The Miami Herald
June 22, 2000

 Senate OKs $1 billion in Colombia anti-drug aid

 Special to The Herald

 WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday endorsed a nearly $1 billion aid
 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
 to pass.

 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 forces, the
 United States risks involvement into an open-ended military conflict.

 ``There has been no consideration of the consequences, cost and length of
 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. Paul Wellstone,
 D-Minn., to divert $225 million from the Colombian package to domestic drug
 treatment programs.

 Wellstone argued the money should be shifted to avoid ``militarizing the whole
 [Colombia] package.''

 Senators have not disputed that the United States must help Colombia, the
 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 Durbin,
 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,''
 DeWine said.

 The Senate has now set aside a total of almost $1.3 billion for assistance to
 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 Senate's action.
 ``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 to relocate
 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 when they
 met to negotiate a final Colombian aid package.

 The House was even more generous to the administration's efforts to help
 Pastrana's government, approving early this year nearly $1.7 billion in Colombian
 aid funds.

 ``The [Senate] aid may be increased somewhat in conference,'' Lott said.

 This report was supplemented by Herald wire services.