WASHINGTON – Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe pressed President Bush on Thursday for more help in fighting drugs, while Bush cautioned him to respect human rights as he combats leftist rebels who rely largely on drug trafficking for their income.
Outgoing President Andres Pastrana, whose term ends in August, secured $1.7 billion in U.S. assistance in the past two years for his "Plan Colombia" drug-fighting initiative. Uribe told Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the plan needs some changes, but he appealed for greater U.S. assistance.
He asked for more American help in patrolling his nation's skies, freeways, rivers and oceans to help stop the flow of drugs, Uribe told reporters after the session.
"Plan Colombia needs American resources in Colombia to avoid massacres, abductions and other kinds of crimes that are striking the Colombia people," Uribe said.
Colombia also needs American assistance to help move 50,000 families in that country from coca and poppy production to other crops, he said.
Uribe praised the U.S. effort against terrorism.
"We have to emulate this determination in Colombia to be victorious against subversive groups," he said.
Many in Congress complain about continuing ties between the Colombian military and the AUC, a paramilitary group which is widely accused of serious human rights violations.
Asked about human rights, Uribe said: "You have two options: One of them to get a short-term peace, a nondurable peace. The other option is to get a permanent peace.
"For Colombia to get a permanent peace, Colombia needs a government with two commitments — to defeat violence and to recover human rights."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush discussed with Uribe "the need to fight terrorism within the framework of democratic institutions and full respect for human rights."
"The president has expressed his support for the people of Colombia in the effort to counter or fight this terrorism," Fleischer said. "The president believes that the new president will be an ongoing partner in that war."
Uribe was scheduled to fly to Canada later Thursday for a private dinner with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, with whom he was also expected to discuss human rights.
An open letter to Uribe from 80 Canadian organizations — including church groups, human rights groups, unions and development organizations — urged him to promote human rights to end the cycle of violence in Colombia. The letter issued Thursday expressed concern over what it called Uribe's plans to create a vigilante network and change the constitution to expand anti-terrorist powers.
Uribe made clear in his conversation with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday that he wants to preside over a Colombia that is not sending a single kilogram of cocaine to the United States.
That kind of talk has endeared Uribe to State Department officials. He also has received plaudits here for his determination to bring increased pressure to bear on leftist rebels in hopes of stimulating peace talks and achieving a settlement.