While it acknowledges that rounding up traffickers doesn’t necessarily eliminate the flow of narcotics into the U.S., the DEA is hoping to degrade the effectiveness of the traffickers. "They’re hoping that successive waves of arrests drain the talent pool available to the cartels, eliminating their smartest and most innovative operatives and making it easier to take them down," says Shannon. At the same time, the Colombians are also urging the U.S. to curb drug consumption here. "They’re telling Americans that drug money spent here is paying for a lot of violence down there," says Shannon. "And fighting the traffickers is among the government’s top priorities, because the cartels are rich enough and powerful enough to pose a threat to national security." Rounding up cocaine kings is definitely one way to make Congress amenable to helping out.
Colombia’s biggest drug bust in four years is good news for President Andres Pastrana and for President Clinton’s efforts to persuade Congress to part with $1.5 billion in aid to Pastrana’s government. Colombian authorities on Wednesday arrested 30 people on drug trafficking charges, including leaders of a cartel that claims to export 30 tons of cocaine a month into the U.S. "This looks like a very important bust," says TIME correspondent Elaine Shannon. "They’ve arrested some of the key figures in the international drug trade the Miami DA called it a who’s who of kingpins. And that’s a happy coincidence for President Pastrana, coming just weeks after he asked for substantial U.S. aid to fight the narco traffickers." Colombia has asked for the aid, over three years, as part of an ambitious program to rebuild civil society in a country that has been savaged by drug and political violence.