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Group aims to change Plan Colombia

A small group of UNM and local community members discussed ways to improve the United States' foreign policy toward Colombia Saturday afternoon in UNM's Kiva Lecture Hall.

The discussion focused on finding ways to change Plan Colombia, a program based on military aid combined with social services to fight drug trafficking and guerilla movements, to help bring peace and increase development in Colombia. The plan, crafted by former president Bill Clinton and Colombian president Andres Pastrana, was designed to help Columbia, which is stricken by recession and paramilitary.

But according to the group, Plan Colombia was not established to help Colombians.

Francine Cronshaw, a member of the Colombia Solidarity Committee and speaker, led the group discussion about finding ways to draw awareness to United States interference in Colombia.

Charles Damon Catlett, an administrative assistant for the College Enrichment Center, said the United States had no right to establish a legitimate government in Colombia when it doesn't even have one. He said the United States is not a democracy and that was proven during the 2000 presidential election.

"It was a legitimate election with an illegitimate result," he said.

Catlett, who was a student in Colombia 25 years ago, said that nothing was reported in the United States about Colombia when he was there, and if it was reported, then it was a distorted version of the truth.

He said a system of shared information needs to develop in order to learn the truth about the situation in Colombia. He said relying on corporate America's version of the truth will only cut people off from dealing with the true problems in Colombia.

"The American people just don't know what's going on," Catlett said.

He suggested contacting UNM student groups such as El Centro de la Raza and sending students to Colombia to help gather information and then report back to the group.

Mike Leffert, a community member, questioned U.S. drug intervention in Colombia. He said more than one million people in Colombia have been displaced during the Colombia Plan, not helping their economic status as promised.

Leffert pointed out that the people who were forced to look elsewhere for work were already at struggling at a low economic level to start with, adding that the plan is doing more harm than good.

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"How much money is being spent on this Colombia Plan, where the so-called drug war started?" Leffert asked. "Who's really getting screwed and who's making a lot of money?"

Justin Delacour, a speaker and UNM graduate student, said people must put their elected officials under at least a subtle amount of pressure to make changes. He said talking to representatives and attempting to educate them on the issues in Colombia is one particular tactic that cannot be abandoned.

The educational seminar, which lasted Friday and Saturday, featured Maurice Brungart, a professor at Loyola University of New Orleans and was sponsored by the Colombia Solidarity Committee of New Mexico, the Latin American and Iberian Institute and the Student Organization of Latin American Studies.

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