HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Parallel Tragedies Of Colombia, The U.S.
Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2001
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2001 The Miami Herald
Author: Maria Cristina Caballero
Note: Maria Cristina Caballero is a Mason Fellow at Harvard University's 
John F. Kennedy School of Government.


My relatives in Colombia have been calling. "Don't open your mail,'' they 
say. Others warn me not to fly. "Don't forget that there are crazy 
terrorists there,'' another said.

I am a journalist and left my native Colombia because of death threats. I 
am used to calling relatives after reading about the latest attacks in my 
homeland. Thus I find this concern for my safety in the United States ironic.

Terrorism. Colombians have seen many of its tragic faces -- and because of 
an U.S. decision in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Colombians fear a new 
wave of terrorism. On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson 
an-nounced that the U.S. government will try to extradite Colombian 
guerrillas and right-wing militia members who are involved in drug-related 
and terrorist activities. This could very well kill the already-faltering 
Colombian peace process. The combatants won't negotiate if they think they 
will be shipped to the United States as criminals.

Now Colombia and the United States are living virtually parallel tragedies. 
Extremists from different cultures aim at comparable targets.

The same day that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle announced that 31 
lawmakers and other workers on Capitol Hill had been exposed to anthrax, 
the Colombian media published that a former congressman had been 
assassinated, bringing to seven the number of current or former lawmakers 
killed this year.

As American journalists were being targeted with anthrax, the Inter 
American Press Association released a report showing that Colombia 
continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists. This year seven 
of my colleagues have been assassinated; 51 have been killed in the past 

Terrorist activities are partly financed in much the same way. The United 
Nations has stated that Afghanistan is one of the world's biggest producers 
of opium; all of the Colombian factions in conflict are at least partially 
financed by drug money, mostly from cocaine.

It is clear that the Sept. 11 attacks have created a shift in U.S. policy 
toward Colombia. Before, the U.S. government publicly supported the peace 
talks that Colombian President Andres Pastrana has held with the FARC, 
though the badly managed talks have been "unproductive.'' Last week, 
though, the U.S. State Department's top anti-terrorism official, Francis 
Taylor, pointed out that the FARC now is considered the most dangerous 
terrorist group based in this hemisphere.

The Bush administration last week announced an initial $58 million package 
for counter-terrorism activities in the Andean region -- in addition to 
last year's $1.3 billion aid package to Colombia for a war on drugs.

According to an Associated Press story, Taylor said that the package would 
include "where appropriate, as we are doing in Afghanistan, the use of 
military power.'' Colombian editorialists asked whether the United States 
was announcing a military intervention in Colombia. Other U.S. officials 
denied it. However, Bruce Bagley, a U.S. expert on Colombia, said that U.S. 
agencies are fed up with the failed peace negotiations with the FARC. Many 
U.S. officials question the FARC's links to the drug business and terrorist 
activities and its strong anti-U.S. rhetoric.

FARC leaders are in no hurry to negotiate, but the new U.S. war on 
terrorism changes the scenario for terrorists. U.S. officials seem to say 
to the FARC: "If you don't negotiate now, after the Taliban, you may be next.''

The main similarity between the Taliban and the FARC is their reliance on 
drug money to fuel their operations.

Thus the ineffectiveness of the U.S. drug policy must be analyzed. Until 
now, the spraying of coca-crops has achieved only the moving of crops from 
one region to another; the flow of drugs has not been reduced. U.S. 
policymakers must recognize that it might be worthwhile to cut the flow of 
drug money by providing treatment to U.S. drug addicts. As absurd as it 
sounds, many would like to, but cannot, get into the overcrowded and 
expensive drug-treatment centers.

Calling For Social Justice

After the Sept. 11 attacks, theorists have pointed out that extremist 
groups flourish in societies where many civil, political, social and 
economic rights have been violated. Four decades ago, the Colombian 
insurgent groups were created, calling for land reform and social justice. 
The absence of timely and adequate responses to some of those calls allowed 
those groups to grow. Decade after decade, their members became 
increasingly more involved in illegal and violent activities. Today the 
United States considers the 20,000 armed members of the FARC a threat not 
only to Colombia but to the rest of the world.

As it confronts new threats, the United States could learn from those 
unfortunate Colombian experiences. The international community must address 
in a timely and adequate manner the civil, political, social and economic 
rights of people persistently claming for them. This strategy could prevent 
the creation and strengthening of extremist groups.
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