Of the many misleading assertions made by Robert Novak in his July 19 op-ed column, "Cold Shoulder for Colombia," the most inaccurate is: "Colombia is the first Western Hemisphere state falling under control of guerrillas financed by international drug cartels."

Recent guerrilla-instigated violence was thwarted by the Colombian Armed Forces at a cost of almost 300 guerrilla casualties. Over the past couple of months, the Colombian Armed Forces have met with repeated successes in the field and continue to gather momentum.

Twenty thousand guerrillas cannot and will not take control of a country of nearly 40 million people, especially when Colombians (on average 90 percent in any given poll) have been overwhelmingly clear in rejecting the guerrillas.

As long as the guerrillas continue to ignore the call for a cease-fire, as long as they refuse to work with us to eradicate illegal crops, as long as they forcefully conscript minors into military service and kidnap innocent civilians, the Colombian people will oppose their efforts to gain political legitimacy.

The crisis facing Colombia is drug related but cannot be understood solely in those terms. The challenge is to end nearly a half-century of violence and to offer hope and opportunity to parts of the nation that have been bypassed by progress and growth. We shall continue to fight the war on drugs, but our primary task is to achieve peace. It is why President Andres Pastrana was elected by the largest vote in Colombia's history -- and he is determined to do what it takes, while always defending the integrity of the country.



Embassy of Colombia