Research: Publications

The "War on Drugs" meets the "War on Terror"

February 3, 2003 | Report

By Ingrid Vacius, Adam Isacson

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In 2000 – an age ago, in foreign-policy terms – U.S. involvement in war-torn Colombia was big news. The Clinton Administration moved through Congress a special aid bill just for Colombia and its neighbors. By the time President Clinton signed the controversial package into law in July, a profusion of front-page articles, op-eds, congressional floor speeches and television coverage had put Colombia near the top of Washington’s list of international priorities.

One of the legislation’s main backers, then-Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, predicted that the $1.3 billion contribution to "Plan Colombia" – $860 million of it for Colombia, three-quarters of that for Colombia’s police and military – would "strengthen democracy, the rule of law, economic stability, and human rights in Colombia."[1 ] Its critics warned of serious consequences. "It risks drawing us into a terrible quagmire," warned the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota). "History has repeatedly shown, especially in Latin America – just think of Nicaragua or El Salvador – that the practical effect of this strategy now under consideration is to militarize, to escalate the conflict, not to end it."[2 ]

A lot has happened since the 2000 debate. Fighting between the government, two leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries worsened, killing about 4,000 people and forcing over 350,000 from their homes last year. The Colombian government’s attempts to negotiate peace with guerrilla groups came to a crashing halt in February 2002. Three months later, Colombians elected Álvaro Uribe, a hard-line president who promised to put the country on a total-war footing. Drug production continued to explode. The human rights situation worsened. "Democracy, the rule of law, economic stability and human rights" have eroded further.

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