The following editorial appeared in Monday's Los Angeles Times:
Last September, Colombian President Andres Pastrana presented the White House a comprehensive plan intended to rescue his country from the violence of drug lords, guerrillas and paramilitary forces. Included were programs for economic development, democratic institution-building, judicial reform, human rights protections and peace negotiations.
Pastrana's approach has been well received in the White House and, for the most part, in Congress. There is a consensus in Washington that Colombia and its problems are an important issue for the United States. There is also a sense that the United States can work with Pastrana, though the White House must assure that no U.S. military personnel are drawn into combat.
Yet despite the emergent consensus, the urgency of Pastrana's plan has not, so far, moved Congress to act decisively. The negotiations on when and how to deliver a $1.3 billion military aid package proposed by the White House have been bouncing from door to door in Congress, never reaching the House or Senate floors, and the delays are dangerous. A major South American power, Colombia faces the often indistinguishable problems of drugs and insurrection that demand prompt action. Cocaine coming from the highlands has flooded the United States for years despite past U.S.-supported eradication efforts. Coca cultivation is estimated to have increased 140 percent in the past five years.
In Colombia, drugs beget violence. About 35,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the past decade, and more than a million people have been driven from their homes. Under these circumstances, the White House and Congress should be justifiably concerned.
The U.S. proposal anticipates a two-year program of support, and the problems of Colombia cannot be resolved in that short period. The White House's benchmarks of success -- diminution of violence and coca production and a strengthened government in Bogota -- over the period should be closely monitored by Congress.
What Colombia needs is decisive and prompt action. Congress should move now to deliver the arms, equipment and other elements of the program to suppress lawlessness in the countryside. At stake is proliferation of the cocaine plague and potential collapse of one of Latin America's proudest countries.
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