- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Colombian President Andres Pastrana came to the United States recently with his hat in his hand, asking for more U.S. funds to help combat the drug trade through economic development. However, the Bush administration ought not commit any more money to Mr. Pastrana before he has come up with a better plan as to how to spend the $1.3 billion the United States has already allotted his country. Better yet, Mr. Pastrana ought to reform his whole strategy for dealing with Colombia's civil war and burgeoning drug trade.

Most of the counter-narcotics funds that Congress and the Clinton White House set aside for Plan Colombia are destined for the military, although drug interdiction is a task better left to the police. The military is better suited to deal with Colombia's rebel insurgencies, for which some funding will be needed. The lion's share of the Plan Colombia funds, however, ought to go to the police, as Republican Reps. Dan Burton, from Indiana, and Benjamin Gilman, from New York, have been tirelessly advocating.

Colombia's primary efforts ought to be directed toward bolstering the rule of law. Funding for judicial reform is critical, including U.S.-Colombian exchange programs and training for judges and other court employees. The counter-narcotics police unit has proven to be highly effective and dedicated. Furthermore, unlike the military, there hasn't been a single credible human rights violation leveled against this police unit.

What Colombia needs overall is a new strategy for dealing with narco-terrorists both of the rebel and paramilitary sort. Mr. Pastrana is getting ready to give the ELN, the second most powerful rebel group in the country, a zone that would fall under their own control. But the surrender of another "demilitarized" zone to Colombia's strongest and most brutal rebel group, known as the FARC, has already proven to be a horrible failure.

Furthermore, the secession of territory to a lawless terrorist group constitutes a gross violation of the democratic rights of law-abiding Colombians. Clearly, the Colombians themselves are convinced of this. Days before Mr. Pastrana left for the United States, thousands of peasants defied his stern warnings and blocked one of the main highways in the country to protest the creation of the demilitarized zone in their area.

One thing Mr. Pastrana got right was his request for the United States to liberalize trade with Colombia. "Convincing guerrillas to lay down their arms, and getting peasants to move from coca cultivation into the legitimate economy means we have to create jobs for tens of thousands of Colombians," Mr. Pastrana said.

Although it certainly would be difficult to convince most guerrillas to desist from murder and torture in the spirit of free enterprise, Mr. Pastrana is on the right track. Economic development is, in the end, central to the country's long-term stability. Bill Clinton had pledged to liberalize trade with Colombia, but never followed through. This is one plea the Bush administration and Congress could grant right away.


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