Drug War Militarization Bill Passes House Over Objections of Colombia 9/25/98

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H.R.4300, the "Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act," which would target more than $200 Million in military and related aid to Colombia passed the house last week (9/16) by a vote of 384-39.† The overwhelming victory came despite the protestations of both U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey and newly elected Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who is in the midst of negotiations aimed at ending his nation's 35 year-old civil war.

Of major concern to Pastrana is an amendment to the bill stipulating that the aid will not be forthcoming if Pastrana's plan to withdraw troops from a swath of Colombia's southern region as part of his negotiations with guerilla leaders interferes with counternarcotics efforts in the area.† Pastrana has worried U.S. drug warriors with his recent statements regarding the unworkability of aerial herbicide sprayings of coca and opium-producing regions, a favorite U.S. drug warrior program.† Disagreement over the sprayings came to a head earlier this month when Ruben Olarte Reyes, the anti-drug chief of the new Pastrana government, publicly stated that the use of Tebuthiuron, an herbicidal substance favored by the U.S. State Department, "is not on the agenda."† The U.S. has pushed Colombia to use Tebuthiuron, a granular substance that can be dropped from much higher altitudes than traditional liquid herbicides, despite warnings from its manufacturer, Dow Chemical, that such uncontrolled application could be hazardous both to people and to desirous plant life in the Andean region (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/047.html#herbicide).

Despite broad support among drug war hawks for the strategy and increasing implementation of herbicidal eradication, it has been estimated that during the past four years coca cultivation in Colombia has doubled to nearly 80,000 hectares.† According to Reyes, "Unfortunately, we have to recognize that crop eradication, in the manner that it has been carried out so far, has failed.† There is no doubt that there will have to be a profound revision of the crop eradication program."

Pastrana, elected by a wide margin this year, has already shown great determination in fulfilling his mandate to end Colombia's horrific and longstanding civil war.† Almost immediately after his election, Pastrana took his life in his hands by traveling into guerrilla-controlled territory for a face to face meeting with the opposition's legendary leader, 68 year-old Manuel Marulanda, to discuss possible scenarios for ending the three-sided conflict.† At the heart of the struggle is the issue of agrarian and economic reform.† But the presence of the drug crops, and their prohibition-enhanced value, has become inexorably intertwined in the struggle as drug money feeds and arms each side to one degree or another.

On Sunday (9/20) President Pastrana, speaking from Bogota, accused Republican lawmakers of politicizing the issue.† "They politicized it for Colombia, and it's the worst thing that has happened to us in the last four years" and that they (Republicans) were narrowly focused on "the simple thesis of an all-out war against drug trafficking" to the detriment of a delicate and complex process of peace in the war-torn nation.† Pastrana praised U.S. Democrats, saying that they, at least, understand that "we can't just talk about repression, fumigation and eradication."

Barry McCaffrey this week called on the Senate to reject H.R. 4300 (now S. 2341), saying that while the money was important, the stated goals of the bill (including an 80% reduction in the flow of illegal narcotics into the US) were "completely unrealistic" and not tied to a coherent strategy.† He said that the bill's passage in the House might well have been driven by election year politics and decried micromanagement by legislation.

Pastrana quickly arranged for a trip to Washington, set for Thursday (9/24), during which he will come to Capitol Hill to speak with House and Senate leaders.† Pastrana had already been scheduled to visit the United Nations in New York earlier in the week.

Before beginning his meetings on Thursday, Pastrana told the press, "The peace process is moving on." Pastrana's schedule included meetings with senior House members, including Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the International Relations Committee, as well as Rep. Lee Hamilton, the committee's ranking Democrat, and members of Congress' Hispanic Caucus.

Contacted by The Week Online, an official at the Colombian Embassy said, "There are three topics which will be discussed, and these are all intertwined.† The peace process, eradication, and bilateral cooperation.† I cannot say what the content of President Pastrana's message will be, only that he will come with a large amount of information.† It is our hope that after these talks, many things will be clarified, as there currently seem to be some misunderstandings between the parties, perhaps particularly with regard to the House of Representatives.† We believe, however, that this visit will mark a very important juncture in the relationship between the countries."

As to the question of the U.S. Congress overstepping the bounds of Colombia's sovereignty, the official would say only ,"The one thing that is clear is that the decision about where, when and how much the United States will help Colombia is a decision to be made by the United States government.† It is their prerogative.† The process and the relationship between our two countries is an ongoing one, and we feel that President Pastrana will move that relationship forward with his visit tomorrow."

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Issue #60, 9/25/98 DRCNet Nearing the 7,000 Mark -- Your Voice Needed | Alert: Congress Considers Jailing Children With Adults | Alert: from the Andean Information Network | On the Web | Canadian Hemp Shop Bust Aided by US Agents | Hemp BC Business License Hearing Scheduled for Next Week | Media Note: CBS Drama to Highlight Medical Marijuana | Volunteers Needed for Washington, DC Medical Marijuana Initiative | New Study Indicates That Cannabis Relieves Pain | Drug War Militarization Bill Passes House Over Objections of Colombia | Background on Juvenile Justice Bill | Massacre in Ensenada, Mexico Hits Close to US | Minnesota Marijuana Law Faces Constitutional Challenge | Human Rights Activists Accuse Russian Police of Planting Drugs | National Conference on Prisons This Weekend | Editorial: Repentance for the Drug War
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