Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2001
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2001 The Miami Herald
Author: Tim Johnson
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


'We have spent billions down there, and drugs are just as accessible.'


Democrat from Vermont

WASHINGTON -- Skepticism appears to be growing in Congress -- at least 
temporarily -- over the size of the U.S. aid package designed to combat 
illegal narcotics in Colombia.

This week, following in the lead of the House of Representatives, the 
Senate voted to slash 22 percent from a Bush administration request of $731 
million for its Andean counter-drug effort.


Senators voiced concerns about how fast Colombia can spend huge new sums of 
aid, whether the aid will actually slow a torrent of illegal narcotics, and 
when coca-growing farmers will get sufficient assistance to wean them 
permanently from their crops.

Florida Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and 
a veteran Democrat, said Thursday that he is "very discouraged and 
disappointed" at the Senate vote a day earlier.


Graham exhorted fellow legislators to recognize Colombia as one of the 
theaters in the global "battle against terrorism."

Indeed, some legislators want to broaden the U.S. counter-drug program in 
Colombia in light of the terror events of Sept. 11 to help the South 
American nation battle insurgent groups.

"We've already seen efforts to redefine the aid package as an anti- 
terrorist package," said Kimberly Stanton, who is the program director for 
Latin America at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.


Colombia is home to three of the 28 movements around the world on the State 
Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Graham, speaking at a luncheon, said extremists committed about 500 acts of 
terrorism against U.S. citizens and interests last year.

"Of those almost 500 incidents, 44 percent were in one country. Was that 
country Egypt? No. Israel? No. Afghanistan? Hardly a tick. Forty- four 
percent were in Colombia," Graham said. "That's where the terrorist war has 
been raging."

Fellow senators, however, voiced more concern about practical matters 
involving the U.S. assistance in Colombia, a nation of 42 million people, 
than in pulling the country into a worldwide battleground against terrorism.

Colombia is still digesting an extraordinary $1.3 billion counter-drug 
package that Congress approved last year.

"By pouring money down there so fast, they can't even spend it yet. Much of 
last year's funds have not even been disbursed," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a 
Democrat from Vermont, said during Wednesday's debate.

Leahy also voiced doubts about whether the plan will work in undercutting 
Colombia's vast illegal narcotics industry, source of most of the world's 
cocaine and much of the U.S. heroin.


"We have spent billions down there, and drugs are just as accessible," 
Leahy said. "In fact, in our country, for many types of drugs the price has 
actually gone down."

In the $567 million package they approved for the Andean region, senators 
agreed to conditions proposed by Democratic Sens. Russell Feingold of 
Wisconsin and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Their amendment requires the 
Bush administration to certify that assistance programs are in place for 
local farmers before sending up cropdusters to eradicate fields.

"It makes no sense to take away a farmer's livelihood, provide him no 
alternative, and expect him not to plant illicit crops again," Feingold said.


Members of a House-Senate conference committee now will work to hash out a 
compromise between a Senate package of $567 million and the House's 
proposal for spending $676 million.

Adam Isacson, an analyst of U.S.-Colombia relations at the Center for 
International Policy, said concerns about large-scale U.S. assistance to 
Colombia are not limited to Democrats.

"The skeptics seem to rule the day on both sides of the aisle." he said.

But Isacson said legislators might ratchet up aid next year, depending on 
whether a majority grow convinced that Colombia's narcotics trade fuels a 
"terrorist" threat to the United States.

"You may see a call for escalation next year," Isacson said.

Public opinion in Colombia has turned against President Andres Pastrana, 
who leaves office in 10 months, for his concessions to the country's 
largest insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, to try to 
achieve a peace agreement.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager