"No Mas!"

By Adam J. Smith, Associate Director


Across the war-torn nation of Colombia, as many as ten million people took to the streets to call for an end to violence in that country's thirty-five year-old civil war. "No mas!" (No more!) they cried in the streets of Bogota, of Medellin, of Cali. But in Washington, DC, far from the blood-stained streets and decimated jungle villages of Colombia, American drug warriors from both major political parties negotiate the level of new military aid -- financed with American tax dollars -- that will be injected into the conflict.

Though American leaders like Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey talk about supporting the democratically elected government of Colombia against Marxist insurgents, the truth is that there are no good guys in this war. The Colombian military, the one on "our" side, has one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere, and factions of the military are closely aligned with right-wing paramilitaries believed to be responsible for the outright massacres of thousands of innocent civilians.

The rebels, for their part, count kidnapping and the protection of drug traffickers among their fundraising strategies. It is the drug trade, to be sure, that is the stated target of American military aid to that nation, but the paramilitaries as well as parts of the national police force and the military itself are known to be profiting from the white gold as well.

Try as they might to cloak America's growing involvement in Colombia as an anti-narcotics imperative, our leaders cannot escape the fact that in so doing, we are sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire that is, at its root, a cultural and economic conflict. Colombia, as large as the US west of the Mississippi, and marked by a terrain of mountains and rain forest, is neither Kuwait nor Iraq. Its problems, including but not limited to the scope of the US-bound drug trade and the pervasive corruption that prohibition has engendered, will not easily be solved by the simple introduction of American firepower, or even American troops.

A rational policy-if that, and not the enrichment of American defense contractors, is truly our goal-would include reducing, rather than increasing the level of weaponry on the ground. That would be accomplished very efficiently by taking the money out of the nation's chief export, narcotics.

On Sunday, October 24, an estimated ten million Colombians took to the streets to demand an end to the violence that has defined their nation and their lives for more than a generation. It is a cry that must be heard, and heeded if Latin America's longest-standing democracy is to survive intact. US foreign policy, in misguided if not disingenuous service to our profitable and corrupt drug war, seems at direct odds to the interests of peace.

It is immoral for us to destroy a nation and its citizens in a doomed attempt to rectify our own domestic policy failures and our own citizens' demand for prohibited substances. Instead, we ourselves should be out in the streets, echoing the Colombian ten million, calling for peace, telling our leaders, our drug warriors, "No Mas!"