Colombia's President Uribe asks for help against violent guerrilla groups
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
Warning that the conflict in Colombia has the potential to spread
and cause havoc across Latin America, President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday
international assistance in the four-decade battle against insurgent groups that profit from drug trafficking and commit acts of terrorism.
''We need help to get rid of the violence,'' Uribe said during
a keynote address at The Herald's annual Americas Conference at the Biltmore
Hotel in Coral
Gables. ``We are fighting terrorists.''
Uribe's plea during a satellite transmission from Bogotá
came even as suspected rebels fired on a truck in northwestern Colombia,
employees of a Medellín utility company. The violence is part of escalating urban warfare that has become increasingly brazen.
Most of the victims of Tuesday's attack in San Rafael were workers
at hydroelectric plants, officials said. The early morning attack, like
most other recent
acts, was blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group.
Uribe said Colombia was committed to regaining the confidence
of its citizens and international investors. However, he said, financial
crucial for initiatives to lower debt and to compensate farmers who have agreed to stop cultivating drug crops.
''Today, no one disagrees that lack of investment, unemployment
and [the budget] deficit have a lot to do with violence,'' he said. ``That
is why we are
committed to providing security, economic stability, clarity and transparency . . . so that nationals and foreigners can trust in Colombia as a place to live,
work and invest.''
Colombia's 38-year civil war pits the FARC and a smaller rebel
group against security forces and right-wing paramilitary fighters. The
fighting kills about
3,500 people each year.
Earlier, Otto Reich, the U.S. point man on Latin America, told
participants Colombia can count on the United States in its fight against
including the FARC and two others known by the acronyms ELN and AUC.
''These are not popular movements. . . . They are after power
and profits from drug trafficking,'' Reich said, adding that the Bush administration
provide training, intelligence and other resources to fight ``narco-terrorists.''
Reich, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, also:
• Cautioned Brazil's left-leaning leading presidential contender
-- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva -- against altering the country's capitalist
because ``leftist models don't function.''
• Said the ''heating up of the rhetoric'' by Venezuelan President
Hugo Chávez was of great concern. He said it was incumbent on the
administration to initiate a ''genuine desire of dialogue'' with the opposition, which has threatened to have a national strike that could last for days if
Chávez does not agree to hold early elections.
• Urged Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to move quickly to defuse political tension by holding elections next year.
• Said the United States stands ready to help Argentina solve its economic problems.
• Touted the Free Trade Area of the Americas as having the potential
to create ''the largest free market in the world.'' The FTAA, slated to
take effect in
2005, would allow countries in the hemisphere, including Canada, to create a virtually tariff-free trade area designed to promote a greater exchange of
goods and more investment.
• Dismissed speculation that President Bush's resolve to maintain
the economic embargo on Cuba was a political move to help his brother Jeb
reelected as governor of Florida. ''The embargo has functioned. It has been evaluated and maintained,'' Reich said, adding that the president will not
consider lifting sanctions until Cuba takes steps to implement genuine democratic reforms.
Both Reich and Uribe cautioned prudence in response to questions
about Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo's proposal Monday to seek a ''democratic
solution'' to the political impasse on Venezuela.
The conference attracted more than 700 participants, including
presidents, former presidents and business, government and academic leaders
throughout the Americas.
Herald writer Larissa Ruiz Campo contributed to this report.