Students protest aid to Colombia

David Anderson

Weeks before the U.S. Congress has to decide whether to approve President Bill Clinton’s budget proposal, a number of University students are protesting increased U.S involvement in the half-century old Colombian civil war.
They encourage other students to urge their representatives and senators to oppose Clinton’s proposal for a two-year, $1.6 billion military-aid package to the Colombian government.
“If enough people get out and contact their congressmen, it will have an impact,” said economics sophomore Joe Mahon.
More than 50 protesters from the Twin Cities gathered Friday afternoon in front of the Federal District Court building in downtown Minneapolis to voice their disapproval. They encouraged Minnesotans to participate in the nationwide effort to convince Congress to vote against the proposal.
On Jan. 11, the Clinton administration proposed a $1.3 billion increase to the $300 million Colombia already received this year.
Human-rights advocates and opponents to the plan say the Colombian army has ties with various paramilitary groups. Amnesty International officials allege those paramilitary groups are involved in drug trafficking and are responsible for numerous human-rights abuses, as well as the displacement of civilians.
“To align ourselves with those groups is to say that we support human-rights violations,” said University international relations junior Mara ParÇ.
Almost 80 percent of the proposed aid would go to the Colombian military and security forces for training and equipment.
“It’s totally absurd to send all this military aid,” said Rosita Balch, a member of the Colombia Support Group of Minnesota that organized the protest. “This money will go for sure to the paramilitary who work with the Colombian military.”
Balch is originally from Bogot , the Colombian capital.
A portion of the aid will go to helping victims of the same paramilitary groups involved in civil war.
Colombian President AndrÇs Pastrana has said the Colombian government is committed to fighting human-rights abuses, regardless of pressure from the U.S. government.
Protesters suggested instead of giving money to the military to combat drug trafficking, the United States should fund drug-treatment and prevention programs.
“That money will go to persecute and slaughter people who are trying to better the condition of the poor people,” said Marv Davidov, a University of St. Thomas professor of active nonviolence.
Linguistics senior Steve Knuteson said students at the University — a campus with a Hispanic population of almost 900 — should be aware of the U.S. government’s history of supporting authoritarian governments that abuse their own citizens.
The protesters asked passersby to sign anti-aid petitions that would later be sent to the U.S. Congress and Senate.