- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Colombian navy has uncovered 27 tons of cocaine buried along the Pacific Ocean 250 miles west of the capital Bogota in the largest drug seizure in the nation’s history, the country’s defense minister said.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said during a press conference that the cocaine, with an estimated street value of more than $500 million, was discovered Sunday buried in more than 900 separate packages of 55 pounds each near the coastal town of Pizarro.

Mr. Santos said the seizure of the drugs, buried near an estuary accessible only by sea, was the culmination of an eight-month undercover investigation and, while no arrests were made, the cocaine was thought to have belonged to Colombia’s largest drug-trafficking organization, the Norte del Valle cartel, which operates near the area.

The seizure became public as Colombian President Alvaro Uribe visited Washington yesterday to shore up support on Capitol Hill and at the White House for the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, an anti-drug and counterinsurgency program that has cost the United States more than $5 billion since 2000.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told President Bush in a letter last week that a proposed cut in funding to Colombia and its war on drugs was a mistake.

“As we wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq against enemies who threaten our freedom and way of life, we must remember that Colombia is a key ally in our struggle, with the Colombian National Police training — both in Kabul and Bogota — Afghanistan’s counternarcotics police,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

“This cut, the first in U.S. aid to Colombia in years, sends the wrong message to that nation and to its president, Alvaro Uribe, who has been an invaluable supporter of strong cooperation between our two countries,” she said.

Colombia is the world’s leading cocaine producer, with an estimated annual production of more than 500 tons — about 90 percent of which is consumed in the United States.

Most of the cocaine leaves the country by sea, on go-fast boats that transport it along the Central American coast for transfer to overland vehicles headed through Mexico into the United States.

Colombia’s navy made headlines in October when it found 9.3 tons of cocaine on three go-fast boats near the Pacific coastal port city of Buenaventura — its biggest seizure of 2006.

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