243. Memorandum From the Director of the White House Office of Drug Abuse Policy (Bourne) to President Carter1


  • Briefing of President Lopez-Michelsen

The promised briefing was conducted by Peter Bensinger, Administrator of D.E.A., Larry Laser of the Central Intelligence Agency and myself. We were accompanied by Robert Drexler the Charge d’ Affaires. President Lopez-Michelsen was alone.

The material had been very carefully prepared and checked, and Peter Bensinger did an excellent job in presenting it in a low key and non-accusatory way. We left behind a written copy of the briefing2 without any identification as to its source. The President did not flinch at any of the information we provided. When we reached Defense Minister General Abraham Varon Valencia, Lopez-Michelsen questioned us closely as to whether we had other information that we might not have written down because it was not solid. He said that at different times there were rumors Varon was trying to overthrow him, was smuggling Scotch whiskey, and involved in other illicit activities. Because of the changing nature of the rumors and the lack of hard evidence he sometimes questioned whether any of it was true. As he talked more I had the feeling that he not only wanted us to know that he knew a good deal more about Varon than we did, but that this was the one person on the list he could not move against directly.

At the end of the briefing he said that since our previous visit3 he had made considerable investigations on his own, and had been amazed at the degree of corruption, not merely around the drug issue, but also in connection with terrorist kidnappings and ransom payments. In one instance members of the National Police had even served [Page 713] as an execution squad for a kidnap victim. He described F–2, one of the National Law Enforcement Agencies, as “a nest of criminals”.

He was extraordinarily candid and open in talking about the problems he faced. He reacted only with appreciation for the material we gave him, adding that he feared it represented only 10 per cent of the problem. It is clear also that he plans to move aggressively against these people. He thanked me profusely for the helicopters and the team we sent down there after the meeting to study the feasibility of spraying the marijuana fields. He said he plans to completely reorganize the National Law Enforcement Agencies and establish a special elite unit of loyal, well paid people of high integrity reporting directly to the Attorney General. (A formal announcement of this move was in the Bogota newspapers yesterday morning).

In summary I believe this is a tired embattled old man depressed by his failure to accomplish more than 20 per cent of his administrations original program, who is not particularly popular with the people, and who was badly stung by accusations that his sons were involved in illicit financial transactions. I think he had planned to drift through his remaining year in office. Now, I believe, the interest you and Rosalynn have taken in him has lighted a fire under him and given him the energy, clear goals and inspiration to try to redeem himself in the time he has left. We have also placed in his hands some powerful weapons. He said that the top objectives for the remainder of his administration will be crime, and corruption especially as it relates to drugs. I think he is very sincere, and Drexler said that he has never seen him so animated and filled with life. It will remain to be seen whether he is up to the task.

I thought it might be nice if you sent him a letter along the lines of the attached draft.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 4, Colombia: President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, 5/77-6/78. Top Secret. A stamped notation indicates that Carter saw the memorandum. A copy was sent to Rosalynn Carter.
  2. Not found. In telegram 6760 from Bogota, July 22, the Embassy reported that Bensinger “provided information on about thirty cases which exemplified narcotics-related corruption involving ministerial and judicial officials, military and law-enforcement personnel and high-level figures.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770262-0553)
  3. Presumably a reference to the June 23 meeting among Bourne, Falco, and Lopez Michelsen. See Document 242.
  4. Not attached. A July 26 letter from Carter to Lopez Michelsen regarding the Bourne visit is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 9, Colombia, 4-8/77.