- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

BOGOTA, Colombia — President Bush was targeted for assassination by Colombia’s biggest Marxist rebel group last week when he visited the Caribbean port city of Cartagena, a top Colombian official said yesterday.

“According to informants and various sources, we had information indicating that various members of the FARC had been instructed by their leaders to make an attempt against President Bush,” Defense Secretary Jorge Alberto Uribe told reporters.

He would not reveal details of the threat.

The Secret Service, which protects the president, said it “does not comment or release information regarding our protective intelligence and protective methods.”

“We do not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees,” said Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman.

White House spokesman Jim Morrell also declined to comment on the plot but said: “We have full confidence in the fine work of the Secret Service and their work with the security officials on the ground when the president travels.”

The 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), fighting a 40-year guerrilla war against the state, has long accused the United States of backing business interests in this Andean country while ignoring the 60 percent of the population that lives in poverty.

There was heavy security in Cartagena when Mr. Bush visited the city on Monday on his way back from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Chile.

Military helicopters packed with armed soldiers flew over Mr. Bush’s motorcade while naval vessels kept watch offshore. Many shops were shuttered.

During the APEC summit in Santiago, Chile, a security dispute led to the cancellation of a state dinner in honor of Mr. Bush last Sunday. The previous day, the president had to step into the middle of a confrontation to help his lead Secret Service agent, who was barred by Chilean security officials from entering a formal dinner for world leaders.

As the Chilean and American agents got into a shoving match outside the venue, Mr. Bush left his hosts, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and his wife, and first lady Laura Bush to extricate the Secret Service agent.

FARC has made many attempts against the life of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, one of the few conservative South American presidents with strong ties to Washington. Mr. Uribe, whose father was killed resisting a kidnapping by FARC in the 1980s, narrowly survived a car bomb attack by FARC during his 2002 presidential campaign.

The last U.S. president to visit Colombia was Bill Clinton, whose trip to Cartagena was marked by the seizure of bomb-making materials from a house six blocks from a building that Mr. Clinton was visiting.

Mr. Bush used his four-hour trip to solidify his alliance with Mr. Uribe, whom he considers an ally in the effort to curtail the illegal drug trade and fight terrorism.

Colombia produces about 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States and 50 percent of the heroin.

Washington has paid more than $3 billion in the past four years for Plan Colombia, a security and anti-drug program developed by Mr. Clinton and former Colombian President Andres Pastrana. Mr. Bush has promised continued support.

Colombia’s economy is expected to grow by 4 percent this year and next as it takes advantage of a reduction in violence in its war involving FARC and far-right paramilitaries, both of which have links to the country’s huge cocaine trade.

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