- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

President Bill Clinton last week signed a bill to give Colombia $1.3 billion in counter narcotics aid. In doing so, the president, along with Congress, took an important step towards addressing voters' concerns over illicit drug use.

Colombia provides the United States with about 80 percent of its cocaine and about 70 percent of its heroin. By giving Colombia the tools it needs to combat narcotrafficking, the United States hopes to slow the flow of drugs onto these shores.

But there is another reason why the aid to Colombia is important. The United States is the world's largest cocaine consumer, with an annual rate of about 300 tons a year. The U.S. appetite for drugs is therefore a large part of the problem. Washington has the moral imperative to help Colombia combat its drug scourge.

Demand for drugs is propagating blood curdling violence in many parts of the world, especially Colombia. Many Americans are ignorant of the kind of torment they are abetting by enriching narcotraffickers. A look at pictures of massacres in Colombia, where victims are often mutilated, should make recreational drug use less attractive. Rebel and paramilitary forces, which profit handsomely from the drug trade, think little of butchering innocents. In one recent massacre in Colombia, paramilitary forces reportedly killed villagers by either strangling them with metal wires, cutting their throats out, beheading, clubbing or shooting them to death.

"We'd rather see drug consumption drop than get any of this aid," said former Colombian police chief, Gen. Jose Serrano, in an interview with the Associated Press last month. "If consumption were seriously reduced," he added, "this country could go back to what it once was, a place that grew coffee, where people worked hard and sweated for a paycheck."

Unfortunately, though, Americans seem intent on shoving white powder up their noses. National programs to curb demand haven't had the desired effect. Battling the problem at its supply source therefore remains crucial and Washington shoulders a responsibility in providing the funds for the effort. Mr. Serrano, who is widely admired in the United States and Colombia for leading a valiant and effective war on drugs, said that he welcomes the U.S. aid package because it will send a tough message to drug traffickers. But he cautions that the progress in Colombia may serve only to drive traffickers to neighboring countries. Washington must also make very clear to Colombia that if the armed forces fail to penalize human rights abusers, the aid will be immediately suspended.

Wednesday, Mr. Serrano will be the first non-DEA agent to be honored with the special agent's badge. At least Washington will be able to point to a substantive contribution to the war on drugs when the general arrives in the United States.

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