Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

Key Problems

* The U.S. policy debate has not adequately addressed the ties of paramilitary groups both to the Colombian military and to drug operations.

* Over the past decade, aerial eradication in Colombia has not proved effective, and it poses both health and environmental risks.

* Aid to Andean militaries is unlikely to improve regional security. Instead, it is having a destabilizing effect, particularly in Ecuador.

The Andean Regional Initiative is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the production and trafficking of drugs in the region. It continues U.S. support for eradication programs that have had little success, have angered rural communities, and are threatening human health and the environment. Moreover, the new package once again fails to address the major problem of the growth of paramilitary violence and associated human rights abuses.

The ARI includes hundreds of millions of dollars for the Colombian Army and police, which continue to work hand-in-glove with paramilitary groups. Paramilitary squads often do what the military does not want to risk or be seen doing: gaining control of rural areas by killing or forcibly evicting peasant families. Yet the well-documented links of paramilitary squads to the army, as well as to illicit drug operations, have been largely absent from the official U.S. debate.

Paramilitary organizations are deeply involved in all phases of the drug trade: they tax drug production, run cocaine laboratories, protect trafficking routes, and even run drugs themselves. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) called Carlos Castano, leader of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, a "major drug dealer in his own right." It concluded that he is closely linked to the drug syndicates now responsible for shipping "tons of cocaine and heroin into the U.S." Washington's counternarcotics strategy, however, is focused on the southern regions where leftist guerrillas have established a stronghold while ignoring the northern regions, where paramilitary forces control the drug trade.

And paramilitary violence is increasing. The Colombian Commission of Jurists reports that the daily average of politically motivated homicide doubled between 1998 and 2000--to almost 20 murders per day. In 2000, almost 85% of these murders were attributed to state agents and paramilitary groups, with the remaining 15% attributed to guerrilla groups. According to a Colombian government human rights agency, civilian deaths by armed actors rose 75% in 2000, with paramilitaries responsible for almost all of the increase.

In a particularly brutal incident in April 2001, a paramilitary squad killed at least 40 peasants in the Alto Naya region of southwestern Colombia, dismembering some with chainsaws. Less than a month before, UN and Colombian government representatives had warned the security forces of possible paramilitary attacks in the region, but the Colombian Army arrived five days after the slaughter began. Bogota has failed to take the necessary measures--including prosecuting military officers involved in paramilitary activity--to stop paramilitary violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office has found that "the paramilitary phenomenon continues to expand and consolidate. …

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