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Pastrana: Peace for Colombia

President stresses need for assistance in fighting drug trafficking

By Audrey Warren
Daily Cougar Staff

Achieving peace with terrorist guerrillas is the main objective in Colombia's new plan, Colombian President Andres Pastrana Arango told an audience at Rice University on Wednesday evening.

"I campaigned on a platform for peace," Pastrana said. He was keynote speaker at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's "Colombia: Challenges and Prospects for the Future."

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Rice University President Malcom Gilis, left, and Colombian President Andres Pastrana prepare for Pastrana's speech Wednesday. The Colombian leader said international help is essential in fighting guerrilla activity and drug trafficking in his country.

Colombia has established traditions of civilian government with regular free elections, but in recent years, widespread guerrilla activities and drug trafficking have severely disrupted normal public and private activities.

Pastrana vowed to wage an international campaign against illegal drug trafficking.

"There is an international dimension," Pastrana said. "With respect to Colombia, such involvement is needed not only in the name of peace or as a means of increasing investment and trade, but also so that we can wage a more effective international campaign against the terrible menace of the trafficking of illegal drugs."

Pastrana was elected president in August 1998. Since then, he has been under pressure from the international community to control guerrillas who systematically violate the human rights of Colombians.

Although more progress has been made in Colombia in the past 15 months than in the last decade on that front, Pastrana said, the country's unemployment rate has doubled and the deficit has more than quadrupled.

Moreover, the country's drug war has claimed more than 30,000 lives in the past decade alone. Victims of those attacks are mainly civilians, including community leaders, journalists and human rights activists.

One of the key combatants is a 12,000-member group of leftist rebels known by the Spanish acronym FARC -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

FARC has employed brutal tactics, killing army soldiers and government sympathizers in order to achieve its goals of nationalism and redistribution of wealth.

But Pastrana said he wanted to disperse the rumors that Colombia is on the verge of collapse and of becoming a narco-guerilla country. He said the present conditions have been exacerbated by the media.

Pastrana said the government is addressing all the country's problems head-on. "We are not trying to win a popularity contest; we're trying to rebuild a country. When I finish my term, Colombia will be healthier," he said.

"I remain convinced that we must obtain peace," Pastrana said. He has devised a four-part strategy aimed at rebuilding the economy, strengthening local and national governments and developing policies to help stop drug trafficking.

Pastrana has already talked with leaders of Colombian guerrilla groups, and he said he will meet with them again soon in hopes of beginning peace negotiations.

Although he said he could not speak for the guerrilla groups, Pastrana said he believes their agenda is to occupy a political space.

He said Northern Ireland and the Middle East serve as guides that achieving peace is a process rather than an act of will, but added that international assistance is needed to achieve peace and stop drug trafficking in Colombia.

Colombia supplies more than 75 percent of the world's cocaine and two-thirds of the heroin sold in the streets, and is the third-largest recipient of American security aid, following Israel and Egypt.

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