PRESIDENT CLINTON'S visit to Cartagena, Colombia, today underscores U.S. support for President Andres Pastrana's Plan Colombia.
This is a worthy $7.5 billion effort by a politician who was elected to make peace with leftist insurgents. That negotiating process is moving forward listlessly.
Plan Colombia calls for promoting economic recovery, enhancing national security, making peace and strengthening institutions of the state and civil society in a country where a 50-year insurgency grew remarkably lately, amid economic depression and mushrooming narco-traffic.
The older and larger insurgency, known as FARC, enjoys a guaranteed revenue stream by protecting and taxing the narcotics industry. The smaller group, ELN, funds operations by kidnapping people for ransom.
Amid this lawlessness, landowners started right-wing paramilitary groups for protection. These also play the narcotics game and brutalize people. The armed forces have committed human rights abuses and cooperated with paramilitaries.
As part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. administration and Congress put together a package of $1.3 billion in aid over two years, which President Clinton is delivering.
Of this, some 20 percent is for crop substitution, economic reconstruction and human rights training. But 80 percent is for the military, mostly advanced helicopters and U.S. personnel to teach their use. The U.S. purpose is to combat narcotics.
Outside official Washington, the aid package has come under criticism, much of it contradictory, for neglecting the economic side, militarizing the drug problem, being bound to fail, or bound to succeed and push the drug problem into Venezuela and Ecuador. There are also predictions it could drag U.S. forces into a Vietnam-scale quagmire.
The official Colombian argument, that only strengthening its military will bring FARC and ELN to real negotiations, is at least as persuasive.
The leading criticism is that President Clinton waived the human rights certification provision of the bill. Insurgents, narco-traffickers and paramilitaries are Colombia's worst rights abusers. Sensitivity in the armed forces is a work in progress. From a human rights standpoint, the only policy worse than providing aid would be withholding it.
Plan Colombia may not succeed. It will fail if not attempted.