U.S. military assistance to Colombia is reaching levels comparable to the aid given El Salvador in the 1980s, as the Drug War replaces the Cold War in the rubric of national security. Currently, some 250-400 U.S. military and civilian personnel are stationed in Colombia to train its military to fight "narco-guerrillas," i.e., leftist rebels such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which tax the drug trade in areas they control.
This blurred line between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency ignores the fact that right-wing paramilitary groups are also heavily involved in the drug trade, yet are granted impunity and at times direct support by the Colombian army—and, according to State Department estimates, commit more than 70 percent of human rights abuses in Colombia.
Although public concern over human rights helped delay passage of a major aid package to Colombia in 1999, congressional drug warriors and the Clinton administration continue to push mainly military solutions to that country’s complex problems. Such solutions minimize options such as alternative crop promotion and domestic treatment and prevention programs, and risk deepening the human rights crisis in Colombia, which has displaced 1.5 million people and results in 3,000 political killings annually. For updates and suggested action, contact the Latin America Working Group (202) 546-7010; www.lawg.org.