Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jul 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.


Congress is sending $1.3 billion to Colombia for its war on drugs. The
majority view, shared by the president, is that this is necessary
because, after the coca leaves are harvested, processed and shipped,
it inevitably becomes our war on drugs.

The minority view is that Congress is sending $1.3 to Colombia to
fight a civil war against insurgents who just happen to be supporting
their rebellion by providing protection to the drug cartels because
Colombiaís recent history of utterly corrupt government made rebellion
the only option.

Concerns that the United States is about to get itself involved in
another Vietnam are valid, and not just because the jungles of South
America have the potential to be quagmires equal to those of Southeast
Asia. It is the political similarities that are startling ó a war
against one evil, whether cocaine or communism, cannot be won by
supporting a government despised by its own people.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana is sincere in his desire to
negotiate a peace with the rebels and to bring to his country, after
more than 30 years of terror, a government the people can respect. In
office just two years, he has pursued his anti-drug Plan Colombia with
diligence and considerable courage (including meeting with guerrillas
in their jungle hideouts), but his control over the military is
tenuous and, with violence unabated, his hold on office may be slipping.

President Pastrana has staked everything on negotiations with the
rebels and the negotiations are not going well. The rebels insist they
will not cooperate with a coca eradication effort until that source of
income for people in the countryside is replaced with something else.
But of course no one will invest in economic development in Colombia
until the warfare stops and the cartels eliminated.

There may be a way out. A group of European nations, their populations
also devastated by coke, are proposing the establishment of a fund
that will pay peasants a livable wage for manually eradicating the
plants, replacing the current system of forced eradication by the
military. If implemented with international verification, this program
could break the cycle, actually reduce drug production, give the
negotiations a chance of succeeding and, perhaps most importantly,
give the people of Colombia reason to look at their government with
hope instead of fear.

Unfortunately, mere mention of this approach during the debates in
Congress elicited accusations that proponents were soft on drugs.
Instead, Colombian peasants will get 60 of Americaís best helicopters
so national police and army units, with assistance from U.S. advisers,
can raid coca fields and rebel lairs. For now, at least, U.S. policy
is that eliminating the rebels will eliminate the drugs. There is a
war to win. Winning the hearts and minds will come later.
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