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Why Colombia?

By DAVID ADAMS, Times Latin America Correspondent
Published January 3, 2005

WAR ON DRUGS: The U.S. government has been fighting the war on drugs in Colombia since the early 1980s. By the 1990s Colombia produced 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States, according to officials' estimates.

THE CARTELS: The drug trade was dominated early on by the Medellin Cartel, headed by ruthless drug lord Pablo Escobar. After intense U.S. pressure its leaders were rounded up or killed. The drug trade was quickly taken over by the Medellin Cartel's main rivals, the Cali Cartel.

PLAN COLOMBIA: In 1998 the Clinton administration launched Plan Colombia, a $1.3-billion joint effort with the Colombian government to stamp out the drug trade. The plan was designed to eradicate drug crops through aerial spraying, as well as to provide military training and equipment (mainly helicopters) for special counterdrug battalions. Traffickers who previously exploited corrupt judges and prison officials in Colombia, now face life sentences in the United States under a 1997 extradition law.

[Last modified January 3, 2005, 02:20:23]


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