Senator Paul Wellstone, who recently died in a small plane crash, narrowly missed death earlier in his government career. On December 1st, 2000, hours before he arrived in Barrancabermeja (Columbia?s most dangerous town), police discovered two shrapnel-wrapped land mines alongside the road leading from the airport.
He was an outspoken opponent of the $1.3 billion Colombian anti-drug aid package, because he thought it would make Colombia’s guerrilla war worse. ?I have some concerns about whether counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency have become merged,” he said. Most of the U.S. aid package is for helicopters and other military equipment to help Colombian security forces fight guerrillas who partly finance their war by protecting coca fields and cocaine laboratories.
Wellstone and his delegation were also sprayed with herbicide as they watched the Colombian National Police demonstrate a new way to eradicate coca, the raw product used to produce cocaine. He was hit with a fine mist of the chemical from a helicopter flying less than 200 feet above him. Police officials said it was an accident, and blamed the wind.
The land mines each carried a 6.6-pound explosive charge, were attached to cables and a detonator and were ready to be set off, when they were discovered. Columbian police Jose Miguel Villar said, “If the bomb had gone off, it could have caused immense damage. It would have spread shrapnel over a wide area and could have taken out 10 or 15 people.” Police arrested a suspected rebel leader. Since Wellstone opposed the aid package that provided the country weapons to attack the guerillas, you?d think they would have been pro-Wellstone, so perhaps he was right to oppose the military aid.
Wellstone tried unsuccessfully to have Congress shift funds from Colombian military aid into domestic drug treatment programs. ?He was the only one out there?or at least the loudest out there?who was worried about the effect it would have in getting the United States into the conflict, the effect on the peace process and whether it would affect drug policy at all,” says Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy. The aid bill was signed by President Clinton in July. Wellstone criticized the administration for waiving human rights conditions that could have blocked the aid. He believed the Colombian military has not severed its links to paramilitaries who are responsible for massacres of suspected guerrilla sympathizers.
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