US Congress Triples Military Aid to Colombia 12/4/98

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Congressional Republicans this week passed an initiative which will triple the amount of aid, mostly in the form of military hardware, being sent to Colombia. The move, which surprised even Andres Pastrana, Colombia's new president, appears to have been the result of direct communications between congressional Republicans and General Rosso Jose Serrano, chief of Colombia's national police force.

The approval of military aid, including upgraded Huey and Blackhawk helicopters, directly to the National Police, worries critics who point out that the police have consistently blurred the lines between fighting the narcotics trade and fighting the insurgency forces within the context of Colombia's thirty-five year old civil war. Adam Isaacson of the Center for International Policy told the New York Times that the move has the potential to increase America's involvement in that conflict. "It's another step in the wrong direction" he told The Times.

This comes at a time when Pastrana has already involved his government in the most aggressive peace initiative in recent memory. Already, Pastrana has pulled his military forces from an area the size of Switzerland as a show of faith leading up to the beginning of talks with the rebels.

The increase in aid "surprised everybody," said Rodrigo Lloreda, Colombia's defense minister. Statements such as this underscore the disconnect between Congress' actions and the will, or at least the plans of the new government, despite the feelings of the U.S. lawmakers who engineered the increase. "I look at this as giving Colombia the support it needs to do what it wants to do," Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) told The Times. "It will put the government in a better bargaining position."

But such statements only serve to highlight the blurring of the lines between counter insurgency, in which the U.S. has previously avoided getting involved, and counternarcotics operations which, though largely unsuccessful, some would say futile, remain a darling of the drug warriors. In fact, in an apparent effort to justify the crossover in the use of American Aid by Colombia, many advocates have begun to use the phrase "narco-guerillas" when referring to the rebels.

Cynthia Arnson, Senior Program Associate for International Policy at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told The Week Online "The trouble is that it is very unrealistic when we hear officials from either nation struggling to make rhetorical distinctions between the two operations, when those on the ground know that no such distinction is being made in practice."

The difficulty stems from the fact that some portion of the nation's estimated 15,000 rebel troops are making money from protection taxes levied against traffickers operating in regions under their control. The situation is further complicated by the fact that experts agree that all sides in the conflict are benefiting from drug profits to one degree or another. Colombia's previous president, in fact, became persona non grata in the US after allegations that he took over $6 million from traffickers for his election campaign. The country's former drug czar is currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of drug corruption.

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Issue #69, 12/4/98 DRCNet Projects and Campaigns | Alert: Show of Support Needed for New Jersey Needle Exchange | US Congress Triples Military Aid to Colombia | Report: New York State Now Spending More on Prisons than Higher Education | Drug War Perjury Highlighted In Congressional Impeachment Hearings | Thousands Protest at US Army School of the Americas | Swiss Legalization Referendum Fails, but Provides Hopeful Signs for Future | Coalition Seeking DC Election Results Grows | Editorial: Criminalizing our Children
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