As U.S. agents were busting American Airlines employees Wednesday for smuggling drugs, the nation's drug czar was in South America, working to stop the flow at its source.
U.S. officials have spent the summer warning of a state of emergency in South America, where local governments are unable or unwilling to block the flow of narcotics into the United States. The lush fields of Colombia now provide the world with 80 percent of its cocaine and America with 75 percent of its heroin, reports CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick.
"I've come back from my trip sobered, but certainly not panicked by the challenges both presidents face," said Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.
Pickering met with Colombia's new president, Andres Pastrana, and offered U.S. funds on the condition that Pastrana first come up with a plan to assure that the money stays in the right hands. But it may not be as simple as writing a check to help the national police destroy the drug farms. The Colombian government has been waging a 36-year war with Marxist rebels, now nearly synonymous with the drug trade.
By and large the rebels reap much of the benefits from the drug trade, whether they're involved in cultivation or actually trafficking into the United States. They are deeply involved in the whole enterprise.
Latin America analyst Peter Hakim says the country of 40 million must first commit to helping itself. "Right now Colombia is a country that's very weak," Hakim said. "Most of the job has to be done by the Colombians, and they haven't shown an ability or a willingness to really take charge yet."
Colombia currently receives $289 million a year in U.S. aid and is asking Washington for more. But the Clinton administration first wants to hear Colombia's plan. It will have to convince Congress and the American people that the war on drugs must be fought in the jungles of Colombia as well as on the streets of America.