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Dealing With Colombia

The United States is walking a fine line in Colombia, showing its disgust with that country's current leader but trying to maintain ties critical to combating the flow of narcotics.

The latest and harshest move against Colombian President Ernesto Samper Pizano came last week. The State Department revoked his visa, stating that no one who aided or abetted drug trafficking could visit the US.

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Mr. Samper stands accused of accepting $6 million in campaign contributions from the Cali cocaine cartel and of backing policies favorable to the drug commerce.

Colombia's Congress cleared the president of the campaign charges in June, but that legislative verdict is colored by Samper's political closeness to many lawmakers and by their worries about being nailed on similar charges.

Suspicions concerning Samper have mounted for months. His former campaign manager came forward earlier this year to accuse him. A well-known drug trafficker reportedly ready to testify against Samper was murdered in February.

The country's leading newspapers and many prominent Colombians have called on the president to resign, a step that would move Colombia in the right direction.

Ironically, the US action against Samper - both the March decertification of Colombia as a country cooperating in the fight against drugs and the visa revocation - work two ways: 1) They increase concern about a breakdown in relations; but 2) they also give Samper a chance to whip up grass-roots feelings against gringo interventionism.

Washington is right to register its contempt for narco-corruption. But it should be just as clear and outspoken in its support for the many Colombians, including some in government, who are sincere about combating the cocaine dealers. Do flashy, largely symbolic actions against Samper hurt or help the latter?

Washington's aim should be to help those Colombians who seek to turn their nation away from corruption.

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