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Aug 232005

Here’s an English translation of the op-ed that Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) published in the Colombian daily El Tiempo last Saturday.

El Tiempo, August 20, 2005

The U.S. Should Change Course in Colombia

U.S. Congressman James P. McGovern, Democratic Representative of Massachusetts

For the past few years, I have offered amendments in the U.S. House of Representatives to cut, limit or condition military aid to Colombia. My hope was never to walk away from Colombia, but to achieve a better balance in our failing strategy toward Colombia.

Colombia is not just the source of 90 percent of cocaine on U.S. streets. Many of your own people suffer from an intractable forty-year war with groups the State Department considers terrorists. Vast stretches of the national territory are totally ungoverned.

Yet Colombia was facing exactly the same set of challenges five years ago, when President Clinton signed into law "Plan Colombia." After five years and $4 billion, making Colombia the largest U.S. aid recipient outside the Middle East, little has changed.

This money has not paid for a balanced strategy. Eighty percent has gone to Colombia’s military and police. For every four dollars spent on helicopters, guns and military trainers, only one has gone to feed millions of displaced families, to make a broken judicial system function, or to help people in neglected rural areas make a decent, legal living.

The results in the United States have also been depressing but predictable. Not only is cocaine just as cheap and plentiful here as it was in 2000, but last year saw no drop in the amount of coca being grown in Colombia.

While President Uribe deserves congratulations for reducing several measures of violence, such as kidnappings, guerrilla groups remain far from the negotiating table, territorial gains have been very few, forced displacement is increasing, and recent months have seen a spike in guerrilla attacks. Worse, for the past two years the United Nations has documented an increase in human rights violations by military personnel. Meanwhile, President Uribe’s main step toward "peace" has been a likely deal with the paramilitaries that will allow them to pay brief sentences in luxurious jails despite having massacred thousands of innocent people, while avoiding extradition despite having sent tons of drugs to my country.

During his visit to Texas, President Uribe asked President Bush for additional funds to support this deal with the paramilitaries. He also asked for more military assistance and more planes to spray herbicides over coca-growing peasants.

Rather than more military aid, the United States instead should have offered more resources to help the Colombian government regain control of territory by utilizing all of the nation’s resources – not just soldiers but courts, schools, clinics and roads, and funds for the necessary teachers, health care workers, legal experts and construction workers. The United States should help demobilize the paramilitaries, but only if we can be confident that the process does not leave mass murderers in charge of politically powerful criminal networks.

Our drug policy could do much more if we reduced demand by providing treatment for our own addicts, while carrying out a genuine effort to alleviate the economic desperation that pushes poor farmers into the coca and poppy trade in Colombia. Sadly, President Bush chose to follow the status quo of more military aid, despite continued impunty on key Colombian human rights cases.

I have visited some of the poorest, most conflictive corners of Colombia. And as member of the U.S. Congress, I want to support a policy for Colombia that promotes stability, justice, human rights and peace. For that to happen, both the Colombian government and the U.S. government must change course. Immediately.

One Response to “Rep. McGovern: The U.S. should change course”

  1. jcg Says:

    I’m somewhat at odds here, to be sincere.

    I definitely agree with the conclusion and overall argument, but I doubt that some of the terms employed will resonate much with either the Bush or Uribe administrations, and most of their supporters in their respective Congress’ (with regards to U.S. aid and its use, I mean).

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