Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Colombia Winning the War on Drugs?

Colombia has long exported almost all the cocaine and much of the heroine bought in the US. This year's crops in the Colombia has decreased according to the UN and the US government. President has shared the credit with Washington. The US has given Bogota 2.5 billion dollars in aid, much of it military, since 2000.

A lot of Americans probably don't realize that Colombia is one of the largest recipients in the world of American aid. Colombia is destroying drugs. In one year Colombia has destroyed 70% of illegal drugs. Uribe says he no longer wants drugs in Colombia. "Whenever one American citizen consumes coca, cocaine, or poppy" says Uribe, "his consumption helps the traffickers, helps the terrorists."

"Terrorists" is Uribe's general reference to two opposing forces. More than 20,000 leftist guerrillas in Colombia - the main group is known by the Spanish acronym, FARC - and more than 15,000 armed right wing paramilitaries; they're involved in a complex brutal war that takes ten lives a day, mostly civilians. Both the FARC and to an even greater degree the paramilitary groups are said to be funded by the drug traders, and Uribe considers both groups a single enemy.

Uribe said in an interview with Ray Suarez:

"We have the challenge from terrorist groups against our people, against our democracy. There is a connection. Colombia has terrorists because Colombia has drugs. In the absence of drugs, we can defeat terrorists easily."

Now 51 years old, Alvaro Uribe comes from a family of wealthy landowners. He trained as a lawyer at Harvard and Oxford, then spent much of his career as an official in local and national government. Uribe won the presidency last year which a landslide and his approval ratings have remained in the 60s and 70s. Since taking office, Uribe rejected his predecessor's strategy of making concessions to the rebels and has taken a hard line even as editorial and other critics have denounced it as a "take no prisoners" approach.

Uribe's government has sent the army into FARC strongholds and made arrests; it's increased taxes in order to recruit more soldiers, and it's begun to reward civilian informants who identify guerrilla rebels in their midst. The US has sent military trainers and Special Forces to join the effort. In the Clinton years, American aid was only to be used against drugs, not fighting rebels. Last year the Bush administration and Congress erased the distinction and stepped directly into the war with hardware, training and troops. Secretary of State Colin Powell praised Uribe's efforts:

"I was impressed as he cataloged for the world, for the international community, all the successes that Colombia has had in the past year in reducing violence and destroying illicit crops throughout the country. And I was also impressed in his speech by his clear commitment to human rights in the prosecution of this war that he is fighting against terrorists and drug lords in Colombia."

At the White House and elsewhere this week, Uribe asked for continued US aid currently set to expire in 2005. But Uribe says he needs ongoing help to "kill the snake."

He says, "We have to insist, to persevere, because the snake is debilitated, is weakened, but the snake is still alive. My generation hasn't had a single day of peace. What I want for the new generation of Colombians is that they can live in a country happy, without the difficulties my generation has faced for all my life."

President Uribe's own father was killed in the violence, as well as millions of Columbias. Despite Uribe's campaign, the rebels remain active on several fronts. One is the practice of kidnapping. The FARC has taken scores of government officials and foreign nationals hostage, demanding money and prisoner exchanges. In August, a Colombian TV network aired footage of hostages, urging Uribe to cut a deal with the FARC rebels.

Uribe refuses to negotiate with the rebels and the hostages remain in captivity. The FARC also says it's captured three American civilians, the contractors were on a reconnaissance mission in February when their plane went down in rebel territory. The insurgents are also known for mass killings and bombings in civilian areas. The FARC began in the 1960s with Marxist leanings, but independent analysts say their aim now is simply to make the country ungovernable.Fast growing paramilitary militias mostly operate in rural areas. Like the leftist FARC, the right-wing paramilitaries are considered a terrorist group by the US State Department, but the Uribe administration has made some controversial overtures to them. The two sides declared a cease- fire in July, and Uribe has proposed a bill to give paramilitaries amnesty: Reduced jail terms in exchange for reparation payments to victims' families. Critics of the plan include US Congressman Tom Lantos. The California Democrat says amnesty would let human rights violators with drug ties off the hook.

As Lantos said, "There are some things on which we cannot compromise. The key drug lords cannot escape going to prison for long terms by paying cash to their victims. The government of this country must be aware of the fact that their credibility is at stake."

Uribe says amnesty will bring Colombia closer to what he calls "definitive peace." And he said paramilitary fighters do not receive special treatment in his government.

Uribe says, "Guerrillas and people from paramilitary groups, and they both are terrorist groups. Their actions are pure... are sheer terrorist. In the past when the army was not effective against guerrillas, many people in Colombia thought the army was in collusion with guerrillas; there are - there have been isolated cases, isolated cases of collusion with paramilitaries. But my government needs transparency."

Are some of the things that he's written about past associations, when Uribe was in government as a younger man, is there any truth to them?

Uribe says he cannot discuss the gossip of journalists. His country is determined to eliminate drugs in Colombia.

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