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October 15, 2004 - The Santa Fe New Mexican (NM)

Our Troops In Colombia? Yanquis Come Home!

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While Iraq remains the Bush administration's most tragic misuse of our military against terrorism, the Republican Congress is compounding a minitragedy of its own making:

It has authorized 400 more troops, and 200 more civilian contractors, to help wage a kind of dope-and-terror war in Colombia. We already have 400 soldiers and 400 spies there.

"Plan Colombia" began under President Clinton, as help-or was it institutionalized nosiness? -- toward that nation's struggle with drug cartels.

As U.S. Ambassador Lew Tambs noted back in the 1980s, there was a "narc-FARC" connection: The guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia finances its terrorism through control of cocaine-at least some of it.

But nowadays, there's a private army on the right wing, which also runs on coke. As for the civilian government, if today's is any less corrupt than any of its predecessors, que milagro. With cocaine commanding such high prices, thanks to its illegality, fortunes are to be made in the countries of origin-not to mention by the time it reaches the noses of the rich and famous in the world's glamour capitals.

Police corruption in this country comes up from time to time. In Colombia, it's an ongoing reality.

If Washington were serious about cocaine as a truly narcoterroristic threat, it would declare Colombia a pariah nation and treat it as such in matters of trade.

Better yet, the United States would call off its nonsensical dope wars by legalizing the stuff, spending taxpayers money instead on education and treatment.

But no; for decades we've had grown men and women running around the tropics playing cops and robbers.

Raising the ante, President Bush last year declared FARC and other guerrillas to be terrorist organizations, same as al-Qaida.

They're dangerous, to be sure: Guerrilleros have killed or maimed supreme-court justices, presidential candidates and cabinet members. As for narcotraficantes, they even killed their own country's goalkeeper for allowing the United States to score against him in a soccer game.

La violencia has plagued Colombia for more than half a century; even peasants live in fear of murderous bandidos, while bands of feral youngsters stalk shoppers on the streets of Bogotá, makeshift weapons in hand. Communists left over from the Cold War kill in more organized fashion-and paramilitary fascists retaliate in kind.

It's a problem; Colombia's problem. Police advice, training and cooperation with intelligence should be part of our nation's help overcoming it. But U.S. troops traipsing around the jungles burning fields and breaking up drug labs that'll be replicated along another river within weeks? Crazy-and potentially tragic.

The real "war on terror" -- whether it should be fought on military terms or waged with more effective police intelligence -- needs all the personnel our country has at its disposal, and more.

Until such time as Colombian viciosos bring their cowardly form of fighting to our shores or otherwise pose a clear and present danger, we should get our troops out of there.

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