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COLOMBIA STRIKES BACK



Published: Tue, February 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



COLOMBIA STRIKES BACK

Miami Herald: For three years, Colombian President Andres Pastrana offered leftist guerrillas his open palm in an ultimately fruitless gesture of peace. Thursday, he finally slapped them with the back of his hand as he unleashed a bombing campaign in advance of a ground assault in rebel-held territory. It's about time.

Let there be no illusions in Bogota or Washington over what this war is about, or the necessity for it. Colombia must settle this internal dispute, move forward economically and resume its proper role as a leading democracy in the hemisphere.

Narco-trafficking activities: To that end, President Pastrana devoted most of his four-year term to trying to persuade FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels to stop their guerrilla and narco-trafficking activities. He gave them a Switzerland-size tract of land (16,000 square miles) in hopes that it could be a demilitarized buffer zone. He courageously went into rebel territory for peace talks.

Now, six months before his term ends, Pastrana realizes that his efforts have produced only broken promises. Rebels turned the "buffer" zone into a no-man's-land, a haven for drug operations, terrorist attacks, kidnappings, extortion and the random murders of 3,500 people a year.

Having spent most of his political capital on appeasement, Pastrana now turns to the big stick. He deserves U.S. support and has gotten it. Senior Bush administration officials said yesterday that the White House fully supports Colombia's military actions.

The United States has allocated $800 million to Colombia for counter-narcotics operations and equipment, including training and advising the Colombian military. Last month, President Bush requested an additional $98 million. Congress should approve the request.

Americans should stand firm in support of Colombia because:

UIt is one of our democratically led hemispheric neighbors.

UWe are the demand side of Colombia's intractable drug equation.

UOur country has pledged to fight global terrorism.

U.S. aid to Colombia and involvement by U.S. military personnel has been strictly limited to anti-narcotics activities and training. But the U.S. government officially has labeled the FARC as a terrorist organization, which opens the door for a larger U.S. role.

Drug operations are the financial underpinning for guerrilla violence. The two are so intertwined that one cannot be combatted without including the other. With Pastrana's escalation of the campaign against FARC, the United States should acknowledge that FARC is a two-headed monster and give Colombia the support it needs to win this campaign.




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