Colombia to approach Europe for antidrug help

Colombia wants Europe to commit more money and resources to help it fight drug trafficking and a related guerrilla insurgency, at a time when the US ­Congress is threatening to cut off aid to the Latin American country.

“I would like more commitment from Europe – more judicial agreements, intelligence sharing, police collaboration, training,” Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s defence minister, told the Financial Times.

Mr Santos is in Madrid to attend an international drug-fighting summit organised by the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Spanish government, bringing together officials from 90 countries and agencies.

At a drug-enforcement conference in Washington on Tuesday, Karen Tandy, DEA director, said that years of US military aid for drug enforcement had failed to damage the trade enough to raise the price of cocaine on US streets.

“The tough challenge for us is to raise that price and keep it at that higher level,” she told the conference.

European help would be ­critical to Colombia, part­icularly if a Democratic­-controlled US Congress votes to curtail funding in October when bilateral aid comes up for renewal. Colombia has received $5bn in US aid since 2000.

In recent months, US ­congressmen have shown concern about a growing scandal linking supporters of Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, to paramilitary death squads.

The affair could affect Colombia’s chances of concluding a free-trade agreement with the US. The fast-track negotiating auth­ority granted to US trade negotiators expires in June and may not be renewed by Congress.

Mr Uribe’s standing, particularly in the US, has been damaged in recent months by the scandal, involving alleged connections between his political allies and right-wing paramilitaries.

A dozen sitting and former congressmen and governors have been arrested or face arrest on charges including mass murder, extortion, graft and kidnapping. Another 15 are under investigation.

In February, Maria Consuelo Araújo, Colombia’s foreign minister, resigned after her family was linked to the paramilitaries.

The arrest of Jorge Noguera, whom the president named to head the intelligence service, has been even more damaging. Mr Noguera has been charged with aiding drug traffickers.

Mr Santos did not try to play down the damage caused by the “parapolitics” scandal. He said it was a consequence of putting paramilitaries on trial, where most of the links to politicians had been revealed.

“Colombian society needs this catharsis,” Mr Santos said. “The truth is coming out thanks to the Uribe government, not in spite of it. We are in the midst of a peace process where the paramilitaries are standing trial and facing justice and their victims. This has never happened in Latin America before.”

Mr Santos hopes the US will continue to support Colombia, which is seeking a further $4bn in US assistance.

He singled out the UK as a model partner in the anti-narcotics fight. “The UK is helping us a lot,” he said.

Colombia was seeking ­similar commitment from other European governments, particularly Spain, where government surveys show that domestic consumption of cocaine is rising quickly.

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