LIANE HANSEN, host:
Protestors have greeted the arrival of President Bush on stops during his Latin American tour. Today he visits Colombia, a nation he considers a key regional ally.
Joining us from Bogota, Colombia is NPR's Juan Forero.
Juan, tell us a little bit about what the atmosphere has been like among the Colombian people.
JUAN FORERO: Well, the atmosphere this week has been a bit tense. There have been some protests against Bush. Like a lot of other countries in Latin America, people here, many people here on the streets do not support the Bush administration. However, the difference between Colombia and other countries is that Colombia does depend heavily on American aid.
For many years Colombia has received billions in aid from the United States to fight drugs and also to erode support for Marxist guerrillas, so that's been very crucial. And that's a distinction between this country and much of the rest of Latin America.
HANSEN: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has been called President Bush's closest regional ally. What exactly does that mean, and what's in it for Uribe?
FORERO: Uribe has been in office since 2002, and Uribe came into office in this country at a time when the government was teetering. It was really buffeted by violence, by drugs, by Marxist guerrillas, and Uribe has depended heavily on the support of the United States. This country receives about 700 million in aid yearly, mainly military aid to erode coca crops, that's the crop used to make cocaine.
But Uribe has also depended on some American aid that is used for social programs as well as military aid that's used to fight Marxist guerrillas, so that's been crucial for this country. It has helped make Uribe a very popular president because he has been able to bring stability to this country.
HANSEN: So outline what's on the agenda today.
FORERO: On the agenda for the Uribe administration here in Colombia is free trade; that's what this country is most interested in at the moment, or I should say the Uribe administration. President Uribe has been pushing a free trade pact with the United States. Both countries have signed a pact but it's waiting for congressional approval in Washington, which is going to be very difficult because a Democratically controlled Congress is very concerned about approving this trade pact for various reasons. The Bush administration wants the pact also but Bush has warned the Colombians that it's going to be very difficult to get it approved in Washington.
The other thing that many are hopeful will be discussed is a widening scandal involving paramilitary groups in this country. In the last few months, various allies of the Uribe administration have been investigated for ties to right-wing paramilitary groups in this country. These are organizations that have had ties to landowners, have been involved in drug trafficking, and have been used by the military to fight Marxist rebels.
There have been about eight congressmen who have been arrested, and President Uribe has been under a lot of pressure because of this scandal. There are human rights groups that are very hopeful that the Bush administration would press Uribe on this. But so far the Bush administration has showed complete support for President Uribe. Probably what will be discussed much more will be the issue of drugs. That is what the United States is mainly interested in.
HANSEN: NPR's Juan Forero in Bogota, Colombia. Juan, thanks very much.
FORERO: Thank you.
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