CARTAGENA, Colombia — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Colombia on Friday to press the administration's $1.6-billion plan to combat illegal drugs in this South American nation.
The visit, which includes meetings with President Andres Pastrana and other officials, comes amid signs that anti-drug efforts by some of Colombia's neighbors have led to an increase in coca cultivation here.
Nonetheless, "we are very impressed with 'Plan Colombia,' because it is a comprehensive plan," Albright said late Friday, referring to Pastrana's anti-drug strategy.
Before beginning a working dinner with Pastrana, Albright saluted efforts by other South American nations to combat illegal drugs, declaring that "it clearly takes hard work and determination" for such programs to succeed.
The U.S. aid proposal, which was announced earlier this week and still must be approved by Congress, would provide about $600 million for military aid, notably to create two anti-drug battalions of 1,000 troops each. The U.S. aid program would promote drug interdiction by enhancing military airstrips, upgrading radar and financing efforts to wipe out coca fields.
Cooperation between Colombia's military and its national police force--which traditionally has led the anti-drug struggle--is one of the themes of the approach, according to Clinton administration officials.
The United States also wants Colombia to assert greater control over its airspace "so narco-traffickers are no longer free to fly at will over southern Colombia," which is a hotbed of coca production, according to U.S. officials.
U.S. and Colombian officials have expressed dismay over the strong ties between Colombian drug traffickers and leftist insurgents.
The White House plan, crafted after aid requests by Pastrana, also addresses other issues, such as economic development as an alternative to growing coca and poppy--which are ingredients in narcotics--and judicial reform.
"This is not a social experiment. This is a replication of the success that has taken place in Peru and Bolivia," said an administration official, who described the effort as "holistic."
Albright plans a joint news conference today with Pastrana in this Caribbean resort. She then will fly to Panama, which recently took control of its canal, and Mexico, where she will have further meetings on drug-related issues. She is scheduled to return to the U.S. on Sunday night.