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US and Barco should address current social concerns present in Colombia

I have recently learned that Colombian President Virgilio Barco '43 is this year's commencement speaker. The April 1990 issue of Technology Review quoted a MIT Corporation resolution saluting Barco's "courageous leadership of Colombia during a time of formidable challenge." Clearly the resolution is referring to Barco's efforts against drug traffickers. However, impartial human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Americas Watch have concluded that Colombian security forces are responsible for large numbers of death squad killings. The victims are often those who peacefully speak up for the poor and oppressed, sometimes asking only for things as basic as respect for human rights, clean water, or health care.

According to the reports I have heard, Barco has not publicly acted or spoken against political killings carried out by the security forces. Although I would be very pleased if Barco has privately acted against the killings, I doubt that he has, and in any event this was not why the MIT Corporation was praising him. The MIT Corporation was praising him for doing the bidding of the US government rather than facing the real problems of poverty and injustice afflicting Colombians.

At a time when US foreign assistance to Colombian security forces is being increased, it should be our responsibility to see that the priorities of the nation's foreign policy are changed to the promotion of peace and justice rather than attempting to solve our own problems on the backs of Colombian peasants.

Richard Koch '89->