Colombia Policy Splits Congress: U.S. Official: Issue Is More Divisive Than Central America Wars

By Carter, Tom | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Colombia Policy Splits Congress: U.S. Official: Issue Is More Divisive Than Central America Wars


Carter, Tom, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Colombia's civil war, pitting Marxist guerillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers against the government of Colombia is spilling over into the halls of Congress.

The fight in Washington over competing White House and congressional anti-drug proposals is, by some accounts, as bitter and acrimonious as the 40-year-old civil war.

"This fight is much more partisan, and more personal, than anything between the White House and Congress in the '80s," said a State Department official who insisted on anonymity, referring to the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

At stake is perhaps $1.5 billion in U.S. aid over the next three years.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana came into office in August 1998 promising peace in the civil war that has cost about 35,000 lives in the last 10 years.

Last year, Mr. Pastrana ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) a Switzerland-sized chunk of the country some call "Farclandia." The guerrillas have continued to attack, protect drug production and kidnap. Last week Mr. Pastrana told the Colombian people that achieving peace would take more time.

In mid-September, the beleaguered president announced a $7 billion package of anti-drug measures, peace initiatives and social services he calls "Plan Colombia."

He has asked the international community, led by the United States, to contribute about $3 billion of the plan's cost. Some in Congress and the White House have signaled their willingness to approve about $1.5 billion.

At issue is how the money will be divided between the police and the military.

But powerful Republicans have all but rejected Mr. Pastrana's peace offerings as "appeasement."

"Support for increased military aid to Colombia should be dependent upon

restoration of government access to the narco-guer-

rillas' 16,000-square-mile zone of impunity," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Colombian government officials fear being drawn into Washington's partisan battles.

"We are seeking support for `Plan Colombia.' We do not want to become the ham in the sandwich," said a senior Colombian government official who asked not to be named.

U.S. aid to Colombia has been rising. Most of the U.S. money has been directed to the police and its domestic drug-eradication program.

Congress has appropriated almost $290 million for Colombia this year, but for the most part, it has yet to be delivered.

"The money not getting there has consequences," said a Republican aide. He said a top Colombian police officer was killed last week because of shoddy equipment.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy shows the amount of money going to interdiction has increased 47 percent since 1996. Furthermore, the total amount of money going to international anti-drug efforts in the same period has increased 120 percent.

This summer, U.S. drug police chief Barry McCaffrey proposed spending a substantial amount of money on Colombia's military. It was the Clinton administration's first sign that the U.S. drug war may be predicated on defeating Colombia's Marxist guerrillas.

Critics say this, and the 250 U.S. troops already training Colombian forces, are the first steps toward a "new Vietnam."

Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, says he wants nothing to do with the administration's plan to fund the military. …

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