Colombia steps up drug fight following murder of journalist

Colombia's powerful drug barons, suspected in the murder of an influential newspaperman, appear to have launched a new challenge to the government of President Virgilio Barco Vargas, diplomats and analysts said yesterday. Guillermo Cano, editor of the daily El Espectador, which has recently run an editorial campaign against drug trafficking, was killed Wednesday night by two gunmen as he was leaving the newspaper's plant in Bogot'a.

Following an emergency Cabinet meeting, the government announced tougher measures to fight drug trafficking, including giving security forces sweeping powers to raid drug laboratories and marijuana and coca plantations. ``With Cano's death, we have the ultimate proof that drug trafficking does not shrink from resorting to extremes,'' said former President Carlos Lleras Restrepo.

While most diplomats agreed that the murder would lead to a greater national awareness of the scope of the problem, many said the government seemed ill-prepared to deal with it effectively.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the murder, which shook a country already accustomed to guerrilla violence and street crime, but most commentators pointed the finger at those heading Colombia's drug trafficking.

``There is a moral degeneration which is disturbing, because we are talking about a new sector of society, with people who seem to have no education, no morals, and who are incredibly powerful,'' a respected foreign analyst said.

More than 20 journalists have been murdered in Colombia in the last 10 years, most of them apparently on orders from the drug traffickers.

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