The Miami Herald
Sep. 22, 2002

Uribe wants Colombia's neighbors to help in war


  BOGOTA - President Alvaro Uribe plans to call for significant changes in the principal security agreement in the Americas, saying Colombia's neighbors should
  understand that guerrillas and drug traffickers pose a threat to everyone.

  In his first newspaper interview since taking office Aug. 7, Uribe told The Herald that an overhaul of existing security treaties is indispensable to stop the growing threat to democracy in the region.

  So far, only the United States provides a significant measure of military assistance to Colombia, home to the largest insurgency in Latin America and the major source of cocaine in the world. Neighboring countries provide small levels of aid sporadically, even though some are used as a refuge by Colombian anti-government forces.

  Uribe's proposal would mark a sharp departure from Colombia's previous policy and present a significant challenge to its neighbors, which have traditionally been
  reluctant to become involved in regional wars for fear of stirring up domestic opposition.

  ''The first thing we have to do is to identify common enemies,'' Uribe said. ``The Colombian problem is a common enemy to this continent's democracy. These violent groups in Colombia have the potential to destabilize all democracies in the region.''

  Uribe, who won Colombia's election in a landslide with his hard-line platform to root out rebel groups, said he will propose to ''modernize'' the 1947 Inter-American Mutual Defense Treaty, also known as the Rio Treaty.

  The U.S.-backed agreement, originally aimed at fighting communism, declared that any external attack on any member country would be considered an attack against all.

  ''We should modernize that treaty,'' Uribe said, adding that the biggest threat to the region's democracy is no longer external attack but rather violent internal

  Uribe said Colombia needs ''concrete help'' from its neighbors, and that a revamped Rio Treaty would help commit countries to providing such assistance.

  Colombian officials say neighboring countries are patrolling their borders to keep rebels from the 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and drug traffickers from crossing into their territories.

  But security is lax, and there is little cross-border military cooperation with countries such as Venezuela, Colombian military officers say. With Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, military cooperation is spotty, they say.

  Uribe said neighboring countries could offer greater cooperation on issues such as stopping or shooting down narco-guerrilla planes.

  ''All countries in our neighborhood should commit ourselves not to allow drugs to get out,'' Uribe said.

  He added, ``There is nothing to prevent this from being done now, but in practice it's not being done.''


  Citing the case of Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has been accused by former Colombian officials of providing political support for the FARC rebels, Uribe said: ``I don't know of any case in which we alerted Venezuela and they refused to help. What I do know is that we seize only 20 percent of the cocaine that leaves from here, and that these drug shipments cross territories, seas or air spaces of neighboring countries.''

  Uribe's call for amending the Rio Treaty came a week after Mexico pulled out of the agreement, saying it was obsolete. Mexican President Vicente Fox offered to replace the treaty with a one that would be discussed at a hemispheric security meeting next year.

  Under the Mexican proposal, the new treaty would seek military cooperation on issues such as natural disasters, epidemics and poverty-related issues.

  Asked about the Mexican proposal, Uribe said, ``I like to keep things simple. I'm not opposed to what Mexico is doing, but what I have believed until now is that we should make an addition to the Inter-American Mutual Defense Treaty.''

  Former U.S. Ambassador Myles R. Frechette, now president of the Council of the Americas, a New York-based nonprofit business group, welcomed Uribe's proposal.

  ''Uribe is right on target. The problem in Colombia of narco-trafficking and guerrilla terrorism is not just Colombia's; it's Brazil's and that of other neighboring countries as well,'' he said.


  While Uribe could easily win approval from Latin nations in fighting drugs, he would have a tough sell to interest them in battling FARC rebels, other experts said.

  ''The other countries would probably want to resist,'' said Miguel Diaz, a political analyst with the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington, D.C. ``They need to define what they are willing to defend each other for. In light of Sept. 11, they need to redefine what a threat is.''

  The United States is contributing nearly $2 billion in military aid to Colombia. Congress and the Bush administration have agreed to divert some of that amount from
  strictly anti-drug military maneuvers to those that include fighting the FARC.

  Involvement by other nations would trigger fierce debate here, where Uribe is already under a microscope for unorthodox measures such as hiring peasant soldiers and volunteer informants.

  ''Uribe has pessimistically -- or realistically -- realized that it's not easy to beat the FARC, which keeps growing and threatening,'' said Leon Valencia, a left-leaning
  analyst. ``It's all very negative. All international intervention ever does is fire up a conflict.''