BOGOTA (Reuters) -- President Andres Pastrana on Sunday accused
Washington of playing politics with Colombia's drug war, and said it was
one of the worst possible things to happen to U.S.-Colombian ties.
Pastrana's public broadside, aimed especially at U.S. Republican leaders,
marked his first reaction to a controversial amendment to an anti-drug bill
passed by the U.S.
House of Representatives last week. The amendment was backed by Rep.
Benjamin Gilman, the New York Republican who heads the House
International Relations Committee and a figure seen, until last week, as one
of Colombia's few true "friends" on Capitol Hill.
The legislation would make Colombia ineligible for U.S. counternarcotics
aid, if anti-drug efforts are hampered in any way by Pastrana's plan to order
a troop pullout from a vast swath of Colombian territory later this year to
promote peace talks with Marxist rebels.
Pastrana, who took office just last month, stopped short in his remarks
reporters of accusing the Republican-controlled House of seeking to
torpedo his country's nascent peace process. But he said Washington had
openly "politicized" the drug issue.
"They politicized it for Colombia, and it's the worst thing that has happened
to us in the last four years," he said.
U.S.-Colombian ties sank to historic lows under Pastrana's predecessor,
Ernesto Samper, because of charges that he bankrolled his 1994 election
campaign with drug money. But Pastrana signalled that they could get even
worse, if U.S.
lawmakers insist on making a partisan issue out of Colombia's anti-drug
Pastrana said most U.S. Democrats supported his campaign pledge to
provide Colombia's peasants with viable alternatives to the cultivation of
illicit opium poppy crops and coca, the raw material for cocaine. Democrats
understand that "we can't just talk about repression, fumigation and
eradication," he said, referring to the tactics Colombia has pursued
aggressively in its U.S.-backed fight against illicit drug crops so far.
Pastrana said Republican lawmakers were more close-minded, however,
and were insisting on "the simple thesis of an all-out war against drug
trafficking" -- with a continued focus on aerial spraying of drug crops with
Government officials have agreed to continue the fumigation programme for
now, which is the most ambitious of its kind in Latin America. But they
quietly insist that it is doing serious ecological damage, has pushed a growing
number of peasants into jungle-covered areas under rebel control, and failed
to a halt a steady increase in the number of illicit drug plantations cropping
up across Colombia.
Crop substitution, and tentative rebel offers to participate in the manual
uprooting of drug crops in areas under their influence, are among the issues
that Pastrana has said the government will discuss with Colombia's leading
rebel group when full-fledged peace talks begin in the demilitarized zone.
The talks are likely to begin by mid-November.
Government officials say Pastrana will explain his ideas about the peace
process, and about alternative ways of fighting the drug war, in talks with
U.S. congressional leaders next Thursday when he stops in Washington on
his return from the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The stopover in Washington was hastily scheduled after last Wednesday's
vote in the House, and government officials hope it will block passage of the
so-called "anti-Colombia" amendment in the Senate.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.