- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 26, 2000

While networks air up-to-the-minute updates on the crisis in the Middle East, a country right in America's backyard is falling apart with scant notice from the media.

Colombia's most powerful and brutal narco-terrorist group, known as the FARC, announced Tuesday it was dropping out of cease-fire talks with the Colombian government. And it is no wonder. Although President Bill Clinton approved a $1.3 billion aid plan earlier this year to help Colombia respond to the growing narco-terrorist and paramilitary threat, only a very small portion of that money has reached Colombia.

In addition, the Colombian military is demonstrating a distressing ineptitude in countering the escalating problem. Lawmakers who are traditionally hawkish on Colombia are expressing grave doubts that a large aid package could offset the military's increasingly glaring incompetence.

Recently, forces of the Colombian army attacked each other in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is near Bogota, while members of one battalion were trying to lend support to another battalion. Since coordinating troops is one of the military's many weak points, the battalions started firing at each other. A total of four troops were killed and three were severely wounded before the mistake was realized. Astonishingly, the army high command has shrugged off the error, saying only it could have been much worse.

Even more worrisome is the FARC's siege of the Putamayo, a department in southern Colombia with a population of about 350,000. Although a total of about 24,000 troops, including the army's counter-narcotics brigade, are located in and around Putumayo, they have not been able to protect the citizens there, noted Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, in a statement. The FARC has effectively built a blockade around the region for almost two months, restricting the passage of desperately needed food, medicine and fuel. The Colombian national police has been the only government organization to consistently fly supplies into the area.

All these gaffes prove that the U.S. aid package should have allocated more resources to the Colombian police, which were appropriated only about $99.5 million of the $1.3 billion package. The police's counter-narcotics team has proved to be highly effective in combating the drug scourge in Colombia and hasn't had a single credible human rights violation leveled against it. The military, on the other hand, has been unable to meet the human rights criteria outlined in the U.S. aid plan. Mr. Clinton signed a waiver of these criteria in order to free the small amount of aid that has been sent to Colombia.

Interestingly, human rights groups and a number of Republican lawmakers have reached common ground on the aid package. In a hearing before the Drug Policy, Criminal Justice, and Human Resources Subcommittee of the Government Reform Committee in late October, Andrew Miller, acting advocacy director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Amnesty International, said that his organization would support the aid package if the funds were destined for the police rather than the military. Mr. Burton has articulated a similar position. "Absent a significant shift in the distribution of Plan Colombia aid to the [Colombian police], I am doubtful Plan Colombia will do anything more than waste Colombian Army and Police lives, as well as U.S. taxpayer's money … Unfortunately, the administration has blindly forged ahead to provide a lion's share of the assistance to the Colombian army," said Mr. Burton's statement.

The delay in restoring peace to Colombia is costing many thousands of lives. The U.S. government should heed the concerns of human rights organizations and lawmakers and restructure U.S. aid immediately.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide