In This Review

More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America's War in Colombia
More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America's War in Colombia
By Robin Kirk
PublicAffairs, 2003, 288 pp

A long-time researcher for Human Rights Watch, Kirk brings the reader to a closer understanding of the conditions that have turned Colombia into what she sees as a vast and horribly violent slum, with Colombian society becoming brutalized and fragmented by the destructive impact of the drug trade and multiple guerrilla insurgencies. The U.S.-supported drug war, she believes, is frozen in place. On the one hand, the United States refuses to deal with the problem of demand, instead emphasizing supply-side eradication and interdiction. And since September 11, Washington has compounded the problem by accepting the self-interested arguments long advocated by Colombia's generals: that it is a war against leftist terrorists as well as a struggle against narcotics traffickers. As a result, the United States overlooks the Colombian military's abuses against civilians -- notwithstanding Congress' demand that military aid be linked to human rights. Meanwhile, American politicians fear cutting military aid on human rights grounds because they do not want to appear to be soft on drugs. The story Kirk tells is not new, but she offers vivid touches rarely provided in most reports, stemming from her many years of research on the front lines. In effect, she concludes, the United States is fighting on both sides, "funding illegal arms with our purchases, and then fighting them with our charity." A depressing but vital contribution to the growing literature on Colombia's tragedy.