Colombia Touts Counternarcotics Success, Urges Continued U.S. Aid
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 24, 2007 Colombia’s defense minister arrived here yesterday to meet with U.S. officials and outline progress Colombia has made in stemming narcoterrorism and other security boosts made possible in part by U.S. funding.
At the Pentagon, Juan Manuel Santos and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates discussed issues of mutual interest concerning regional and global security. During his three-day visit, the minister also is slated to hold separate talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and congressional members to request continued financial backing.
Currently, U.S. aid supports Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s Plan Consolidation -- formerly known as Plan Colombia -- which is making progress in combating narcoterrrorists, ensuring stability, and providing a safe and prosperous climate for the country’s citizens, a Defense Department official said.
“Colombia is in many ways -- although many challenges remain -- a huge success story,” Richard J. Douglas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics, counterproliferation and global threats, told Pentagon reporters in April.
“The Colombians have done some incredible things in their relationship with the United States in the last five or six years,” he said. “But the fact remains, we still have challenges there, and we have to deal with them.”
The flow of cocaine from the Andean Ridge is the “primary threat” to attempts at thwarting narcotics trafficking in the Western Hemisphere, Douglas said. Colombia produces almost 90 percent of the cocaine and almost half of the heroin consumed in the United States.
Meanwhile, profits from the narcotics industry provide funding for terrorists, left-wing guerillas, paramilitary self-defense forces and drug cartels. Incidents of kidnapping and terrorism there are down. But since 1992, Colombia’s narcoterrorists have kidnapped more than 50 Americans and killed at least 10, State Department officials report.
Gates expressed pride in Colombia’s progress and reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to support security strategy in his closed meeting with the minister yesterday, said Juan Cardenas, a Defense Department spokesman.
“Gates and Santos discussed the need for steady assistance to Colombia's armed forces while Colombia’s government prepares to assume increased responsibility for counternarcotics and security programs,” Cardenas said.
In January, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent two days in Bogota, Colombia, to meet with the country’s military and defense leaders to discuss how the United States and Colombia can step up their cooperation to better confront drug trafficking and terrorism.
“This is a two-way street,” Pace said at the time at a joint news conference with Santos and Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of the Colombian armed forces. “The fact that the United States is able to help Colombia inside Colombia is a good thing for Colombia, but it is also a good thing for my country.
“And the fact that your country is fighting against drugs -- a great deal of which come to the streets of the United States -- is your country helping out to help my country,” Pace said. “So these are friends helping friends.”
Colombia’s armed forces have cleared specific areas of terrorists, and the government has followed in those areas with projects that have brought electricity, water and jobs to the people, Pace said.
U.S. officials have looked to Colombia as a role model for countering narcotics elsewhere, Pace said. For instance, Colombians have sent national police officers to train Afghan army and police forces in both counterdrug and counterinsurgency operations.
Inspired in part by Colombia’s success, the U.S. is engaged in a “five-pillar” plan to counter the Afghan narcotics industry, which supplies about 93 percent of the world’s opium, a Defense Department official said. The pillars are public information, alternative livelihoods, eradication, interdiction and justice reform.
During the joint news conference in Bogota, Pace praised Colombia's resistance to narcotics traffickers and endorsed the country's social reforms.
"I think those kinds of outreach programs by the Colombian government are a good model for (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai to consider as he looks at how to reduce the amount of drug trafficking in his country and to provide stability and jobs for his citizens," Pace said.