Pubdate: Wed, 04 Aug 2004
Source: Mother Jones (US)
Copyright: 2004 Foundation for National Progress
Author: Jeff Fleischer
Bookmark: (Colombia)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Long before the War on Terror started driving U.S. foreign policy,
Washington set out to win the War on Drugs, with a particular focus on
nations like Colombia, which exports up to 90 percent of America's
cocaine. But, as recent developments there illustrate, victory is
still proving elusive.

On Monday, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe offered more concessions
to rightist paramilitary groups, promising to create additional
"haven" areas where two warring organizations can negotiate with the
government. In such havens, paramilitary leaders and troops can speak
with government representatives without fear of arrest or extradition
to the United States on drug-trafficking charges. In exchange, Uribe
wants the groups to declare a cease-fire and begin disarming.

The trouble is that the paramilitaries hold the power in this
relationship. As the New York Times noted, "the groups have not
stopped assassinating labor leaders and human rights workers, killing
peasants and trafficking in cocaine," and have said they will not
demobilize unless the government agrees to a lenient stand on previous
murders and trafficking. As former Colombian peace commissioner Daniel
Garcia-Pena said:

"This process is in a crisis of credibility. The president has time to
rescue the process if the conditions are well established and they
make them comply. But the government has hard rhetoric one day, and
they make concessions the next."

Meanwhile, Uribe is battling a personal crisis of credibility
concerning his possible ties to drug traffickers. On Sunday, the
National Security Archive at George Washington University released a
1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report (which it obtained by FOIA
request) that listed Uribe among 104 "important" narco-traffickers in
Colombia. In a short paragraph, the report says Uribe "was linked to a
business involved in narcotics activities" and was a "close personal
friend" of famed trafficker Pablo Escobar.

The report's allegations are inconclusive at best, as the details are
unspecific and the reports contents include a disclaimer that the
material had not yet been evaluated. But as the Los Angeles Times
explains, just the presence of the allegations is a potential problem
for Uribe:

"[The report] appeared likely to resuscitate rumors about Uribe's
controversial past, including his alleged connections with the drug
trade. It also feeds perceptions of pervasive drug corruption in
Colombia, which nearly felled former President Ernesto Samper in the
1990s, when it was discovered that his presidential campaign had
received drug money."

Any damage to Uribe's presidency could undermine U.S. efforts to
eradicate cocaine under the expensive "Plan Colombia," which comes up
for renewal in 2006. Since his election in May 2002, Uribe has been a
reliable U.S. ally (Colombia even joined the ranks of Bush's
Coalition of the Willing) and as The Nation reports, is more than
willing to embrace Washington's approach to the drug war:

"For his promise of a military solution to Colombia's problems, Uribe
came to be known as 'Colombia's Ariel Sharon'. He has been
unreservedly supportive of every aspect of Plan Colombia, from
strengthening the country's military to especially -reducing the
growth of coca."

Cutting down the supply of potential cocaine is the key to Plan
Colombia, and the Bush administration has touted the destruction of 33
percent of Colombia's coca since 2001, and 20 percent in 2003 alone.
However, as a July GAO report states, drug prices have remained fairly
stable. And while the country's murder rate has declined, the report
cautions that decline is not definitively linked to government policy.

The successes of Plan Colombia have also come with grave humanitarian
costs. Much of the coca reduction is achieved by aerial spraying of
the fields with chemicals that have also caused destruction of
non-drug crops, the death of farm animals, and respiratory problems
for peasants. And the government still faces an uphill battle to
successfully disarm either the leftist FARC guerillas or rightist
paramilitary groups, as groups of both persuasions continue with
assassinations, kidnappings and large-scale drug operations despite
pressure from Bogota and Washington.

The results of Plan Colombia have proven a mixed bag so far. Whether
Uribe can broker a successful cease-fire without kowtowing to the
criminals' demands will determine the future of his presidency, the
U.S.-backed Plan, and the lives of many of his constituents.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin