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Clinton in Colombia: The Ugly American


Mark WeisbrotWhen

President Clinton announced his trip to Colombia, he said his purpose was

"to seek peace, to fight illicit drugs, to build its economy, and to deepen

democracy."

Nothing

could be further from the truth.

The

Clinton administration seeks not peace but rather a military solution to the

40-year old civil war in Colombia. About three-quarters of its record-breaking

aid package to Colombia is for the military and police. Like Presidents Kennedy

and Johnson in Vietnam, Mr. Clinton is convinced that superior firepower can

destroy a deeply entrenched, armed insurgency.

If

this requires the continuing murder of 3000 civilians each year, or creating

300,000 refugees annually, that is a price that Mr. Clinton is willing to pay.

The

term "human rights abuse" is a euphemism– let’s be honest about what

our tax dollars are paying for in Colombia. "They drank and danced and

cheered as they butchered us like hogs," reports a survivor of a recent

massacre described in the New York Times. He was describing the slaughter of 36

people in the town of El Salado, by 300 paramilitary troops in February. The

troops began bringing their victims to the town square on a Friday, and

according to the Times, "ordered liquor and music, and then embarked on a

calculated rampage of torture, rape and killing" that lasted until Sunday.

The victims included a 6-year old girl and an elderly woman.

The

Colombian army stood by a few miles away, setting up roadblocks that prevented

human rights and rescue workers from trying to help the villagers.

Last

month another mass killing of six people took place in northwest Colombia while

an army helicopter hovered overhead and soldiers were on patrol nearby.

Nonetheless,

President Clinton has now waived most of the human rights conditions that

Congress attached to his military aid package, making it clear that these types

of massacres would not affect US policy.

This

war is not about "illicit drugs," and it never has been. According to

our own Drug Enforcement Agency, there is drug-related corruption in all

branches of the Colombian government, including its armed forces, which are now

the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world (after Israel and

Egypt). The paramilitary death squads, which are closely linked to the Colombian

military and– according to human rights groups– responsible for the vast

majority of political murders, are up to their necks in drug trafficking. Their

leader recently admitted in a TV interview that 70 percent of their funding was

from the drug trade. But our tax dollars will not be used to go after them.

Our

money for Colombia will not help "build its economy," which is

suffering through its worst recession in more than half a century. More than a

fifth of the labor force is unemployed, and millions of peasants have no

marketable alternatives to growing coca if they are to survive. Poisoning their

land, rivers and other crops with aerial spraying of herbicides only adds

further injury and more recruits for the armed conflict.

The

same is true for the budget austerity ordered by the International Monetary

Fund: with Washington’s backing, these policies are likely to worsen the

recession and increase unemployment in Colombia.

Widening

the war will not "deepen democracy," but will further destroy what

little is left of it. By giving the Colombian government and armed forces

another enormous blank check, the Clinton administration simply encourages more

massacres as well as impunity for the perpetrators. There is no reason for

Colombian officials to make the necessary concessions to negotiate an end to the

conflict if they know they have unlimited support for war, including massacres

of civilians.

The

guerrilla groups are understandably wary of a situation in which they have no

guarantees that they or their supporters could survive without their own armed

forces. Their last attempt, in the mid-eighties, to put down their arms and

participate in elections was met with the slaughter of thousands of their

supporters as well as candidates.

Meanwhile,

37 human rights and other non- governmental organizations in Colombia have

stated that they will not accept any funds from "Plan Colombia," the

program that our massive aid package– $1.3 billion, with $860 million for

Colombia– is partially funding. And neighboring states– including Ecuador and

Peru– are beginning to worry that continued escalation of the war will spill

over into their territories.

We

can only hope that the backlash against the Administration’s pursuit of a

violent solution to Colombia’s civil war will continue to grow. When Colombia’s

fate is left to the Colombians, then there will be a chance "to seek peace,

build the economy, and deepen democracy."

Mark

Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in

Washington, DC.