Senate OKs $1 billion in Colombia anti-drug aid
BY ANA RADELAT
Special to The Herald
WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday endorsed a nearly $1 billion
package to help Colombia equip and train security forces to fight its drug war.
During a daylong debate on a foreign operations spending bill,
the Senate rejected
efforts to divert the Colombian drug-fighting money to domestic programs.
The Senate completed work on the Colombian aid portion of the
bill but delayed
until today a final vote on the foreign operations spending bill, which is expected
Voting 79-19 to keep the aid package intact, senators turned back
an effort by
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., to reduce U.S. help to Colombia to $200 million --
and use the rest of the money to pay down the national debt.
Gorton had expressed concern that, by aiding Colombia's armed
United States risks involvement into an open-ended military conflict.
``There has been no consideration of the consequences, cost and
involvement,'' he said. ``This bill says, let's get into war now and justify it later.''
The Senate also rejected, on a 89-11 vote, an effort led by Sen.
D-Minn., to divert $225 million from the Colombian package to domestic drug
Wellstone argued the money should be shifted to avoid ``militarizing
Senators have not disputed that the United States must help Colombia,
source of 90 percent of the cocaine and 65 percent of the heroin seized in this
But critics warn that Washington is being pulled into a convoluted
civil conflict in
which two leftist guerrilla armies are fighting the government, right-wing
paramilitary forces are fighting the guerrillas, guerrillas are providing paid
protection to drug traffickers and civilians are trapped in the middle.
But several senators -- including Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Richard
D-Ill., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio -- objected to the proposed diversion of aid,
saying it would hurt Colombian President Andrés Pastrana's efforts to battle his
nation's powerful drug traffickers.
``It would rob Peter to pay Paul just as Peter is getting back
on his feet again,''
The Senate has now set aside a total of almost $1.3 billion for
Colombia over the next two years, counting $400 million in an earlier military bill.
A White House official said she was ``very pleased'' with the
``We're one step closer,'' she said.
About $120 million of the Senate's proposed U.S. aid to Bogota
would buy U.S.
helicopters for the Colombia's military.
But the package also contains drug-eradication funds and money
Colombians living in rural areas where military and police forces are battling leftist
guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary forces who support themselves through drug
trade. The U.S. plan would also fund efforts to persuade Colombia farmers to
abandon their cultivation of coca plants for other crops.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., urged the Senate to
act quickly on
the bill. ``The drugs that come out of Colombia are coming right into the United
States . . . and they're poisoning our children,'' he said.
Lott predicted that the House and Senate would split the difference
met to negotiate a final Colombian aid package.
The House was even more generous to the administration's efforts
Pastrana's government, approving early this year nearly $1.7 billion in Colombian
``The [Senate] aid may be increased somewhat in conference,'' Lott said.
This report was supplemented by Herald wire services.