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
could be further from the truth.
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.
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.
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.
Colombian army stood by a few miles away, setting up roadblocks that prevented
human rights and rescue workers from trying to help the villagers.
month another mass killing of six people took place in northwest Colombia while
an army helicopter hovered overhead and soldiers were on patrol nearby.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in