- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2000

President Clinton has now deigned to make the first trip of his presidency to Latin America's most conflict-ridden country. The president postponed a visit to Colombia until he had gone through the motions of addressing the country's escalating drug-related crime problems. Now, thanks to his recent push to give Colombia a $1.3 billion counter-narcotics package, he hopes to be greeted by an appreciative audience on arrival Aug. 30.

The U.S. and Colombian governments have held out the hope that the aid package will help authorities restore peace in this country torn by appalling violence. Certainly it is welcome that the White House has finally decided it should give Colombia resources to combat the criminals that Americans enrich through their unrelenting demand for cocaine and heroin. By giving this assistance, the United States is tacitly acknowledging its part in the problem.

But as Reps. Dan Burton and Ben Gilman have tirelessly pointed out, the aid package is flawed and could conceivably make the situation in Colombia far worse before it gets any better. Rather than direct resources to the Colombian police, most of it goes to the military, which has been accused of a barrage of human rights violations. Meanwhile, there has never been a single accusation of human rights abuse against the police anti-narcotics unit. It is the police who took down the Cali and Medellin drug cartels and have otherwise demonstrated true courage and competence in the fight against drugs.

This week Mr. Clinton decided to waive Colombia's failure to meet human rights conditions attached to counter-drugs legislation. He made the decision despite the fact that the State Department found Colombia met only one of six human rights tests quite a dismal record. While it is true that the aid allocates a small amount of funds for human rights training, that appropriation was mere window dressing.

Earlier this month, the Colombian military fired on six children ages 8 to 10 in the northwestern village of Pueblo Rico. The military insists that terrorists were using the children as human shields and that Colombian soldiers didn't see them when they exchanged gunfire with the rebels. Strangely enough, the military could produce only the bodies of the children. There were no rebel or military fatalities.

Unfortunately, this incident is one of many. And while civilians continue to be massacred in the crossfire of this unrest, the White House-led war on drugs has produced unimpressive results. An audit of the administration's foreign policy performance in Colombia found that "despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain. Although the data indicates that the spray program has had the effect of moving cultivation from one region to another, it is uncertain whether the current program has decreased the supply of drugs from Colombia."

The $1.3 billion in aid may make a great background for Mr. Clinton's photo-ops in Colombia. But it's not too late for the president to make this visit a genuinely constructive one. Mr. Clinton should urge Colombian President Andres Pastrana to redirect funding to the police. By their record they have earned it. With adequate support, they can improve that record to the great benefit of the Colombian people.

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