BY TIM JOHNSON
CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Lauding this nation's ``courageous struggle''
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
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
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
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
Albright defied security concerns on several occasions in Cartagena.
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.
PRAISE FOR ALBRIGHT
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
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
or passes through Colombia, and the problem appears to be worsening.
Production of coca, the raw material for cocaine, has nearly tripled
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
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