October 7, 1999 - ADM Online: Interview with RPCV Rep. Sam Farr in 1999 on why he opposes US Policy toward Colombia
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October 7, 1999 - ADM Online: Interview with RPCV Rep. Sam Farr in 1999 on why he opposes US Policy toward Colombia
Interview with RPCV Rep. Sam Farr in 1999 on why he opposes US Policy toward Colombia
Read and comment on this interview from ADM Online with Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA-17) in 1999 on US Policy toward Colombia and why he opposes US policy there at:
Interview with Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA-17)*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Interview with Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA-17)
Policy toward Colombia
October 7, 1999
Conducted by Jon Lottman
LOTTMAN: What are your objections to military aid to Colombia? Why do you oppose our policy there?
FARR: I donít oppose military aid to Colombia. I oppose only having military aid to Colombia. I think the dialogue in Washington is too much on the ability to ship Colombia helicopters and arms, and equipment for eradication of crops, without considering the other points of the Peace Plan. President Pastrana has outlined seven points he thought would be necessary to bring the country back to security and health and economic prosperity. By just focusing on one of those points, which is military aid, you fail to recognize that military aid alone cannot bring the country back to what we hope it will be. And so I oppose focusing the entire effort in Colombia just on military aid alone.
LOTTMAN: The Peace plan you referred to, does that include peace and reconciliation in Colombia, say between the government and the rebels?
FARR: President Pastrana has outlined to the United Nations and to the President of the United States plus members of Congress. His plan for how to recover Colombia.... Colombia is in an economic depression, Colombia has a serious problem internally with different factions in the country, political factions, warring factions. It has, obviously, we all know, the drug problem. But it also has a rural-urban problem most Latin American countries have. It has probably the largest number of displaced people of any country in the world. These things cannot just be solved by giving Colombia more helicopters and more military support. That may be necessary, but as part of a bigger plan than what is being discussed here in Washington.
LOTTMAN: As long as we stick to this course, the flawed course you referred to, where are we headed-I mean as long as we stick with the status quo in our Colombia policy?
FARR: Colombia is very important to the Americas, particularly to the United States. Itís one of the largest countries in Latin America, itís as large as Texas and California put together, itís 40 million people. Itís the most biodiverse country in the Americas. It has more resources, more microclimates for growing crops than any other country we know of. And itís close to the United States, and thereís always been a historical interchange between Americans and Colombians that we need to re-strengthen and support.
The way weíre headed right now, is weíre headed for problems in Colombia that could far outweigh anything weíve seen in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, or even way back in Cuba. Because itís such a big country and itís such an important country, and it has so many resources that are essential for the economic well-being of the Western Hemisphere.
LOTTMAN: What role does our support for the Colombian military play in that equation.
FARR: Weíre heading for a train wreck if you just deal with the Colombian National Police. Or, as some would say, part with the police and in part with the military. That is necessary, in part because you need to have security in the country. People cannot feel secure in their homes or secure in their investments or workplace, if the community they live in is unsecure.
I lived in a very poor barrio. And I was an American living in a barrio and probably just the Peace Corps materiel we had in our house-projectors, and things other people didnít have-and I felt totally safe. Because we were so appreciated for being there that if anybody had ever tried to rob us, they would have been torn apart.
But that security does not exist for anybody in Colombia today. You live in fear. If you have money you live in fear youíre gonna be kidnapped, if you donít have money thereíll just be fear that youíll be thought of as being aligned with the wrong politics.
LOTTMAN: The rule of law does not extend to the entire territory. The government does not have control of the territory. Is that an important part of helping there? You do have to help the government do that...
FARR: We need to help the government provide security for the entire country. Whatís happening right now is they are providing security in the most urbanized areas or where the most wealth is concentrated. So the rural areas donít have that security. The private landowners for their own militia, or paramilitaries. The paramilitaries donít operate under an provision of law. They are not accountable to anyone. They create incredible atrocities that go unaccounted for. Nobody trusts the system. The legal system at the local level is a mess. Thereís no accountability.
The civilian system of law is much different than the military system of law. And, frankly, for Colombia is going to become a prosperous, sincere country, theyíre going to have to, the legislature of Colombia and in the state departments, theyíre going to have to revise their judicial system, and make it a much more efficient and effective system. Also one where you could bring cases for violations of human rights. And where people when they are charged with a crime can be tried and sentenced and jailed if necessary. That system is not available in all parts of the country, so thereís a lot of self-help out there. And thereís a lot of fear.
LOTTMAN: What dangers does Colombiaís situation present to the United States? In other words, Colombia has some problems, why should the average American really care about that one way or the other?
FARR: I think a problem in the United States is we donít care enough about Latin America. We are all Americans. We have North Americans and Latin Americans. And we ought to realize that we have more in common between the North-South than any other connection in this globe, whether it be in the Pacific Rim, whether it be in the Atlantic market.
We have got to pay attention to Latin America. We have Latin Americans living all over the United States. We have a history of connection with Latin America, we are dependent upon their resources. They grow the crops that we eat in the wintertime, and we grow the crops that they eat in their winter times. We are dependent on these resources.... We have tourist opportunities in Latin America. Itís a wonderful market for the United States. And weíve got to make sure that all of Central America and Latin America is economically secure.
You donít get security by police action alone, by military action alone. Weíve learned from going into Haiti. We put the best military power we could into Haiti. We were there for a long time and still are there as a peacekeeping mission. But the infrastructure of Haiti isnít working much better. Thereís still a tremendous amount of poverty. Economic development hasnít been encouraged. We see the same affect going in in Bosnia, and Iím sure itís going to happen in Kosovo and East Timor. So we have to end up...
You need the security. And you have to do that, but you cannot do that alone. You need economic development. I mean economic development is small marketplaces. Itís the person who opens up that small restaurant or that small fruit stand, or that ability to haul something on the back of a truck. Itís the security to be able to take what you can do as an individual and derive some economic well-being for that. Itís small, itís micro, itís kind of activity that we have to lend a lot of support to. And frankly, I donít think weíre going to get there unless we use people like the American Peace Corps, and American farm interests and others who will go to Latin America, including Colombia, and will live with people and help them develop their skills so that this economy can start. But you canít get there by just putting the money into the military.
LOTTMAN: You explained a little bit about what development is, so I guess we know what it isnít. It isnít importing sophisticated weapons. Someone like Oscar Arias will say that sending weapons to Latin America is the best way to keep Latin America poor. Now, having poor neighbors-what does that do for us?
FARR: Well, I think the example of Costa Rica is a very good one. Thereís a country that didnít use their resources to build a big military. They used their resources to create a big teacher force. An education force. But they did use their national police force to secure the country, so that it was safe to live there, and safe to invest there. And they realized that as a small country, they had incredible resources they could market for tourism. Colombia has all of that and more.
So Colombia has the job of having to make the community safe whether they be an urban barrio neighborhood or whether they be a rural vareda, a rural area, they have to make those safe so that people will feel comfortable end not flee to the cities, not be displaced. And then they have to encourage the economic development to occur in all parts of the country, not just in the areas where wealthy people live, or where there is oil.
LOTTMAN: Officially our primary interest in Colombia today is in combating the drug trade. And clearly, if you wanna be able to do that, you have to have a relationship with the forces that control the Colombian territory. We donít have that now. Weíre buttressing the military against the insurgents as sort of a roundabout way to try to get that. Are there other options available to us strategically of how to approach this problem? To the average American, Colombia just means drugs, and thatís why weíre concerned about it.
FARR: I think the immediate problem for America and for the rest of the world with Colombia is that the drug use is increasing Europe, and the market in Europe is increasing, where the market in America is going down. At the same time, the Colombian economy is in the toilet. And what that means, if the people are desperate, because they donít have enough income to survive, itís very easy to go into the illicit businesses. And drugs being one of the illicit businesses and a very profitable business, frankly weíre in a situation in Colombia where the market demand is increasing externally, and the desire to gain the capital derived from there is even greater, than weíre going to have more problems with drugs in Colombia.
Weíre going to have to fight the drug problem. Weíre gonna have to fight it at its source. But doing that alone and not providing other forms of economic development is not going to solve the problem. Because you have to convert from something that is prosperous to something that is equally prosperous or that is even more prosperous.
One of the things that Colombia could convert to is an incredible tourism program. But think about it. Nobody wants to be a tourist in a country that is unsafe to travel in the rural areas, or where they feel threatened. Or just think itís threatening. Just like nobody wants to come to the United States and come to parts of our cities that they feel are threatening. Or if we have a tourist, we had a Japanese tourist killed in Miami, and nobody in Japan wanted to go to Miami. We have to worry about it in this country, and certainly Colombia has to worry about it even more.
LOTTMAN: Another interviewee told me that if the FARC got a peace deal with the government, then they promised to cooperate in wiping out the drug trade. But it seems that Americaís military involvement is counter to that dialogue.
FARR: I think what youíre seeing in Washington is two dialogues going on. One, a general dialogue with Colombia looking for the well being of the entire country. And another group here that, pretty much members of Congress that are tied to the military interests, trying to solve the problem solely with military solutions. Military solutions are not going to solely solve Colombiaís problems. They will be able to increase attacks on the narco-traffickers. But again, with the economy being in such bad shape, as they wipe them out, new ones will replace them, because thatís where money can be made. So itís not the war on drugs alone thatís going to solve the problem. Itís part of it, but without looking at the rest of the package, weíre doomed to fail in Colombia.
LOTTMAN: Does the Colombian military wanna wipe out drugs? Whatís their interest in this?
FARR: I think all Colombians would like to wipe out drugs. I know many Colombians who are middle class, upper-middle class, and they tell me that the lifestyle in Colombia, youíre a prisoner of your own lifestyle. You cannot afford to go anywhere without security, you donít live in your home thatís safe, you canít go to your business, you send your children to school and you get notes that youíre, you know, they may be kidnapped or assassinated. Nobody wants to live in an environment like that.
Itís all created by the whole undershaking of money being made in drugs. And then what comes out of that? Money buys influence, it buys corruption, it buys weapons, it buys essentially a private security force, well-armed, well-equipped, and nobody knows anything about it because itís privately done, and itís illegally done. And thatís that creates this tremendous distrust for the whole system. Colombiaís a beautiful country. Itís got beautiful people. We have got to help them put the whole country back together. Not just, just wiping out the drug fields will not put the whole country back together.
LOTTMAN: What have you learned from the recent high-level Colombian delegations to America. Any new insights into positive ways to address their situation?
FARR: I think from the visits weíve seen from the President of Colombia, the ministries of Colombia, through the military leadership in Colombia, that the situation in Colombia is desperate. Itís more desperate now than itís ever been. And itís not just because of drugs, itís mainly because of the economic situation being so grave. Which leads people to do more illicit activity, including an increase in the drug trade, because the market for drugs is increasing-not in the United States, but in Europe.
Theyíre desperate, theyíre coming to the United States, but for the first time what youíre hearing from the President of Colombia is a comprehensive plan. Not just looking for military aid to fight the narco-traffickers. But for a comprehensive plan to really revitalize the country. To educate uneducated people, to keep people in the rural areas with economic prosperity. To really fight the violations of human rights so that people will trust their government, trust the institutions of government. I think there is a comprehensive effort in Colombia to try to save what has been historically a really remarkable country.
But right now they are more desperate than they have ever been, and they are in Washington, pleading for help. I hope we will help them, but I hope the help will not be just limited to military help, it will be a comprehensive package that will really consider that the country needs to do all the things it plans to do in order to recover from its economic depression, and from its incredible problem with narco-traffickers and the unrestricted use of paramilitaries, who essentially take power into their own hands.
LOTTMAN: Is there one final statement to relate this to the average American. Whatís at stake for us in terms of how this comes out-if it recovers to enjoy peace and prosperity or just stays stuck the way it is now, indefinitely?
FARR: Americans are very proud people, and one of the things that makes them proud is that theyíre proud of where their heritage came from. A lot of people in America came from Latin America. A lot of the Western United Statesí history is related to the Spanish Empire to Mexico. There is a cultural link, there is a historical link, there is a geographic link, in that we are all part of the Americas. We cannot afford to allow Colombia to fall into a country of disrepair. Itís too big of a country. Itís too important of a country, and if it did, it could have ramifications for all of Latin America, and certainly creep north to Central America.
Itís on the edge of the Panama Canal. Itís the only country that has both oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific. Itís a country with magnificent shorelines. Itís a country with more economically and environmentally diverse regions than any other part of Latin America. It is one of the most important countries in Latin America. And certainly no American can afford to see it be lost.
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