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CONGRESSMAN’S COLOMBIA VISIT: EYE-OPENING

  1. Alfa
    CONGRESSMAN SAYS COLOMBIA VISIT WAS EYE-OPENING

    Colombia, a country dealing with civil strife and drug cartels, needs
    a helping hand, according to U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, but not in
    the way the U.S. government provides aid.

    "Plan Colombia" involves sending U.S. troops to assist the military
    and money to fight drugs in the South American country, but Mr.
    McGovern, D-Worcester, said Colombia's problems are not that easy to
    solve.

    Spraying coca plants to kill them is dangerous, he said, because the
    chemicals used find their way into well water, food crops and rain
    forests. And while cocaine is derived from the dried leaves of coca
    plants, he said money used in the spraying operation could better be
    spent reducing drug use in the United States.

    "The problem is our insatiable demand," Mr. McGovern told a group of
    about 30 students, faculty and visitors at Worcester State College
    yesterday during a talk on human rights issues in Latin America.

    The congressman traveled to Colombia earlier this year to get a sense
    of military, political and human rights issues in the community of
    Arauca and elsewhere. This was his third trip to Colombia.

    There are more than 400 U.S. troops providing assistance in the
    country, a testament to this country's desire to focus on military aid
    during the past two decades. Colombia is asking for more military aid,
    he said, but the situation is more complicated than good vs. evil.

    Widespread corruption permeates all levels of government, including
    high-ranking officials involved in the drug trade.

    Dramatic evidence of the extent of suffering among poor people was all
    around him during the visit. Mr. McGovern said he saw children who had
    orange-tinged hair, a sign of starvation.

    In a trip to a school outside the Colombian capital of Bogota, the
    congressman witnessed makeshift classes crowded with hundreds of
    children. The youngsters were fed a meal while there - the price for
    the food was to attend classes.

    "Parent after parent said to me, "Thank the people of the United
    States for doing something for me,'" he said.

    Funding cuts made by the Bush administration put the school meal
    program in jeopardy, he said, although other funding sources have
    stepped forward to keep it going.

    Parents also told him of boys from 11 to 13 years old who are
    recruited into guerrilla organizations such as FARC, Revolutionary
    Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest rebel movement intent on
    overthrowing the government. FARC promises the boys a meal every day
    if they serve.

    America's foreign policy in Latin America and around the world focuses
    on fighting terrorism, he said, but if this country were known for
    combating hunger and promoting universal education it would be
    difficult for terrorists to recruit people in poverty.

    "So much of what the war is about is social inequities and social
    injustices," he said. "The United States was sucked into this little
    by little. The more we are involved, the more we are targets."

    Mr. McGovern is also a proponent of dropping the trade embargo against
    Cuba, calling the policy "just dumb."

    The embargo has been in place four decades in an effort to topple
    dictator Fidel Castro and promote human rights. Yet, Castro is still
    there and when things do not work out he blames U.S. policy.

    Mr. McGovern said the economic embargo and travel restrictions should
    be lifted, noting that American citizens can be fined if they travel
    to Cuba without proper permission.

    Universities and colleges that had licenses to travel to Cuba find
    permits have been revoked or restricted. "Something's wrong with


    that," he said. "Freedom to travel is something all of us should have."

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  1. Alfa
    COCA LAND DIMINISHING, U.S. SAYS

    The Land Used to Cultivate Coca in Colombia Dropped 21 Percent In
    2003, a State Department Report Says.

    BOGOTA - The amount of Colombian land used to cultivate coca dropped
    another 21 percent last year, a figure U.S. officials call "stunning."

    But the dramatic decline in the plant from which cocaine is made had
    no impact where it counts most: on the streets of America.

    The State Department annual report on coca cultivation, issued Monday,
    showed there were some 280,542 acres of coca plants through 2003, down
    from 356,791 the year before.

    Including other coca-producing nations like Bolivia and Peru, the
    decline was 15 percent, according to the Department's Bureau of
    International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

    The latest Colombian figures show that in this country alone the coca
    acreage dropped by a third since 2001, after Washington had begun
    delivering some $2 billion in counter narcotics aid as part of Plan
    Colombia.

    "A big decline a second year in a row is excellent news," said Deborah
    McCarthy, the bureau's deputy assistant secretary for narcotics. "The
    squeeze is being put on."

    The latest crop figures were announced as the Bush administration
    works on a proposal to double the legal limit of military personnel
    and contractors permitted to work in Colombia.

    Congress capped the number of American personnel that can be in
    Colombia at any given time at 400 military and 400 contractors, but
    Bush wants it raised to 800 military and 600 contractors, a State
    Department official confirmed. Among other duties, they train
    Colombian soldiers and police and run the program that uses crop
    dusters to spray herbicides on coca fields.

    Critics warn that raising the cap would be further proof of
    Washington's increasingly murky role in Colombia's drug-fueled civil
    war. Plan Colombia, some argue, has not shown progress.

    "If a product becomes scarce, the price goes up," said Adam Isacson,
    an analyst at the Washington-based Center for International Policy.
    "Stable prices shows cocaine is as plentiful as ever."

    Isacson argues that because the price, purity and availability of
    cocaine on U.S. streets have not wavered, traffickers are winning the
    drug war.

    "It's been stable since the mid '90s. How can that be?" He said in a
    telephone interview. "Maybe the satellite pictures are not getting the
    new crops? Are growers going deeper into the Amazon region where we
    aren't looking? Are they using smaller plots? Growing in the shade?
    Getting higher yields?"

    McCarthy said the challenge is to hit the Colombian drug trade at all
    levels, such as financing and exports, which should soon translate
    into lower purity.

    Credit for the strides in drug eradication has been largely given to
    President Alvaro Uribe, who enthusiastically endorsed American
    fumigation programs despite protests from farmers and
    environmentalists. Uribe is in Washington this week meeting at the
    White House today.

    Sandro Calvani, head of the U.N. Drug Control Program here, said the
    steady declines in cultivation prove that the alternative development
    programs offered to peasants to abandon coca do work.

    "Narco-traffickers are going to defend this as much as they can," he
    said. "But this shows it's possible to reach out to people and get
    them to grow alternative crops.



    "The peasants are investing in their future."
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