WASHINGTON (March 16, 2000) -- Reducing domestic demand for illegal drugs produced in Colombia could be the United States' greatest contribution to that country's peace process, according to the Chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law today cited numerous problems which have led to 40 years of civil war in the South American country, but said "the crisis in Colombian civil society is, in good measure, due to illegal drug use in the United States."
"Over the long term, our country's greatest contribution could be the reduction in the domestic demand for these drugs, the result of policies of drug education, treatment and rehabilitation," said Cardinal Law. "In the short term, however, it seems clear that financial and technical assistance from this country and other friends of Colombia is essential."
Currently, President Clinton's $1.6 billion anti-narcotics assistance package for Colombia is being considered by Congress.
Cardinal Law called Colombia one of the most democratic and prosperous countries in the Western Hemisphere before economic crisis brought massive unemployment and poverty. Civil war among leftist insurgents, rightist paramilitaries, and wealthy drug traffickers has resulted in "one of today's worst records for violations of human rights."
He said the U.S. relationship with Colombia should not be defined primarily by the drug problem, but rather by the ultimate goal of a peaceful, political, and negotiated settlement to the internal conflict in Colombia. Cardinal Law called for a "a genuine balance ... between assistance to the Colombian armed forces and aid that more directly addresses the root causes of the conflict and assists the victims." Specifically, he mentioned:
- military aid that is carefully monitored and conditioned on established human rights criteria;
- support for the peace process, including judicial reform;
- stronger measures to protect human rights;
- humanitarian aid for the internally displaced;
- broader engagement of elements of civil society in the peace process itself;
- and vigorous efforts to promote alternative agriculture to enable poor farmers to forgo cultivation of coca and poppies.