IN THE NEWS #436 - Colombian Aid

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

President Clinton is expected to sign a bill that would provide more than one-thousand-million dollars in aid to Colombia. The aid is meant to help Colombia fight illegal drug production and make peace with rebels linked to the drug trade. Colombia is the world's main supplier of cocaine. The drug is made from the coca plant. Coca production has increased by one-hundred percent during the past five years.

The United States Congress gave final approval to the aid last week. The Colombian army and police would get American training, along with equipment including transport and attack helicopters.

The American aid is part of an international effort called the Colombian Plan. The plan is to provide Colombia with seven-and-a-half-thousand-million dollars in aid. On Friday officials from more than twenty countries met in Madrid to discuss the proposal. Spain announced that it will give one-hundred-million dollars.

Colombian human rights activists and labor groups oppose the plan. They say it will not bring peace. They say it will increase conflict between the government and the country's rebel groups. The biggest guerrilla group is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. This week the group exchanged proposals with the government on ways to end thirty years of fighting.

Much of the coca grown in Colombia is in areas controlled by the FARC and other armed groups. These rebel groups and conservative private armies protect illegal drug organizations. The money they earn for this protection helps pay for their operations.

FARC commanders admit they receive money from taxing the drug trade. But they say they want to help end drug production in Colombia. The group is proposing a project in a major coca-growing center. The goal is to improve living conditions in the southern town of Cartagena del Chaira. The FARC says the project will show a better way to end the drug trade than to destroy crops of coca and opium poppy.

On Thursday the United States announced that it is providing money to help Colombia develop a biological chemical to kill the illegal crops. The New York Times newspaper says the Colombian government has agreed to cooperate because of pressure from the United States.

The first step is to learn if Colombian coca plants contain a fungus that is a natural enemy of coca. If this organism is present, the government may then try to produce a chemical from the fungus to kill the plants. Environmentalists oppose the idea of a biological weapon. They say it could threaten food crops and harm people and animals. Some plant experts believe such a chemical would prove safe. But they say they are not sure how effective it would be in destroying the illegal drug trade in Colombia.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English