Colombia to Ask Bush For Additional Funds
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 15 -- President Andres Pastrana said today that
he planned to seek a fresh infusion of U.S. financial assistance during
his first meeting
with President Bush this month to spur economic development in regions where U.S.-trained troops are destroying drug crops.
Pastrana said in an interview that the newly revived peace process with
Colombia's largest guerrilla group depended on an increase in such economic
perhaps as much as $500 million a year from the United States alone. He said the money would be used to address high unemployment and other economic
obstacles that prompt Colombians to join the drug trade or illegal armed groups for their livelihood.
Pastrana said his trip to Washington would be a way to introduce himself
and his country to the new administration at an important moment for his
anti-drug plan and
the peace negotiations. The Bush administration has inherited a two-year, $1.6 billion aid package that is designed to reduce Colombia's role as the world's largest
cocaine producer and deprive a decades-old leftist insurgency of its chief revenue source.
Pastrana's words seemed calculated to refocus Washington's attention
on Colombia as a new administration faces a host of foreign policy questions.
non-military elements, Pastrana underlined his hope for a new financial commitment to boost a development strategy he has often declared key to the drug war's
In addition to highlighting successes in the drug war -- much of which
has been the result of aerial fumigation, which has killed 65,000 acres
of coca crop in the
southern province of Putumayo, the country's principal coca-producing region -- Pastrana said he planned to make the case that the United States must do more to
help ensure that the drug trade did not resurge.
Pastrana said more resources must be committed to social development
programs that encouraged farmers to uproot lucrative drug crops for legal
strategy, along with other civilian programs such as human rights and judicial reform, account for only 25 percent of the U.S. aid package that forms the centerpiece
of a multibillion-dollar anti-drug and economic development program known as Plan Colombia. He said increasing resources for small farmers was a key topic during
his meeting with rebel leader Manuel Marulanda last week that revived peace talks and for the first time paved the way for international participation in the process.
"We are a poor country," Pastrana said in his office at the graceful
Colonial-era Casa de Narino, the presidential palace. "But we are spending
$1 billion a year of our
money to keep drugs off the streets of Washington and New York. We need more help. This is a long-term plan, maybe 15 to 20 years."
The United States is the largest market for Colombia's drugs. Former
president Bill Clinton, whom Pastrana remembered today as a staunch ally,
pushed through a
package last year that included more than 50 transport helicopters, military trainers and funds for development programs.
Pastrana, who was elected in 1998 on a peace platform, has argued that
depriving the illegal armed groups of drug profits will encourage them
to seek peace. Last
week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to rejoin talks with the government after a three-month lapse. Pastrana said he believed the
18,000-member rebel army was beginning to suffer financially because of Plan Colombia.
An 8,000-member privately funded paramilitary army that battles the
FARC on the same side as the army also is profiting from the drug trade.
Human rights groups
have accused the Colombian armed forces of assisting the paramilitary groups. But Pastrana pointed to the government's support for a commission established with
the FARC last week to study the paramilitary question and a new investigative unit responsible for identifying the group's financial patrons.
"The paramilitaries are not a problem between the government and the
FARC," Pastrana said. "They are a problem facing the whole country. But
they are the result
of the guerrillas. Once there is peace with the guerrillas, the paramilitaries will end."
Pastrana said he had been trying to obtain a copy of "Traffic," the
Academy Award-nominated film about the global drug trade, to get a sense
of the popular U.S.
perception of the drug war. But much of his concern today, expressed with animation during a 45-minute interview, centered on the more mundane aspects of how
he intended to end his country's deep-seated drug trade.
He warned bluntly that without greater investment in drug-producing
regions, the drug trade would move more deeply into Colombia's jungle --
or return in a few
years. He said he hoped to lobby for more investment in meetings with Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and in his
talks with Bush's national security team during a visit that begins Feb. 25.
Unemployment here is hovering near 20 percent, and Pastrana said he
needed to create 350,000 new jobs to bring the rate down one percentage
point. He said
government and FARC officials would soon tour European and Latin America capitals to drum up foreign investment for rural areas that are the primary arenas of the
drug trade and civil war.