Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jan 2001
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Contact:  491 Main St., PO Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402-1329
Author: Jim Harney
Note: Jim Harney works with Posbilidad, a Bangor-based nonprofit working on 
issues of globalization.


Imagine a house on fire and firefighters throwing gasoline on it with the 
hope of extinguishing it. The United States does just that in Colombia. The 
gasoline, in this case, is a controversial aid package that goes by the 
name Plan Columbia.

Last year Congress approved $1.3 billion as part of Plan Colombia. Much of 
the aid will go to buy helicopters to beef up a losing war against 
guerrilla forces that occupy almost half the country. Drug trafficking lies 
at the center of a discussion in the House and Senate as to why Colombia 
has become a national security issue. Drugs have taken the place of 
communism as the flashpoint for military involvement in this front-burner 
foreign policy issue. Drugs provide a wonderful excuse for the U.S. 
military to maintain its hegemony in the Andes.

The United States and Colombia depend on the European Union, Canada and 
Japan to raise $7.5 billion over a three-year period as part of the aid 
package to Colombia and the region. This money, the most given to any Latin 
American country, makes Colombia the third largest recipient of U.S. aid in 
the world.

The economically strapped Colombian government made a commitment to raise 
$4 billion. Yet in the thick of its worst economic crisis since 1933 it 
looks unlikely that it will raise its share. Thus the United States will 
end up footing most of the bill. Washington's glaring commitment to a 
military solution to the conflict, and closing its eyes to pronounced human 
rights violations, did not bode well with the European Union. Europe halted 
its $250 million contribution and decided to channel its aid money through 
non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Twenty-seven NGOs wrote that they had "ethical and political difficulties" 
with U.S. assistance. Prodigious documentation from State Department and 
United Nations sources link the Colombian military with paramilitary 
forces, death squads that account for almost 70 percent of the violence. 
The Clinton administration ignored this evidence and waived human rights 
attachments to the aid, a move that emboldened paramilitary activity and 
alienated human rights organizations whose members risk death documenting 

Because of the aid the country's guerrillas have upped their kidnapping to 
respond to the massive U.S. infusion of assistance to the government. 
Congress, as part of Plan Colombia, gave the go-ahead for 300 U.S. advisers 
to train three Colombian army battalions in counterinsurgency, capping the 
number of advisers at 500. This move makes a stalled peace process all the 
more strained. As does U.S. corporations contracting with the Colombian 
military to train its solders.

The advisers will train Colombian pilots to fly Black Hawk and Huey 
helicopters. The pilots will have as their objective to knock out guerrilla 
forces protecting laboratories, coca and poppy plantations under their 
control. Then, they will spray the crops with poisonous herbicides. This 
intense war swipes the ones on the bottom the hardest. For it diverts 
needed funds away from the poor who make up most of the two million people 
uprooted due to paramilitary incursions. Plan Colombia does little to 
address this.

Peasants can count on only 6 percent of the aid to help them deal with how 
they're going to make a living once their illegal crops are poisoned and 
their food as well. Washington makes little distinction between those who 
grow coca and poppy to survive and the big drug lords who see it as a 
lucrative industry. As aid pours into Colombia the country's poor fall 
further into poverty. None of the aid touches their lives. On the contrary, 
it exacerbates conditions that buttress violence.

In 1999, 20 percent of the country's poor possessed 2 percent of the 
wealth. Meanwhile the top 20 percent enjoyed 62.5 percent of it. Ten 
percent of Colombia's poorest make up for 65 percent of the country's 
unemployment. This makes Colombia the hemisphere's most unequal country. 
Awash in poverty, Colombia is the hemisphere's most violent country.

Massacres take place on a daily basis with paramilitaries committing the 
overwhelming majority of them, followed by the guerrilla and the Colombian 
army. Last year, 402 occurred. The death squads freely move about with 
license to kill women and children unimpeded by the military that 
unofficially supports them.

It's time we started dealing with the violence destroying Colombia. Taking 
by the horns glaring structural problems that plague the country is a good 
way to start the journey to peace. A close look at the "structural 
violence," as Latin American Catholic bishops say, will bring us to the 
conclusion that drugs are not the issue. What really matters is that we 
listen and respond to the clamor of the poor: where the true solution lies. 
And Plan Colombia has muffled that clamor.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom