Published on Tuesday, November 7, 2000 by Inter Press Service
Bush or Gore, Anti-Drug Plan to Stay on Track
by Yadira Ferrer
BOGOTA, Nov 6 - The candidate who wins the United States presidential elections Tuesday will maintain that country's support for 'Plan Colombia' in the US war on the drug trade, which is based on repression in drug-producing nations, agree Colombian politicians and experts.

The similar stances held by Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore regarding Plan Colombia, President Andrés Pastrana's anti-drug and pro-development initiative, indicate that the US drug-fighting policy will continue its course.

Aid totalling 1.3 billion dollars, approved by the US Congress with bipartisan support, was finalised in August during President Bill Clinton's visit to Cartagena, on Colombia's northern coast.

The two presidential candidates, with slight differences, back the drug policy line the United States has been following for more than a decade - based on fighting drug trafficking at the source, in the producing countries, said Luis Valencia, a National University expert in international relations.

As a result, ''relations with Colombia will continue to be 'drug-based' as long as we remain the leading provider of narcotics for the US market,'' even though under the Pastrana administration ''we went from being a pariah country to an ally in the fight against the drug trade,'' he told IPS.

Valencia believes Gore would continue with the hemispheric priorities set by Clinton, who considers drug trafficking and circumstances in Colombian to be a matter of US national security.

Vicente Torrijos, former director of the governmental School for Advanced Studies, says continued US support for Plan Colombia is a sure thing, at least for the next two years, but agreed with Valencia that the bilateral relations ''will continue to be based on drugs as long as it continues to be the Colombian reality.''

But the expert forecast sharp differences between the two candidates as far as their potential reaction to the United States' first assessment of Plan Colombia, to take place in two years.

For Gore, the human rights question would weigh upon the evaluation, while for Bush the essential component would be the concrete results of the anti-drug programmes, said Torrijos.

The most likely scenario in two years, according to Torrijos, is that illicit crops, which today cover 120,000 hectares, will not have diminished despite Plan Colombia, and the peace processes underway between the government and guerrilla groups will not achieve major advances.

In assessing such a situation, Gore ''would tend to maintain the line initiated by Clinton for co-operation,'' while Bush, ''if the results are unsatisfactory, could turn to a more heavy-handed approach.''

During the electoral campaign, Gore has claimed as his own achievement that under the Clinton administration the US Congress has approved the largest anti-drug budget, which grew from 12.2 billion to 18.5 billion dollars, including 1.3 billion for Colombia.

Bush has indicated that the US aid package, largely earmarked for military expenditures, is essential for the Colombian government ''to protect is people, fight drug trafficking'' and halt the insurgent groups, ''which are financed by drug profits.''

The US policy of a full-out war on drugs, with its current focus on producing countries, gathered strength in 1989 under the Republican administration of George Bush, father of that party's current presidential candidate.

Following the end of the Cold War, the United States needed a new enemy to replace communism as the threat to its national security, and that role went to the drug trade, with the Colombian cartels at the top of the list, say analysts.

In 1989, then-president Bush established an alliance for an Andean strategy to combat drug trafficking with the Colombian president at the time, Virgilio Barco, and other presidents of the region.

In the eight years of the Clinton government, bilateral relations continued to be marked by the illegal drug issue and suffered their worst moment under president Ernesto Samper (1994- 1998), due to allegations that his electoral campaign had been financed by money coming from the drug cartels.

During that period, Washington gave Colombia a negative evaluation of its fight against drug production and denied US visas to Samper and several Colombian lawmakers.

Then, in 1998, ''the relations went from hell to heaven, due to the fact that the US government considered Pastrana to be the antithesis of Samper,'' said former foreign minister Rodrigo Pardo.

Since the beginning of his presidential term, Pastrana has met with Clinton five times, the latest being in Cartagena. The result of the new phase of bilateral relations was the finalisation of Plan Colombia, Pardo pointed out.

The Pastrana and Clinton governments define the Plan as ''an integral strategy to fight drug trafficking, and for social development, peace and strengthening the State.''

Copyright 2000 IPS