Clinton Slaps Colombia in War On Drugs; Samper Slaps Back

PRESIDENT Clinton's decision on Friday to cut financial aid to Colombia for not battling the drug trade hard enough could stoke the fires of nationalism in this South American nation, analysts warn.

"Most of all, this is a moral punishment; it's humiliating for Colombia," says Colombian Sen. Jaime Arias Ramirez, president of the opposition Conservative Party. "This is a severe blow to the government, but I'm sure it will allow them to construct anti-Yankee rhetoric."

President Ernesto Samper Pizano hinted that future antinarcotics work with the United States could be jeopardized by the decision. "My government will reassess and re-examine the terms of bilateral cooperation [with the US] in the struggle against drugs," Mr. Samper said.

A number of US Drug Enforcement Administration agents work in Colombia alongside police. Samper could demand that they leave the country.

The US State Department said the Samper administration "lacked commitment to support the efforts of Colombian law-enforcement entities ... to combat the destructive effects of narcotics traffickers." Samper responded that Colombia had eradicated more than 75,000 acres of illegal crop plantations and arrested more than 2,000 drug traffickers in 1995. He also cited laws passed to combat money laundering.

But he received few messages of support after the US decision, although many Colombians dismissed the ruling as unjust. Facing charges that his 1994 campaign accepted $6.1 million from drug lords, he has become increasingly isolated from sectors such as business groups and the Army.

Analysts say that politics in the US affected the ruling. "Clinton is unlikely to want to start a fight with the Republicans in this electoral year," says Bruce Bagley, a professor at the University of Miami.

The cutoff of all US aid to Colombia, except to fight drug trafficking, is unlikely to seriously damage the economy.

Colombia joins a list of other drug-trafficking countries also cited by the US: Iran, Burma, Syria, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

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