- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Colombia’s National Police director, Maj. Gen. Teodoro Campo Gomez, gave an exclusive interview last Friday in Bogota to Washington Times special correspondent Steve Salisbury. The following are the highlights. (Like most countries, Colombia uses metric units, which in this article were converted to English measures more familiar in the United States.)Question: How many members are there in the National Police?Answer: At this moment, the force numbers around 110,000.Q: In what condition did you find the National Police when you were brought out of retirement last August and put in charge, and what actions did you take?A: The situation was very complicated, in confusion, with a series of problems, with the pressure of an enormous investigation into some misappropriated, misused resources. There are [still] penal investigations by the prosecutor’s office and the comptroller, and disciplinary investigations by the attorney general’s office.First, some measures were taken, staffing the command with people committed to administrative management who would in the shortest time possible return the force to its mission. The truth is that we achieved it, and today, almost nine months since the president took office, we have an institution positioned very well.We are moving policemen to places where there was no institutional police presence in the past. There were 172 important municipalities where there was no police presence on August 7, when President [Alvaro] Uribe took office; today, there are only 78 such municipalities. After September 7, there shouldn’t be any Colombian town without an institutional police presence.Q: The National Police at times undertake military-style actions, and the armed forces sometimes do police activities. How does this crossing of roles work?A: This is a country with very special circumstances, which obligates us to confront a situation that is not common. … The mission of the police is to protect communities in urban and rural areas. But amid terrorist organizations — whether self-proclaimed guerrillas or illegal “self-defense” groups — our men need to confront them with sufficient capacity in armament and training. The police needed to adapt their means and spirit to confront those groups.The armed forces, on the other hand, have a very active, effective participation in the fight against common crime. It is not that we are usurping each other’s functions; it’s that the country’s circumstances force us to unite the abilities of both the armed forces and the National Police to bring about the conditions of security.Q: The guerrillas, it seems, have increased their urban actions. How can urban terrorism be counteracted?A: Yes, the guerrillas are trying to generate panic, fear and terror in the country’s principal cities. Fortunately, we have managed to impede this by judicial investigations undertaken by the National Police and other government entities — the CTI [Technical Investigation Corps], the Department of Administrative Security and the armed forces.With lots of effort, great commitment and total dedication, we are impeding [terrorist acts] by having neutralized those actions, captured those responsible, and by having taken away from them a good quantity of explosives and other hardware, which they planned to use in their terrorist actions.Q: Police statistics show a pronounced drop in kidnappings and murders. How was this achieved?A: Regarding kidnapping, yes, it is important to note that there has been a very significant reduction in recent months. In 2000, there were 3,706 cases of kidnapping; in 2001, there were 3,041; in 2002, 2,986; and this year to date [May 2], we have 617.Many people were freed because of pressure from government forces. [In the first three months of 2002, 40 persons were rescued by police, according to police statistics. In the first three months of 2003, the police rescued 58.] The action is permanent and consistent. Every day, with special antikidnapping units, we are working to rescue Colombians and foreign citizens.Q: On Feb. 13, three Americans reportedly working for U.S. Defense Department contractors were kidnapped by the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), after their airplane crashed in southern Colombia. What are the police doing to try to rescue the Americans?A: We are participating with the armed forces in collecting information, and we hope to find their location in the shortest time in order to mount a [rescue] operation. There is prior coordination with the State Department through the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.I don’t want to go into more detail, for this deals with an ongoing investigation.Q: After the fall of the big Medellin and Cali cocaine cartels in the 1990s, what is the drug-trafficking situation now?A: Regarding drug trafficking, there is something very positive.At this moment, we are seeking to suppress the raw material for cocaine. The great effort that we are making with the support of the United States government aims at preventing [the production of] coca leaf that is required for processing.This has led us to eradicate [since Jan. 1 to May 2 this year] nearly 136,000 acres of coca — over 49,000 acres more than in the same time frame last year. The goal is to eradicate about 445,000 acres this year. There is still a bit over 250,000 identified acres of coca to destroy. The difference is due to the time of planting. The drug traffickers replant coca that we had sprayed in the first months of the year. Thus, it is time to respray.Q: According to police statistics, from January 1 to April 30 last year, about 22 tons of refined cocaine was seized. In the same period of 2003, this has dropped to 4.6 tons. Why is that?A: I believe that in large part, denying coca leaf to the refiners is what has kept them from being able to produce cocaine in the quantities they were doing last year. Thus, there are fewer opportunities for us to confiscate cocaine in laboratories or in transit.Nevertheless, it is good to highlight there is a very good maritime interdiction by the [Colombian] navy, in many cases with information from the police. [Military cocaine seizures are not included in police statistics.] By eradicating coca, we take away the principal financing source from the FARC and illegal self-defense groups.Q: How much of the total drug-trafficking business belongs to the FARC and illegal self-defense groups?A: That is a quite speculative estimate, for the figures come from indicators of seizures and areas of influence of those groups.But what I can say is that nearly 80 percent of the FARC’s resources come from drug trafficking, about 15 percent from extortion and kidnapping and 5 percent from other kinds of income, including the proceeds from the resources they invest in financial markets and commercial activities.The same breakdown is probably valid for illegal self-defense groups, which are nourished in good measure with resources from drug trafficking.Q: Sprayed acreage of illegal crops has increased, but how much of the coca has been verified to have been destroyed?A: The studies that we carry out indicate that close to 83 percent of the area sprayed shows positive results, with the crop completely destroyed.Q: Some critics say the war on drugs is futile because of the strong market demand of drug consumers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. How do you respond?A: We have evidence about this. In the 1980s, we had great areas cultivated with marijuana, and eradication permitted us to eliminate from the international market marijuana substances cultivated in Colombia.With that experience, we can be sure that — counting on the necessary means and political will of Colombia, which is total against drug trafficking — we are going to accomplish that goal [against cocaine and heroin].Q: Some drug traffickers say they feel politically persecuted for something that is illegal but could someday be legalized. What do you think about legalizing drugs like cocaine? Would it reduce violence in Colombia by eliminating the contraband aspect?A: No, that is definitely not the solution.We have a situation in the country that feeds on itself. It is a vicious circle: guerrillas and the drug trade. If we want to resolve the guerrilla problem, we have to eradicate the drug crops. And if we want to resolve the crop problem, we have to convincingly fight the manifestations of the guerrillas and the illegal self-defense groups.

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