Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2001
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2001, New Haven Register
Author: Angela Carter


As most eyes around the world are fixed on the United States' war against 
the Taliban in Afghanistan, John Jairo Lugo fears U.S. military aid in the 
failed "war on drugs" in Colombia can only escalate anti-American 
sentiments in his native land.

And he's not alone. Lugo has joined with Yale University Chaplain Frederick 
J. Streets and the New Haven Peace Commission, warning that U.S. military 
resources are falling into the hands of paramilitary units that either 
massacre farmers, seize their land or force peasants to grow the lucrative 
cocaine-yielding crop, coca.

"Over 2 million people are displaced. The war on drugs as it was declared 
has been a failure," said Streets, who spent 12 days in January 2000 at a 
northern Columbia refugee settlement called Camp Nelson Mandela.

"The gun and the machete is what speaks in Colombia. Death speaks in 
Colombia," he said.

"People are living in the same conditions that can be seen in Afghanistan. 
South America is not as far as Afghanistan. There's a continuous land 
connection if you go through Mexico," Streets said.

The city's Peace Commission is seeking support from the city's Board of 
Aldermen on a resolution that calls for the United States to invest money 
into treating drug addiction here "rather than inflicting more violence on 
the people of Colombia."

Commission President Alfred Marder said the war on drugs is a fallacy 
because U.S. resources support and train the Colombian military, which in 
turn shares knowledge and weapons with paramilitaries.

"We have a deep compassion for the Colombian people. But our concern starts 
here, it starts in New Haven," Marder said. "Somehow we have $1.3 billion 
to defend U.S. interests in Colombia but we don't have $1.3 billion for 
treatment centers to help these young people here who get caught in this 

Marder was referring to $1.3 billion in aid Congress and former President 
Clinton approved last year for Colombia.

City officials created the Peace Commission in 1987, mandating it to work 
toward creating a world free of conflict or hostilities. New Haven is one 
of 55 worldwide locations designated by the United Nations as "peace 
messenger cities." During a recent public hearing on the Peace Commission's 
resolution, Lugo passed around gruesome photographs of people allegedly 
shot or burned to death in the war on drugs.

"Every day they are committing these massacres," Lugo said of the Colombian 
military forces and paramilitaries. "The war on drugs is not attacking the 

Lugo has been living in America for 16 years after seeking political asylum 
here. He fled the country after being jailed for three months for 
organizing on behalf of a third political party, the Patriotic Union.

"We can not keep going with this war without attacking demand in this 
country because there's going to be another poor country willing to produce 
coca and cocaine," Lugo said.

Streets and Barbara Richards, an associate professor of sociology at 
Housatonic Community College and a former Hill neighborhood alderwoman, 
said kidnappings are another form of intimidation in a nearly 40-year civil 
war in Colombia.

"People tried to form political parties and they were killed," Richards 
said. "The government is part of the human rights violations. There sort of 
are no truly good guys in this situation."

Wess Carrington, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Western 
Hemisphere Affairs, said that once the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, 
Secretary of State Colin Powell had to cancel a meeting with Colombian 
President Andre Pastrana about the Bush Administration's "Andean Regional 

The $882 million initiative is being weighed by Congress in budget 
negotiations. Carrington said the program would funnel half of the money to 
Colombia, while using the rest to thwart the drug trade in Bolivia, Brazil, 
Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The peace commission wants the government to halt military aid to Colombia, 
in part because of the human rights violations.

Carrington said that the coca cultivation boon in southern Colombia partly 
resulted from successful counter-narcotics operations in neighboring 
Bolivia and Peru.

Lugo said fumigation chemicals intended for destroying coca also are 
killing off legal crops and causing disease among peasant families. "Give 
(farmers) the money to destroy the coca crops by hand and grow something 
else," he said.

As to reports by natives and the Human Rights Watch of collusion between 
the U.S.-backed Colombian military and paramilitary groups Carrington said: 
"To my knowledge no military hardware has fallen into paramilitary hands."

The strategy, Carrington said, has been to first try to stabilize warring 
factions through military aid, so that humanitarian tactics such as 
economic development and judicial reform could then work.

Approximately 30,000 peasants have agreed to sign pacts to phase out their 
coca crops by the end of the year, Carrington said.

"This sham program about cutting off drugs is really just interfering with 
the civil war," said Phil Haskell, who urged the aldermen to approve the 
Peace Commission's resolution and forward it to Congress.

"There's a feeling we have to agree with everything that's proposed in the 
name of national security.

We have to resist this," said Arthur Perlo, who testified at the public 

The aldermanic Human Services Committee has OK'd the resolution on 
Colombia, along with a second one calling for the abolition of nuclear 
weapons. The full board will vote next month.

"I feel very strongly in favor of both resolutions," said Alderman Benjamin 
Healey, D-1. "I'm happy we have this commission."

Alderman Willie Greene, D-21, initially was going to oppose the 
declarations, but he said "very compelling testimony" turned him around.

Said Alderman Philip Voigt, D-27: "I do believe the war on drugs needs to 
focus more on the humanitarian aspect."
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