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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

According to the State Department, "the fight against drugs remains the principal U.S. national interest in Colombia." Yet for the Colombian army, the principal fight is against leftist guerrillas. In recent years, the misleading but politically expedient term narcoguerrilla has been coined to merge these two fights. While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has expressed misgivings about using the military to fight drugs, arguing that illicit drug use is "overwhelmingly a demand problem," the Bush administration has asked for additional military appropriations for counternarcotics operations under the rubric of Plan Colombia.

The current counterdrug program continues the history of U.S. support for Colombia's security forces. Since at least the 1960s, Washington has provided assistance for Colombia's anti-guerrilla operations, first in the name of fighting communism and later to fight drugs. Colombian armed forces have received U.S. training at the Army School of the Americas and the Special Warfare Center, as well as in-country training by U.S. military advisers and Special Operations Forces. (see FPIF, Military Training for Latin America). In addition, the U.S. has supplied Colombia's security forces with arms, munitions, helicopters, and other equipment.

Since 1989, when the cold war ended and then-President George Bush declared drug trafficking to be a national security threat, Colombia has been the number one recipient of U.S. military aid in the Americas. In 1994 and 1995, Congress began to direct the bulk of U.S. aid to the Colombian National Police's Directorate of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DANTI), in part due to the Colombian military's abysmal human rights record. Although there have been no documented reports of recent human rights abuses by DANTI operatives, the human rights community has cautioned that it is too early to give DANTI a clean bill of health.

A marked deterioration of Colombia's armed conflict has gone hand in hand with increased U.S. military aid. In 1996, Congress passed the Leahy Law prohibiting many forms of U.S. aid from going to security force units (both military and police) implicated in human rights violations. This law passed after government documents obtained by human rights groups proved that the U.S. had given aid to Colombian army units implicated in rights violations. Although the Leahy Law blocked some aid, ironically it was also used in 1998 to justify the release of military aid frozen since 1994 because the administration concluded that there were no credible reports linking recipient Colombian army units to violations.

To help address congressional and public concerns that U.S. aid is supporting counterinsurgency operations, the Colombian military created a special counternarcotics brigade which is being trained by U.S. special forces. The brigade will eventually consist of three battalions, each with 600 to 950 soldiers.

Despite such attempts to erect a firewall between antidrug and anti-guerrilla operations, some officials in Washington and Colombia have, since the 1980s, promoted the concept of the narcoguerrilla. While it is increasingly true in recent years some FARC and ELN forces have profited from drug trafficking, the simplistic narcoguerrilla notion obscures the separate identities and goals of drug traffickers and guerrillas--as well as the reality that parts of Colombia's armed forces, paramilitaries, and political elite are also tied to the drug cartels.

Drug traffickers and guerrillas often operate in the same regions and have some converging interests. Many guerrilla units tax and help protect drug cultivation, just as they do other businesses in areas under their control. Drug traffickers are equal-opportunity corrupters: they try to work with anyone who will to advance their interests. Some paramilitary leaders, including the Castano brothers, have also been identified as narcotraffickers. Amnesty International USA filed suit against the CIA in mid-2000 in an effort to obtain information about suspected ties between the U.S. government and the Castano family, which has been involved in paramilitary violence and narcotics trafficking. Former President Samper allegedly received $6 million from narcotraffickers for his presidential campaign. In January 2000, the wife of Colonel Hiett, the U.S. military group commander in Bogota, pleaded guilty to heroin trafficking.

Officials in Washington describe increased U.S. support for Plan Colombia as embracing the peace process and the development option while pursuing the counternarcotics imperative. However, U.S. assistance is overwhelmingly military, and is likely to undermine peace efforts by reassuring hard-line elements in Colombia that they can defeat the guerrillas. In July 2000, President Clinton signed a $1.3 billion emergency counterdrug package, earmarking roughly $860 million in aid for Colombia. This special package, together with already appropriated funds, meant the Clinton administration authorized an extraordinary $1.2 billion in counternarcotics aid to Colombia during 2000 and 2001. Roughly 80% of this aid was designated for military equipment and training.

In April 2001, the Bush administration proposed an additional $800 million in counternarcotics assistance for the Andean region. This request includes $399 million for Colombia through the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) program, of which $252.5 million is proposed for interdiction and $146.5 million for alternative development and institution building. This does not include additional funding from the Pentagon and other agencies. In the past several years, the Pentagon has supplied roughly $150 million annually in direct military aid to Colombia, above and beyond the INL monies.

Meanwhile, the human rights situation continues to deteriorate, with some Colombian analysts describing the situation as genocide. In January 2001 alone, 27 massacres were carried out by army-backed paramilitaries, resulting in several hundred deaths. At this rate, 2001 will be the bloodiest year for Colombia in recent history.

Key Problems

* U.S. policy presses for control of human rights abuses, yet it bolsters a military implicated in violations.

* U.S. military aid is officially for counternarcotics operations but in practice it is used for counterinsurgency operations. * The narcoguerrilla thesis was devised as an argument to support aid to the Colombian army when the U.S. Congress wanted nothing to do with counterinsurgency.
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Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 31, 2001
Previous Article:Colombia in Crisis.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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