LAST AUGUST Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert wrote President Clinton about Colombia's drug-fueled civil wars. "Now is the time," they declared grandly, "to develop a comprehensive plan to respond to this emergency." They added that the creation of "a narco-state south of our border would be an extremely serious threat to our national security."
Three months later, a comprehensive plan has duly been developed. Thomas Pickering, a top State Department official, visited Colombia to press the idea; and President Andres Pastrana came up with a blueprint in September. Mr. Pastrana then met Mr. Clinton in New York to explain it; he came to Washington and reported to Congress. Both Mr. Clinton and the congressional leadership praised Colombia's new policy, which was hardly surprising since it was also theirs. Barry McCaffrey, the president's drug czar, declared that Colombia deserved $1 billion or more in aid. Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) drafted a bill offering Colombia and its neighbors $1.5 billion.
In the current budget negotiations, however, no one seems to be looking for money for Colombia. This threatens a peace process that has recently shown faint promise. Last month an unprecedented 10 million people -- a quarter of Colombia's population -- demonstrated in favor of peace. On the same day, the government reopened negotiations with the bigger of the country's two insurgencies; it has since had contact with the smaller one. President Pastrana is committed to ending the abuses that fueled the insurgencies.
This momentum should not be squandered. Colombia may not deserve billions in aid, but the United States cannot walk away from the very peace process it has fostered. Making peace requires money: Peasants who plant coca have to be induced to switch to other crops; refugees have to be helped lest they join the insurgency. And as the congressional leaders wisely said themselves, a collapsing narco-state just hours from America's borders does not serve the national interest.