Last year, the U.S. government sent $860 million in aid to the Colombian government to help fund its anti-drug, pro-democracy program named Plan Colombia. Most of this aid was for fighting narcotics production and trafficking.
Congress will soon allocate another $625 million for what is being called the Andean Regional Initiative, and there is no indication that it will scale back Americas involvement in the Colombian drug war.
This is a tragic mistake. Counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia have been ineffective, and additional U.S. intervention will only worsen a desperate situation.
One of the primary components of U.S. anti-drug efforts has been a fumigation campaign against Colombias coca and poppy farms, which are the source of 90 percent of Americas cocaine and 65 percent of Americas heroin.
In this campaign, crop-dusters fly over farms and drop herbicides to eradicate coca and poppy crops. All this program has accomplished is to force the farms to relocate, while doing nothing to curb total coca and poppy production. In the past decade, coca growing has been moved from Bolivia to Peru to central Colombia to southern Colombia because of fumigation, but total cocaine production has actually increased.
Another element of Plan Colombia is military aid to combat organizations responsible for drug production. Last year, the United States gave the Colombian government more than $640 million in military and police aid, including military training by Green Berets and the delivery of 60 combat helicopters.
Both fumigation and military action have proven futile. American demand for cocaine makes it too lucrative a product to stop. Poor farmers will not stop growing coca when cultivating coca is, on average, eight times as profitable as growing coffee or cocoa, and drug traffickers will not simply abandon an estimated $6 billion industry.
Despite our counter-narcotics efforts, cocaine production in Colombia has more than doubled in the past five years. Pumping another $625 million into Plan Colombia will not reverse this trend.
What it will do is increase the suffering of the impoverished and war-weary Colombian people. When the infamous Cali and Medellin drug cartels were brought down in the mid-1990s, control of the drug trade shifted to numerous smaller and harder-to-track drug trafficking groups and left-wing guerrillas who have been fighting a revolution for 37 years.
Although spokesmen from the State Department have said that the U.S. government supports peace talks with the guerrillas, U.S. actions support an escalation of the war against the guerrillas.
Already, fighting is more severe than it has been in 37 years, and critics are drawing parallels between U.S. involvement in Colombias civil war and the Vietnam War. In addition, military aid does nothing to address the growing problem of right-wing paramilitaries, who are responsible for numerous civilian massacres and a significant drug trafficking operation of their own.
While Americas cocaine habit is fueling a $6 billion industry in Colombia, the American government is spending hundreds of millions to wage a violent and ineffective war on cocaine production.
It is also contributing to the escalation of a long and bloody conflict. Plan Colombia must end before more of that countrys innocent civilians are forced to pay for Americas irresponsible and reckless behavior, and the U.S. increases the ranks of its enemies abroad.