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United States Touts War 12 Million Rally for Peace in Colombia
By Alynne Romo
Twelve million Colombians - one in three - turned out for October 24 pro-peace demonstrations under the slogan, "No Mas" (no more). Rallies in 18 cities and 800 towns called for progress in the peace talks and an end to violence against civilians. Although Colombians are hoping this unprecedented anti-war movement will light a fire under negotiations, there are minority factions within the guerrillas and government who still want war. And our government agrees.
Led by conservative Republicans, Congress is falling for Southcom's plot to send one billion dollars annually to police Colombia for the next three years. Human rights critics have fought the funding because Colombia's military and its attached paramilitary groups are accountable for over 70 percent of the human rights abuses and the military maintains a system of impunity.
Will It Stop Drugs?
The drug trade permeates all sectors of Colombian society including money-laundering bankers, bribed politicians, paramilitary groups that were started by the military/narcotrafficker alliance, peasants and the guerrillas.
Some in the U.S. government always alleged that guerrillas were involved in drugs. Col. John D. Waghelstein, writing in Military Review, explained that the way to counter groups that support Latin American rebels is to put them "on the wrong side of the moral issue" by creating "a melding of the American public's mind and in Congress" of the narco-guerrilla connection. In reality, it is only recently that the rebels got involved and it is thanks to the United States.
A few years ago, coca was grown in Peru. Efforts spearheaded by the United States to put Peru's coca-growers out of business created new opportunities for Colombia's peasant farmers to replace their existing crops with the more profitable coca. At first, the coca was grown near cities. But with anti-drug operations pushing cultivation into the countryside, it landed right in guerrilla territory. Rebels levy a "tax" on all goods trucked through their turf, including coca and processing supplies. That tax increases the cost for coca-paste producers and prompts them to send paramilitaries into rebel areas. The rebels, in turn, reap huge financial rewards from the taxes, and although some rebel leaders maintain their ideological orientations, others appear to enjoy their new power.
Our government has made no indication that it understands these contradictions. It plans to end drug production by scorching the earth while paramilitary groups "drain the water from the fish." Although paramilitaries guard huge drug production facilities, the United States says nothing.
If you know anyone who buys the idea that another $3 billion will fix this problem, you might want to point out to them the last $3 billion yielded zero net drop in the drug supply. Despite aerial defoliants, Colombian coca production has risen 260 percent, and drug profits are so high that the average drug organization can lose 70-80 percent of its product and still be profitable. The annihilated Medillin and Cali cartel were replaced by other traffickers. And drug treatment is seven times more effective than domestic policing, ten times more effective than interdiction and 23 times more effective than attacking drugs at the source.
And you might add that the now-muddy civil war kills civilians. Colombia has 100-200 massacres a year. Its human rights workers, community leaders and peace advocates are targets. Its labor leaders account for over half of labor unionists killed worldwide. Catholic church aid workers are victims and at least 35 Protestant pastors have been assassinated. Over 100,000 people are dead and 1.5 million people are refugees.
The United States has incarcerated a generation of minority youth here at home. This "war on drugs" serves no good purpose. Congress needs to spend that money wisely before we O.D. on destruction.
Alynne Romo works with the Colombia Support Network.