Cartagena, Colombia President Clinton on Wednesday formally inaugurated a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package to fight drugs in Colombia, insisting that the commitment of U.S. troops and military hardware would not turn this nation into a Vietnam-style quagmire.
"A condition of this aid is that we are not going to get into a shooting war," Mr. Clinton told reporters during a joint appearance with Colombian President Andres Pastrana. "This is not Vietnam. Neither is it Yankee imperialism."
Mr. Clinton's eight-hour visit to the northern resort of Cartagena was marked by extraordinary security measures that included ringing the city with troops and submarine patrols to guard against possible attacks in a war-wracked country known as the "kidnapping capital of the world."
In spite of those measures, security personnel reported discovering a bomb-like device near one of the sites the president visited. They said it was disarmed and removed without incident.
Clinton, who was accompanied by his daughter, Chelsea, senior administration officials and congressional leaders, met the wives of Colombian policemen killed while fighting the insurgents who protect the drug trade. He also toured counternarcotics facilities and judicial offices that will be among the recipients of the non-military portion of the aid package, part of a larger Colombian initiative known as Plan Colombia.
"Today, for first time, we are investing in the people," Pastrana said. "Distinct from being a plan for war, it is a plan for peace."
Plan Colombia comprises $7.5 billion in funding that Pastrana is seeking both domestically and internationally to fight drugs and to give Colombians more profitable, legal alternatives to producing illicit drugs.
Colombia is the source of 80 percent of the world's cocaine and most of the heroin sold on U.S. streets. The bulk of the U.S. portion of Plan Colombia is military hardware, including 60 combat helicopters.
A highlight of Mr. Clinton's visit was an encounter with a police drug-sniffing dog, "Darling," who upon orders from her master extended a paw to greet the U.S. president. The dog was so smitten by Mr. Clinton, she tried to extend the meeting well beyond her allotted time.
The nation's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, honored an earlier pledge not to disrupt the visit. But the rebel leadership declared Mr. Clinton persona non grata, charging that the U.S. aid package is directly aimed at halting their 36-year-old war against Colombia's democratic government.
"Clinton doesn't come in the name of peace. Nor does he come to support the efforts for a political solution to the conflict," the FARC leadership said in a statement. "Clinton comes to Cartagena to launch Plan Colombia, which, more than being a counterinsurgency plan, is a plan against Colombia."
The United States currently has about 100 Special Forces trainers in a combat-torn region of southern Colombia where the FARC has long been the dominant military force. The FARC, which acknowledges earning profits from the heavy cocaine trade in the region, says it will now include U.S. troops as targets for attack.