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Dallas Morning News, Aug. 5, 2005
by David Jackson, The Dallas Morning News
CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush on Thursday lauded Colombia's efforts to fight drug cartels and armed guerrillas, though some observers said the Latin American ally has a long way to go.
Welcoming President Alvaro Uribe to his ranch in Crawford, Mr. Bush said the U.S. anti-drug initiative known as Plan Colombia "is producing results" that include lower levels of crime.
"Our two nations are working together to fight drug trafficking and terrorism," Mr. Bush said after the meeting, "and to promote security, democracy and the rule of law throughout the Americas."
Mr. Uribe, considered Mr. Bush's best friend in Latin America, largely for his vocal support of the Iraq war, thanked the U.S. for its help, including more than $4 billion in aid since 2000.
"Colombia faces a threat from terrorism, funded by drug trafficking," Mr. Uribe said. "This is a threat that can affect the entire neighborhood, that can affect our entire continent."
Colombia remains locked in a four-decade war with left-wing guerrillas seeking to topple the government. The government is also trying to dismantle right-wing paramilitary groups that are battling the leftists.
The fighters on both the left and right are backed by the various drug cartels. And all the armed organizations, including government security forces, have been accused of human rights abuses.
"The problems are profound," said John Walsh, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America, which analyzes the impact of foreign policy on human rights. "The war rages on. And the drug trafficking – and the extent to which it funds armed groups – is as strong as ever."
Mr. Uribe is seeking to eliminate the rightist paramilitary groups through an amnesty program called Justice and Peace. But that initiative has been criticized as going easy on people suspected of drug running and murder.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch stated that, "while a genuine demobilization of paramilitaries is obviously an important objective, the process as currently structured is unlikely to achieve its aims. To the contrary, it is likely to compound the country's problems."
Mr. Bush did not mention the Justice and Peace plan during his remarks but said that Colombia is interested in protecting human rights. Before Mr. Uribe's visit, the State Department announced that Colombia is meeting the human rights standards necessary to continue receiving full funding of U.S. aid programs.
The two leaders seemed to get on well. Mr. Bush spoke Spanish to the Colombian press corps and later took his counterpart for a spin around the ranch in a presidential pickup. Asked if he had a driver's license, Mr. Bush replied: "Si."
As the two presidents met, analysts said there is little evidence of a slowdown in Colombian cartel production of cocaine and heroin.
A recent report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that, despite a major aerial spraying campaign, there were more acres of coca production at the end of 2004 than the year before.
Some analysts also pointed out that the American market maintains the Colombian cartels that finance the Colombian wars.
"Anybody who says drug consumption in the United States is a victimless crime hasn't been to Colombia," said Victor Hinojosa, who teaches international politics at Baylor University. "The only law drug traffickers don't break is the law of supply and demand."