San Francisco Chronicle Editorial
December 5, 2000

A Widening War in Colombia

WHOEVER WINS the presidency will also inherit the Clinton administration's risky commitment to finance the so-called drug war in Colombia.

With the passage last June of a $1.3 billion aid package -- most of which is military assistance -- President Clinton and Congress set the stage for American troops and helicopters to intervene in a civil war that has raged for nearly 40 years.

But no one can stop drug production and traffic in Colombia. Thousands of people -- including peasants, large plantation owners, guerrillas and death squads -- survive or thrive on narco-dollars. As a result, none of the warring parties believe it has anything to gain by ending the war.

Nor is it possible to limit the war to Colombia. Stop drug production in any area of the Andean region and up pops coca fields in neighboring nations.

To persuade other Andean countries to support what threatens to turn into a full-scale counterinsurgency attack against leftist guerrillas, who are involved in the drug business, the United States is offering major assistance programs. Panama and Venezuela have rejected such aid as bribes.

Colombia is as volatile as Vietnam was in the early 1960s, before the United States fully entered the war in Southeast Asia. Every day there is news of murders and massacres.

While investigating allegations that the Colombia government tolerates torture, murder and rape, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., a vocal opponent of U. S. military assistance, may have been an assassination target. Also, by accident, a helicopter sprayed him with the same herbicide used to destroy coca fields. Such chemicals pose health threats to peasants, their animals and land.

The United States' intervention in Colombia has still not appeared on this country's political radar. It has the potential to turn into America's next military nightmare, otherwise known as the Andean regional war.

Copyright 2000 San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved.

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