CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Under a security web of warplanes, battleships, and 15,000 troops, President Bush praised Colombia's battle against drugs and Marxist guerrillas yesterday and pledged to keep US aid flowing so that "this courageous nation can win its war against narcoterrorists."
In a country that is the world's largest producer of cocaine and a major supplier of heroin, Bush said President Alvaro Uribe is achieving results with a massive aerial fumigation program against coca -- the main ingredient in cocaine -- and an aggressive military buildup against insurgents, who finance their activities through drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion.
"The number of acres under cultivation are down significantly," Bush said, standing with Uribe in shirt sleeves at seaside lecterns. "The number of arrests are up. The number of murders is down. . . . This man's plan is working."
Uribe said Colombia is winning the fight but has not yet won. "We have made progress, but the serpent is still alive," Uribe said.
Bush's pledge reaffirms US commitments to a $3.3 billion, five-year military aid program known as Plan Colombia. Bush said that the plan launched in August 2000 enjoys widespread support in Congress and that he would work with legislators to keep it funded. Without mentioning a specific figure, Bush said he would seek enough funds to make the plan effective.
Bush left Cartagena for his Texas ranch, where he will spend the Thanksgiving holiday. At Uribe's urging, Bush stopped off in this Caribbean seaport city after attending a summit in Chile of 21 Pacific Rim leaders. Security was tight.
US Navy commandos, toting assault rifles and peering through binoculars, patrolled the Caribbean in rubber boats where submarines and battleships already plied the waters. Warplanes and helicopters provided air cover while 15,000 Colombian security forces were deployed around the city for Bush's brief stay.