Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Robert Dowd
Note: USAF Ret. Lt. Col. Robert Dowd Is an Organizer of the Veterans for 
More Effective Drug Strategies. Web Site: HTTP://


[]Drugs: Treatment and reducing cocaine consumption is a better way to go.

U.S. demand created the drug crisis situation in Colombia, and our
military intervention there merely places American troops and civilian
contractors in harm's way in an effort to salvage our failed drug policy.

The Clinton administration has proposed, and congressional Republicans
seem prepared to accept, a $1.7-billion military aid package to
Colombia. This formidable expenditure builds on existing aid--Colombia
is already the largest recipient of U.S. military aid outside the
Middle East--and involves us more deeply in a 4-decades-old civil war,
as well as perpetuates programs that have failed to control drug production.

As a veteran, I know the importance of a clear military objective, of
having the resources needed for success, and a clear exit strategy. In
Colombia, we are sending a handful of helicopters and a few hundred of
troops. Yet we were unable to control a smaller Vietnam with hundreds
of helicopters and half a million troops.

The Colombia military intervention seems poorly planned, unrealistic
and doomed to fail. After a few years of military support, we will
face the choice of accepting defeat or gradually being pulled into an
expensive military quagmire in which victory is unattainable.

The reason the U.S. is becoming more involved in Colombia's internal
affairs is that our government's efforts to reduce cocaine
availability have failed miserably, and drug money has strengthened
the rebel armies. We already spend hundreds of millions of dollars
annually to eradicate crops in South America, especially in Colombia.
According to a 1999 report by the General Accounting Office, "Despite
two years of extensive herbicide spraying, U.S. estimates show there
has not been any net reduction in coca cultivation--net coca
cultivation actually increased 50%."

Rather than escalate a failed policy, we should recognize that the
present strategy cannot succeed and look for new approaches.

According to the Rand Corp., eradication is the least-effective way to
reduce drug use. Rand's research found that $34 million spent on drug
treatment in the U.S. would have the same effect as $783 million in
eradication expenditures. Naturally, the less cocaine the U.S.
consumes, the less incentive growers in Colombia will have to grow
coca. That would be the best eradication policy.

Further, we need to face the difficult and politically controversial
question of whether prohibition enforced by the drug war provides
better control of the drug market than regulation enforced by
administrative law. If we want to get international cartels and urban
gangs out of the drug market we must determine how to control the
market through civil law rather than criminal law.

The administration's most frequent rationale for pumping millions of
dollars in aid and tons of military equipment into Colombia is the
need to fight "narco-guerrillas." In fact, there are reports that all
sides--including the side the U.S. supports, the Colombian
military--have been tied to the drug trade. It seems that we are
supporting one group of drug traffickers while opposing another group.

Finally, one of the most troubling aspects of the aid package working
its way through Congress is its near-total ignorance of the massive
human rights violations being committed by forces allied with the
Colombian government. According to Human Rights Watch, the Colombian
army tolerates, aids and abets human rights violations. Terror is so
rampant in Colombia that most human rights organizations have closed
their Colombia offices. Yet just 4% of the aid package would go toward
the improvement of human rights and judicial reform.

The Colombian aid package is nothing more than an introduction to a
quagmire and an escalation of failed drug policy.

The administration and Congress should step back and formulate goals
they want to achieve in Colombia and then determine how best to
achieve them without promoting bloodshed and lawlessness.
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