20 September 1998
Colombia's Pastrana: U.S. is politicizing drug war

                  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 to
                  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.