- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tons of cocaine are being transported daily by Colombian drug traffickers to smuggling partners in Mexico bound for the United States and, according to senior Latin American intelligence analysts, only about 20 percent is being intercepted.

While one northbound “go-fast” boat is being stopped every day in the eastern Pacific or the Caribbean by the Colombian navy — each carrying an average of three tons of cocaine worth about $75 million on the street — the analysts said during an interview last week that as many as four others may be slipping through the “transit zone” daily.

An expanded pool of marine patrol aircraft, they said, could increase by more than threefold the interdiction of drug smugglers headed north and those returning south with millions of dollars in illicit profits — much of it for use by the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to buy weapons in its war against the Colombian government.

The lack of maritime patrol aircraft and the increased reliance of surface vessels, they said, has limited Colombia’s ability to target the go-fast boats, most of which travel at night at speeds greater than 60 mph.

Colombia is the source for about 90 percent of the cocaine that ends up each year in the United States. The war of terrorism and a Bush administration decision to divert resources elsewhere has left the fight against drugs mainly to the Colombian navy and the Colombian National Police.

“We are at a critical moment in Colombia,” said four Republican House committee and subcommittee chairmen in a recent letter seeking additional funding for Colombian drug-interdiction efforts. “After five years of Plan Colombia, we are finally seeing success in our war of drugs … But we cannot rest on our laurels. The capabilities of the Colombian National Police are being degraded by a vigorous operational tempo.”

The letter to Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, was signed by Reps. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois; Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia; Dan Burton of Indiana; and Mark Souder of Indiana.

They are seeking $49 million in the fiscal 2007 foreign operations bill to replace lost aircraft for the Colombian National Police (CNP).

“During its aggressive pursuit of narcoterrorists throughout Colombia, the CNP has lost a number of helicopters to hostile fire, mechanical failures and other causes related to a high operational tempo,” the House members said.

A Government Accountability Office report in November said interdictions in the transit zone were dropping significantly because of homeland security concerns in this country. And the Bush administration diverted money for Colombian drug interdiction and eradication programs to the war on terrorism — opening up the southern U.S. border to what analysts say is a new flood of cocaine.