Pubdate: Mon, 01 Sep 2003
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2003 The Courier-Journal
Author: Rick Axtell


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, visiting Colombia recently, praised the 
success of U.S. military aid there. Colombia is the third largest recipient 
of U.S. aid. On a recent Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, I saw 
what this aid accomplishes.

Colombia's army is now "pacifying" urban neighborhoods by forcibly rounding 
up community activists on the pretext of supposed ties to leftist rebel 
groups. We visited displaced people on the hillsides above Medellin who 
were terrorized by one of these middle-of-the-night military raids a week 
before our visit - terror paid for in part with our tax dollars.

Meanwhile, ties between right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian 
army allow mercenary thugs to do the government's dirty work while the army 
claims to have cleaned up its act.

In the south, U.S.-supplied aircraft spray small farmers with the harsh 
chemicals found in Roundup to eradicate coca. Imagine a similar policy here 
that sought to control cigarette smoking by spraying Kentucky's tobacco 
farmers with harmful herbicides.

This aerial fumigation seriously harms human health, destroys farmers' 
licit crops and degrades a fragile ecosystem. I thought this administration 
was opposed to chemical warfare.

Our fumigation strategy ignores the economic realities that drive small 
farmers to cultivate the one crop that brings them a livable income in the 
context of very high demand in the U.S., and a global marketplace stacked 
against their other crops.

Rumsfeld admits that supply-side counter-narcotics strategies have failed 
in Afghanistan (Boston Globe, Aug. 16). Why, then, do we continue to pursue 
such strategies in Colombia, rather than education, treatment and other 
more-effective demand-side approaches?

Perhaps this war isn't about drugs at all. After 9/11, drug war 
restrictions for U.S. military aid to Colombia were lifted, and "Plan 
Colombia" became part of the "war on terror." But, according to analysts 
with whom we met, this is really a counter-insurgency war, like the Central 
American wars of the `80s run by the same crowd now holding sway in the 
Bush administration.

As in Iraq, our unquenchable thirst for oil is a key factor. While we were 
there in January, new U.S. troops arrived to assist Colombia in guarding 
the oil pipeline of U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum.

The time has come to suspend military aid, abandon aerial fumigation and 
join with other countries in brokering an internationally monitored peace 
agreement. Then we can redirect funds toward a serious national effort to 
reduce the demand side of the drug problem while assisting Colombian 
farmers with viable economic alternatives to coca. Otherwise, Sens. Mitch 
McConnell and Jim Bunning and Reps. Anne Northup and Ernie Fletcher, in 
their shortsighted and counterproductive support for Plan Colombia, are 
guilty of throwing gasoline on a long-smoldering fire.


Danville, Ky.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens