Checking drug war progress, U.S. group visits rebel zone
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
BOGOTA, Colombia -- A U.S. delegation on a three-day mission here
traveled to rebel territory Thursday for a look at U.S.-funded
operations in a war on drugs that authorities claim to be winning even as statistics suggest an ever-growing problem.
The high-level group of U.S. officials toured the southern region
of Colombia, where U.S. Special Forces have trained Colombian
military units in drug interdiction and where aerial drug eradication operations are based. Much of the $1.3 billion in U.S. aid to
Colombia is to support the anti-drug effort.
Colombian authorities have reported the destruction of more than
400 laboratories and 278,000 acres of fields where
narcotic-producing plants are grown.
Nonetheless, statistics from the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy show that more drugs are being seized in the
United States, drug consumption remains high and Colombia continues to be the largest supplier of cocaine and heroin.
``I don't have memory of a single year in which success has not
been claimed,'' said Fernando Cepeda, a political science
professor in Bogota and former Colombia Cabinet member. ``However, the outcome has always been a disaster. This is the
tragedy for Colombia. Each day, each year has been worse -- statistically, politically and economically.''
Some Latin American scholars and policy analysts say the problem
is that the United States is confusing two issues, the
Colombian government's civil war against leftist guerrillas and the U.S. war on drugs.
``The United States has to straighten out its priorities,'' said
Robert White, president of the Center of International Policy, a
D.C.-based think-tank. ``What is it that we want to accomplish?''
``The confusion stems from grafting our drug war into their civil
war,'' White said. ``I am sure this mission will learn that you can't do
counter-insurgency under the guise of counter-narcotics.''
The U.S. group has met with President Andrés Pastrana and
members of his administration amid rising concerns in Washington
over U.S. involvement in a nation whose drug trade has become entwined with an increasingly violent guerrilla warfare that has
lasted nearly four decades.
The more than 30 U.S. officials will return to Washington today
where they will no doubt be pressed for answers on the status of
bilateral relations and whether current U.S. policy ought to remain in place.
The United States has spent countless of dollars in a battle against
drug trafficking enterprise that continues to expand, with
Colombia being the largest supplier of cocaine and heroin, and United States its largest consumer, according to the latest annual
reporter from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Cultivation is flourishing in Colombia, the White House statistics
show, even as authorities pursue controversial fumigations of
crops. The amount of coca leaf cultivated has steadily increased from about 107,000 acres in 1989 to 336,000 acres in 1999.