Clinton Pledges To Keep U.S. Out Of Colombia War
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
CARTAGENA, Colombia, Aug. 30 –– Declaring "this is not Vietnam," President
Clinton used a one-day visit here today to assure Americans and Colombians
U.S. anti-drug support for the Colombian government will not lead the United States into a combat role against the country's leftist guerrillas.
Clinton's trip to this seaside resort was designed as a symbol of U.S.
backing for President Andres Pastrana rather than a detailed discussion
of a $1.3 billion U.S.
aid package for Colombia that has been the subject of almost continuous conversations between the two governments for nearly a year. But Clinton, sensitive to
reservations here and at home, went out of his way to underline that the heavy economic and political commitment will not expand into military intervention.
"There won't be American involvement in a shooting war, because they
don't want it and we don't want it," Clinton said at a joint news conference
"This is not Vietnam. Neither is it Yankee imperialism."
Instead, he said in a show of personal and political support for Pastrana,
"we are proud to stand with our friend and our neighbor" in backing Colombia's
economic development programs along with the nearly $1 billion in military equipment and counter-drug training that makes up the bulk of the aid package.
"Many times over the past decades, Colombians have felt alone in bearing
the burden of the international drug war," Pastrana responded. "Your presence
Mr. President, as a representative of the American people, is a commitment that leads us to know that we're no longer isolated in this struggle."
Clinton's nearly 11-hour stay in Cartagena was marked by tight security
involving more than 4,500 Colombian police officers, soldiers and sailors.
men in boats plied Cartagena's waterways, sharpshooters were stationed atop the 16th-century city's walls, and police officers lined the streets. Police arrested three
men in a house about six blocks from a building Clinton was to visit and confiscated what they described as bomb-making materials and "propaganda" leaflets. It was
unclear if the men were accused of intending to construct a bomb or a small explosive device to spread the leaflets.
In tours around Cartagena's port facilities and a U.S.-funded neighborhood
legal and social aid center, Clinton shook hands with a drug-sniffing dog,
from the faces of widows of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, touched the chins of toddlers and waded through hundreds of Cartagena citizens
jostling with police, soldiers and Secret Service agents. At one point, the crowd's enthusiasm threatened to overwhelm security forces as a group of youths tried to
push through and a number of young girls struggled to talk with Chelsea Clinton, who accompanied her father on the trip.
A large bipartisan congressional delegation traveling with the president
was led by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who pledged "a commitment
for a long
period of time" to aid Colombia, presumably beyond the current two-year package.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; Attorney General Janet Reno;
the U.S. Southern Commander, Gen. Charles Wilhelm; Office of National Drug
Policy Director Barry R. McCaffrey; and national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger were also in an entourage that included numerous senior White House
and State Department officials.
"We obviously care deeply" about Colombia, said Sen. Joseph R. Biden
Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, in a
reference to the size of the U.S. delegation.
Biden, who sources said pressured the Colombians on concerns about military
human rights abuses during private meetings here today, tempered Hastert's
commitment by saying that U.S. aid "will depend in great part . . . on the perception as to whether or not human rights are being honored" and whether the
Colombian military is moving against right-wing paramilitary groups as well as the guerrillas. Both receive much of their financing from protecting coca and poppy
fields for drug traffickers and are alleged to have some direct involvement in the traffic themselves.
In legislation authorizing the aid, U.S. military involvement is limited
to training three 1,000-member army battalions and providing new helicopters
to help the troops
secure drug-producing territory so that anti-drug police can eradicate the crops and destroy drug laboratories that produce up to 80 percent of the cocaine entering
the United States and most of the heroin sold on the East Coast.
The legislation also lists a series of human rights requirements and
requires Clinton to certify Colombian compliance. This month, Clinton waived
the requirements in
accordance with a provision included in the legislation, saying that Pastrana's government was working hard on the problems.
The fact that not everyone in Colombia supports U.S. involvement here
was apparent in large demonstrations today in Bogota, the Colombian capital.
thousand students and labor union members, some carrying effigies of Clinton and U.S. flags bearing skulls instead of stars, marched on the heavily fortified U.S.
Embassy, where they were met with baton-wielding police. Much smaller demonstrations were staged in other Colombian cities.
Overnight, leftist guerrillas launched at least 32 separate attacks
in 13 of Colombia's 22 states and blockaded major roads in protest of Plan
Colombia, a social
reform and anti-drug program the Colombian and U.S. governments describe as a comprehensive package to save Colombian democracy, but which the guerrillas
say is the beginning of U.S. military intervention.
The U.S. delegation was behind schedule throughout the day, as a trip
set for nine hours stretched to almost 11. After dancing to a tropical
band in Cartagena's
central square long after dark, Clinton finally headed for the airport. Following the U.S. delegation's departure, Pastrana told reporters "it would be hard to have
better relations with the United States than we have right now."
Earlier, Clinton, Hastert and Biden were taken on a tour of the port
facilities by the head of the Colombian National Police, Gen. Augusto Gilibert,
new Colombian prowess in interdicting outgoing drugs and incoming contraband. "Say hi to the president," Gilibert instructed a drug-sniffing dog named Darling as
Clinton scratched her ears. When Darling indicated a reluctance to let Clinton leave, he said it must be because "Buddy slept with me last night; she probably smells
Buddy," the president's chocolate Labrador.
With Pastrana translating, several of a dozen widows and mothers of
slain soldiers and policemen wept as they told Clinton how their husbands
and sons had died in
the fight against drug traffickers and rebels. Clinton held the face of Yina Ruth Garcia Torres in his hands and wiped her tears, saying to the pregnant woman:
"Remember, my mother carried me as a widow."