By FRANK DAVIES
Herald Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- Working toward peace and reducing illegal drug production
-- goals in Colombia that don't always coexist easily -- will dominate discussions
today between Colombian President Andres Pastrana, whose priority is to end a
costly insurgency, and President Clinton, who will press the need to reduce drug
Pastrana arrived here Tuesday for a four-day state visit -- the first by
leader since 1975 -- with a lengthy economic agenda, seeking investment, loans
and increased trade. He plans to meet with the president of the World Bank, U.S.
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and many business leaders.
But Pastrana's main goal is to promote his plans to end the 34-year civil
with leftist guerrillas who control substantial portions of Colombia. Pastrana's
government has begun to pull troops out of some of those areas in advance of
peace talks scheduled for next month.
After arriving in Washington, Pastrana said he will seek U.S. support for
efforts and try to reduce U.S.-Colombian tensions over the drug war.
``We need to `denarcoticize' our relations,'' he said.
U.S. officials continue to push for a greater effort against drug production
smuggling, including aerial spraying of the coca crop. Colombia produces about 80
percent of the world's cocaine, but Pastrana has been skeptical of eradication.
Pastrana's challenge will not be easy, several observers said this week.
``Those goals of making peace and fighting drugs are sometimes consistent,
sometimes in conflict,'' said Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American
Dialogue, a Washington think tank.
``Pastrana will have to spell out with some clarity what he's prepared
to do to
achieve peace, and U.S. officials are going to have to figure out to what extent
they can support that,'' Shifter said.
Making a deal to end the insurgency might mean a reduced effort in some
Colombia to combat drug production, he said. U.S. officials estimate that 70
percent of guerrilla units have been involved in the drug trade, often by protecting
Relations between the two countries improved vastly in June with Pastrana's
election. U.S. officials had ostracized his predecessor, Ernesto Samper, and
revoked his visa after allegations that Samper's campaign knowingly accepted $6
million from drug cartels.
``It's a different world altogether,'' said Foreign Minister Guillermo
Soto in a recent interview. ``We have gone from a president with no visa to one
being received by the President of the United States.''
White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said Tuesday that ``strengthening
relationship'' with Colombia is the main goal of talks between Pastrana and U.S.
``We'll discuss deepening and broadening our joint strategy on counternarcotics,''
Lockhart said. ``The President [Clinton] will get an update on the effort to build a
peace process in Colombia, and there are some issues of mutual or bilateral
economic concern I'm sure will be on the agenda.''
Drugs and insurgency make for a volatile mix of issues. Congress, in the
approved last week, is pressing for more eradication efforts and interdiction while
Pastrana is preoccupied with ongoing violence committed by right-wing death
squads and left-wing guerrillas. During the weekend, at least 21 unarmed civilians
were killed by death squads in northern Colombia.
One human rights advocate who recently visited Colombia is concerned that
Pastrana may try to make a hasty peace without dealing with basic rights issues.
``My perception is that [Colombian leaders] may see human rights as an
to the peace process,'' said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human
Rights Watch's Americas division. ``We're concerned that they may move toward
an amnesty for atrocities for all parties.''
Herald staff writer Tim Johnson in Colombia contributed to this report.
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