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U.S. Unveils Drug Plan, Reports Explosion in Cocaine Production

By Eric Lichtblau
Los Angeles Times

Even as they unveiled an optimistic plan for combating drug abuse in the next decade, federal officials disclosed Monday that they have seen an alarming new "explosion" of cocaine production in Colombia.

Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, said cultivation of cocaine has jumped 26 percent in the past year in Colombia, with signs of an increase in opium production there as well.

The troubling trend has threatened to cut deeply into the dramatic gains made recently in stemming drug-trafficking in the Andean region particularly in Peru and Bolivia, McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey blamed the Colombian upturn in part on the fact that heavily armed paramilitary groups now effectively control some 40 percent of the nation, tying the hands of President Andres Pastrana and his young administration. "The problem that President Pastrana and his team face is enormous, and it's getting worse," said McCaffrey, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The general stressed, however, that Pastrana's administration has demonstrated "a tremendous sense of partnership" with the United States and a strong commitment to curtailing drug-production.

That sentiment could prove a key factor next month when it comes time for the Clinton administration to certify whether Colombia and other nations have cooperated in anti-narcotics efforts. Colombia's status was upgraded last year following two years of economic penalties. Colombian officials had no immediate reaction Monday to McCaffrey's comments.

McCaffrey, speaking at a press briefing, refused to elaborate on aspects of the Colombian situation until his office puts out a more detailed analysis in the next few days.

In fact, the Colombian issue drew no mention from top Clinton administration officials at a White House ceremony as they presented a long-term plan for controlling drugs in the United States.

Addressing several hundred supporters before a backdrop of colorful anti-drug displays, Vice President Al Gore and other officials stressed that the nation must not ease up in the drug war, despite recent gains in quelling drug use among young people and other problem groups.

"When drug dealers still roam our streets and rob our children of their dreams, and drug-related crime still ravages so many of our neighborhoods, we know that we have barely begun," Gore said. "We must do so much more."

As part of $17.8 billion in anti-drug funding proposed in President Clinton's recent budget plan, the National Drug Control Strategy seeks a 50 percent reduction in drug use and availability by the year 2007. It offers a multipronged approach through education, prosecution, treatment, interdiction and other means, and it establishes 97 "performance targets" to track how well those measures are working.

"We're going to hold ourselves to achieving absolute results," McCaffrey told the gathering.

But some anti-drug groups and Republican lawmakers were clearly unimpressed, saying the White House's priorities are misplaced.

The group said federal officials should rely more heavily on proven treatment programs instead of pumping money into failed programs, including another $195 million allotment this year for as slick celebrity advertisements urging young people to stay off drugs.