Colombia will “never accept” a direct U.S. military intervention to deal with leftist rebel groups and the giant drug-producing industry they protect, the country’s foreign minister said yesterday.
“Colombia is not Vietnam. Colombia is not Afghanistan,” Guillermo Fernandez de Soto said at a meeting among top diplomats of four Andean nations and editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
“Colombia is Colombia, and we are able to control our own national security,” Mr. Fernandez said.
The Washington Times reported on Monday that the Bush administration was weighing a significant expansion of the military role in the anti-drug Plan Colombia begun under President Clinton.
Mr. Fernandez said his government was “very happy and very thankful” for U.S. support for its drug war, but dismissed the idea of U.S. ground forces fighting in his country as a fantasy worthy of a novel by Colombian Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“It’s very clear what [the United States] is doing in increasing the capability of our own armed forces,” he said. “Colombia will never accept any kind of military intervention.”
The Andean diplomats the foreign ministers of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, and the ambassador from Bolivia argued that U.S. trade and drug policies had a direct bearing on the region’s security.
The representatives for the four countries made an unprecedented joint foray to Washington to make their case, meeting with top administration and congressional leaders and attending President Bush’s news conference in which he announced a 10 percent increase in U.S. drug interdiction efforts to $2.3 billion.
Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia all face presidential elections this year.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller said the United States risks increasing social tensions across the region if it insists on eradicating drug cultivation while not opening protected U.S. markets such as textiles and cut flowers.
The region’s drug trade has proved resistant to efforts by individual governments to control and contain it. When governments in Peru and Bolivia sharply reduced drug production in their countries in recent years, the industry slipped across the border into Colombia.
In addition to the current training and support for Colombian anti-narcotics units, the Bush administration’s proposal would finance two new brigades, including one to protect strategic infrastructure sites targeted by rebel forces.
U.S. officials fear that the limited advisory role of the Clinton plan has proved ineffective and that the government of Colombian President Andres Pastrana is losing ground in its struggle against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials as FARC.
Mr. Pastrana’s decision to allow FARC virtual control over a large part of the country an effort to lure the lefist guerrillas to the bargaining table provided a massive haven for the illegal narcotics trade.
The Colombian navy, working with the U.S. Coast Guard, yesterday announced the seizure of some 10 tons of cocaine stashed in a fishing boat intercepted about 800 miles southwest of Colombia’s Pacific coast.
But the seizure, one of the largest ever recorded, is just a fraction of the estimated 580 tons of cocaine exported annually from Colombia, 80 percent of the world’s total supply.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Diego Garcia Sayan said his country’s success in cutting drug production relied not on the military but on aerial interdiction and a concentrated government effort to eliminate the financing and transportation networks supporting the drug dealers.
“That made it so expensive that most areas were abandoned by the coca growers,” Mr. Garcia said. “To have success against drugs does not necessarily mean in literal terms declaring a war.”
Both Peru’s Mr. Garcia and Ecuador’s Mr. Moeller said they had seen scattered reports of drug traffickers moving across the border from Colombia as the U.S. effort there increased, but the shifts had not been significant.
Nevertheless, U.S. Ambassador to Peru John Hamilton announced in a Lima press conference yesterday that the Bush administration planned to triple anti-drug funding for Peru to more than $150 million this year, and hoped to resume anti-narcotics surveillance flights suspended in April after the accidental downing of a flight carrying U.S. missionaries.
Mr. Bush will visit Lima March 23, the first visit ever by an American president to Peru.
The leaders of Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador have been invited to a summit meeting with Mr. Bush there, and anti-drug efforts in the region are expected to top the agenda.
Not on the guest list was leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose anti-American rhetoric and close friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro have brought increasing criticisms from Washington.
Venezuela also was accused of meddling in the affairs of its neighbors, including support for FARC and contacts with anti-government groups in Bolivia.
Mr. Fernandez of Colombia and Bolivian Ambassador Marlene Fernandez del Granado said they had confronted Mr. Chavez’s government over the reports and received promises that Caracas would not interfere in their domestic affairs.
“Our government discussed the matter” with Mr. Chavez, Mrs. Fernandez said, adding that Bolivia for now was taking his “explanations at face value.”