CD Editors note: This article was written before President Clinton waived the human rights standards and signed 'Plan Colombia' on August 22.
President Clinton faces a major human rights challenge this week on
the issue of counternarcotics aid to Colombia. Will his administration
certify that the Colombian government has met the human rights
requirements set by Congress as a precondition to releasing a
$1.3-billion U.S. military aid package to the country, or will he suspend
the aid until the requirements are met? Will Clinton waive the human
rights conditions--an admission that the human rights situation in
Colombia remains a disaster--and release the funds regardless?
Whatever his decision, it will help define his legacy and our
country's international standing and foreign policy for years to come.
As the president considers his decision, the Colombian government
pledged to investigate a recent Colombian army operation that left dead
six schoolchildren who had been on a hiking trip. Over the past weekend,
authorities reported that paramilitaries, often working closely with the
Colombian military, killed 10 farmhands in two villages in northeastern
Next week, President Clinton makes a one-day visit to Colombia to
spotlight the administration's assistance package, the bulk of which will
be used to train and equip special counternarcotics battalions for the
Colombian army and to supply them with at least 60 Huey and Blackhawk
Releasing these funds, either by certification or by waiver, will do
harm to the American claim of leadership on the issue of international
Many members of Congress expressed concern about human rights abuses
in Colombia but reluctantly supported the package because they trusted
the certification process to ensure no aid would be delivered to an
After an honest and objective assessment of the human rights situation
in Colombia, it should be clear to all that certifying Colombia today is
impossible: The military maintains links to the paramilitaries; the
government of Colombia has not vigorously pursued members of
paramilitaries; many members of the armed forces who are credibly accused
of human rights violations have not been suspended; the military
continues to challenge the jurisdiction of civilian courts; and the
president of Colombia has not issued a written order for human rights
cases to be tried in civilian courts.
The only responsible alternative for the administration is to deny the
military aid to Colombia. Waiving the human rights conditions would be a
profound mistake. It would send a dangerous message to the Colombian army
and to the civilian leadership that the U.S. commitment to human rights
does not go beyond rhetoric.
Instead of throwing taxpayers' dollars at a war neither side can win
and aligning ourselves with a questionable military, I believe that the
U.S. should play a more effective role by helping create genuine economic
alternatives for the peasant farmers and others involved in the Andean
drug trade. And it should better combat drug abuse here at home by
funding drug treatment and education programs.
A landmark study of cocaine markets by the Rand Corp. found that,
dollar for dollar, providing treatment to cocaine users is 10 times more
effective than drug interdiction schemes and 23 times more cost effective
than eradicating coca at its source. We must make a commitment to
reducing demand in the United States.
Since 1989, virtually all U.S. assistance to Colombia has been related
to counternarcotics efforts, helping the police and military fight
illicit drug cultivation, production and trafficking. But the
administration's own estimates show a 140% increase in Colombian coca
cultivation over the past five years. Given this record, had the drug war
been evaluated like most other federal programs, I believe that we would
have tried a different strategy long ago.
Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times