Pubdate: Mon, 05 Aug 2002
Source: Indianapolis Star (IN)
Copyright: 2002 Indianapolis Newspapers Inc.
Author: Lee Hamilton
Note: Hamilton is the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center 
for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and director of the Center on Congress at 
Indiana University. He served as a U.S. representative from Indiana from 
1965 to 1999.


The volatile situation in Colombia is the greatest security challenge in 
the Western Hemisphere. As Colombia's internal conflict becomes more 
violent and out of control, the United States must make a strong commitment 
to help Colombia work toward peace and stability.

The current insurgency in Colombia is now 38 years old and has claimed 
40,000 lives in the last decade alone. The Colombian government is being 
challenged by two leftist rebel groups known as the FARC and ELN, and a 
brutal paramilitary force known as the AUC. Both the rebels and the 
paramilitaries trade in guns and drugs to fund their efforts, complicating 
law enforcement across the Americas.

The FARC recently declared its intention to kill any Colombian mayor who 
does not resign, and has brought terrorist violence into the cities. The 
future of the Colombian democracy is in peril, and the violence involves a 
complex web of arms, drugs, poverty, ideology, criminality and sheer terrorism.

The United States has provided more than $2 billion in aid to the Colombian 
government in the last few years, mostly for counter- narcotics. But it is 
now clear that Colombia's problems go far beyond drugs. We should shift the 
focus of our aid to provide for more counter-terrorism assistance, 
recognizing that Colombia's problems are rooted in the lack of state 
authority and persistent political violence.

There is no military solution to the problems in Colombia; this war must 
end through negotiations. But the U.S. must help the government with 
counter-insurgency efforts to force the parties into negotiations. U.S. aid 
should not include combat troops, as we do not want to get drawn into a 
guerrilla war. But the U.S. can provide military equipment, intelligence 
and training to modernize Colombia's armed forces.

The Colombian government must aim to increase its military efforts, unify 
the country, and restore government authority. The U.S. must press all the 
parties to negotiate in good faith, and the government to pursue a coherent 
strategy for peace.

In addition, Colombia needs effective police and security forces to restore 
order. It also needs a judiciary that can enforce the rule of law free from 
corruption or the threat of political violence.

We must also insist that Colombia's military break its connections with the 
paramilitaries, who have committed much of the horrific violence in 
Colombia. U.S. aid should be conditioned on strict adherence to human 
rights by the Colombian military and security forces, as this is the only 
way that the government can win the confidence of its people and negotiate 
a peace in good faith.

The Colombian people are badly in need of hope, and economic development is 
needed to get the country back on its feet. The International Monetary Fund 
and the World Bank should help Colombia strengthen its battered economy, 
and the U.S. should also go forward with the Andean Trade Preference Act, 
which would provide Colombians with legitimate economic alternatives to 

President-elect Alvaro Uribe won power in Colombia's May elections by 
promising a tougher stance to restore order. In electing him, Colombians 
expressed exasperation with lawlessness and violence, and provided a 
mandate for an increase in the government's counter- insurgency efforts. 
These signs were welcomed by the Bush administration when Uribe visited 
Washington in June, as was Uribe's pledge to work for peace, stability and 
an end to drug trafficking.

Uribe also invited the continuing participation of the United Nations in 
seeking a political solution to the turmoil. His presidency, which begins 
Wednesday, should be seen as an opportunity for the U.S. to forge a clear 
and sustainable strategy to help Colombia out of the spiral of violence.

As we fight terror across the world, we must remain committed to the goal 
of aiding freedom and democracy in our own hemisphere. The crisis in 
Colombia has the potential to destabilize the Andean region. If we make a 
sustained effort to help the Colombian government work toward peace talks 
and stability, we can make our own neighborhood a safer and more prosperous 
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