President Bush visited Guatemala Monday, after pledging Sunday on a stopover in Colombia to seek more aid for the country to fight drug traffickers. Experts discuss the growing drug trade and the administration's efforts to curtail it.
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Drug-fueled violence in Colombia is still severe enough that President Bush spent only a few hours there yesterday. Still, it was the first U.S. presidential visit in 25 years to Bogota, the capital of the country that gets the bulk of U.S. foreign aid in the region.
Colombia has received nearly $5 billion since 2000 to help eradicate its flourishing drug trade, which supplies 90 percent of the cocaine imported into the United States.
About 21,000 Colombian police carried out a massive, elaborate security plan to protect President Bush yesterday, including a dummy motorcade. Elsewhere in town, a few thousand protestors chanted "Down with Bush," burned American flags, and complained of corruption and mismanagement of the U.S. aid that comes from what is called "Plan Colombia."
On his drive through Bogota, the president saw a capital city that is cleaner and safer than several years ago. But violence still rages there and in the countryside, instigated by two opposing forces: left-wing guerillas, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, and right-wing paramilitaries. Drug profits fund both groups.
At a joint news conference yesterday, President Alvaro Uribe acknowledged his country is still struggling to overcome a narcotics-steeped culture of violence and criminality.
PRESIDENT ALVARO URIBE, Colombia (through translator):
Our commitment is the full defeat of terrorism and the total recovery of justice and of democratic institutions.
President Bush reiterated America's support for Uribe's efforts to attack the drug trade and the underlying causes of instability.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The United States has an obligation to work to reduce the demand for drugs and, at the same time, work to interdict the supply of drugs.
There's a lot we can do, but part of it is to help you exercise control over all your territory; is to strengthen the rule of law; and to expand economic opportunity for the citizens. And we want to help.
"Plan Colombia" was initiated by President Clinton to eradicate cocaine production at the source. It was dramatically stepped up by the Bush administration as part of the war on terror.
Several hundred U.S. servicemembers and private contractors are stationed there to train and support Colombian forces. President Bush is now asking Congress to approve another $3.9 billion to extend "Plan Colombia" through 2014.
Prospects for that have been complicated by news that Uribe's own government has been linked to the right-wing paramilitaries. Some 12 top officials, including his foreign minister, have resigned over the alleged connections.
That's led some in Washington to question the level of future funding. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said recently, "It's time to take a pause and look at what we've done."
The president and Mrs. Bush head this evening to Mexico, the last stop on his week-long tour of Latin America.