Published Wednesday, August 11, 1999, in the Miami Herald

                                   MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
 

Colombia needs international support

Madeleine K. Albright is the U.S. secretary of state.
 

The death of five American and two Colombian soldiers in a plane crash during a counternarcotics mission in Colombia last month put the spotlight on our stake in South America's most troubled country.

Colombian drug traffickers produce more than 80 percent of the world's cocaine and a rising proportion of the heroin that reaches our shores.
Two guerrilla organizations -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) -- are at war with the government and control a significant amount of territory.

The guerrillas are opposed by right-wing paramilitary groups that, like the guerrillas, regularly abuse human rights. Both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries use the drug trade to finance their operations. Efforts by Colombia's president, Andres Pastrana, to negotiate peace have stalled. Crime is rampant, and the nation's economy is in the midst of its worst recession since the 1930s.

Colombia's problems extend beyond its borders and have implications for regional security and stability. To turn the tide, Pastrana must wage a comprehensive effort. And he needs -- and deserves -- international support that focuses on more than drug interdiction and eradication.

As Pastrana understands, the goals of peace, law, prosperity and respect for human rights are not separate from one another, but rather reinforcing of each other. Progress toward one will make the others easier to achieve.

There are, for example, many dimensions to the pursuit of peace. After 38 years of struggle, it should be clear that a decisive military outcome is unlikely. Pastrana was right to initiate talks; the question is whether he can muster a combination of pressure and incentives that will cause the guerrillas to respond.

The peace efforts must be guided by Colombians themselves. Pastrana has taken courageous risks in this quest, and it is up to him to decide what carrots and sticks are needed. But the United States and other friends of Colombia must be ready to help. President Clinton already has pledged our support.

The Colombian National Police are spraying and seizing impressive amounts of cocaine and heroin. But coca production is soaring, drug organizations are well armed and financed, and Colombia's judicial system is plagued by corruption, inadequate resources and a backlog of 3.5 million cases. Success will not come quickly, but progress is possible if the government has international support.

The protection of human rights is similarly intertwined with the other goals. Most victims of Colombia's conflict have been civilians. In its most recent offensive, FARC indiscriminately attacked villagers and deployed child soldiers as young as 9.

The guerrilla group still refuses to account for three American missionaries kidnapped from Panama in 1993, and in March its forces murdered three Americans who were working with local indigenous groups. In addition, paramilitary groups recently have stepped up attacks on human-rights workers and political activists.

Under Pastrana, the military has improved its record, but we continue to press for further progress, especially to ensure that any remaining ties between military commanders and paramilitaries are broken.

Nations interested in helping Colombia fight drugs or achieve peace will have an interest in helping it recover economically. The United States has been working with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other partners to ensure that needed assistance is available.

Yesterday Under-Secretary of State Thomas Pickering met in Bogota with Pastrana and conveyed U.S. support for Colombia's efforts to move forward. He is now in Caracas, Venezuela, as part of our effort to secure strong regional backing for policies to achieve peace, establish law and build prosperity.

Colombia's people are engaged in a vital test of democracy, a test they must pass for themselves. But they should know that we understand the many dimensions and long-term nature of the problems they face and that we will do all we can to help them.
 

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