Published on Thursday, February 10, 2000 in the Boston Globe
Details of $1.3 Billion in Antidrug Aid to Colombia Prompt Questions
by John Donnelly

WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration's plan to fight drug cultivation in Colombia includes supporting a push into southern Colombia that will displace an estimated 10,000 people, and providing a long list of military equipment likely to cost millions of dollars in upkeep for years to come.

In a 21-page White House document obtained by the Globe, the administration outlined for the first time how $1.3 billion in additional funding to Colombia over the next 18 months would be spent.

The depth of military commitment in the package raises questions about the length of US commitment beyond 2001 and whether it would aid Colombia's war against guerrillas as well as fighting cocaine and heroin exports.

''This aid is a downpayment on a multiyear strategy requiring hundreds of millions of dollars a year,'' Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said last night. ''Yet the administration has not explained in any detail what its goals are ... at what cost, or what the risks are.''

In the coming weeks, Congress is expected to debate the administration's package to Colombia, already the third-largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel and Egypt. While support from the Democratic administration and Republican leadership in Congress would seem to ensure passage, there has been growing concern among members of Congress and Pentagon officials about the wisdom of deepening US involvement in Colombia's 40-year civil war.

If the assistance package is approved, much of the work would take a year or more to complete, including the deployment of helicopters, upgrades of radar systems, and training new antidrug battalions.

Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a retired four-star Army general, has been strongly arguing that the US needs to fight the burgeoning supply of drugs in Colombia with more than the package presented to Congress.

''Colombia is becoming the source of literally hundreds of tons of cocaine and as much as six metric tons of heroin sloshing around the United States every year,'' McCaffrey said in an interview. ''It's in our interest to stand with their democratic institutions and not just a year. This ought to be multiple years.''

Mike Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council, said yesterday that the administration would ''absolutely not'' become involved in a counterinsurgency effort against Colombia's guerrillas.

''It's not to say that on occasion if you have guerrillas protecting coca fields that those'' US military ''assets can't be used to take out the coca fields, and the guerrillas will come into harm's way,'' he said.

But Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Center for International Policy, a liberal Washington think-tank, said it was impossible to separate the war against drugs from the war against guerrillas since guerrillas often protect coca and poppy fields.

''Once you start to call it a push into the region, to call it a counter-narcotics package is dishonest at best,'' Isacson said. ''It's a smokescreen.''

In the White House document, which has been distributed to some members of Congress and their staffs, US involvement is spelled out in great detail.

For instance, under the heading ''Push into Southern Colombia Coca Growing Areas,'' $452 million would be spent on 30 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and 15 UH-1N Huey helicopters, as well as upgrading 18 Huey helicopters already in Colombia. The helicopters are to give greater mobility for three batallions of drug-fighting troops.

US advisers have already trained one batallion. The next two ''will be trained by US troops on temporary duty in Colombia'' beginning in March or April, allowing for deployment at the end of the year, the document said. For those 2,700 troops, the administration proposes spending $48 million to outfit them completely, including weapons, ammunition, uniforms, fuel, and meals.

The administration's document also estimated 10,000 plantation workers ''will be displaced by the eradication campaign. Displaced persons will receive a 90-day emergency benefits package.''

The package includes $31 million to help the displaced move into legitimate farming and ''other legal economic activity,'' the document said.

Other pieces of the package include:

$35 million to upgrade Colombian Army airbases to accommodate the new helicopters and build new bases.

$37 million for new ground-based radar systems.

$55 million in an unspecified ''classified program'' under the title of intelligence.

$68 million to upgrade four US Customs P-3 aircraft's airborne early warning radar.

$20 million for 15 new spray aircraft to eradicate coca and poppy fields.

$38.6 million to build a new ''forward operating location'' at Manta, Ecuador, to give US planes quicker access to Colombia.


Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.