USIS Washington 

12 August 1999

Byliner: Colombia's Struggles, And How We Can Help

(New York Times 08/10/99 Madeleine Albright op-ed piece)  (930)

(The following article is in the public domain; no reprint

(NOTE: Madeleine K. Albright is the U.S. Secretary of State.)

The death of five American and two Colombian soldiers in a plane crash
during a counter-narcotics mission in Colombia last month put the
spotlight on our stake in South America's most troubled country.

Colombian drug traffickers produce more than 80 percent of the world's
cocaine and a rising proportion of the heroin that reaches our shores.
Two guerrilla organizations -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Columbia, known as FARC, and National Liberation Army, or E.L.N. --
are at war with the Government and control a significant amount of

The guerrillas are opposed by right-wing paramilitary groups that,
like the guerrillas, regularly abuse human rights. Both the guerrillas
and the paramilitaries use the drug trade to finance their operations.
Efforts by Colombia's President, Andres Pastrana, to negotiate peace
have stalled. Crime is rampant. And the nation's economy, long a
regional star, is in the midst of its worst recession since the

Colombia's problems extend beyond its borders and have implications
for regional security and stability. To turn the tide, President
Pastrana must wage a comprehensive effort. And he needs -- and
deserves -- international support that focuses on more than drug
interdiction and eradication.

As President Pastrana understands, the goals of peace, law, prosperity
and respect for human rights are not separate from one another, but
rather reinforcing of each other. Progress toward one will make the
others easier to achieve.

There are, for example, many dimensions to the pursuit of peace. After
38 years of struggle, it should be clear that a decisive military
outcome is unlikely. President Pastrana was right to initiate talks;
the question is whether he can muster a combination of pressure and
incentives that will cause the guerrillas to respond.

The peace efforts must be guided by Colombians themselves. President
Pastrana has taken courageous risks in this quest, and it is up to him
to decide what carrots and sticks are needed. But the United States
and other friends of Colombia must be ready to help. President Clinton
has already pledged our support in a letter to President Pastrana on
July 20.

Efforts to stop the drug trade are linked to the quest for peace
because of rebel and paramilitary involvement in drug trafficking.
And, as we have seen in Bolivia and Peru, success in battling drugs
requires a medley of strategies, including eradication, interdiction,
crop substitution, economic development and criminal justice reform.

Here, too, the Colombian Government must take the lead, but others
must do their share. The United States has been a strong supporter of
Colombia's anti-narcotics effort, which is appropriate because our
demand for drugs is a major cause of the problem.

The Colombian National Police are spraying and seizing impressive
amounts of cocaine and heroin. But coca production is soaring, drug
organizations are well armed and financed, and Colombia's judicial
system is plagued by corruption, inadequate resources and a backlog of
3.5 million cases. Success will not come quickly, but progress is
possible if the Government has international support.

The protection of human rights is similarly intertwined with the other
goals. Most victims of Colombia's conflict have been civilians. In its
most recent offensive, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
indiscriminately attacked villagers and deployed child soldiers as
young as 9.

The guerrilla group still refuses to account for three American
missionaries kidnapped from Panama in 1993, and in March its forces
murdered three Americans who were working with local indigenous
groups. In addition, paramilitary groups have recently stepped up
attacks on human rights workers and political activists.

In the past, the Colombian military has squandered support by failing
to prevent human rights abuses, by both its own forces and
paramilitary groups. The United States has strict procedures in place
in Colombia, as elsewhere, to verify that individuals and units
receiving American assistance and training have not been involved in
human rights abuses, and that those responsible for past abuses are
brought to justice.

Under President Pastrana, the military has dramatically improved its
record, but we continue to press for further progress, especially to
insure that any remaining ties between military commanders and
paramilitaries are broken.

Colombia's economic problems are linked to low commodity prices and
high deficits, but they are also the result of crime and conflict.
Conversely, economic development and the creation of legitimate jobs
are the best ways to keep citizens from flouting the law and
supporting radical movements.

So any nation interested in helping Colombia fight drugs or achieve
peace will have an interest in helping it recover economically. The
United States has been working with the International Monetary Fund,
the World Bank and other partners to insure that needed assistance is

Today, Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering will be in Bogota to
meet with President Pastrana and convey United States support for
Colombia's efforts to move forward on all of these fronts. He will go
to Caracas, Venezuela, as well, as part of our effort to secure strong
regional backing for policies to achieve peace, establish law and
build prosperity.

Colombia's people are engaged in a vital test of democracy, a test
they must pass for themselves. But they should know that we understand
the many dimensions and long-term nature of the problems they face,
and that we will do all we can to help them.