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Homeland Security

30 July 2003

Colombia Making Progress in Fight Against Drugs, Terrorism

Walters says effects should be evident in U.S. within year

By Scott Miller
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Colombia has made considerable progress during the past year in the fight against narcotics and terrorism, and this progress is expected to affect the availability and purity of cocaine in the United States, according to John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

A week after meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as well as other Colombian and U.S. officials in Bogota, Walters outlined recent developments in Colombia's efforts against terrorism and narcotics in a July 29 briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington.

The ONDCP chief said the change in Colombia during 2002 has been "remarkable." He also noted that violence in Colombia has declined dramatically in 2003. Between January and June 2003 the incidence of terrorist attacks fell 53 percent, guerrilla assaults on rural civilian populations were down 61 percent, kidnappings dropped 34 percent, massacres were down 45 percent, and homicides fell 21 percent.

Efforts to combat illicit coca cultivation have also advanced in Colombia, the U.S. official said. He noted that illicit coca cultivation in the Putumayo region of Colombia, previously the world's epicenter for cocaine production, decreased by an additional 75 percent between September 2002 and early 2003, representing a 96-percent reduction since 2001.

Walters said he expects illicit coca cultivation in Colombia to continue to decline, in part as a result of the record number of hectares of coca that have been treated with herbicide. He noted 150,000 hectares of coca have been sprayed in Colombia since Uribe took office in August 2002. The "historic levels" of eradication have yielded similarly unprecedented results, Walters added.

"The effect has been to devastate the source of production as never before," he said. He indicated that the "massive" reduction of coca cultivation in Colombia is expected to cause "major disruptions" in the illicit U.S. narcotics market within the next six to 12 months, reducing availability and purity.

As Colombia's efforts to combat illicit coca cultivation continue, the nation's capacity to interdict illegal narcotics shipments is expected to be enhanced with the pending resumption of the Air Bridge Denial Program.

Following the accidental shoot-down by Peruvian authorities of an aircraft carrying U.S. missionaries on April 20, 2001, the Bush Administration suspended U.S. participation in -- and support for -- air interdiction programs in Colombia and Peru. Walters noted that after a close examination of the April 2001 tragedy and policies guiding the Air Bridge Denial Program, the United States and Colombia are in the final stages of negotiations aimed at re-starting the program. He said the goal of these current talks is to make certain that lessons have been learned from the tragedy and that the proper training is provided to create the safest possible environment for the resumption of the interdiction program. "We do not want to do harm to do good," Walters explained. He said he expects the air interdiction program in Colombia to resume in the next few weeks.

The United States is proud to stand by Colombia in the fight against narcotics and terrorism, and Colombians themselves are "gratified" at the progress made by their president, Walters said. At the same time, he called upon Colombia's neighbors to "lean into the problem" by becoming more aggressive in their own anti-narcotics efforts, in order to ensure that increased pressure on traffickers by the Colombian government does not produce a "balloon effect" wherein drug production and trafficking simply shifts to other locations in the region.

"The job is to shrink [drug] production" by the illicit narcotics industry, to "put it out of business, not move it around," Walters said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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