Rice in Colombia, Boosts Struggle
Against Insurgents, Drug Gangs
By David Gollust
— Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Colombia for talks
with President Alvaro Uribe and other senior officials on the
Bogota government’s U.S. supported efforts against insurgents
and drug cartels. Ms. Rice said in Brazil Wednesday the Uribe
government is making dramatic progress in the struggle.
insurgency has dragged on for some 40 years and has included some
heavy fighting in recent days between government forces and guerrillas
of FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in the mountainous
southwestern part of the country.
But in a speech
in Brasilia as she prepared to leave for the Colombia visit spanning
two days, Ms. Rice sounded an optimistic tone, saying Mr. Uribe’s
three-year-old government has been making headway against the
rebels and drug lords:
Uribe is making dramatic progress to expand the rule of law to
every citizen and every village,” said Ms. Rice. “Colombia’s
neighbors are helping, and the United States is providing money
and technical support. In the past eight years, with our assistance,
Colombia has regained large portions of its territory and extended
democratic justice to nearly three million more of its people."
Ms. Rice said
the Colombian government has seized or eradicated nearly 200 metric
tons of cocaine over the last year, and that violent crime in
the country is at its lowest level in 16 years.
is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Colombia since President
Bush paid a four-hour visit to the Caribbean port city of Cartegena
last November, en route home from an Asia-Pacific summit in Chile.
Mr. Bush also
cited reductions in crime and drug crops as evidence that Mr.
Uribe is turning the corner in the country’s drug-fueled civil
conflict, and said the United States will continue to help the
government prevail in what he termed this vital struggle.
States has provided Colombia with more than $3 billion since 2000
to help it destroy coca crops, train and equip anti-drug units
of its armed forces, and rebuild its judicial system.
The Bush administration
is asking for nearly $600 million in Colombian security aid for
the next fiscal year.
In a statement
issued Monday on the eve of the Secretary’s trip, Amnesty International-USA
urged Ms. Rice to conduct what it called "a hard-nosed evaluation"
of Colombia’s human rights situation, which the group said is
at best unchanged and in some areas worse.
alleged that the Uribe government’s claims to have reduced kidnapping
and murders result from manipulating statistics, and said the
figures fail to take into account extra-judicial killings by security
forces, which it said dramatically increased last year.
also said the Colombian government’s much-publicized demobilization
of far-right paramilitary groups lacks a legal framework for accountability
and said members involved in past human rights crimes, once disarmed,
could have complete immunity from prosecution.