HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Powell Visits Colombia To Tout Drug War
Pubdate: Wed, 04 Dec 2002
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc.
Author: George Gedda, Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- With significant support from the United States, Colombia may 
have turned a corner in its efforts to eradicate coca in the country's 
principal growing region, U.S. officials said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was arriving Tuesday in Colombia, where he 
planned to talk about the counterdrug campaign and other issues with 
President Alvaro Uribe.

In a pre-departure interview with a Colombian newspaper, Powell said he 
sees the visit as a show of support for Uribe in his efforts to fight 
"those terrorist elements within Colombian society who are trying to 
destroy the dream of the Colombian people to have a democracy that gives 
them a society that is safe."

Besides drug trafficking, Uribe faces a host of problems, including a 
long-running civil war, but, as American officials see it, the country 
appears to be headed in the right direction. In contrast, the situation is 
worsening in Latin America's other troubled countries.

The officials say Uribe, who has been in office a little over 100 days, has 
fewer inhibitions about eradicating fields of coca, the basis of cocaine, 
than did his predecessor, Andres Pastrana. Colombia is the source of 90 
percent of the cocaine and much of the heroin consumed in the United States.

The current spraying campaign is far more extensive than previous efforts, 
leaving officials hopeful that coca farmers, particularly in southwestern 
Putumayo Province, will become discouraged and try their hand at legal 
crops. One problem with the program is that spraying does not discriminate; 
it wipes out legal as well as illicit crops.

If farmers can be turned away from cocaine, it would reduce revenues of the 
country's major guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of 
Colombia, and make it more amenable to a negotiated settlement. That, at 
least, is the Bush administration's -- and Colombia's -- hope.

A peace process begun by Pastrana was broken off last February after 
several fruitless years.

The United States has provided well over $1 billion in aid to Colombia 
since 2000, mostly in military goods. The aid had been restricted to 
counternarcotics work, but the administration has freed the Colombians now 
to use it against insurgents.

Last September, the State Department drew protests from U.S. rights groups 
after certifying that Colombia's armed forces had met human rights 
standards imposed by Congress in three areas. The action cleared the way 
for the release of $41 million in military assistance.

After the September decision, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and 
the Washington office on Latin America said the Colombian military had 
failed the tests law in all three areas.

After meetings Wednesday morning with Uribe and other officials, Powell 
will tour counternarcotics facilities and then confer with local human 
rights groups.

Perhaps the worst abuser of human rights in Colombia, the rightist AUC 
paramilitary, announced a unilateral cease-fire last week. Like the leftist 
rebels, the AUC also traffics in cocaine.

Powell said it remains to be seen whether the AUC, listed by the State 
Department as a foreign terrorist organization, will renounce its 
"extralegal, unconstitutional actions."

Even though the AUC is trying to project a new image, Powell said the 
administration will continue to seek the extradition of the group's leader, 
Carlos Castano.

Castano was indicted in September for allegedly exporting 17 tons of 
cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997.

Castano "remains indicted under U.S. law, and we would like to bring him to 
justice," Powell said.

Last month, the State Department, without announcement, suspended aid to a 
Colombian air force unit believed to have been responsible for an incident 
four years ago in which a helicopter dropped a cluster bomb in the middle 
of a town, killing 17 people.

The officials said there was no formal finding of an aid cutoff, but the 
unit was told that no further aid would be forthcoming until those 
responsible were held accountable.

Powell had planned a visit to Colombia 14 months ago but canceled it after 
the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
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