"Columbia Anti-Drug Program Loses Major Supporter"
by Christopher Marquis
Washington, D.C.- Representatives Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has abruptly withdrawn his support from the decision to funnel $1.3 billion in mostly military aid to Columbia, arguing that the United States is on the brink of a "major mistake."
Mr. Gilman, Republican of New York, sent a letter this week to the White House drug policy coordinator, General Barry McCaffrey, contending that the U.S. Plan to increase the role of the Colombian military in the drug fight will end disastrously, because the military has undermined its political support after a history of corruption and human rights abuses. That position echoes other critics of the plan.
Mr. Gilman called on the Clinton administration to redirect its assistance, including at least 40 Black Hawk helicopters, from the military to the national police in Columbia. Mr. Gilman has long admired the police, which he views as more effective and less tainted by human rights violations.
"If we fail early on with Plan Colombia, as I fear, we could lose the support of the American people for our efforts to fight illicit narcotics abroad," Mr. Gilman said.
Last summer, Mr. Gilman voted to support Plan Colombia, a $7.5 billion strategy drafted jointly by American and Colombian officials and passed by Congress. In addition to the military spending, the program allocates money to promote alternative corps, economic renewal and human rights.
The Plan seeks to halve drug production over five years in Columbia, reportedly the source of most of the cocaine and heroin that enters the United States.
Congressional sources said that Mr. Gilman was troubled by recent military failures in rural areas where revel sources operate.
It is unclear what effects, if any, Mr. Gilman’s shift will have. A Senate Republican aide who follows Columbia closely said it was "far too early" to criticize the plan. Mr. Gilman is expected to relinquish his chairmanship next year because of term limits.
Critics of Plan Colombia have argued that the military aid would merely intensify the conflict which two revel groups have joined forces with narcotics traffickers against the government, a conflict that could eventually draw the United States directly into fighting the rebels.
The administration has promised to watch over the military’s record on human rights. A spokesman for Mr. McCaffrey, Robert Weiner, said Thursday that denying aid to the military on the basis of its past performance would ensure defeat.
"Granted they’re not a superpower," Mr. Weiner said. "One of the major
purposes of the Plan Colombia is to provide the military with the
resources they need. this actually scares the cartels to death."