- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

U.S. Embassy officials in Colombia received angry criticism yesterday from members of a House committee for cutting back on eradication programs in that country's opium fields at a time Colombian heroin is flooding into cities all along the East Coast.
"I think you've made some wrong decisions that have resulted in a massive increase in the exportation of heroin into the United States," Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, told U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson. "As a result, our local police don't know what to do with this major flow of heroin out of Colombia."
Mrs. Patterson was not scheduled to testify yesterday before the House Government Reform Committee in its ongoing investigation of newly formed Colombian heroin cartels, but was called out of the audience to explain why opium-field eradication in 2001 dropped 80 percent from 2000, and so far this year is down 67 percent compared with 2000.
"How can you account for this reduction," Mr. Gilman shot at the ambassador. "Was the decision to stop spraying appropriate?"
Mrs. Patterson argued that U.S. officials in Colombia had increased the spraying of coca fields, from which cocaine is produced, and told the committee that program had been "very successful." She described the cutback in the spraying of opium fields, which produce heroin, as a "joint decision," but could not recall if she had received any direction from the State Department.
Paul E. Simons, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, testified that the department recognized the "increased growth and impact" of Colombian heroin on the United States and renewed efforts were under way to address it.
Mr. Simons said 8,060 acres of Colombian opium fields had been sprayed so far in 2002 and that another 4,290 acres would be hit by year's end, though he could not tell Mr. Gilman how that could be accomplished in the next 18 days.
He told the committee the opium-eradication program in Colombia had been hampered by a lack of equipment and pilots, budgetary restraints, and bad weather, but Mr. Gilman countered that former Colombian National Police Director Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano had the same amount of equipment when he eradicated 22,724 acres in 2000.
"We've heard all kinds of excuses," Mr. Gilman said, denouncing what he described as a "lack of any political will, leadership and any strategic thinking" by those assigned to monitor the Colombian drug situation.
Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and committee chairman, said Colombian heroin is flooding communities all along the East Coast, dominating the market because of its high purity and cheaper cost. He said eradication missions against Colombia's opium fields were "drastically reduced" despite recommendations from U.S. and Colombian law enforcement officials to eradicate the drug at its source.
"This heroin is the purest, most addictive and deadly heroin produced anywhere in the world," he said. "With a single dose costing as little as $4 and having purity levels as high as 93 percent, this is a problem that demands the attention of Congress."
Mr. Burton said the decision to focus the Colombian eradication program on coca fields "has clearly had consequences," resulting in an increases in Colombian heroin availability in the United States, hospital overdoses and "overdose deaths in nearly every big city and small town east of the Mississippi."
Several local police officials, including a Howard County, Md., undercover drug agent whose head was covered by a bag, told the committee the Colombian heroin problem had affected significantly their communities.
Law-enforcement authorities estimate that Colombian drug traffickers now account for between 56 percent and 67 percent of the heroin being used on the East Coast.
Its purity ranges from 80 percent to the mid-90s, allowing dealers to "cut" it several times, meaning that adulterants such as aspirin and Dramamine are added to decrease the cost and increase the profit.

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