IT IS STUNNING that as many as 10 million Colombians took part in weekend peace demonstrations meant to impart momentum to peace talks now resuming between the government and the guerrillas. The former leftist who was quoted as saying, "The entire country wants peace" surely was on the mark. A wasting civil war has been going on for decades, taking tens of thousands of lives and crushing national prospects. Unchecked, it will only get worse.
Peace talks are bound to be part of the answer. The rebels wave a social justice flag, and appeal to -- and manipulate -- a constituency of the deprived. The government makes what it can of the ugly fact that the rebels live off the international drug trade, and in a kinder world the drug connection would cost its upholders a place at the national table. But this is not the world Colombia lives in.
In fact, the rebels' drug connection is the government's ticket for large and increasing -- and ineffective -- American military aid. This is happening even though the government's tactics are divisive in Colombia: The authorities are less confident of a military victory and readier for political accommodation than are the army and the paramilitaries. There is also an argument in the United States, where congressional hard-liners find the Clinton administration soft on the drug war.
But these are sterile policy debates that will not be soon or easily resolved and that would probably not matter much if they were. For the war in Colombia, though it has 100 percent Colombian roots, has become Americanized -- not by official American aid but by private American demand for Colombia's cocaine and heroin. Take away the drugs, and Colombia would be just one more struggling Latin democracy. With the drugs, it stands on the brink of becoming what Latinist Mark Falcoff calls "a narco-revolutionary regime . . . a new kind of rogue actor in international politics." A policy that pays no more than lip service to the role of American drug demand is destined for grief.