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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Human rights fears over Colombia aid
Colombian anti-drugs forces
US training for Colombian special forces will increase
The US Senate's overwhelming support for a $1.3bn anti-narcotics package for Colombia has raised concerns about an escalation of the country's devastating 30-year civil war.

This isn't a peace plan, it's a war plan

Alexa LeBlanc

Critics of the package say Washington's increased military involvement in Colombia will do little to eradicate the flow of drugs, but will greatly increase the suffering of the ordinary Colombian population.

President Andres Pastrana hailed the vote as recognition of "the leadership shown by the Colombian people in this struggle against drugs".

President Pastrana of Colombia
Andres Pastrana's Plan Colombia has changed

It is one element of his Plan Colombia, which he once promoted as a kind of Marshall Plan for the war-torn south of the country.

Many hoped the president would succeed in negotiating peace with the rebel groups and encourage development to end economic dependence on the cocaine crop.

War plan

Human rights groups, who welcomed the plan's announcement two years ago, now say it has been turned on its head.

We'd rather see drug consumption drop than get any of this aid

Gen Rosso Serrano

"This isn't a peace plan, it's a war plan," says Alexa LeBlanc of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).

"It will greatly increase militarisation which means there will be more human rights violations in Colombia.

"And indiscriminate fumigation of fields could have devastating consequences for farming in the future," she adds.

Even Colombia's retiring police chief, much feted in Washington for spearheading the "war on drugs" over the last five years, said it was more important to deal with the US appetite for cocaine and heroin.

General Rosso Jose Serrano
Serrano (centre) took on the Cali drugs cartel

"We'd rather see drug consumption drop than get any of this aid," General Rosso Jose Serrano.

"If consumption were seriously reduced, this country could go back to what it once was, a place that grew coffee, where people worked hard."

About 80% of the cocaine consumed in the US is produced in Colombia, with a significant proportion of the rest passing through the country. It is also the source or transit point of about 60% of US heroin supplies.

Who's aid?

Much of the money from the US plan will inevitably go straight back into the pockets of the US military and arms manufacturers.

Nearly $1bn of the aid is military, including money to buy and maintain a fleet of 60 Huey II helicopters, and funding the US military to train Colombian anti-narcotics brigades.

cocaine harvest
War on drugs will not replace economic depence on coca crop
"There is a real worry that US hardware will fall into the hands of paramilitaries who have links with the government and the military," says Ms Leblanc.

She says it is the paramilitaries - and not the civil war - who are responsible for the displacement of most of the 250,000-300,000 civilians driven off their land every year.

"The paramilitaries move into selected villages, mostly in the northern part of the country, kill several local leaders and take control of the land after people flee," she says.

FIDH is one of more than 50 European and South American human rights organisations lobbying European Union countries - who also have a role in Plan Colombia - to speak out about the implications of the current US position.

But, Alexa LeBlanc admits, with the economic benefits to be gained in the US from this new war on drugs, it is hard to see Washington changing its mind.

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See also:

12 Jan 00 | Americas
Colombia rebels end New Year truce
12 Jan 00 | Americas
Colombia welcomes US financial aid
15 Dec 99 | Americas
Colombian army hits back at rebels
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