Washington — President Bush gave broad support Tuesday to Colombia's struggle to rid itself of narcotics traffickers and end a brutal civil conflict that has threatened to spill across the Andes.
Wading into a region that poses dangers for his presidency, and where many lawmakers fear U.S. troops could be sucked in, Bush said the war on drugs had to be fought at home, too, though he did not elaborate. He said he told Colombian President Andres Pastrana that while Colombia's drug production is a problem, U.S. demand for drugs is equally so.
"Many of them wouldn't be manufactured if our nation didn't use them," Bush said in an appearance with Pastrana at the White House.
Bush's first budget package will include a request for aid to Colombia's neighbors to fend off the effects of Colombia's instability, said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"These are Colombia's problems today. But we're very well aware that they could be Ecuador's problems or northern Brazil's problems tomorrow," the official said.
Pastrana came to Washington requesting U.S. support for his efforts to seek a negotiated end to Colombia's four decades-old guerrilla wars. He also sought trade deals that would let his recession-hit economy wean itself from the drug business.
To deal with Colombia's internal problems, "the first thing we have to do is fight poverty," Pastrana told reporters at a breakfast meeting. Colombia's economy is in its worst recession in 60 years, with 20 percent unemployment, Latin America's highest.