In Need of a Fix: Reforming Plan Colombia. (Global Notebook)

Article excerpt

Colombia's drug traffickers stunned government officials and the US Drug Enforcement Administration in 2000 when they managed to purchase a Russian submarine and began reconstructing it in the outskirts of Bogota, 210 mires from the sea.

Local workers discovered a warehouse containing the steel sections of the underwater craft, which could have been used to transport tons of illegal drugs. Actions like these have compelled the US government to increase counternarcotics efforts in the troubled nation, which now produces 90 percent of the world's cocaine. However, the Clinton administration's US$1.6 billion package of primarily military and counternarcotics aid, dubbed "Plan Colombia" and now sanctioned by the Bush administration, has proven problematic.

One of the main concerns about US military and economic aid to Colombia's counternarcotics program is that it could inadvertently be subsidizing rightist paramilitary groups recently designated as "terrorist organizations" by the US State Department. Colombia's armed forces, which receive US aid, are suspected of colluding with the paramilitaries and in 2001, Human Rights Watch published a 120-page report documenting ties between three Colombian military brigades and the paramilitaries.

In the United States' new campaign against international terrorism, Colombia poses an intriguing dilemma: the US government cannot allow the continuation of the drug trade, with its close ties to arms proliferation and money laundering, but the Bush administration also must not indirectly support groups that it has denounced as terrorist. First, the administration should reinstate human-rights standards as conditions for aid to the Colombian military. Second, the United States should send more aid to encourage crop substitution instead of relying on the controversial fumigation of suspected coca-growing plantations. Finally, the US government should renew its support for Colombia's increasingly unpopular peace talks in the hope that peace agreement could pull the leftist rebels into a coalition against drug trafficking.

Plan Colombia originated as Colombian president Andres Pastrana's response to the country's drug-trafficking problem. A multi-pronged counternarcotics strategy has been developed to accomplish several objectives: use of the strengthened Colombian armed forces to uproot drug traffickers; discouragement of coca growth through fumigation and crop substitution; and extradition of top traffickers. The United States is transferring helicopters, weapons, communications equipment, and even armored crop dusters (for fumigation) to the Colombian armed forces. Moreover, US defense officials are training Colombian army battalions to deal with drug traffickers.

This emphasis on US support of the Colombian armed forces has raised the issue of Colombia's dealings with rightist groups, especially the AUC (United Self-Defense Alliance). The paramilitary group opposes the leftist rebel groups, FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army). …