While narco-terrorists exploded a deadly car bomb in Bogota Thursday, the session-ending budget crunch in Washington killed $1.5 billion promised on Oct. 9 to Colombia in its struggle for survival. Meanwhile, less than half the $232 million already approved by Congress has found its way to hard-pressed Colombian drug fighters.
Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee dealing with narcotics, has been exasperated by failures such as non-delivery of $6 million worth of mini-guns for the Colombian National Police. On Nov. 1, Mica asked R. Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics, what had happened. Beers said some weapons had arrived but he wasn't sure which. "Maybe you ought to try UPS," Mica retorted.
The problem is not delivery but priority. Bogota is less than three hours from Miami by air, and Colombia supplies 75 percent of the heroin on American streets, but President Clinton favors spending for Bosnia, Kosovo and Russia.
The Clinton administration had been brought, however reluctantly, into a realization of Colombia's plight. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering went to Bogota in August to get the Colombians to draft a plan and to promise $1.5 billion. This week, that promise was broken. "U.S. help delayed until the next century," headlined Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper Thursday.
Ambassador Luis Moreno, the Colombian envoy to Washington who since taking his post in 1998 has tried his hardest to ingratiate himself to the Clinton administration, is described as furious. He would say only this to me on the record: "If this [losing the new aid package] is going to happen, there are only two winners--drug dealers and guerrillas."
Moreno can be excused for bitterness. His government guaranteed terrorist violence by agreeing to resume extradition of drug kingpins to the United States. The Colombian Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to extradite the notorious Venezuelan, Fernando Jose "Fatso" Flores, was followed quickly by the bloody reprisal in Bogota. President Andres Pastrana has courageously called for the arrest of 40 other drug traffickers eligible for extradition.
Washington's broken promise was not an intentional rebuff to Pastrana but the product of political warfare between the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress. Senior administration officials told me they would not permit the GOP to set international priorities. If the Republican majority insisted on cutting foreign aid, they could not command that money be cut for Kosovo instead of Colombia. There goes the $1.5 billion promise.
Money in the U.S. government pipeline is not getting there, either. Rep. Mica told me the non-delivery connotes "failure to make Colombia a priority." In response, Assistant Secretary Beers said Colombia is his highest priority, telling me: "It's a complicated process, with procurement and coordination with the Government of Colombia. It's certainly not a lack of priority." Mica contended: "We got a dozen helicopters to Albania in a matter of days."
Not to Colombia. Of the $232 million supposedly set aside for Colombia, $42 million went to Peru and Bolivia (though neither approaches Colombia's desperate condition). Of the remaining $190 million, only half has been delivered.
Contracts have not been signed for a $2 million counter-narcotics base. No contracts have been executed for a $6 million project providing security for Colombian police bases. Funds have not been obligated for a $1.2 million prison security system. None of the modernized A-37 warplanes has been completed.
Rep. Ben Gilman of New York, the House International Relations Committee chairman, rejoiced that on Oct. 31, three U.S. Black Hawk helicopters finally arrived in Colombia for the police after four years of nagging by congressional Republicans. But the choppers are not fully equipped, lacking both floor armoring and mini-guns needed to combat the high-tech guerrillas.
In a Telemundo television interview on Nov. 5, Clinton asserted that "we already give a lot of aid to Colombia" but signaled a coming betrayal. "I don't think we should be drawn directly into their conflict, because I think it would boomerang." On Friday, Chairman Gilman said: "The administration has missed yet another opportunity to help Colombia in the war on drugs. This series of failures has emboldened the narco-guerrillas and severely harmed our ability to interdict drugs at the source."
(c) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.