U.S. Delegation Visits Colombia

U.S. Delegation Visits Colombia
Posted by FoM on February 14, 2000 at 13:57:45 PT
By Frank Bajak, Associated Press Writer 
Source: Associated Press
As new figures showed a 20 percent rise in Colombian cocaine production, a high-level U.S. delegation met Monday with leaders of this turbulent nation to discuss a drug-fighting aid package. The visit was led by Thomas Pickering, the State Department's third-ranking official. It came as the U.S. Congress was opening debate on the proposed two-year, $1.6 billion aid package that would dramatically escalate the war on drugs in Colombia. 
Primarily a military aid plan, the package includes 63 helicopters and the training and equipping of two new army counter-drug battalions. It aims to give Colombia the firepower, mobility and intelligence to defeat leftist rebels who protect drug crops. The Andean country solidified its place last year as the world's principal source of cocaine, according to new figures compiled by the CIA. Cultivation of coca, the drug's raw material, increased 20 percent in Colombia last year, the figures said. Land used for the drug totaled 465 square miles, up from 393 square miles in 1998, according to the estimates provided to The Associated Press. Coca cultivation has long been widespread in neighboring South American countries too. But due largely to Colombia's instability - nearly half the country is controlled by leftist rebels and their paramilitary foes, both largely financed by the drug trade - traffickers have moved the bulk of coca cultivation here since the mid-1990s. As a result, acreage devoted to the shiny green coca bush dropped in neighboring Peru from 197 to 150 square miles from 1998 to 1999 and in Bolivia from 147 to 85 square miles, the new figures show. Overall, estimated cocaine production in the region was down over the period from 825 to 765 metric tons, the CIA believes. The Clinton Administration's aid package would permit an army push this year into guerrilla-dominated southern jungles, where Colombian officials say coca cultivation has tripled in the past two years. U.S.-trained troops would provide ground and air protection while planes spray poisons on the crops, killing them from above. Armed resistance could come from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - the guerrilla group that dominates the countryside of southern Putumayo state, taxes the coca and protects drug laboratories and clandestine airstrips. Also, Colombia's defense minister is expecting violent peasant protests. Tens of thousands of peasants in Putumayo - many of them internal refugees of the country's nearly 36-year civil conflict - depend on coca for their livelihood. President Andres Pastrana said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that his government expects thousands of those peasants to be displaced once the cocaine crops are killed. Some will have to be relocated. The proposed U.S. aid package includes $176 million for resettling uprooted peasants and helping them find a legal way to make a living. Apart from the usual counter-narcotics and military officials, the U.S. delegation in Colombia this time included Julia Taft, the State Department's top refugee official. However, Colombian government resettlement and alternative development plans - promoting crops including coffee and cotton - are still in early planning stages. Bogota, Colombia (AP) Published: February 14, 2000 Copyright  1995-2000 Excite Inc.CannabisNews Articles On Colombia:Colombia Expects Protests Over Drugs Steps Up Drug War in Colombia
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 14, 2000 at 16:21:32 PT
One-tenth of the drug control budget
for this year has just been thrown down the toilet. 1.6 Billion of our hard-earned tax money. Fwooosh! Gargle, gargle! Now if we can just invent 9 imaginary countries, dress some people up in faux-native costumes, have them come to Washington and ask for the same amount of money, and have them tell Congress they are fighting narco-commies, we'd soon bankrupt the ONDCP budget.I know, this is a serious matter; how can I dare make light of it? I have to laugh now, while I can. Because none of us will be laughing after the bodies of our soldiers, held in rubberized body-bags contained in aluminum coffins start rolling off the C-5A's at Dover. Colombia has had a civil war for 40 years. It will be like Kosovo. Like Serbia. Like Somalia. Like Lebanon. Like Vietnam. Like every place we sent our troops in the last century when we didn't have a clear mission for them. They came back- *when* they came back - sometimes in pieces.I hate to repeat myself, but it can't be said enough: There is not a single square inch of Colombian soil worth one US soldier's life.
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