Those who read Henry Pierson Curtis' front-page piece on the Colombian heroin trade in the March 28 Sentinel were left with clear impressions. (1) Colombia's existence as a center of drug smuggling is partly a hardware problem: U.S.-supplied helicopters can't fly high enough to reach the poppy fields. (2) The Colombian drug trade has strong ties to Marxist guerrillas. (3) The guerrillas' 35-year insurgency is fueled by civilian kidnapping and murders. (4) Winning the war against drugs is central to achieving peace.
This is also the U.S. government line. But it is misleading, according to experts in Latin American and drug policy outside of the U.S. government. For example:
Human-rights groups blame paramilitary death squads for 70 percent of the civilian murders in Colombia. "The nature and extent of U.S. security assistance to Colombia is extremely troubling in light of Colombia's abysmal human rights record," reads a recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America.
The death squads calling themselves the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) control the northwestern part of the country and the poppy cultivation there. The U.S. DEA suspects AUC founder Carlos Castana is a major drug trafficker. But his stronghold has been neglected in drug-eradication efforts.
The death squads maintain close ties to the Colombian armed forces.
The armed forces receive U.S. weapons to fight the drug war.
Thus, the drug war promoted by conservatives like Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park) and Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Longwood) actually strengthens heroin dealers. This is the argument of The Economist of London, a conservative magazine that says in a recent story, "If Colombian and American officials do not have the courage to expose the paramilitary groups for what they are, the future is bleak."
We hope the Sentinel regrets the error.