BOGOTA, Colombia — The Congress here left President Ernesto Samper with half a loaf Friday by effectively shelving half of a tough anti-drug package.
Legislators closed the current session without voting on a bill that would have doubled prison sentences for narcotics traffickers.
Under intense pressure from Samper, they had passed a compromise version of a law to make it easier to confiscate drug traffickers' property. But the sentencing bill cannot be considered again until Congress reconvenes in March.
The lawmakers' failure to pass both laws leaves Colombia vulnerable to trade sanctions, as U.S. officials look for new ways to persuade this country to step up its efforts against drug trafficking.
Colombia supplies about 70% of the cocaine that enters the United States and is also the largest supplier of heroin to the East Coast.
Colombia has already lost U.S. certification as a cooperative partner in the anti-drug effort. Samper's U.S. visa was revoked because of evidence that his 1994 campaign was financed by millions of dollars in narcotics money.
Samper has insisted that his administration has done more than any previous Colombian government to fight drugs. To prove his commitment, he strongly backed the two anti-drug initiatives.
Both laws had provoked weeks of public congressional debate and private threats and bribes, according to members of Congress.
The House of Representatives even tried to turn the property-forfeiture bill into a law that would protect most drug fortunes, critics said. Samper publicly berated the lower house for narrowly passing that bill, which would have prevented the government from confiscating any goods that drug traffickers bought before 1991--the opposite of the original intention.
After a joint House-Senate committee developed a compromise bill that makes all property purchased with drug money in the last 20 years subject to forfeiture, Samper called every member of his party who voted for the 1991 provision and asked them to support the compromise. The compromise bill passed both houses of Congress late Thursday.
"This is a watershed in the history of the fight against drugs and organized crime in Colombia," Samper said in a statement immediately after the compromise was approved.