- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell is probably confident that he has covered all the key bases for his two-day visit to Colombia, which begins today. Mr. Powell is slated to meet with government and military officials, political figures and human rights groups. And, yet, it is likely that Mr. Powell won't get the full picture.
Who will tell Mr. Powell about the alleged links between Colombia's two most powerful insurgent groups, the FARC and the ELN, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? It is very unlikely the government, military or human right groups will detail this relationship for Mr. Powell. But last week, the government's peace commissioner, Camilo Gomez, reportedly took a clandestine flight to meet with Mr. Chavez before renewing dialogue with the FARC and the ELN.
Surely, the military will tell Mr. Powell they are doing the best they can to fight the FARC, the ELN and terrorist paramilitary groups, while respecting human rights. Human rights groups, in turn, will likely stress the military's shortcomings in this regard. But who will inform Mr. Powell about the excellent human rights record of the police counternarcotics division? Certainly not the government, which is eager to keep the military well-funded. This crucial piece of information may never reach Mr. Powell.
Mr. Powell's visit to Colombia comes at a critical juncture. The Washington Post reported yesterday that, according to an anonymous official, the Bush administration is considering training an existing military battalion in fighting drug trafficking. However, concern over the armed forces' poor human rights record is a concern. Caution ought to prevail, and the administration should instead delegate the majority of new aid to the police rather than the military.
Sadly, any important information that Mr. Powell's sources fail to provide won't likely be filled in by Colombia experts in the State Department. The Bush administration has failed to replace many of the ineffective personnel in charge of U.S. policy toward Columbia during the Clinton administration, such as Randy Beers, the State Department's top counter-drug official.
While in Colombia, therefore, Mr. Powell should diversify his sources as much as possible. Given the complexity of its problems, he should also take for granted that he is only getting half the story from each source. All the same, the main point of Mr. Powell's visit is to demonstrate that the United States remains engaged in the region. Which is all well and good, as long as it is followed up with action.

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