Colombia President, Bush To Sign Pact
Gaviria seeks backing for drug and debt programs
PRESIDENT C'esar Gaviria Trujillo meets with United States President Bush today to explain Colombia's antidrug policy, viewed by many as a strong weapon against the cocaine trade and by others as a failure. Mr. Gaviria's US trip takes place against a paradoxical backdrop that includes cocaine traffickers' surrendering to police amid an overall increase in drug violence. Gaviria's plan for fighting the scourge centers on a promise to traffickers that they can avoid extradition and trial in the United States by surrendering and confessing one crime. To help prosecute drug figures locally, Gaviria and Bush are expected to sign a new pact that will transfer US prosecutors' evidence to Colombia for use in prosecuting drug cases. In addition, Gaviria will ask for Bush's backing for a plan to trim $1 billion in debt. Also high on Gaviria's agenda are meetings with several news organizations, including the editorial boards of US newspapers viewed by his administration as critical of his antidrug policy. From Gaviria's perspective, and from that of some Colombians, the end of cartel terrorist violence, if not the cartel itself, is in sight. They cite the recent surrenders of the Ochoa brothers, Fabio, Jorge Luis, and Juan David. All are accused of helping found the violent Medell'in cocaine cartel. The positive view of the policy is best expressed by Jaime Castro, a Liberal Party delegate in a national assembly rewriting the country's Constitution. As Gaviria left for New York City, Mr. Castro assured reporters that ``drug terrorism is being solved through the government's [antidrug] policy.'' Almost certain to differ with him are the families of 23 people, including nine police officers, killed in Medell'in by a car bomb just a week before Castro's statements. Authorities blame a youth gang financed by the Medell'in cartel for the attack aimed at police. Colombian officials say it is unlikely the cartel's leader, Pablo Escobar, planned the attack since days before he issued a statement promising to maintain a ``ceasefire.'' But Mr. Escobar is accused of ordering other atrocities, including the murder of one of several cartel hostages, even after the government's offer of lenient treatment. Though cartel kidnappings and murders have continued in recent months, Gaviria has made new concessions to traffickers, including extending the leniency offer to cover all recent crimes. ``Gaviria began with good intentions,'' says Patricia Rivera, a Bogot'a graduate student. ``But as far as I'm concerned those good intentions have been swept under the carpet along with the dead.'' Javier Guerrero, a Colombian political scientist studying drug violence, says surrenders by drug bosses may even increase attacks in the near future. ``Many of the mid-level cartel members are not wanted for extradition and have very little to gain from Gaviria's program,'' Mr. Guerrero says. ``They feel they have been betrayed by their bosses. As a result cartel leaders may have lost control of their terrorist groups.'' Guerrero adds that the threat of violence has grown because the terrorist hydra, bereft of strong leadership, is fragmenting into small but deadly groups. He maintains that only one cause unites the bands: hatred of anti-narcotics police, whom the cartel accuses of killing suspected terrorists. ``The main preoccupation of these gangs is that Colombian police are still trying to hunt them down and corner them in fatal shootouts,'' Guerrero explains. ``I think it is safe to predict more bloody attacks on police.'' Another political scientist who has studied the cartel, Juan Tokatlian, argues against using the level of terrorist violence to measure the success of Gaviria's program. ``This is not a policy directed only at the violent manifestations of the business but also at dismantling the business itself,'' Mr. Tokatlian says. He notes that police this year have been seizing cocaine at a record clip of 500 pounds a day. More than 11 tons has been seized this year. Colombian traffickers who remain at large are reportedly feeling the pinch and moving operations to neighboring countries. A US official familiar with narcotics matters says, however, that the amount of cocaine shipped abroad from Colombia has risen in recent months. Cocaine production, he says, has reattained the level before the government intensified a crackdown on traffickers in August 1989. US officials say publicly that they support Colombia's new policy. But both Colombian and US officials agree it is still too early to determine the success or failure of Gaviria's policy. All will be watching to see if drug traffickers receive significant jail terms in Colombia, cocaine production falls and violence abates. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/ogav.