This is an August 2007 copy of a website maintained by the Center for International Policy. It is posted here for historical purposes. The Center for International Policy no longer maintains this resource.

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Last Updated:3/20/00
Plenty of Problems, Plenty of Alternatives: The Administration’s Aid Proposal for Colombia

  • Colombia is already the world’s 3rd-largest recipient of U.S. military and police aid.
  • U.S. military and police aid to Colombia has jumped from $65 million in 1996 to $300 million in 1999. With the new aid package, it will likely be over $900 million in 2000. Yet coca cultivation has doubled since 1996.

Problems with the aid proposal:

1. Continuing a failed drug policy. Colombian peasants will continue growing coca and heroin as long as rural Colombia lacks basic services, economic opportunity, and a rule of law. It’s a matter of survival. Aerial fumigation won’t change that – if anything, it will push coca-growing into more remote guerrilla-controlled areas.

2. A step closer to quagmire. The new package’s “push into southern Colombia” closely resembles counterinsurgency, activating U.S.-created units in a fiercely defended guerrilla stronghold. Our new commitment risks sucking us into a 40-year-old war in a country 50 times the size of El Salvador.

3. Threatening a fragile peace process. President Pastrana’s talks with guerrilla groups are in a delicate but promising stage. U.S. weapons and training could weaken this effort, escalating the conflict and encouraging hard-liners on both sides who want to keep fighting. More aid didn’t bring El Salvador’s FMLN to the negotiating table – talks began in 1990, ten years after U.S. aid was first increased and shortly after aid levels went down.

4. Human rights. Colombia’s army, the main beneficiary of the new aid, remains a deeply troubled institution. Despite top leaders’ good intentions, local-level military collaboration with paramilitary groups – responsible for over ¾ of violations in 1999 – remains commonplace and mostly unpunished. The new aid proposal barely mentions the paramilitaries, though they profit handsomely from the drug trade.

Alternatives to the administration’s approach:

1. Address the real reasons Colombians grow drugs. State neglect, lawlessness and poverty have made rural Colombia fertile ground for both armed groups and drug-crop cultivation. The economic aspects of the administration’s aid proposal – alternative development, judicial reform, human rights protections, and institutional strengthening – are worthwhile and should be increased dramatically.

2. Relief for the displaced. Colombia’s violence has driven over 1 million from their homes in the last four years; only Sudan and Angola have a higher displaced population. These internal refugees’ desperation could bring further unrest. Despite enormous need, only 1.5% of the aid proposal would help displaced Colombians.

3. Support the peace process. The United States could do much more to support peace, from supporting civil-society peace initiatives to meeting with combatants. But less than 0.3% of the aid package would support the peace effort.

For more information contact:
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy (202) 232-3317, isacson@ciponline.org

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