- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

More than 200 tons of cocaine were smuggled last year from Colombia to Europe, twice that of the previous year, prompting U.S. officials Thursday to call for greater involvement by European nations in the war on drugs.

The dramatic increase in cocaine use among Europeans led by Spain, Germany and Italy is outlined in reports submitted by several U.S. drug-enforcement and intelligence agencies to retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

"This report shows we are all in this together, and it is in everyone's interest to work with the Andean countries to help confront drug trafficking and abuse," said Robert Weiner, Gen. McCaffrey's spokesman.

Mr. Weiner noted that cocaine consumption in Europe had increased at a rate comparable to the record-setting increases in consumption seen in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s.

The reports describe the increased use of cocaine in Europe as "phenomenal," adding that the European nations used between 194 and 207 tons of cocaine last year, up from 104 to 110 tons the previous year.

They said 90 percent of the cocaine that came into Europe originated in Colombia and usually was smuggled aboard cargo ships from Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador.

The new information surfaces in time for meetings that begin Friday in Madrid involving several European Union states, called to discuss aid contributions to Colombia for its war on drugs and against rising armed violence by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC.

The Clinton administration will be represented at the Madrid conference by Thomas Pickering, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who has coordinated the U.S. policy on Colombia.

The Colombian government is attempting to win back some of the more than 30 percent of the country held by the rebel forces. The regions under FARC control, mostly in southern Colombia, supply most of the cocaine and much of the heroin flowing into the United States and Europe.

U.S. authorities believe that 80 percent of all cocaine and 70 percent of all heroin sold in the United States comes from or passes through Colombia. Drug cultivation has doubled in the past three years, to more than 247,000 acres.

Last week, Congress passed legislation providing a $1.3 billion anti-narcotics package for Colombia, the bulk of which would pay for 42 UH-1 Huey and 18 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The funds also will be used for other military equipment and to help train and equip Colombia's military and national police.

The Colombian aid package had the full support of Gen. McCaffrey, who has described that country's drug problem as a "flipping nightmare." He told Congress the funds would help create a "coherent, longtime democratic response in the region."

Colombian President Andres Pastrana also has supported the U.S. aid package and has asked the United States and the international community for $3.5 billion over three years to combat the FARC, encourage alternative development, reform the economy and to eradicate cocaine and heroin production.

The Colombian army has made significant advances against the estimated 25,000 FARC guerrillas in the past year, bringing the war to what some experts describe as a "stalemate." But the rebels, who collect between $215 million and $1 billion a year in "taxes" from drug traffickers, are far better funded and have better arms than either the Colombian army or police.

Also, Colombia's economy is in its worst shape in the past 70 years, with soaring unemployment and inflation and gross domestic product down 7.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with the same period in 1998. Some 300,000 people a year, mostly the rural poor, are being displaced by right-wing paramilitary groups and the FARC.

Several European nations have said they are willing to fund alternative crops and social programs, but have been critical of U.S. efforts to increase its military support of Colombia. They have said they feared that continued funding for military equipment would deepen a civil war in Colombia that already has cost 35,000 lives.

The rise in cocaine use by Europeans, however, has resulted in a call by U.S. officials for increased responsibility to help in the war on drugs including military spending aimed at the FARC rebels.

The U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cocaine, with an annual consumption of about 300 tons a year. That rate, however, has leveled off over the past several years, while the European total has skyrocketed and continues to grow.

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