U.S. funds to fight drugs are needed now, Colombian leader says
BY GEORGE GEDDA
WASHINGTON -- Colombian President Andres Pastrana, appealing for
congressional approval of a two-year, $1.3 billion emergency counterdrug
package, said Tuesday that delays will only perpetuate skyrocketing coca
production in his country.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pastrana said cocaine
doubled over the past four years, and he cautioned that the problem cannot be
overcome without help from the United States and Europe.
``The sooner we get the aid, the sooner we are going to these
areas -- not only to fight the drug lords and narcos involved in the business but
also to start promoting alternative development,'' he said.
Dramatic increases in eradication efforts have been more than
offset by a 50
percent increase in coca cultivation over the past two years, according to
President Clinton presented the aid request as an emergency supplemental
January, and the House approved it last month by a lopsided margin. But Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has said he does not believe the measure
warrants emergency consideration. Pastrana will meet Lott today.
PRICE TAG CONCERNS
Lott told reporters Tuesday he supports the aid money for Colombia
concerned about additions to the package unrelated to Colombia that are
increasing the price tag.
``I want him [Pastrana] to get this money . . . but I have a higher
obligation to the
taxpayers of America. I have to do what I can to control the growth of spending,''
Predicting that the money will be approved, Lott said the wait
will be not much
longer than if it had gone through the emergency process.
Colombia is not getting rich off the drug trade, Pastrana said
in the interview,
arguing that much of the $500 billion the business generates each year winds up
in the United States, with very little staying in his country.
But, he said, Colombia has made a big sacrifice in combating the
investing $1.3 billion annually to curb U.S.-bound flows of cocaine and heroin.
``We want to show the world [that] we are on the front lines in
the fight on drugs.
We have lost our best journalists, the best politicians, the best policemen, the
best judges,'' he said.
``It is a big sacrifice not only for the economy but also in human
life,'' he added.
``Instead of pointing out who is responsible, why don't we unite all our efforts in
fighting the largest criminal organization in the world?''
Pastrana, a frequent visitor to Washington during his 20 months
in office, met with
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Tuesday afternoon and plans meetings
with other lawmakers besides Lott.
Afterward, he plans to travel to Europe, where a meeting of donors
is planned for
July to assist his program for dealing with Colombia's many problems. He
expressed hope that the Europeans will make pledges of $600 million to $800
Albright, with Pastrana standing at her side at the State Department
meeting, renewed the administration's call for fast action on the assistance
proposal, a major feature of which is providing 63 helicopters to enhance the
mobility of units involved in counternarcotics activities.