Earlier this month President Ernesto Samper Pizano stood
surrounded by coca plants in the southern province of Guaviare -
the cocaine-processing capital of Colombia - and congratulated his
police on their latest victory in the war on drugs.
The Colombian government was touting the seizure of a huge
illegal drug lab in San Jose, Guaviare, the largest such facility
ever uncovered, capable of producing 1-1/2 tons of cocaine per day.
On Thursday the United States State Department will decide
whether to "certify" Colombia as a country that is taking
sufficient steps to fight its illegal trade in cocaine and heroin.
Colombia has undertaken a slew of recent steps to convince the US
that it is doing enough, including intense lobbying in the US and
new crackdowns and antidrug laws at home.
But "decertification" seems to be a foregone conclusion after
Robert Gelbard, the US assistant secretary of state for narcotics,
said earlier this month that the US considers Mr. Samper himself to
be linked to drug traffickers. Now Colombians are just hoping that
the unfavorable ruling will come unaccompanied by damaging economic
Samper was cleared last year by Colombia's Congress of charges
that he had accepted a $6-million campaign contribution in 1993
from the Cali cocaine cartel. But the US showed its conviction that
Samper was corrupt by revoking his US visa. As long as Samper is in
office, it will be difficult for Washington to consider Colombia an
ally in the drug war.
"I don't think Colombia will be fully certified in 1997, nor in
1998," says Juan Tokatlian, director of the Institute of Political
Studies and International relations at National University in
Bogota. "It would be really surprising to fully certify a country
whose leader they have 'decertified.' "
Despite the allegations of corruption hanging over Samper, his
administration has won several clear victories against narcotics.
Besides the laboratories and tons of pure cocaine seized, the
Samper administration oversaw the dismantling of the Cali cartel
and shepherded several important antinarcotics laws through
Congress, including an asset-forfeiture bill that will allow the
government to seize millions in drug-traffickers' land and goods.
In record time last week Colombia also approved a new agreement
to cooperate with the US Coast Guard in the Caribbean, a law
fighting money-laundering, and most importantly, a higher maximum
prison sentence for drug trafficking: 60 years.
"Clearly in some areas there has been considerable progress,"
says US ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette. "However, the fact
is they actually seized less cocaine this year than they did last
year. They passed a strong law on asset forfeiture, that's an
important plus, but on corruption they didn't do very well. …