COLOMBIA SAYS DRUG PROFITS MAY SOON END
BOGOTA, Colombia - Insisting that the U.S.-backed campaign to wipe out
Colombia's drug crops is producing results, the commander of
Colombia's armed forces said Friday that cocaine-trafficking rebels
are planning for the day when the drug crops are gone altogether.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, aim to
sink their millions of dollars in drug profits into legitimate
enterprises, in order to keep their money working for them once the
cocaine heyday is over, Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina said in an
interview with The Associated Press.
"In conversations among members of the FARC, they have begun
contemplating the possibility that drug trafficking will end, though
not this year or next year," Ospina said. "They have talked about
investing in other businesses, institutions and companies through
Ospina would not divulge where his information on rebel contingency
plans came from. However, a number of rebel deserters have been
supplying Colombian authorities with FARC plans, possibly including
The report comes as authorities in Washington and Bogota are waiting
for concrete results from their costly effort to wipe out the drug
crops that fuel this South American nation's guerrilla war, now in its
Since 2001, aerial spraying has reduced coca crops by 33 percent, to
280,000 acres last year, according to official reports. White House
drug czar John Walters recently said cocaine prices on U.S. streets
remain unchanged, a sign that cocaine supplies remain stable. He
contended traffickers have stored tons of cocaine and draw upon this
stock to keep prices stable.
Ospina, clad in camouflage fatigues, appeared relaxed during the
hourlong interview at the AP office in Bogota. He was accompanied by
Gen. Martin Orlando Carreno, the head of the Colombian Army who is
also a veteran field commander, and by their bodyguards.
The two commanders have been leading a nationwide offensive, dubbed
"Plan Patriot," that aims to push the rebels to the farthest corners
of this Andean nation and force them to enter peace talks.
"The FARC are being hit hard, but they are not defeated," Carreno
said. "They still have a very big economic infrastructure."
Ospina, meanwhile, said continued U.S. aid was important in helping
Colombia defeat the FARC and a smaller rebel group, and that he
doubted the aid will be jeopardized by the arrests of three Colombi
soldiers, including a second lieutenant, for the killings of three
The Colombian attorney general's office this week charged the soldiers
with homicide in the Aug. 5 killings of the union officials in
northeast Colombia's Arauca state.
Military commanders initially said the three union leaders were linked
to the rebels and were killed in a gun battle. Deputy Attorney General
Alberto Santana disputed that account Tuesday, saying "there was no
Ospina said the three soldiers are being detained at a military base
in the northern city of Bucaramanga, and that Washington can be
confident that the Colombian justice system will take its course.
At stake for Colombia is about $32 million, or 12 percent of U.S. aid
to Colombia's armed forces for 2005. Each year, the U.S. State
Department releases this money only after certifying the government
has met human rights criteria.
U.S. authorities have not yet made any formal pronouncements about the
killings of the union leaders.
Ospina said he had reports the union officials were indeed killed in a
gunbattle, but added that the case must now be thoroughly investigated
to see if the soldiers are guilty.
"If they're found responsible, they will be punished," the armed
forces chief said.