HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bush Stops In Colombia, Pledges Aid For Drug War
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Nov 2004
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page A23
Copyright: 2004 The Washington Post Company
Author: Mike Allen, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)

Bush Stops in Colombia, Pledges Aid for Drug War

CARTAGENA, Colombia, Nov. 22 -- President Bush pledged more funding to 
support Colombia's fight against drugs and violence during a visit Monday 
to the world's cocaine capital, telling Colombia's president that his 
success in defeating cocaine traffickers was essential for U.S. security.

Bush met with Alvaro Uribe, the president, during a four-hour stopover in 
this resort city on the Caribbean coast, protected by 15,000 troops, two 
submarines and an array of battleships, combat helicopters and warplanes.

Uribe is the most forcefully pro-Bush leader in the hemisphere, and the 
American president's visit was designed to showcase the benefits of talking 
tough on terrorism and being a friend of the United States. The U.S. 
government has sent more than $3 billion to Colombia since 2000, mostly in 
military aid and training, despite continuing questions about the human 
rights practices of the country's armed forces.

Much of the money goes to fumigating fields of coca and opium, but Uribe is 
also able to use the funds for his continuing battle against Marxist 
guerrillas, who have been entrenched in the country for 40 years. The U.S. 
government has labeled two major guerrilla groups and a right-wing 
paramilitary force that is closely allied with Colombia's military as 
terrorist organizations.

"I'm proud to be with my friend, President Uribe. El es mi amigo," Bush 
said at a seaside news conference, with Uribe at his side. "President Uribe 
and the Colombian people are dedicated to the triumph of democracy and the 
rule of law against the forces of violence. And the United States stands 
with you."

Bush said that next year, when the aid is scheduled to expire, he "will ask 
our Congress to renew its support so that this courageous nation can win 
its war against narco-terrorists."

Some Democrats oppose continuing the aid to Colombia because of questions 
about the military's human rights record. Secretary of State Colin L. 
Powell said he warned Uribe during a meeting in September that he had "to 
keep his eye on human rights and civil rights, to make sure he is cracking 
down in a way that is consistent with international human rights standards."

Bush, 58, and Uribe, 52, have maintained a close relationship since Uribe's 
inauguration in August 2002, which was disrupted when guerrillas used 
mortars to attack the presidential palace, killing 21 people. In an Oval 
Office visit the following month, Bush called Uribe a "friend of freedom."

Bush never made it into the historic walled part of Cartagena, founded by 
Spanish colonists as a fort against pirate raids. He held his events on a 
navy base and at the presidential guesthouse on an island. His motorcade 
passed shanties with children staring from behind iron fences, and rows of 
riot police and heavily armed soldiers along the Caribbean shore.

Administration officials said the visit was largely symbolic. During such 
events, Bush often allows two questions from the White House press corps 
and two questions from the reporters who cover the foreign leader next to him.

After the customary four questions, Uribe -- who was dripping with sweat -- 
wanted to take more. But Bush cut it off, saying, "Plenty," and the two 
left the stage.

Bush rarely visits or interacts with anyone besides government officials on 
his foreign trips, but to spread goodwill in Colombia, he appeared with 17 
youngsters and Orlando Cabrera, a Colombian native who started at shortstop 
for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. "Hola," Bush said has he 
greeted the youngsters.

U.S. government figures show that Colombia now produces about 90 percent of 
the cocaine and about half the heroin consumed in the United States.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota said more than 30,000 well-financed, well-armed 
"terrorists" operate in the country. Colombia is plagued by violent groups, 
including anti-government insurgents, paramilitary squads and drug 
trafficking gangs.

"The drug traffickers who practice violence and intimidation in this 
country send their addictive and deadly products to the United States," 
Bush said at the news conference with Uribe. "Defeating them is vital to 
the safety of our peoples and to the stability of this hemisphere."

After Bush had headed back to the airport, Uribe stopped by the press 
center in his own motorcade and said the U.S. president had not offered to 
increase the rate of funding. "No, not an increase -- an extension of the 
time to help Colombia overcome this problem of terrorism," Uribe said.

Donning a Red Sox cap, Uribe was asked why Bush receives so much criticism 
from other foreign leaders. He answered by saying, "Today is a day for 
positive comments, for positive answers, for hope. Colombia needs to create 
a permanent moment for hope."

Bush was on his way home from the Chilean capital, Santiago, where he 
attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, which aides 
described as part of an effort to court Latin American leaders who have 
felt snubbed during his first term. Bush once promised to make hemispheric 
issues a priority, but he turned his attention elsewhere after the Sept. 
11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Bush praised Uribe as a leader who had gotten "results" in combating crime 
and violence. He said that since Uribe took office, kidnappings were down 
significantly, terrorist attacks and homicides had declined and cocaine 
seizures were up.

Bush shrugged off a question about several incidents this weekend in 
Santiago, where he intervened in a scuffle between a Secret Service agent 
and a Chilean security detail, and a large formal dinner was reduced to 12 
people because of U.S. security concerns.

"Look, we had a fabulous dinner last night," Bush said. "I thought the 
visit was a spectacular visit, and I appreciated the hospitality of our 
Chilean friends."

Bush later flew to Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday.
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