White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey met today with President Ernesto Samper, breaking a more-than-two-year moratorium on high-level U.S. contact with Colombia's scandal-tainted leader.
In the past, McCaffrey has called Samper an accomplice of international drug traffickers, and he recommended in February that the United States continue to isolate him politically.
But with Colombia's government weakened by scandals, and the threat from leftist rebels and other armed outlaws growing, today's meeting reflected concern in Washington that a longstanding democracy may be in peril.
Earlier today, McCaffrey praised Colombian police for risking their lives against guerrillas who protect drug crops and labs. Two police officers were killed Sunday by rebel machine-gun fire during a jungle raid on a cocaine-processing complex 125 miles south of the capital.
"Colombia faces a great threat," McCaffrey told officers at national police headquarters, "the terrible direct threat to democracy of 15,000 narco-guerrillas with mortars, machine guns and automatic weapons" as well as traffickers themselves and paramilitary forces.
On arriving Sunday in Bogota, McCaffrey was asked whether the meeting with Samper represents a shift in U.S. policy.
"I'm not a politician," he said. "By law, I may not take part in U.S domestic politics and certainly not in Colombian politics."