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Colombian President Uribe Visits Washington - 2002-09-24

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is in Washington for his first state visit since assuming office in August. During his four-day visit, he is expected to seek more support from the United States to fight narcotics trafficking and leftist guerrillas in his nation. The Colombian leader is also seeking help with his nation's crushing debt load and other economic problems.

President Uribe's first official visit to Washington is aimed at shoring up support from the Bush administration and congressional leaders and countering critics who fear U.S. aid will lead to more human rights abuses in Colombia. The Colombian leader is expected to ask for more help in ending his nation's 38-year civil conflict.

He is also expected to ask international lending institutions for more understanding and flexibility. In a nationwide broadcast speech Sunday, Mr. Uribe said Colombia will continue to pay its massive debt, but that it must also meet social obligations.

He said Colombia will continue to service its debt in order to maintain its access to credit, the loss of which, he said, would be devastating for the nation's future. But, he stressed, the international financial community should understand that he has to also pay social debts in a nation where there is so much misery.

President Uribe will meet with leaders of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank while in Washington. Mr. Uribe has promoted tax increases, budget cuts and public finance reform in Colombia, but he has also shifted an additional $1 billion a year to the military.

Mr. Uribe won the presidential election in May after campaigning for a tougher stand against the leftist guerrillas of the Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the smaller National Liberation Army, known as the ELN. Since assuming office early last month, President Uribe has moved to augment the military budget and has encouraged the army to take more decisive action against the rebels.

On Saturday, President Uribe created two large zones in Colombia where the military will have broad new powers and civil liberties will be restricted.

President Uribe is scheduled to meet with both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on Wednesday. The Bush administration has given Mr. Uribe strong backing for his war against insurgent groups. Washington has provided $1.5 billion in military aid to Colombia in recent years to fight narcotics. Within the past few months, the United States also began providing anti-insurgency help and training for soldiers protecting Colombia's oil pipelines.

After his discussions in Washington, President Uribe will go to New York where he will meet with investors and representatives of the U.S. corporate world. He is to return to Colombia on Thursday.