Role," by Adam Isacson and Ingrid Vaicius, Semana magazine,
January 13, 2002
By Adam Isacson and
Center for International Policy, Washington
Two years ago, when
the United States was debating the $1.3 billion "Plan Colombia"
aid package, we often heard a curious argument: "military aid will
speed negotiations by forcing the FARC to negotiate in good faith."
Yet instead of moving faster, the peace process has collapsed. While U.S.
military aid alone didn't cause the talks to break off, the Pastrana peace
process offers important lessons for Washington's future actions in Colombia.
Last Tuesday, Ambassador
Patterson delivered fourteen Blackhawk helicopters to the Colombian Army.
It is important to remember that the Blackhawks and other weapons the
United States has donated are counter-drug assistance. This means that,
should Colombia return to "total war," U.S. law forbids the
use of these helicopters and other grant aid to fight the FARC.
It is possible, though,
that hard-liners in Washington may view a breakdown in the talks as a
green light to change these weapons' purpose, and to send more weapons
and more U.S. advisors to Colombia. Many Colombians may in fact support
remember, though, that they and their children - not the U.S. military
- would be doing the fighting and dying with those donated weapons. If
Colombia returns to "total war," the human cost may exceed anything
the country has seen before. We believe that the peace talks reduced somewhat
the intensity of the violence. The FARC, with 17,000 armed fighters and
hundreds of millions of dollars in income, is clearly capable of far more
than kidnappings, occasional attacks on isolated towns, and blowing up
pipelines. Meanwhile, the military has dramatically increased its capacities
during the past three years. A return to total war could multiply the
number of Colombians killed, and bring the country's economy to its knees.
The United States should not be writing checks to make this possible.
The solution is ultimately
up to Colombians. And it should begin by viewing the latest events not
as the end of a process, but the end of a model.
The last three years
have shown that Colombians can no longer manage the talks by themselves.
It is unreasonable to expect two small, isolated groups of negotiators
to overcome a history of distrust and animosity and make progress on their
own. The talks need to re-start with a mediator who can keep negotiators
on a timetable and focused on the topic at hand, instead of endless arguing
over preconditions. The United Nations is able to play this mediating
role, and the United States should encourage it to do so.
More U.S. weaponry
will not bring back the peace process. All of Washington's efforts should
now be directed at getting the talks restarted as soon as possible, under
a more workable model. The United States is already occupied enough with
other military missions; it cannot afford to become more deeply entangled
in Colombia's conflict.