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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

In April 2001, over 100 Latin Americans--former heads of state, cabinet ministers, legislators, prominent authors, intellectuals, and civic leaders--called on President Bush to go back to the drawing board with his military-oriented support for Plan Colombia. In a letter, they charged that the U.S.-backed antidrug campaign is fueling a bloody war, poisoning food crops and the environment, and forcing tens of thousands of poor farmers off their land. President Bush would do well to heed their advice, incorporating the following principles.

Support the peace process

Although no one is arguing that the peace process is proceeding smoothly, most observers in Colombia agree that it must move forward and deserves strong support. To escalate U.S. military involvement even as the parties engage in negotiations is a contradiction. Washington should increase political support for the process and ensure that adequate financial resources are available.

Continue implementation of the Leahy Law

U.S. security assistance should continue to be closely scrutinized to ensure that no units of the Colombian security forces--armed forces, intelligence units, and police forces--implicated in violations receive any U.S. aid. Washington should assist Colombian efforts to prosecute those responsible for violations. Appropriate resources should be made available to ensure the best human rights vetting and end-use monitoring possible. Furthermore, Washington should publicly disclose the security force units slated to receive U.S. aid (including units being considered) to ensure full public discussion.

Vigorously pressure for concrete action against paramilitary groups

Washington should press for effective steps to dismantle paramilitary groups, such as: suspending any active-duty officer charged by the Colombian Attorney General's office with paramilitary collaboration or human rights violations; executing the Attorney General's detention orders of paramilitary members; prosecuting in civilian courts any officers charged with paramilitary involvement or human rights violations; and fully implementing the often-announced but still undeployed (since 1989) Bloque de Busqueda, designed to find and detain paramilitary members.

Promote and support the rule of law

Even if the conflict in Colombia were to end overnight, human rights problems would not disappear. Human rights abuses are not all linked to the war. The so-called social cleansing killings, for instance, are targeting street children, among others. Resources should be made available to strengthen the Colombian judiciary and to protect its members from attack. Any intelligence personnel implicated in violations should be turned over to Colombian civilian authorities for prosecution.

Support civil society

Human rights advocates and other sectors of civil society striving to support the peace process, human rights, and the rule of law need to be defended. U.S. assistance should support Colombian government efforts to protect civil society groups at risk of attack. Specifically, Washington should ask for periodic and public progress reports on the implementation of the Colombian government's commitment to investigate attacks against human rights advocates, to install security infrastructure for groups at risk, and to prosecute those implicated in such attacks.

Eliminate proposals contradictory to human rights

Washington's acknowledgement that its support for Plan Colombia with its "push into southern Colombia" will create more displaced populations is a clear sign that the U.S. aid package has a fatal flaw. All programs should be evaluated in light of their impact on the local population. Those proposals deemed harmful should be discarded. Clear, periodic, detailed, and public reporting requirements should be added, and more resources made available for end-use monitoring and human rights compliance.

Reevaluate counternarcotics strategies for Colombia and other source countries

As long as cocaine commands high prices on the world market and factors like undeveloped infrastructure limit alternative economic opportunities, peasants are going to grow coca and are going to participate in the lucrative drug trade. The U.S. government should work closely with the Colombian government and local authorities to ensure that alternative development programs and infrastructure investment reach and serve the local communities. Aerial spraying in Colombia needs to cease and a public evaluation commence as to its environmental, economic, and human impacts. In addition, Washington needs to open a broad, public, and rational discussion--devoid of finger pointing and political labeling--to evaluate the merits of other forms of dealing with the drug problem. This discussion should fully explore expanding demand-side programs, including public education and treatment in the United States.

Key Recommendations

* The U.S. should fully support Colombia's peace process and evaluate any proposal in terms of its effect on the process, discarding proposals that will jeopardize peace.

* End-use monitoring of security assistance and human rights vetting and monitoring need to be fully staffed and financially supported.

* Washington should eliminate any policy proposals that contradict human rights protection or could negatively impact the local population.
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Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 31, 2001
Previous Article:Problems with Current U.S. Policy.
Next Article:Colombia & Drugs.

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