Perils of Colombia

Drug dangers: Death, corruption, abuses create difficulties for war against narco-terrorism.

August 21, 1999

THE DEATHS of five U.S. service personnel in the July 23 crash of a de Haviland RC7 spy plane sent an alarm about U.S. aid to Colombia, now some $289 million a year.

The plane was supposedly seeking cocaine operations. It may really have been hunting leftist insurrectionists, whom Colombia's army finds to be the greater enemy. The leftists and narco-terrorists do have mutual interests.

A second alarm was the Aug. 5 arraignment in Brooklyn, N.Y., of Laurie Anne Hiett for allegedly mailing nearly 16 pounds of cocaine through the Army Post Office in the U.S. Embassy in Bogota to New York. Her husband, Col. James C. Hiett, commanded all 200 U.S. service personnel assisting in Colombia's war on drugs. He requested reassignment when he became aware of the investigation involving his wife.

The narcotics business is so corrupting; it easily infects those who would fight it. As U.S. diplomatic and service personnel become more involved in foreign operations, the need for vigilance grows. Lack of confidence in Mexico's anti-drug forces attests to what can occur elsewhere.

The Aug. 13 assassination of a popular Colombian radio satirist, Jaime Garzon, was a third warning. Mr. Garzon was probably killed by right-wing death squads in the military, and probably for his role in peace missions to two revolutionary movements.

With the U.S. withdrawing from bases in Panama and with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez denying use of that country's air space, the war against Colombia's narco-terrorists becomes more difficult. Recent incidents show that the United States is getting more deeply involved where it cannot control targeting or corruption.

The goal of increasing cooperation, as urged by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, White House director of drug control policy, is worthy. But more analysis of risk and benefit is required. It is not worth doing if it is more likely than not to fail.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.