- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2000

It seems inconceivable, but the crisis in Colombia appears to be worsening. Terrorist groups, both insurgent and paramilitary, have gained such a strong foothold that the government is making concession after concession, thereby further strengthening the terrorists. And of course, Colombia problems are, to a degree, also America's.

This month, the Colombian government demonstrated to the world just how weak it is. President Andres Pastrana had previously ceded to the FARC, a terrorist group, control of a "demilitarized" zone roughly the size of Switzerland as part of a larger peace strategy. He set a Dec. 7 deadline for bringing the zone back to the state's control in order to motivate the FARC to negotiate a peace. But Mr. Pastrana, too afraid to challenge the FARC, decided to extend the deadline, despite the FARC's flouting of the president's overtures.

Although the Clinton administration has given the Colombian government's peace plan over $1 billion in financial support, the creation of this demilitarized zone has always been highly controversial, since the people living there are outside the protection of the police, military or courts. Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch, recently criticized the Colombian government's decision to extend the December deadline. The FARC is violating international human rights in a systematic and brutal fashion and there have been "forcible disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture inside the zone," he said.

The FARC has responded to the government's deadline extension by escalating its terror campaign. On Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, the FARC attacked three areas in Colombia, killing a total of 20 civilians, six policemen and eight soldiers.

And the FARC's tentacles are spreading alarmingly close to the United States. Last month, Mexico's attorney general said that Mexican and Colombian officials have exposed a major link between the a major Mexican drug cartel, Arellano Felix and the FARC. The State Department said in a statement that since late 1999 the FARC "has sought to establish a monopoly position over the commercialization of the cocaine base across much of southern Colombia. The FARC forces all growers to sell only to the FARC at one fixed price with only the FARC permitted to sell, at a higher fixed price, to cocaine cartels." These narco-terrorists are now spreading their control to Panama, which is particularly significant due of the strategic importance of the Panama Canal.

Unfortunately, Colombia's military lacks the professionalism to respond effectively, and humanely, to the problem. America, all the while, is feeding the terrorists through its drug habit. Ultimately, the United States could pay a high price for the troubles in Colombia, but not nearly as high as Colombia is.

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