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Bush vows to sustain aid for Colombia drug war

August 4, 2005

By Patricia Wilson

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – President Bush pledged on
Thursday to sustain funding for Colombia’s fight against drugs
and violence even as a senior State Department official said
Washington would like to reduce its anti-narcotics aid.

As a close partner in the region, Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe paid a coveted visit to the president’s Texas
ranch where the two leaders stood side by side on a barren
patch of land outside Bush’s new office under a blazing sun and
declared themselves united in the war on terror.

“We have made progress and we are winning, but we have not
won yet,” Uribe said. “We cannot leave this task half finished,
we must take it all the way to the end.”

According to Colombian government figures, killings have
declined by 34 percent and kidnappings by 56 percent since
Uribe was elected in 2002. Uribe stressed the importance of
continuing U.S. cooperation in the four-decades-old conflict
with leftist rebels.

The United States has provided more than $3 billion in
assistance to Colombia over the past five years as part of an
effort to wipe out cocaine and heroin production and crush the
long-running leftist insurgency.

A senior State Department official said the United States
wanted to reduce its anti-narcotics aid for Bogota after its
massive assistance program, Plan Colombia, lapses later this
year.

“We would like them to share more of the burden,” said the
official, who did not want to be identified because the
governments had been discussing the assistance in private.

Washington is waiting for Bogota to make a formal request
for how much aid it needs following Plan Colombia, the official
added.

Critics say the Uribe administration spent hundreds of
millions of dollars a year of U.S. aid largely on military
hardware and beefing up the armed forces rather than tackling
the problems that spawned the guerrilla movements.

BACKING BOGOTA’S STRATEGY

Bush said Bogota’s strategy to reduce the illegal drug
trade, revitalize Colombia’s economy, strengthen its democratic
institutions and improve the security of its people was
working.

“And we’ll ask the Congress to sustain our commitment to
follow-on programs for Plan Colombia so Colombia can build on
its progress and win its war against the narcoterrorists,” Bush
told reporters before getting behind the wheel of his white
pickup truck to give Uribe a tour of his 1,600-acre
(650-hectare) ranch.

Their meeting came in the same week Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice certified Colombia was respecting human rights
and distancing itself from paramilitary groups sufficiently to
allow U.S. aid to be given to its military.

The decision means about $62 million can be handed over to
Colombia as part of the U.S. government’s budgets for the 2004
and 2005 fiscal years that run October to October.

A quarter of U.S. aid for the Colombian military is
conditioned on its human rights record. Each year, the United
States has certified the funds can be handed over.

Uribe said he and Bush discussed human rights “with great
seriousness and with great respect.”

“I listened intensely and believe that he is interested in
following through … so that the world will hear loud and
clear that Colombia is a nation of law and human rights and
human dignity,” Bush said.

(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson)




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