Patten: EU plans only small Colombian aid package
The EU's Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, told reporters on a visit to Colombia the European Commission (news - web sites) and Spain would each contribute about $100 million in social aid this year to the war-torn Andean nation's Plan Colombia.
That would nearly match the $224 million in U.S. social assistance now headed to Colombia to help build sanitation facilities, schools and hospitals in poor, rural areas, according to the Colombian government, which had hoped for $1 billion from Europe.
''We hope in total we will be able to demonstrate that we are as active in the social sector, at least as active as the Americans,'' Patten said after meeting President Andres Pastrana.
His comments broadly echoed those of ambassadors who met in Bogota in October to analyze Europe's aid for Plan Colombia, which originally envisaged raising $7.5 billion to wipe out the narcotics trade financing a 37-year-old guerrilla war.
Promised funds have fallen well short of the plan's needs to help develop poor rural areas where the narcotics trade flourishes and eradicate coca, the raw material for cocaine in the world's top exporter of the drug.
Patten declined to specify total EU aid, saying: ''We are not keen to start bragging about figures until we have actually aggregated everything.''
Critics in Europe say Pastrana's plan does not do enough to ease the poverty that forces peasants to grow drugs. They also criticize growing U.S. military involvement -- training pilots and supplying aircraft -- in Colombia's war, which has claimed 40,000 lives in the past decade alone.
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