The Miami Herald
January 16, 2000
Albright upbeat on aid in drug war
U.S. would help Colombia


 CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Lauding this nation's ``courageous struggle'' against
 the drug trade, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright cautiously forecast
 Saturday that U.S. legislators would approve a $1.3 billion aid package to

 ``We have a lot of work ahead of us but . . . President Clinton is very determined
 about this assistance package, as I am,'' she said.

 Albright said she knew ``many members of Congress of both parties who support''
 the ambitious aid request, which would provide the armed forces with at least 60
 new helicopters and help beef up efforts to eradicate drug crops.

 During her two-day visit, Albright did not address the concerns of some
 Colombians who believe that burgeoning U.S. counternarcotics aid might worsen
 a guerrilla war that takes 3,000 to 3,500 lives a year.

 Instead, in a celebratory mood over ever-warmer ties between Colombia and the
 United States, Albright repeatedly praised President Andres Pastrana's anti-drug
 strategy -- known as Plan Colombia -- and said it fit perfectly with U.S. policy.

 ``This is one of those very important moments in international relations and foreign
 policy when the plans of one country, or the strategy of one country, is fully in
 synchronization and in harmony with the national plans of another,'' she said at a
 news conference before heading to Panama at midafternoon.

 Albright planned to spend seven hours in Panama, then go to Mexico Saturday

 Albright defied security concerns on several occasions in Cartagena. Friday
 evening, she donned a sombrero and strolled the streets of the colonial-era walled
 city, joining Pastrana at an outdoor plaza to sip tropical drinks. Saturday, during a
 musical ceremony at the Cartagena port, she grabbed the hand of a costumed
 young girl and danced a few steps to an infectious tropical rhythm.


 Pastrana, a 45-year-old former television anchor, heaped praise on Albright, the
 highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Colombia in a decade.

 ``Your presence symbolizes much more than the friendship between our two
 nations -- it demonstrates our unity of purpose, our shared commitment to
 confront one of the greatest plagues of our time, illegal drugs,'' Pastrana said.

 Pastrana described the booming narcotics trade as the source of all of Colombia's
 ills: ``It fuels the insurgency, feeds violence and crime, breeds insecurity and fear,
 and threatens our democratic institutions,'' he said.

 U.S. officials say 80 percent of all cocaine entering the United States originates
 or passes through Colombia, and the problem appears to be worsening.


 Production of coca, the raw material for cocaine, has nearly tripled since 1992
 despite an aggressive U.S.-financed aerial eradication program.

 At her news conference, Albright referred to a dining companion -- Nobel Prize
 writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a part-time resident of Cartagena.

 ``One of the world's great novels, authored by a man with whom I was honored to
 have dinner last night, is entitled One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' she said,
 referring to Garcia Marquez's most widely read novel, before promising efforts ``to
 seek 100 years of peace, democracy and rising prosperity for both our nations.''

 Garcia Marquez, who maintains a residence in Havana and a close friendship with
 Cuban President Fidel Castro, drew some criticism for attending the dinner.

 Colombia's Communist Party issued a statement saying the writer was ``on his
 knees'' before a U.S. envoy who had come ``to control, to issue orders'' to
 Colombians in an imperious manner.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald