Colombia Launches Hearts and Minds Campaign To take control of his country, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has used army offensives and aerial fumigation of drug crops to undercut funding for Marxist rebels. Now Colombia has launched a "hearts and minds" campaign in 53 communities.
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Colombia Launches Hearts and Minds Campaign

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Colombia Launches Hearts and Minds Campaign

Colombia Launches Hearts and Minds Campaign

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NPR's Juan Forero has this report from San Vicente, Colombia.

JUAN FORERO: But that was then. Now, the old visitors center the rebels ran has been razed by the state. In its place is a gymnasium, complete with barbells and hard- thumping techno music. The gyms in a new two-storey building constructed by the state that offers services of all kinds. And that's not all.


FORERO: The government has added a new wing to the local hospital to help mothers and their babies. It's built a sprawling school, remodeled three others, paved roads, built a new city hall, a community center and a police station. A multi-purpose sports center that seats 800 is soon going up. And then there are the little things like the instruments provided to a dozen budding musicians.


FORERO: Juan Manuel Santos is Colombia's defense minister. He says the idea has been to take communities in isolated regions and come in hard and fast with infrastructure, electrification, courts and other services. If successful, he says, the idea is to replicate across Colombia.

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: We have divided the country in three. One, red area, where the illegal armed groups are still present. Another, yellow area, where the situation is much better but still have problems. And the green area is where things are normal. Our objective is to enlarge the green areas at the expense of the yellow and particularly the red areas.

FORERO: John Walters is the White House drug czar. He says the Bush administration supports Uribe's plans. But he say's it's the emphasis on the security side that's helped make it all possible.

JOHN WALTERS: Everybody wants to see every community able to have better schools and healthcare. But the precondition of that is security.

FORERO: Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language)


FORERO: Extortion remains serious as made clear by constant radio ads that urge businessmen to report the crime. And outside town, the rebels are the state, says Rafael Rodriguez(ph). He's a farmer who had to flee to San Vicente.

RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ: (Through translator) We're not in a free country. We're in a state where we're under pressure.

FORERO: Yet officials like Luis Francisco Valencia, chief of staff to the mayor, are optimistic.


FORERO: He enthusiastically walks around the city hall - the new one that's going up. Next door is the old one, blown up by a rebel bomb.

LUIS FRANCISCO VALENCIA: (Through translator) For us, the fact that the state is paying attention to the development of the municipality means giving back everything that was lost here.

FORERO: Juan Forero, NPR News, San Vicente, Colombia.

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