The Miami Herald
August 31, 2001

Checking drug war progress, U.S. group visits rebel zone


 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.