U.S. demand created the drug crisis situation in Colombia, and our
military intervention there merely places American troops and civilian
contractors in harm's way in an effort to salvage our failed drug policy.
The Clinton administration has proposed, and congressional Republicans
seem prepared to accept, a $1.7-billion military aid package to Colombia.
This formidable expenditure builds on existing aid--Colombia is already
the largest recipient of U.S. military aid outside the Middle East--and
involves us more deeply in a 4-decades-old civil war, as well as
perpetuates programs that have failed to control drug production.
As a veteran, I know the importance of a clear military objective, of
having the resources needed for success, and a clear exit strategy. In
Colombia, we are sending a handful of helicopters and a few hundred of
troops. Yet we were unable to control a smaller Vietnam with hundreds of
helicopters and half a million troops.
The Colombia military intervention seems poorly planned, unrealistic
and doomed to fail. After a few years of military support, we will face
the choice of accepting defeat or gradually being pulled into an
expensive military quagmire in which victory is unattainable.
The reason the U.S. is becoming more involved in Colombia's internal
affairs is that our government's efforts to reduce cocaine availability
have failed miserably, and drug money has strengthened the rebel armies.
We already spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to eradicate
crops in South America, especially in Colombia. According to a 1999
report by the General Accounting Office, "Despite two years of extensive
herbicide spraying, U.S. estimates show there has not been any net
reduction in coca cultivation--net coca cultivation actually increased
Rather than escalate a failed policy, we should recognize that the
present strategy cannot succeed and look for new approaches.
According to the Rand Corp., eradication is the least-effective way to
reduce drug use. Rand's research found that $34 million spent on drug
treatment in the U.S. would have the same effect as $783 million in
eradication expenditures. Naturally, the less cocaine the U.S. consumes,
the less incentive growers in Colombia will have to grow coca. That would
be the best eradication policy.
Further, we need to face the difficult and politically controversial
question of whether prohibition enforced by the drug war provides better
control of the drug market than regulation enforced by administrative
law. If we want to get international cartels and urban gangs out of the
drug market we must determine how to control the market through civil law
rather than criminal law.
The administration's most frequent rationale for pumping millions of
dollars in aid and tons of military equipment into Colombia is the need
to fight "narco-guerrillas." In fact, there are reports that all
sides--including the side the U.S. supports, the Colombian military--have
been tied to the drug trade. It seems that we are supporting one group of
drug traffickers while opposing another group.
Finally, one of the most troubling aspects of the aid package working
its way through Congress is its near-total ignorance of the massive human
rights violations being committed by forces allied with the Colombian
government. According to Human Rights Watch, the Colombian army
tolerates, aids and abets human rights violations. Terror is so rampant
in Colombia that most human rights organizations have closed their
Colombia offices. Yet just 4% of the aid package would go toward the
improvement of human rights and judicial reform.
The Colombian aid package is nothing more than an introduction to a
quagmire and an escalation of failed drug policy.
The administration and Congress should step back and formulate goals
they want to achieve in Colombia and then determine how best to achieve
them without promoting bloodshed and lawlessness.
USAF Ret. Lt. Col. Robert Dowd Is an Organizer of the Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies. Web Site: http://www.vetsformeds.org
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times