Colombia conundrum

Colombia is one of the most violent places in the world. Kidnappings, political murders, pervasive drug trafficking, corruption, and a deepening economic recession wrack the country. Many fear that the nation, torn between leftist guerillas, right-wing private armies, and a military with a history of brutality, is on the verge of collapse. Hope resides in a growing peace movement that has mobilized millions of ordinary Colombians and helped elect a president, Andrés Pastrana, who has pursued a negotiated peace among the factions.

Next month the U.S. Senate is likely to approve a $1.6-billion aid package for Colombia, four-fifths of which is designated as military assistance. The Clinton administration sees the aid, which Pastrana has requested, as crucial to the "drug war." In Peru and Bolivia, the interdiction of drug smugglers and the destruction of coca fields (cocaine is made from the coca leaf), combined with UN-sponsored efforts encouraging farmers to plant alternative crops, have significantly reduced the amount of coca grown there. As a consequence, Colombia has become the source for 80 percent of the world’s cocaine. The Clinton administration thinks that the Colombian armed forces, given the resources and training needed, can get to the coca fields and destroy them. If the United States does nothing, advocates of aid say, not only will the flood of cocaine increase, but the chance for survival of...

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