U.S. group arrives in Colombia to review drug policy
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
BOGOTA, Colombia -- More than 30 high-level U.S. officials arrived
Wednesday for an extensive review of U.S. policy in this
troubled South American nation, in what analysts said is an effort to quell rising concerns in Washington over Colombia's efforts to
control leftist guerrillas and narcotics trafficking.
The delegation's leaders offered few clues as to their precise
mission. ``Colombia is very important to the United States,'' Marc
Grossman, the State Department's third-highest ranking diplomat, said shortly after arrival.
Colombian officials were only slightly less bland. ``This will
be an opportunity to review the binational agenda, to define priorities,
look at the implementation of the anti-drug Plan Colombia, to talk about trade and determine the course to be followed with the
U.S. administration,'' Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernández de Soto said.
But there are signs of disquiet in Washington. The Bush administration
has not indicated whether, or how, it might change the
United States' role in Colombia. But it has expressed concern over the continuing conflict.
``The perception is that there's just spreading lawlessness and
insecurity,'' said Michael Shifter, vice president for the
Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based center for policy analysis.
``There's been a relentless series of events which don't add up
to a picture of a country that's very secure. There is a new team in
place in the White House, and there are a lot of questions in Congress,'' Shifter said. ``The administration, with good reason, wants
to feel that it has a clear sense of where it's going with Colombia. The U.S. has a major investment and needs to really assess
what's going on.''
In meetings with President Andrés Pastrana, Fernández
de Soto and Colombian defense officials, the U.S. delegation was to get
updates on Plan Colombia, an ambitious $1.3 billion project to combat illegal drugs through military operations, crop eradication
and social measures.
The U.S. group includes officials from the Justice Department,
the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the White House
drug czar's office, as well as Gen. Peter Pace, head of the U.S. Southern Command and recent Bush nominee for vice chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Scheduled to leave Friday, it is the first such delegation to visit Colombia since President Bush took
CONFLICT IN D.C.
The visit comes amid apparent conflict in Washington over how
best to aid a nation caught in a 37-year-old guerrilla war led by a
group of leftist insurgents using demilitarized land for terrorist training and support of an expansive drug trade.
``I'm not sure there's something that's been cooked in Washington that's going to be delivered [in Colombia],'' Shifter said.
The nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, or FARC, has funded itself by taxing the fields that
grow plants used in the production of narcotics. Most of the cocaine and much of the heroin entering the United States originates
Pastrana generated high hopes when he was elected three years
ago on a peace platform. But peace talks with the FARC have
yielded almost no advances while evidence mounts that the rebels have used a sanctuary granted by Pastrana for military
preparations. The capture of three suspected Irish Republican Army members earlier this month has fueled speculation that what
had largely been a rural war is now expanding.
Concern is even more acute in Colombia. Several candidates in
next year's presidential election have accused the guerrillas of
intransigence and question Pastrana's hand-over of 16,000 square miles of land to the FARC as an incentive to negotiate.