Monday, August 21, 2006

Columbia

The International Crisis Group has a great little op-ed on their website about the conflict in Colombia, one of the longest ongoing civil wars in the world. Read here.

As I was reading it, it occurred to me that US foreign policy in Colombia is not only misguided and destructive (read the article for more), it represents monumentally misspent money: funds directed to destroying coca crops and arming the military, while new fields are planted, the FARC rebel group becomes more violent, and human rights abuses continue apace.

Here’s what I’d do: pull funds from crop destruction and from some military aid, and use them to buy up agricultural land. Replanting a burned off crop of coca is easy enough, but if the land in use is government owned and secured then there’s no question of growing on it. Farmers who take the buyout can relocate to urban areas, breaking the chain of connections between growers and cartels. The government can repurpose the land for other crops (eg, off season produce for northern consumption). New farmers can be brought in, the land leased to them at low cost, and the resulting income could be used to agricultural training. Successful farmers could be given their new land outright and the end of a trial period. Meantime, the cartels would be robbed of the only thing that is truly scared in a country awash in foreign cash and cocaine: farmland itself.

For this to work, it would have to be accompanied by a program of urban economic developmentperhaps growth in manufacturingto fund ex-farmers moving to the city. Also, the other recommendations of the ICG piece are probably at least as important—poverty reduction, fighting corruption, improved rural governance, rule of law, and so on. Perhaps most of all, the decommissioning of right-wing paramilitaries (whose numbers seem to be almost twice those of FARC) needs to be addressed. Confiscation of their financial resources might help to fund all of this.

Of course, the Bush administration would rather fund a policy that limps along by perpetuating a needless civil war, human rights abuses, and other mindless violence and poverty. The North American press pays no attention to speak of at all. Colombian president Uribe, perhaps a well enough intentioned leader, is eluded by the one thing he claims he wants: a peaceful nation.

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