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War on Drugs Seeing Progress in Colombia, Says McCain

By Juliet Eilperin
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA -- After riding a fast boat on the Port of Cartagena and inspecting Colombian drug interdiction efforts this morning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared the Colombian government should be viewed as a key ally in stemming the flow of cocaine into the U.S. even as drug trafficking remains a serious program.

"We have a long way to go to stem the flow of drugs into the United States of America," the presumptive GOP nominee told reporters in a press conference here. "The progress that I've seen from previous visits here has been significant and substantial, recognizing that with human rights and other issues, progress still needs to be made."

McCain, who is on a three-day Latin American tour, received a briefing from senior Colombian military officials and visited a port and Navy hospital today after spending last night having dinner with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other cabinet members. The senator praised the Port of Cartagena for receiving a recent award as "the most secure port in the Caribbean, and most efficient one."

Throughout his visit, McCain has emphasized that Americans need to care about Latin America, and forge closer economic and diplomatic ties with the region, in order to bolster their own economy and national security. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who have joined McCain and his wife Cindy on this trip, echoed that theme in their remarks at this morning's press conference.

Lieberman, who noted that he was "impressed and grateful" to see Colombia's Container Security Initiative aimed at countering the shipment of terrorism material into the U.S., argued that America cannot afford to undermine its ties with South American allies.

"So we have seen how important America's relationship with Colombia is, in dealing with some of the problems we have at home, such as drugs coming into the country," he said. "Because what we have found here is a government led by President Uribe that is at war with the drug traffickers, the terrorists, the paramilitaries, to take back the country on behalf of the people of Colombia, and he is succeeding."

During the morning port visit, the three senators and Cindy McCain received a briefing from Colombia Admiral Roberto Garcia Marques, Coast Guard Commandante Orlando Grisales and Captain Manuel Corbetta about the country's efforts to cut down on drug trafficking though its joint project with the U.S., Plan Colombia. Congress recently renewed Plan Colombia, a 10-year, $5 billion drug interdiction effort.

Then the McCains boarded a fast boat labeled "Midnight Express 39" with U.S. embassy officials, Colombian military and government officials and Secret Service. The boat belongs to a larger, 12-boat Midnight Express fleet of drug interdiction boats the Colombian Navy has purchased with Plan Colombia funds. The fleet is slated to double in the next year, according to U.S. officials, with the Colombian government paying for 10 boats and the U.S. paying for four of them, at a cost of $494,000 each.

Colombian naval and law enforcement officials operate the boats, which can go as fast as 60 knots, as they patrol state waters 24 hours a day. They focus on Cartagena Bay area and up near the Panamanian border in the Bay of Uriba, both of which embassy officials described as major exit points for drugs.

Graham and Lieberman followed along in a second tracking boat during the tour. At one point, Graham joked that the two boats should play a game of chicken, but this race did not occur. Graham, dressed in khaki head to toe, later quipped at the press conference that he would be "leading a jungle tour later" and would offer "a good deal" for anyone who wanted to take him up on his offer.

Afterwards, the group toured the port and looked at how officials, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, inspected packages and containers. The port was hot, humid and filled with giant shipping containers as well as numerous boxes.

During today's press conference McCain was asked about comments his colleague Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) made to the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., in which Cochran alleged McCain grabbed an associate of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega during a diplomatic mission to Nicaragua in 1987.

"McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don't know what attracted my attention," Cochran told the Sun Herald. "But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever ... I don't know what he was telling him but I thought, 'Good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission.' I don't know what had happened to provoke John, but he obviously got mad at the guy ... and he just reached over there and snatched ... him."

McCain laughed when asked about the incident, and replied, "It's simply not true."

He noted that he had been selected by then-Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole to co-chair the Senate's Central America observer group in the mid-80s, and that he "made many, many visits" to region to aid U.S. diplomacy in the region.

"I must say I did not admire the Sandinistas very much," he said, but added, "There was never anything of that nature. It just didn't happen."

Posted at 5:38 PM ET on Jul 2, 2008  | Category:  John McCain
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Comments

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Legalize and Regulate. Start with cannabis (marijuana). Grow local and keep all the money home. David - the users are not the problem. Prohibition is. People have used mind altering substances since time immemorial. To ban a popular substance for political reasons all but guarantees that crime will grow around that ban as a black market springs up to supply demand and criminals get rich. Little kids spin to get dizzy because there is something inherent in humanity that likes to skew reality for entertainment purposes. Drug use is no different. The adult equilivent of spinning to get dizzy. To expect demand to go away is unrealistic.

Posted by: Biffco | July 7, 2008 4:27 PM

Sorry to disappoint you "2008", but I gave up the occasional beer 3 years ago for Lent. Don't smoke either. Just seen to many young adults self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. And, I hate that drug use is so accepted by pop culture. And who pays - underprivileged, poor minorities who don't have daddies that get calls in the middle of the night to come and pick junior up; all swept under the rug and no need to file a police report.

Posted by: David | July 3, 2008 1:41 PM

Hey, David...alcohol is a drug too - wait until afternoon before consuming, m'kay?

Posted by: 2008 | July 3, 2008 11:56 AM

please. What a waste of USA $! How many billions over the years and coca production is UP like 80%!!!! It is just military contracters and weapons companies that get the loot. Now, with the Merida Initiative, Plan Mexico, passed, we will have to work next year to stop that funding source too.
The chemicals to make cocaine come form USA! the guns come from USA. The War on Drugs is a front to get USA to send our $ to corrupt regimes that will go along with whatever the USA says and takes.

Posted by: Jen | July 3, 2008 9:13 AM

Hey Obama, let your daughters see the interview in which you make light of taking drugs. Tell them where and how easily you bought these drugs. Try to rationalize to those cute, innocent girls your involvement in the whole demand and supply of drugs in the US.

Posted by: David | July 3, 2008 12:50 AM

For those of you who do drugs - you are the problem. It's your character flaws and your relative wealth that distorts the economies of the third world. Drugs would not come into this country if it wasn't such an accepted part of this popular culture. So go ahead and buy your kids alcohol and give them enough money and freedom so that they can buy drugs. Live that life if you want; come back and tell me how that's worked for you.

Posted by: David | July 3, 2008 12:46 AM

Obama doesn't admit to using marijuana and cocaine, he brags about it. Here is a man who wants to be the chief law enforcement officer in the US, and he laughs and jokes about using drugs. It sickens me that Obama supporters point to GW Bush and Clinton as an example that the POTUS doesn't have to be an angel. GW sucked. Bill Clinton had other problems as well. Let's expect more from our candidates from now on. We deserve better.

Posted by: David | July 3, 2008 12:41 AM

Obama was the candidate that did cocaine, not McCain or his wife.

Its good to see one of the candidates willing to work with Columbia, a good relationship can lead to a better life for the citizens of both countries.

Posted by: win | July 2, 2008 10:08 PM

War on Drugs Seeing Progress in Colombia, Says McCain. Then Cindy and John got into the plane and snorted a few lines.

Posted by: hayden | July 2, 2008 8:58 PM

Typical McCain. Trying to be a big man by going to Colombia and talking about cracking down on the drug trade by working the supply side of the equation.

Where was he when Reagan and his buddies were pulling the Iran/Contra/Crack mess?

Didn't think so.

And how about attacking the demand side of the equation? Like making America life better so that people have less of a need to escape unpleasant realities via drugs? Like stopping his buddies (Charlie Black et al.) from using race to divide people (see Helms v. Gantt) and to bring public discourse and campaigns into the gutter.

It's the same old, same old with McCain. Always fighting the last war with the old mindset. Never addressing the root causes of problems. Always dumbing issues down, believing that people are better off with a simple lie than the complex truth. Proposing superficial political solutions to real problems, knowing full well that it won't make a difference in the real world.

He's no political hero, that's for sure.

Posted by: JR, Boston | July 2, 2008 6:16 PM

Well, when his own wife was on drugs it took her family to do an intervention to help her. Mccain himself could have cared less. It was like he wanted her out of the way. Later he claimed to not know a thing about it. "WHAT", your wife is whacked out on drugs for several years and you can't tell? How about, Mr. Mccain you didn't give a sh&t about your wife. And by the way, weren't you cheating on her at the time as well? Yea, John Mccain, quite a guy.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 2, 2008 6:08 PM

Campaign Diaries updated its electoral college rating and finds Obama solidifying his base, though his edge narrows. Full details: http://campaigndiaries.com/2008/07/02/3rd-electoral-ratings/

Posted by: Dan | July 2, 2008 5:45 PM

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