Rumsfeld: Colombia Is Doing 'An Excellent Job' Fighting Narcoterrorists
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 19, 2003 The Colombian government and its military have made great progress in fighting narcoterrorists in the past year, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters here today.
As his plane jetted toward Colombia's capital city, Rumsfeld said that President Alvaro Uribe and his country's military "have done an excellent job and they are making very good progress" in fighting narcoterrorists who are funding anti-government groups, such as the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC.
Rumsfeld departed Washington today on a two-day trip to Latin America to visit with senior officials to discuss narcoterrorism, terrorism and other issues. He follows the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, who had visited Colombia as part of his trip to the region earlier this month.
The United States has been assisting Uribe's nation in combating narcoterrorism via the three-year-old "Plan Colombia" program, which has included military training and a $2.5 billion investment. There have been "ups and downs" in Colombia's war with narcoterrorists, Rumsfeld noted. In fact, news reports cite FARC as having claimed credit for several recent bombings in Bogota.
However, Rumsfeld pointed out that since President Uribe took office Aug. 7, 2002, Colombian military forces' operations against FARC and their narcoterrorist enablers have caused some "defections" among FARC's membership. "I would imagine they are having some trouble recruiting" new FARC members, he said.
The Colombian government's steady pressure on the FARC, Rumsfeld observed, has also resulted in the reclamation of territory once controlled by insurgents. "I'm impressed," the U.S. defense secretary said, noting Uribe's government has "made solid progress." In so doing, Uribe and his government "are holding up their side" in the U.S.- Colombian partnership against narcoterrorism.
Rumsfeld said the United States is "always anxious to try to find ways that we can be helpful" in regard to Colombia's struggle against narcoterrorists and insurgents.
While in Bogota, Rumsfeld is slated to meet with numerous senior Colombian officials, including Uribe, Minister of Defense Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon, and Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel, commander of the armed forces.
Colombia's fight against narcoterrorism is America's battle too, in part because narcoterrorists there oversee the growth and processing of opium poppies into heroin and cocaine that is shipped to drug dealers in the United States.
Army Gen. James Hill heads U.S. Southern Command, which has Colombia as part of its theater of operations. "Colombia's narcoterrorists supply almost all of the cocaine and heroin consumed in the United States," Hill said in a March speech. He also called cocaine and heroin "weapons of mass destruction," saying that more than 19,000 Americans died from drug use in 2001.
And as U.S. State Department officials have noted, narcoterrorists have supported terror groups like FARC with millions in drug money, and very well could align themselves with other terror groups such as al Qaeda.
Hill also stated that "direct drug sales," money laundering and other illicit activities in Bolivia, Paraguay and some other Latin American countries "fund worldwide terrorist operations."
"That is fact," the U.S. general said, "not speculation."