South America Convenes Its First Summit 12 Leaders Fret Spillover from Colombia

Article excerpt

BRASILIA, Brazil -- Casting a wary eye on one of their neighbors, 12 heads of state opened their first South American summit yesterday. The possible spillover from Colombia's anti-drug offensive and U.S. military involvement there were expected to be dominant themes.

The two-day summit was convened by Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to discuss integrating the region's economies, strengthening its democratic institutions and improving education and technology.

But the consequences of the all-out drug war known as Plan Colombia has taken on a greater immediacy for its neighbors.

The summit got under way one day after President Clinton visited Colombia to lend support and release $1.3 billion in military aid to the counternarcotics program.

The U.S. military hardware and training are aimed at combating armed groups that protect plantations producing 90 percent of the world's cocaine.

"We will fully support the plan provided its main goal is a negotiated peace settlement," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said. "What worries us is the plan's strong military-oriented focus. The level of military involvement must be lowered."

Colombia shares a 1,400-mile border with Venezuela and a 960-mile border with Brazil. …

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