There has been much talk in the last month of “political” solutions to the terrorist crisis, and of the roles diplomacy and development can play in shaping a saner, stabler world.
Frankly, I don’t think that negotiations with murderers like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Taliban leader Muhammad Omar are either possible or desirable. We have passed the point of no return: Bin Laden has struck at the heart of our country, and I applaud President Bush for retaliating in a responsible yet thorough manner.
I do believe, however, that a more conscious American effort to reduce tensions in a few simmering world hot spots can help ward off tomorrow’s terrorists.
I am especially concerned about Colombia, a neighbor of ours that is rapidly degenerating into lawlessness. Until now, there has been no international terrorism emanating from that country, but events like the World Trade Center tragedy have a way of spurring copycat attacks. Like many countries in the Middle East, Colombia is sharply divided along ideological lines. Revolution, insurgency, and inter-party factionalism have racked the country since Simon Bolivar liberated the region from Spanish colonial rule in the early 19th century.
Today, various rebel groups are fighting to topple the government — most notably, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has captured large swaths of southern Colombia. They are countered by brutal rightist paramilitary death squads, which roam the countryside killing those suspected of sympathizing with the revolutionaries. Both sides earn operating income from the lucrative drug trade.
The democratically elected government of Andres Pastrana — which replaced the corrupt Samper regime and was initially welcomed by such Colombian luminaries as the famed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez — has been unable to pacify either faction. As in Israel, peace talks have repeatedly broken down. Most recently, Pastrana pushed Congress and then-President Bill Clinton to help fund Plan Colombia, his government’s multi-pronged approach to curbing drug trafficking. The plan, while setting aside some money for development, mostly beefs up the Colombian military, and provides for the training of two Colombian counter-narcotics brigades.
The plan is a step in the right direction, but it still contains problems. For one thing, Plan Columbia stipulates that we provide the Colombian army with military equipment. The Colombian military is notorious for terrorizing its own people — the army has traditionally been cozy with rightist paramilitaries, often looking the other way as paramilitaries massacre thousands of innocent citizens. What improvements to Plan Colombia should America push for? I am convinced the answer lies in renewed funding for development purposes. Improved access to health care and education for the general population, especially in rural areas, is essential, and should receive even more attention than it does under the current program.
In any case, the United States and the world community cannot, in these troubled times, be distracted too long from countries like Colombia. Terrorism is not new to Latin America; we must not forget Carlos the Jackal, or the 1996 seizure of the Japanese Embassy in Lima by the Peruvian Tupac Amaru revolutionary movement.
The case of Colombia demonstrates that the long-term answer to terrorism might just lie in a renewed and responsible American commitment to international development.
Matthew Nickson is a junior in Berkeley College.