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U.S. Aid & Colombian Blood
Published on Tuesday, August 29, 2000 in the New York Daily News
U.S. Aid & Colombian Blood
by Juan Gonzalez
 
Early Sunday morning, a group of 60 armed men entered a poor neighborhood in the town of Cienaga, on Colombia's Caribbean coast. The gunmen, who police say carried a list of people they were seeking, kidnapped 10 residents from their homes, dragged them to an isolated part of town, interrogated them, then executed them.

Before dispatching their victims, the killers accused them of collaborating with left-wing guerrillas who operate in the area, witnesses told Colombian newspapers.

The massacre in Cienaga was just one of four that occurred this past weekend.

In another attack, men dressed in military fatigues and wearing the insignias of the right-wing Colombian Self-Defense Group entered a discotheque in the Cauca region near Cali and executed three patrons. The gunmen then invaded a nearby housing project, where they killed another four people.

All told, 28 people lost their lives in the latest weekend of this hemisphere's oldest civil war. Most of the 35,000 deaths so far, according to human rights groups, have come at the hands of the Colombian Army or civilian death squads linked to it.

Cienaga is not very far from the city of Cartagena, where President Clinton will meet tomorrow with Colombian President Andres Pastrana.

Amid big fanfare — and even bigger security — Clinton will inaugurate a $1.3 billion, two-year aid package for Colombia's war against drugs. That is more than all the military aid our country will give to the rest of Latin America.

Most of the money and the 60 U.S. helicopters that are part of the package will go to the Colombian Army, which has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.

When he signed the bill authorizing the aid last week, Clinton could not avoid the question of why so much largess for a bunch of thugs. He didn't even pretend to try. He simply waived the requirement by Congress that Colombia show progress on its human rights record.

The army will use the aid against the cocoa-growing and drug-processing areas of the south. It will be helped in this by more than 100 U.S. Special Forces soldiers who are in the country to train special battalions.

The south also happens to be the area where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, the most potent insurgent group in the country, has its strongest base.

The army, we are told, will not be targeting the northern part of the country, where the right-wing death squads, which also have extensive links to the drug trade, operate.

Right here in Queens, where most of the city's Colombians live, the effects of the escalation of Colombia's civil war can already be seen.

"Middle-class professionals are leaving the country in droves," said Arturo Sanchez, a Colombian-born professor at Pratt Institute, who has been studying the migration of his countrymen.

Many of the new migrants are fleeing the political troubles and the economic crisis that has accompanied those troubles, Sanchez said. Nearly 2 million Colombians have been internally displaced by the war, and more than 10% of Colombia's 33 million people now live abroad, mostly in the United States, Venezuela, Ecuador, Spain — and even in Japan.

But sending military aid and advisers is not the solution.

"This could be the beginning of another Vietnam," Sanchez said.

Last Friday night, nearly 200 Colombian immigrants packed the public library in Corona. They came to listen to Ignacio Gomez, one of Colombia's most respected investigative journalists, and the local leaders of the Movement for Peace in Colombia.

One speaker after another condemned the Clinton aid package.

Down south, every country bordering Colombia is sending troops to the border. Each is worried sick about the Special Forces and all that military aid — and what it could bring.

This is like the rerun of a terrible movie. You'd think somebody in Washington would know what the Colombians in Queens already know. The end of this will not be good.

Copyright 2000 NY Daily News

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