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Colombian President Speaks at U.N., Drugs Found on His Plane


November 1996

Colombian President Ernesto Samper addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on September 23 (Barbara Crossette, "Colombian (Yes, Samper) Lectures U.N. About Drugs," New York Times, September 24, 1996, p. A8).

Samper, who has a graduate degree from Columbia University in New York City, asked the world community not to "demonize" Colombia, saying his homeland was more a victim than a villain in the war on drugs. "Colombia wants to be part of the solution," Samper said. He added, "We don't want to continue being satanized in the face of the world because of the problem of which we, like all of you, are victims." He said 20,000 Colombians had died as a result of the drug war in the last ten years (Reuters, "Leader asks that Colombia not be satanized," Buffalo News, September 24, 1996, p. A3).

The Colombian leader proposed a plan against "narco-terrorism," saying drugs and terrorism are inextricably linked. Samper asked the U.N. for: (1) economic aid to replace illegal crops with legal ones; (2) controls on the sale of chemicals and weapons to drug traffickers and producers; (3) worldwide application of a European agreement against money-laundering; (4) an international intelligence center for narcotics information and eventually an international tribunal for drug cases, and (5) better programs to stop consumption. "One cannot place the entire burden of drug fighting on drug-producing countries, which are the weakest link," he said.

On September 20, drug-sniffing dogs found about 8 pounds of heroin on the official plane that Samper was to fly from Catam military air base near Bogota to New York. The Colombian government called it a setup designed to embarrass Samper. An anonymous caller tipped off authorities that an unspecified drug was on the president's Boeing 747, said General Hector Hernan Gil Nieto. The Colombian Air Force guards and operates the plane. Samper called the incident "base," and said the people responsible were "dirtying the face of Colombia." Investigators held the plane in Bogota, and the president flew to New York the next day on a commercial airplane (Associated Press, "Heroin found on plane of Colombia president," Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1996, s. 1, p. 4; Frank Bajak, "Heroin Found on Colombian Leader's Plane," Washington Post, September 22, 1996, p. A25).

On September 22, officials announced the arrest of 11 Colombian Air Force personnel, including several officers, in connection with the heroin found on President Samper's jet two days earlier. The arrested air force personnel were members of Samper's crew, and were ordered to be held at a military garrison ("Air force officers held in heroin case," Chicago Tribune, September 23, 1996, s. 1, p. 11; Associated Press, "11 Held in Drug Scandal Over Colombian's Jet," New York Times, September 24, 1996, p. A4).

Since March 1, Washington has listed Colombia as decertified, meaning an end to most U.S. foreign aid it might have been eligible for, including anti-narcotics aid ("U.S. Releases Annual Report Card on International Antinarcotics Progress, Decertifies Colombia, Gives Full Certification to Mexico," NewsBriefs, April, 1996). In decertifying Colombia, the U.S. cited the corruption of high-level officials, including Samper, who was charged with financing his 1994 presidential campaign with contributions from drug traffickers. Samper was cleared of the charges in June by the Colombian Congress, which is controlled by his political party. In July, the U.S. State Department stripped Samper of his tourist visa. He traveled to the U.N. in New York on a diplomatic visa. American officials say that 80% of the world's cocaine and 25% of the heroin in the U.S. comes from Colombia ("Colombian House Absolves President Ernesto Samper, U.S. Revokes His Visa," NewsBriefs, Summer 1996).