President Bush travels to Bogota Saturday amid extremely tight security in the Colombian capital. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports he is going to show his support for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Colombia is the biggest U.S aid recipient in Latin America.
Most of the money - an estimated $4 billion since 2000 - has gone to fund Plan Colombia, which helps fight the largely drug-financed Colombian insurgency.
President Uribe says the effort is working, and stresses the government is making gains. But a scandal has erupted that has prompted many majority Democrats in the US congress to question pouring so much money into a country that remains the world's largest producer of cocaine.
The scandal links several of Mr. Uribe's allies to paramilitary commanders accused of atrocities before they struck a peace deal with the government. The Uribe adminstration says the ties were discovered during an official probe, and those guilty are being punished.
Before embarking on his Latin American tour, President Bush told Colombian television that President Uribe is handling the issue well, that he is a strong leader, and retains the confidence of the United States.
Cynthia Arnson of Washington's Wilson Center, the author of several books on Colombia, says President Uribe is undoubtedly the Bush administration's closest ally in Latin America. "But President Bush has this visit with President Uribe when there is a very large political cloud hanging over his head and I think that both presidents will try to manage the spin (control the message) to try to keep the spotlight away from the scandal having to do with paramilitary influence in the congress and the security services," he said.
In addition to his meeting with the Colombian leader, President Bush will take part in events designed to show the US commitment goes beyond counter-narcotics.
While in Bogata, he will meet with a group of Afro-Colombians who have taken part in U.S. run education programs. He will also get a briefing on efforts to get farmers to grow alternative crops.
About 20,000 police will be involved in providing security for the president's visit, which will last less than seven hours. He travels to Colombia from Uruguay, where he held talks with President Tabare Vazquez that focused largely on trade.