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Help Colombia, Help Addicts

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Most drug-related crime in the United States is committed by addicts whose heroin and cocaine comes mainly from Colombia.

That long chain - from poor farmers growing coca in the Amazon basin to US prisons filled with drug offenders - has yet to be broken.

Some critics say it never can be - so why try?

But to its credit, the US has leveled off consumption of hard drugs. And it has successfully closed down much of the drug traffic in Bolivia and Peru.

Unfortunately, the drug lords have only moved much of their production to Colombia, turning that large South American country into the world capital of kidnappings and massacres. Drug money fuels violence by some 30,000 members of left- and right-wing armed groups.

In the last few years, however, Colombians themselves have become serious about ending the drug trade as they've seen their economy shrink. It's not just a "gringo problem" anymore.

Now's a perfect time to help both Colombia's 40 million people and the US in its multiprong war on drugs at home and abroad.

The country's reform-minded president, Andres Pastrana, was in Washington this week, asking Congress to provide $1.6 billion for his plan to cut drug trafficking in half in five years. The European Union, where drug imports from Colombia are rising, is also being asked to contribute.

The House has already approved the money, but passage in the Senate remains uncertain because of unrelated issues. It ought not to.

On paper, the Pastrana plan holds promise. It attacks the drug problem on many levels: economic, social, and military. He's also trying to negotiate peace with the leading leftist rebel group.

For the US, the most sensitive piece of the plan is the use of several hundred American military advisers in training the Colombian military to confront drug traffickers, mainly with US-supplied helicopters. Unlike in Vietnam, the advisers will be kept away from the frontline. And the US must be sure its money, or advisers, doesn't support paramilitary groups accused of human rights abuses.

But such risks are small, compared with the benefits of helping end the drug flow to the US.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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