U.S. expanding Plan Colombia into regional Andean plan
By CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Bushadministration is in the process of
designing an expansion of Plan Colombia, into a regional-wide plan for
Colombia's neighbors in the Andes, US, Colombian and other Latin American
officials tell CNN.
As the US assists Colombia with its counter-narcotics efforts, Colombia's
neighbors in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are worried that rebels will begin drug
cultivation across Colombia's borders.
The neighboring economies are fragile, and poor citizens living in squalor
the border would see an incentive to join the rebels with drug production.
The original US commitment to Plan Colombia for Bogota's neighbors was
million. But a senior official tells CNN that while the "actual numbers" are not
worked out yet, President Bush's 2002 budget will see a "major increase" in
programs for Colombia's neighbors, and "some countries could see an increase
in US aid by two or even three times."
US officials say they have solicited ideas from Andean countries on how
they would develop
their borders to strengthen, democracy, human rights and their justice and law enforcement
programs. One senior State Department official said the plan won't be "one size fits all," but rather
will be "tailor made" for each country -taking into account the "commonalties" of problems endemic
to the region.
"The Andean Ridge has problems that are relatively unique to the rest of
added Phil Chicola, the State Department Director for Andean affairs. "You have marginalized
populations, you have perhaps deeply seeded or perhaps even more deeply seeded social economic
problems in those countries than you do in many of the rest of the area."
"I think that what you are likely to see is a broader effort with additional
while not neglecting the counter-narcotics dimension because it's a very important
dimension, is very cognizant that there are many other socio-economic problems that interceded
the narcotics problem that will be a factor," he said.
Colombia President Andres Pastrana is convening a meeting of Andean leaders
the April Summit of the Americas, in Quebec, so they can present their ideas to President
Bush in a meeting on the sidelines of the summit, a Colombian official said.
But officials warn that the Bush administration will be "smart" about the
distribution of aid, and will ensure the US is not "stampeded" by countries who
see it as a "cash cow.
A Colombian official said "the most important thing the US can do to help
situation" in the Andes is to increase trade - what Pastrana sees as "phase two"
of Plan Colombia.
"The movement away from drugs with alternative development is not sustainable
in the long term unless there is a market for the new products and that is where
the US can come in," he said.
He added that during his visit to Washington, Pastrana received a commitment
the Bush administration that it would support enhanced trade with the region,
both through an renewal of the Andean Trade Preference Act and eventually
through a proposed free trade agreement across the Americas.
The administration appears to have softened its position regarding involvement
Colombia's peace process and has held out the possibility of participating in talks
with FARC rebels.
President Bush publicly refused Pastrana's appeals in the press for the
US to participate in peace negotiations with the rebels.
US and Colombian officials tell CNN, however, that Pastrana never raised
issue directly during his meeting with Bush.
"The Bush administration went on record saying they would not participate,"
Colombian official said. "So there was no reason for the president to start pushing it."
But Secretary of State Colin Powell has called for a "clarification" in
administration's position, and the State Department is now saying that US
participation in the peace process would be conditional upon the FARC meeting
specific US demands.
"The United States is not going to engage in talks with the FARC.. until
to cooperate with the appropriate government authorities on cases that involve
American citizens," State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said,
referring to incidents in 1993 and 1999 where Americans were allegedly
murdered by associates of the FARC.
He added the US would also not engage with the rebels until there is a
intention on the part of the FARC to begin serious, substantive negotiations with
the Colombian government."
A Colombia official said the comments marked a "definite softening" of
administration's original position of refusing to engage with the rebels, which
was a "huge deal" for Colombia.
"It is significant because US support for the peace process can do a lot
to get the
Europeans and the rest of the international community to support it as well," the
official said. "When the world is watching and involved, the guerillas feel there is
accountability, but when they are just dealing with the Colombian government, it
is a different dynamic."