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3/7/04 - COLOMBIA FIGHTS DRUG TRADE - 2004-03-08

The U.S. says that cooperation among South American governments is paying off in efforts to reduce the flow of illegal drugs. This is particularly true in Colombia.

The illegal drug trade in Colombia finances both leftist rebels and right-ring paramilitary forces. On a visit to Miami this month, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said, “Our duty is to enhance democracy for the youngsters and the coming generations to live in peace. To live in the absence of drugs, to live without terrorists, to live without the risk of being killed by terrorist actions.”

Mr. Uribe expressed Colombia’s appreciation for U.S. aid in the fight against illegal drugs. “The battle against terrorists and against drugs that you’re helping us to win is the most noble of all the battles you may fight all over the world,” he said. “The victory in Colombia is a necessity for our people.”

In Colombia, an aggressive aerial spraying program has significantly reduced coca and poppy production. Coca is used to produce cocaine and heroin is derived from poppies. U.S.-supported economic and social development programs are helping to rebuild infrastructure and provide secure, improved lives for former coca growers.

John Walters, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says the U.S. supports the Uribe administration’s zero tolerance policy on illegal crops:

“Our goal is to shrink and crush it [the drug trade] -- and crush it at various stages so that it can’t regenerate the supporting loop of production and consumption.”

Robert Charles is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He says that while Colombia still has a long way to go, the Uribe administration has improved security throughout the country and achieved a decline in coca production. Mr. Charles says, “Where you [get] the rule of law, you get investment, you get economic growth, and you get movement forward.”