e-mail us


Colombia aid a dangerous mistake

In a vote that drew relatively little notice, the House recently approved a bill that included $1.7 billion in military aid to fund drug interdiction operations in Colombia.

That figure is up from $65 million in 1996 and $300 million last year (see story on page 12). While the Senate has yet to consider the request, observers believe the Colombia package will not face much opposition.

It strains the imagination to see how this explosion of aid to the military of one of the most unsettled countries in South America fits into any rational foreign policy or into a war on drug use in the United States, the prime recipient of Colombian coca production.

Plenty of credible voices question the wisdom of taking the fight against U.S. drug use to rural Colombia, where insurgents and drug runners have carved out the equivalent of their own little countries.

Experts point out that even if military action were successful in shutting down the Colombian operation, the drug producers and everyone else profiting from the addictions on the streets of the United States will simply shift their location, take up in another region of Colombia or another country altogether. As long as the demand remains high enough, the drugs will flow.

Critics say a more effective strategy would be to concentrate on eliminating the demand here, a strategy that would require as dramatic a gesture toward education and rehabilitation -- in terms of spending and commitment -- as the military initiative. But that would also mean turning away from the easy fix, from the military addiction that is as deep and damaging to our culture as its drug addictions.

At least as dangerous as the misplaced strategy is the real threat of a military escalation of the kind that occurred in Vietnam and the danger of complicity in human rights abuses that occurred in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America.

No one needs to do much theorizing to draw out the details of the danger. A quick dip into recent history will do.

It was only a year ago that President Clinton apologized to Guatemalans for the significant role the United States played in propping up vicious military regimes during that country’s 30-year civil war that ended with 200,000 disappeared or murdered, mostly innocent civilians, and a huge internal refugee population.

Clinton said the policy was wrong and vowed, “The United States must not repeat that mistake.”

For this administration, advocating the billion-dollar military adventure is a drastic and dangerous change in policy from earlier years. Arming the Colombian military to the teeth for an anti-insurgency war is repeating previous mistakes and magnifying them many times over.

National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2000