US cooperation with Peru, Colombia still in limbo

By Ken Guggenheim Associated Press Writer
Tuesday September 11, 2001

LIMA, Peru — Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he has “the expectation and hope” that the United States will resume drug surveillance cooperation with Peru and Colombia. 

The cooperation has been suspended since April 20, when a plane carrying American missionaries was misidentified as a possible drug flight and shot down by the Peruvian air force. A woman and her infant daughter died. 

Powell said no decision has been made on resuming the cooperation. U.S. officials will soon begin reviewing two investigations into the downing to see if cooperation can resume without putting innocent lives at risk. 

“We will make a judgment as to whether or not we now have in place satisfactory procedures that will allow us to move forward in a safe way, in a way that accomplishes the mission of interdicting this kind of traffic and a way that does not ever again allow the set of circumstances to arise which cost the lives of two innocent people,” he said. 

Powell spoke to reporters on his plane shortly before arriving in Peru to attend an Organization of American States foreign ministers meeting. The ministers are to approve a charter setting democratic standards for the OAS’ 34 member nations. 

Powell will also visit Colombia on Tuesday and Wednesday, in a show of support to Colombian President Andres Pastrana in his fight against leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers and a struggling economy. 

On Monday, the Bush administration designated a Colombian paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces, as a foreign terrorist group. Financial support for the group is illegal under the designation and American financial institutions are required to block its assets. 

Both Colombian and Peruvian officials are expected to urge Powell to resume drug surveillance cooperation. The cooperation, along with Peru’s policy of shooting down suspected drug flights, is credited with that country’s sharp reduction in production of coca, the raw material for cocaine. 

Peru has said that drug flights have increased since the shootdowns were halted, but U.S. officials say they have no evidence of that. 

A joint U.S.-Peruvian report found that miscommunications and a failure to follow proper procedures led to the accident. 

Another report, by a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Morris Busby, explored whether the cooperation should be resumed and under what circumstances. It has not been released. 

Powell said officials will review those reports before deciding whether to resume cooperation. 

“I can just express the expectation and the hope that we will be able to restart,” he said. 

At the OAS meeting, Powell and the other foreign ministers are expected to approve a charter requiring that OAS members maintain democratic policies or face possible suspension from the organization. 

“We’re essentially putting down membership rules,” Powell said. “If you want to be a democratic nation in this hemisphere, how the other democratic nations expect you to behave and what the standards are with respect to elections and representative government.” 

Powell will also meet with President Alejandro Toledo to show U.S. support for Peru’s democratic transition. Toledo’s election followed the 10-year presidency of Alberto Fujimori, forced from office by a corruption scandal after winning a third term in widely criticized elections. 

In traveling to Colombia, Powell said he wants to show the Colombian people “that the United States is standing with them in this troubled time that they have where their democracy is at risk, their economic viability is at risk because of narcotrafficking.” 

He will review U.S.-Colombian counternarcotics efforts under a $1.3 billion aid plan approved last year and discuss the Bush administration’s proposal for $882 million in follow-up aid. On Thursday, he meets with U.S. lawmakers to discuss the proposal. 

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine. Leftist guerrillas partly finance their 37-year insurgency by protecting drug traffickers. Colombia’s poverty is seen as contributing to both the insurgency and the trafficking. 

Much of the U.S. aid has been for Colombian military anti-drug battalions. Some Democrats oppose it because of the military’s link to human rights violations, questions of the safety of aerial drug eradication and fears the United States will be drawn deeper into the Colombian conflict. 

Paramilitaries are blamed for most of the rights abuses. In putting them on the terrorist list, “I hope this will leave no doubt that the United States considers terrorism to be unacceptable, regardless of the political or ideological purpose,” Powell said in a statement. 

Some Republicans say the United States should directly help Colombia fight the guerrillas instead of limiting military support to anti-drug units. Powell said the administration has no plans to change its policy.