The intensity of Latin American politics and drug trafficking and the slowness of democratic change there can be as maddening as the most intractable Middle East conflicts over land, water and religion. But at least our southern neighbors know how to blow out on the dance floor. As Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright ate and danced her way through nightspots and cafes in Cartagena, Colombia, ambassadors heading back to the Middle East yet again made their hopeful farewells at the State Department.

Jordanian Ambassador Marwan Muasher hosted a dinner Saturday for Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Martin S. Indyk and his wife, Jill. "We have to stop meeting like this," Muasher told the couple, a reference to a series of welcoming and farewell events they have attended while moving between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Indyk will be sworn in Friday before heading back to Tel Aviv for a second stint as U.S. ambassador there. Muasher and Indyk had served together as ambassadors in Tel Aviv before being posted back to Washington in the mid-'90s. "A good party can lose some of its drama," Muasher joked, then went on to praise Indyk for "filling the shoes of legendary men. He did it all with conviction. When a job is a job for most, for Martin it is a mission."

Indyk's "honesty, personal commitment and integrity won the trust of Arabs and Israelis alike--well, maybe not all," Muasher continued, noting that criticism aimed at Indyk from some quarters was actually to his credit, a vague stab at opponents of the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Addressing Palestinian, Saudi and Lebanese diplomats at the dinner, Indyk acknowledged that his had been an "unusual appointment" but that "we have really gone through a very rich menu of challenges together and come out ahead of the game." He said he had always believed peace possible even though he had doubts in the last two years. "We did live through crises. Now we have a second chance, and that does not come often in life."

The shoe was on the other foot Friday, when Indyk hosted a going-away bash at the State Department for Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, whose replacement, David Ivry, arrived over the weekend. Shoval jokingly thanked the White House and State Department for "scheduling the last and the next round in the Syrian-Israeli talks so that they didn't interfere with our party." It seems Shoval got what he wanted, since the next round has been postponed. But as he told everyone about comeback possibilities in diplomacy: "Take heart. F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong; there are second acts."

Recruiting Money

The gods may finally be smiling on Colombia. Efforts by the Bogota government to recruit international help to outfight leftist guerrillas who use the multibillion-dollar cocaine trade to keep their cause alive may finally be paying off. When the government of President Andres Pastrana came up with Plan Colombia to combat the drug trade, it estimated the cost at $7.5 billion over three years. Of that sum, Colombians say they will come up with $4 billion, while the Clinton administration has pledged a $1.3 billion package in addition to $300 million already approved. That leaves a shortfall of $1.9 billion that Colombia hopes to get from Europe and Asia, said a senior U.S. official.

Separate from that is approximately $5.7 billion that will come as loans from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the official disclosed.

"Colombia has a world-class economic team, and they have obtained an agreement from the IMF that paves the way. They are now talking to the two banks and the fund and the loans will be coming," he added. The IMF will provide $2.7 billion, while there is a request for about $3 billion from the IDB, according to State Department sources.

La Vida Diplomatica

Did Albright have a good time in Cartagena? She seems to have. One minute she was shaking the paw of a friendly German shepherd who had sniffed out several tons of cocaine concealed aboard a ship, the next she was dancing into the wee hours.

Colombian businessmen have funded a police inspection facility in the coastal resort. A U.S. official who accompanied Albright on the trip said Colombian police the facility and check goods being shipped out of the country. "The private sector in Colombia funds it to ensure no drugs go to the United States packed in their goods," he said. "They showed us a container that essentially was filled with industrial spools, and inside there was cocaine." Having performed his sniffing trick, the dog got a friendly pat from Albright, extended his paw and got a handshake.

The previous night, Albright supped with Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is recovering from cancer. They chatted about "his memoirs, literature and his health, and how Cartagena had been the setting for many of his books," such as "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," the official said. Being secretary of state can be fun; it is not such a vida loca after all.