- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Lawmakers in both parties today will try to limit U.S. anti-drug personnel and military funding in South America, part of President Bush's plan to fight heroin and cocaine producers in the region.
"A lot of members don't really understand the level of engagement down there," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican. "There are lots of folks who are very nervous."
For next year, the White House is proposing to increase counternarcotics aid by $676 million, mostly for Colombia and Peru. That amount would come on top of the Clinton administration's initial expenditure of $1.3 billion last year.
But the House today will consider several amendments to limit that effort. One of the leading proposals, by Mr. Hoekstra, would cut $65 million in military aid as a response to Peru's downing in April of a plane carrying Baptist missionaries, killing a woman and her infant daughter.
The mission used information supplied by U.S. radar and surveillance planes. President Bush later suspended U.S. involvement in the program.
"I'm not sure we've got the proper controls in place to protect our values," Mr. Hoekstra said. "This thing appears to have been thrown together."
The administration and House Republican leaders thought they had worked out a compromise with Mr. Hoekstra simply to suspend the aid until the State Department completes a report on the plane's downing. But that deal fell through late last week when, Mr. Hoekstra said, appropriations subcommittee Chairman Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, announced his intention to block the compromise with a procedural maneuver.
Other amendments to be offered by Democratic lawmakers would stop the spraying of defoliant on crops of coca and poppies, the plants used to produce cocaine and heroin, respectively; limit the number of U.S. civilian contractors in the region to 300; and redirect another $100 million in military aid for health care programs.
Ninety percent of the cocaine and 60 percent of the heroin that reaches the United States is produced in Colombia.
Spraying began in December, but critics say it is harming poor coca farmers rather than wealthy drug lords.
"Colombia has been spraying for over 15 years and there's growing opposition to it," said Joanne Warwick, an aide to Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. "The problem here is poverty. Spraying when they don't have any alternatives won't work."
Almost half of the proposed funding for the Andean nations is designed to increase legitimate business operations.
The aerial spraying is part of the $1.3 billion U.S. aid package. The United States is also paying to train Colombian troops for counternarcotics offensives in areas paramilitary groups and leftist guerrillas profit from the cocaine trade.
The U.S. aid package begun under President Clinton has been criticized for focusing too much on military assistance. The administration says it will help to weaken the country's largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

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