users has plummeted from around 27 in
the late '80s to about 17 in 1997.

Caucus co-chair Joe Biden, D-Del., responded by urging his colleagues
to approve the Colombian aid  as if after more than $250 billion in
failed drug-war spending since 1980, another billion spent on
helicopters and military training in Colombia will do the trick.

While unable to derail the Colombia package, opponents on the
Appropriations Committee were able to force a number of improvements
on a spending proposal that should never have been offered in the
first place.

Among them: lowering the total cost to about $1.1 billion; placing
strong human-rights conditions on the aid; reducing the military
component of the package by downgrading the helicopters from
top-of-the-line Blackhawks to less expensive Hueys; requiring
congressional approval for any additional funding for Colombia.

These changes show that minds can still be moved by evidence  so
overwhelmingly against aiding Colombia that only deep denial could
have gotten us this far.

In fact, the Colombia package is the clearest proof yet that the drug
war is the new Vietnam: Behind the scenes, political leaders will tell
you that it has failed miserably, but in public they continue to call
for its escalation. It's almost as if drug czar Barry McCaffrey is
channeling Robert McNamara.

How else to explain the mission creep that is turning our Colombian
drug-fighting efforts into a counter-insurgency campaign  and
inexorably drawing us into a four-decades-old civil war?

And just in case this sounds like flower-child, lefty talk, the most
virulent critics of this drug-war initiative are the Veterans for More
Effective Drug Strategies  more than 100 retired military officers
who have written a letter to McCaffrey setting out the military
arguments against our involvement in Colombia.

Indeed, one of the group's founders, Lt. Cmdr. Sylvester Salcedo,
returned to the president the medal he earned fighting the drug war in
protest of our Colombian "drug-control" policy.

"The military," Salcedo says, "doesn't have any clear goals, there is
no definition of victory, there is no exit strategy, and we haven't
considered whether a long-term occupying force will be required to
prevent coca cultivation."

It's as if we've learned nothing from the military lessons of the
past. Or from the drug-war failures so far. As Kevin Zeese of Common
Sense for Drug Policy points out: "No eradication or interdiction
program in the past 35 years has had any serious impact on the supply
of illegal drugs in the U.S."

When we shut down marijuana imports in the '80s, the traffickers
simply shifted to cocaine. And when we put the clamps on Peruvian coke
in the early '90s, the cartels just moved their base of operation to
Colombia. It's what Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has called a
"whack-a-mole" policy  alluding to the game in which you hammer a
mole down in one hole and it pops up in another.

The next mole already popping up is methamphetamine  a domestically
produced, powerful form of speed that is making huge inroads in the
drug trade.

And if any further proof of the wrongheadedness of the U.S. approach
in Colombia is required, one need only know that Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright really, really wants the drug-war aid package to

"He needs the money now," said Albright of Colombian President Andres
Pastrana. The last time Albright really wanted something, we got
Kosovo  and with each passing month the evidence mounts on just how
disastrous that "victory" was. At the same time the Appropriations
Committee approved aid to Colombia, it voted to cut off funds for the
continued deployment of troops in Kosovo by next summer.

The Colombia initiative is a six-year undertaking. The Senate should
stop it now, before we all regret it later.
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