Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos is confident Washington will keep providing
multimillion-dollar aid to fight the drug trade in the Andean nation
because any cuts would mean more cocaine reaches U.S. cities, he said on Saturday.
Washington has given Colombia more than $5 billion in military and
other aid since 2000 under Plan Colombia, but Barack Obama’s arrival at
the White House has raised questions about whether he will continue
Bush administration policies.
Santos, who travels to
Washington next week to meet government officials, said he would seek
to underscore progress made under the controversial Plan Colombia, part
of which has involved destroying coca crops by aerial fumigation.
“I’ll talk about U.S. cooperation in the fight against drugs and
terrorism, how it is going to continue, and how we can strengthen that
relationship and our mutual cooperation,” Santos told Reuters in an
Critics say Plan Colombia has failed to stop the spread of coca
cultivation in recent years and point to steady cocaine output in the
world’s No. 1 producer of the drug.
According to U.N. figures, Colombian coca crops covered some 244,600
acres at the end of 2007 — 27 percent more than the previous year.
But Santos said he expected the strategy to be maintained because it
was backed by both Democrats and Republicans. He called it “the most
successful bipartisan U.S. foreign policy of recent times.”
Washington gives Colombia about $500 million a year, Santos said,
describing it as a drop in the ocean when compared to what the United
States spends in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“This strategic alliance we’ve had will keep going and it will get
stronger. We’ve got common interests in the region, we have the same
vision about democracy and … that means we’re united on geopolitical
issues,” he said.
“Because of that we hope there won’t be any kind of cutback. We hope
we can at least maintain that figure going into next year,” said
Santos, who admitted last week he is considering stepping down to run
for president in 2010. “A reduction (in funding) means more cocaine
ends up on the streets of U.S. cities.”
Despite the U.S.-backed efforts of conservative President Alvaro
Uribe, who was former U.S. President George W. Bush’s closest ally in a
mainly left-leaning region, Colombia still produces an estimated 600
tons of cocaine every year.
It destroyed some 560,000 acres of coca last year and seized 206 tons of cocaine, official figures show.
Uribe accuses the leftist rebel groups FARC and ELN of making
millions of dollars out of drug trafficking and using the proceeds to
fund armed campaigns against the state during a four-decade insurgency.
Both groups, which have been severely weakened since Uribe began his
security crackdown in 2002, are listed as terrorist organizations by
the United States and the European Union.
Santos said any major shift in Obama’s anti-drugs policies, such as
a bigger emphasis on education and prevention, was unlikely to harm
“This is a battle that the whole world faces against a many-linked chain. No link in the chain can be neglected,” he said. (Reuters)