Colombia needs additional aid, U.S. visitors say
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
BOGOTA, Colombia -- A high-level U.S. delegation that came here to take a hard look at Colombia's battle against narcotrafficking said that Washington needs to put more money into the fight.
``President [Andrés] Pastrana's government is engaged in
a struggle that matters to everyone in this hemisphere because Colombians
are fighting to re-establish two
things that almost every citizen of our hemisphere wants: peace and prosperity,'' said Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, who led the U.S. delegation's three-day mission here.
``Colombia is a fellow democracy. . . . Colombians deserve the right to live in peace and freedom.''
Grossman said the 30-plus-member delegation concluded that $1.3 billion investment the United States already has committed to Colombia was money well-spent on military operations. The U.S. group urges more aid for Colombia against traffickers, crop eradication and social measures.
But that aid is only making a slight dent in the drug trade, which Grossman called, ``the main source of supply for continued unrest in this country.'' Leftist rebels fighting the government fund their war by selling protection to narcotraffickers; so do right-wing paramilitaries engaged in a war of terror against the guerrillas.
AID TO TROOPS
Senior U.S. government officials who accompanied the delegation said Washington will not provide purely counterinsurgency aid to the Colombian military. But they said more aid could be provided for Colombian troops who are deployed against drug plantations and processing labs.
The guerrillas and their paramilitary enemies ``are financed by drugs. We need somehow to cut off their ability to finance themselves,'' one of the senior U.S. officials said.
The U.S. officials said success will require a broadened approach, including two measures that must be approved by Congress:
An $880 million proposal by President Bush for the Andean Regional Initiative, a counter-drug funding package aimed at efforts in Colombia's neighboring countries, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama.
Renewal of the Andean Trade Preference Act, set to expire in December. The 1991 measure provides trade benefits to Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru as an incentive to develop legitimate economies and provide alternatives to drug-crop production.
The officials dismissed speculation that the trip to Colombia signaled a rethinking of U.S. policy.
``You never, ever have a policy that's this big and this complicated without trying to make sure it's right all the time,'' said a senior U.S. government official involved in the talks.
In addition to meeting with President Pastrana, the U.S, contingent
also spent time with Colombia's vice president, foreign minister and other
key members of the
Among the successes U.S. officials pointed to were: 33 signed agreements from farmers to eradicate drug-producing crops; the construction of 26 social infrastructure projects; the creation of 18 programs that provide legal services to poor and marginalized communities, and the issuance of $513,619 in grants to non-government entities that promote peace.
But, the officials said, Colombia has a lot more to do. The country must fortify its security forces, upgrade its justice system, regain control of territory now dominated by rebels and reduce the level of crime and corruption across the nation. Asked if the Bush administration believed a military solution is the answer to the continuing conflict, a senior U.S. government official said: ``The only permanent solution here is a negotiated settlement.''