Washington Sends the Wrong Man to Colombia as Chance for PeacefulResolution of Guerilla Conflict Rapidly Vanishes

Press Release August 8, 2000
Media Contact

Graham Marsden, Council on Hemispheric Affairs or Lev Guter, Council On Hemispheric Affairs

  • White House Drug Czar, Gen. McCaffrey, will visit President Andreas Pastrana to discuss implementation of 1.3 billion-dollar Bogota aid package, not to discuss peaceful resolution to a conflict which could tear Colombia apart.
  • McCaffrey has revealed few special gifts for addressing issues of social and civil reform in deeply troubled societies like Colombia, with his invariable formula being the militarization of the drug-war and its merger with the civil war against the country’s leftist guerrilla forces.
  • The basic fact which Clinton and his White House team refuse to acknowledge is that the Colombian military is on record as conceding it cannot win a victory over the guerrillas, a fact of life that even the U.S. aid package cannot change.
  • Clinton’s upcoming Aug. 30 visit is last real chance for civilian settlement before full-scale civil war is waged utilizing U.S. equipment.

Washington has sent Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the chief proponent for the militarization of the war on drugs in Latin America, to ostensibly address issues of social reform. In reality, the mission will lay the groundwork to expand and step-up McCaffrey’s futile war against drug production in Colombia. The $1.3 billion aid package targeted for the nation is sure to widen and deepen the decades old civil war in the north, recklessly plunging the U.S. into what could become one of its most disastrous Latin American foreign policy commitments in recent history. Rather than bring a peaceful resolution, Washington’s massive contribution to the war on drugs will serve instead to fuel a thinly veiled anti-insurgency campaign that seeks to eliminate Colombia’s two surviving guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Since the FARC network is often intertwined with components and structures of civil society, if the Colombian military launches a strategic campaign against these leftist forces, the fragile semblance of normalcy among a populace already alienated by all sides to the conflict will be fundamentally undermined. The policies that Pastrana has been pressured to agree upon have only further pushed the country toward this catastrophic outcome. So far, McCaffrey’s tutelage appears to have actually widened the narcotics production and distribution network, changing what was once a Cali-centric production hierarchy ruled over by a few major cartels into a chain of fragmented and decentralized operations spread over a growing number of countries, including almost every one of the Caribbean Basin countries.

McCaffrey and proponents of the Colombian Aid package on Capitol Hill took the stance that Colombia’s growing drug-related violence could be stamped out by destroying coca plantations, which provide the major source of income to the FARC in the form of “war” taxes. They also have insisted upon the option to wage all-out warfare against concentrated pockets of guerrilla forces, where need be, in order to curb the expansion of the ever-widening drug network. These policies inexorably impede a civil resolution of the conflict, since this package pushes for stepped-up military operations wherever Colombian authorities and the FARC have come to an impasse in terms of a peaceful resolution to the long-standing civil war. The real issue at hand, which McCaffery tragically has not centered upon, is that Colombian civic society is disintegrating, with current U.S. powers only accelerating the process.

McCaffrey’s visit to Colombia today begins the process of rolling out the red carpet for Clinton’s arrival on August 30. In a recent White House press statement, Clinton pointed out the importance of a peaceful and stable Colombia to foster democratic principles throughout the region. Unfortunately, up to this point, U.S. policy has done quite the contrary. The U.S. president’s coming visit will be his last chance to open his eyes to the realities that habitually have been ignored in U.S.-Colombia relations. The FARC is fighting what it believes to be a political war, and therefore should at least receive an open ear from the international community. To answer political insurgency with threats of the enhanced use of military might is to guarantee the same level of activity from the FARC and an end to the admittedly frustrating peace talks. The inherently militaristic tone of McCaffery’s talking points already stacks the outcome against any possibility of peaceful resolutions. Another major roadblock in seeking an agreement is that Pastrana cannot guarantee protection for FARC leaders (if they agree to lay down their arms and reintegrate themselves in society) because he doesn’t control the various paramilitary groups as well as military units that have orchestrated unmonitored attacks on FARC controlled areas and which systematically assassinated guerrilla leaders who returned to civil life in the 1980’s.

For the past eight years Clinton has directed rhetoric of building democracy in Latin America, but his convictions about making a real difference appear to dissolve at our border. His upcoming visit to Colombia is his last chance as president to turn a vague PR campaign into definitive and effective policy to promote democracy, particularly after the fiasco just administered by President Fujimori in Peru. An indiscriminate military aid campaign is not the way to create the foundation for stable democracy in the region. As Pastrana’s power peels away and his popularity plummets, the country risks crumbling into a state governed by a broadsword wielded by any number of hands. Colombia’s best defense against the FARC is to create a sound economy and social structure. This means increasing funding for programs that expand education along with vocational training and needed social reforms. Clinton must have the will and foresight to attack the drug problems at the source by re-directing U.S. efforts and supplies to afford Colombia the opportunity to restructure its civic society in which an anti-drug role has a fitting place. The country must nurture a job market so that narcotics trafficking does not crowd out legitimate businesses. It will be a lost opportunity if the Clinton visit just provides more of the same, which demonstrably has been a losing formula up to now.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and tax exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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