The President tried to paint a positive picture about the drug war we’ve funded in Colombia although security (despite 20,000 troops) wouldn’t let him stay in Bogota for more than seven hours.
Peter Baker writes for the Washington Post:
As Air Force One swooped over the Andes Mountains toward Bogota, Colombia, for the first time in a quarter-century, President Bush and his aides sat in the front compartments with a message about improved security after decades of civil war and narcotrafficking.
But the optimistic message didn’t make it to a rear compartment for Secret Service agents for the first U.S. president to visit Bogota since 1982. “Colombia presents the MOST SIGNIFICANT THREAT ENVIRONMENT of this five-country trip!” the monitor in the compartment warned starkly. The terrorist threat, it went on, was “HIGH.”
And, in general, the trip is not generating the kind of press that the President would like. Check out the language in this piece by Liliana Segura in The Nation and at CBS:
The Bush Administration has been largely mute about the mounting parapolitica scandal. But with the advent of a Democratic-led Congress and the State Department requesting a new round of funding for Latin America, the upheaval in Colombia may become impossible to ignore. For the first time since the passage of Plan Colombia Ö the Clinton-era drug-eradication package that under Bush became a $4.7 billion boon for the Colombian military and American corporations outfitting the drug war Ö Democrats head key committees that under Republican control have funneled U.S. dollars to Bogot½.
Politically, Plan Colombia has benefited from the seamless merging of “war on drugs” rhetoric with that of the “war on terror.” “When it comes to Colombia,” Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern says, “the Bush Administration says two things: One, we’re fighting terrorists, and two, we’re protecting our kids from drugs. Facts don’t matter. And anyone who disagrees is ‘soft on terror.'”
“The coca eradication program has not achieved what we were promised,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees U.S. foreign-assistance programs. “The amount of cocaine reaching here is no less than it was five years ago.”
According to the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, U.S. retail cocaine prices fell from above $200 to below $140 per gram and purity rose from 60 percent to above 70 percent between July 2003 and October 2006. Such statistics suggest that the drug’s availability improved at a time when spraying nearly tripled in Colombia, which provides more than 90 percent of cocaine entering the United States, according to the State Department’s 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
Coca cultivation has increased, despite Plan Colombia’s initial goal of cutting the country’s coca crop in half. The most recent data released by the State Department show that more land was cultivated with coca in 2005 — 144,000 acres — than when the effort began in 2000.
To be sure, drug czar John Walters has credited Plan Colombia with helping President Alvaro Uribe push back cocaine-financed guerrilla groups that have been fighting the state for more than four decades.
(That point by Walters, of course is rendered much less viable with the recent scandal in the Uribe government.)
I’ve read dozens of articles about this visit, and it’s rewarding to see that the press is, at the very minimum, recognizing the failure of Plan Colombia. This is a good step, and it means that there will be some very serious discussions in Congress when it discusses the budget. For now, the discussions will be about what approach toward prohibition is better. One day, maybe the press will have the courage to actually recognize that there could be an alternative.