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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Paramilitaries Terrorize Colombia Under Uribe

August 08, 2003

"Colombia on the Upswing" (editorial, Aug. 4) paints a rosy picture of trends in Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe. Unfortunately, some trends are not so rosy. The negotiation process between the government and the right-wing paramilitary terrorists has received a lot of attention lately. But it's like the boss negotiating with his employees. The paramilitary groups campaigned for Uribe's election using violence or the threat of violence. In some cities and regions with a heavy military presence, the paramilitaries are the de facto government.

The paramilitary groups are an invention to produce plausible denial for the government and military establishment. The autonomy of those groups, which are responsible for more than 70% of Colombia's political killings, varies from place to place.

Some say that the Colombian government has created a Frankenstein monster. But in at least one state in northern Colombia, people say that there are no paramilitary groups, only paramilitary actions. In other words, the soldiers take off their military uniforms and put on the paramilitary uniforms to do the dirty work. Meanwhile, Uribe has been trying to eliminate government offices that have the task of protecting human rights. This is not progress.

Patrick Bonner

South Gate

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After spending 10 days in Colombia investigating the efficacy of the U.S.-supported counter-narcotics policy Plan Colombia, I found your editorial on Colombia overly optimistic. Innocent civilians in rural regions are routinely victimized by Uribe's law-and-order campaign, particularly his excessively aggressive policy of fumigation. While this policy was designed to target industrial-sized coca plantations greater than three hectares, licit crops, including alternative-development projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, continue to be fumigated.

However, the decline in coca cultivation in southern Colombia does not signify programmatic success on a national level, as the decreases in this region have been offset by increases elsewhere. This "balloon effect" will continue in Colombia and the Andes until government officials in the region and the U.S. begin to address the fundamental cause of illicit crop cultivation -- poverty. An emphasis on sustainable alternative-development programs, rather than military assistance, offers the greatest hope for establishing government legitimacy in marginalized regions of Colombia and should be the focus of U.S. assistance.

Alex Volberding

Claremont

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