The Miami Herald
Mar. 23, 2002
U.S. eyes bigger role in Colombia

                      Bush wants aid in drug war to fight guerrillas

                      BY TIM JOHNSON

                      WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has asked Congress to let U.S. aid to Colombia be used for fighting
                      guerrillas as well as battling the drug trade, a move that would broaden the scope of U.S. involvement in the
                      South American nation.

                      The request would empower the Bush administration to take a more direct role in a 38-year-old civil conflict that
                      entangles three outlaw armies and a huge heroin and cocaine industry.

                      In dry, bureaucratic language, and as part of a $27.1 billion spending request, the White House asked Congress
                      Thursday night for an additional $35 million to assist Colombia. It also asked for authority to tear down a firewall
                      that has barred some $2 billion in U.S. counter-drug assistance in recent years from being employed to fight

                      Chances appear favorable that Congress will approve the request. Two weeks ago, the House passed a resolution
                      urging the White House to help Colombia fight ``terrorist organizations and the scourge of illicit narcotics.''

                      All three of Colombia's outlaw armies -- the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and smaller National
                      Liberation Army; and the right-wing Self-Defense Forces of Colombia -- have been designated by the State
                      Deparment as ''terrorist'' groups.

                      In its request, the White House asked for ''broader authority'' to help Colombia counter 'the unified `cross-cutting'
                      threat posed by groups that use narcotics trafficking to fund their terrorist and other activities that threaten the
                      national security of Colombia.''

                      ''Such authority . . . would explicitly recognize the link between narcotics trafficking and terrorist assistance,'' the
                      request said.

                      Colombia's ambassador to the United States, Luís Alberto Moreno, said the proposal would give ''much greater
                      flexibility'' to Colombia's security forces and help turn turn the tide against the outlaw groups.

                      ''Those who seek to terrorize Colombians . . . have their days numbered,'' he said.

                      State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the White House request does not signal diminished concern
                      about rampant human rights abuses in Colombia.

                      ''The promotion of human rights in Colombia is central to U.S. goals in that country,'' Reeker said.

                      He added that legal limits remain in effect that cap the presence of U.S. personnel in Colombia at 400 military and
                      400 civilian personnel at any one time.

                      Even as congressional pressure grows to help Colombia fight its outlaw armies and the drug trade, some analysts
                      worry that U.S. policymakers have given too little thought to what they hope to achieve, and how to design a
                      strategy with a clear goal.

                      'The critics who talk about `mission creep' and 'slippery slope' have a point in that if you don't have a clear sense
                      of the endgame, you can get bogged down. There is that risk,'' said Michael Shifter, vice president at the
                      Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research group in Washington.