BOGOTA (AFP) — Colombia's vice president said Sunday the United States should end a multi-billion-dollar anti-drug program which has long been the main plank in Washington's fight against drugs in Latin America.
In an interview with local daily El Tiempo, Francisco Santos said Washington's military-focused Plan Colombia should end because the political price for Bogota accepting the aid was too great.
"Plan Colombia has achieved its purpose. It is no longer necessary," Santos said.
"I know the President and Minister of Defense will box my ears for this, but the cost to the dignity of the country is too great," Santos said.
Plan Colombia was launched in 2000 as an emergency package worth 1.3 billion dollars to curb trafficking, as Colombia faced down drug-backed insurgent groups who held control of swathes of the country.
The United States has provided billions of dollars in military aid to Colombia to fund crop eradication and fight cartels as well as drug-running paramilitary and rebel groups.
Colombia has long been a leading producer of cocaine -- much of which reaches US and European cities -- but its government remains a close ally of the United States in the war on drugs.
Recently tensions have grown between the two countries over the refusal of the US Congress to ratify a free trade deal agreed by both sides, as funding for Plan Colombia has been steadily cut in the last two years.
"We are not just friends and allies (with Washington)," Santos said, "but we are the only country in Latin America where the image of the United States is positive. But still, they mistreat us, and in what a fashion."
Santos -- a former journalist, once kidnapped by Pablo Escobar's cartel -- said Plan Colombia had "helped a great deal in a critical moment," but he said it came at too high a political cost.
He also criticized the proportion of the funding received by private contractors.
Plan Colombia has long come under fire for its controversial coca eradication programs, which critics say harm ordinary farmers and the environment, while doing little to stem cartel activity.
A former presidential contender, Santos is seen by some as a possible successor to the country's hugely popular president, Alvaro Uribe.
Since he came to office in 2002, Uribe has won friends in Washington by taking a hard line against cartels and rebel groups -- including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- using the Colombian military to disrupt their activities.
On Sunday, former top security officers rounded on Santos, with one critic slamming his comments as "imprudent."
"It is imprudent for the government to make pronouncements about such a delicate subject without consultations," said former minister of defense, Marta Lucia Ramirez.
Former Colombian police director, Luis Ernesto Gilibert, also rejected Santos' claims.
"There should be a coordinated common strategy with the government of the United States, the achievements of which are evident," he said.
March 16, 2009