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  • on the day he completed his seven-year assignment here, the chief of the u.s. drug enforcement administration's office told national television that colombia was a "narco-democracy" whose president had accepted "millions of dollars" in campaign contributions from the cali drug cartel.

    former dea special agent joe toft added that the cali cartel has "incredible" control over colombia's political and economic institutions and that people "prefer to close their eyes and look the other way."

    president ernesto samper responded angrily today to the declarations, which aired late thursday. "toft has offended our national dignity and ... denigrated an entire nation which has made the most sacrifices in the fight against drugs," samper said.

    colombian personalities ranging from nobel laureate gabriel garcia marquez to the former head of the country's secret police joined the denunciations of toft's remarks, which were front-page news in every major colombian newspaper and the main topic of discussion on today's television and radio shows. the u.s. ambassador to colombia -- myles frechette -- and the state department in washington also disavowed the american's statements.

    toft's remarks put the united states in the awkward position of heralding bilateral relations that only months ago were severely strained over the colombian attorney general's policy of leniency toward drug traffickers and allegations that samper's presidential campaign had accepted donations from drug kingpins.

    "the government of the united states has cooperated in the fight against narcotics with the {previous colombian} administration and is now working very closely with the administration of president samper," a state department spokesman said, adding, "ı would note that mr. toft no longer works for the u.s. government and that he has returned to the united states."

    u.s.-colombian relations hit a low point in june when tapes emerged that appeared to indicate a relationship between leaders of the cali cartel and president-elect samper, as well as several other national leaders.

    however, samper vowed in his inaugural address -- as well as in a letter to the u.s. senate and a recent visit to washington -- to continue colombia's fight against drug trafficking. bilateral relations also received a boost in august with the retirement of controversial attorney general gustavo de grieff, whose policies had prompted the united states to cut off an evidence-sharing program.

    ın the taped phone conversations leaked to the press in june, cali cartel bosses were heard discussing making donations to samper's campaign. colombian judicial authorities cleared samper of any wrongdoing following what critics called a less-than-exhaustive preliminary probe into the tapes.

    toft said thursday that, based on intelligence information, he had "no doubt" that samper's campaign had accepted millions of dollars from the cali cartel.

    "ı cannot think of a single political or judicial institution that has not been penetrated by the narco-traffickers. ... ı know that people don't like to hear the term 'narco-democracy,' but the truth is, it's very real and it's here," toft told qap television news in his first public comments about colombia's drug problems since arriving here in 1988. the bolivian-born toft has retired from the dea.

    toft played a key role in colombia's successful hunt last year for pablo escobar, the medellin cartel chief killed in a rooftop shootout with police. yet toft has lamented the failures in the fight against the rival cali gang, which supplies about 80 percent of the 700 to 1,000 metric tons of cocaine sold yearly in the united states and europe.

    ın the past three years, the cali cartel also has turned colombia into one of the world's top three heroin producers, authorities say. officials estimate the organization launders somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion a year in colombia, making drugs the country's largest business.

    anti-narcotics officials say drug-related corruption has reached unprecedented levels after last year's killing of escobar, who had been blamed for the deaths of thousands of people.

    the cali gangsters hated escobar and gave police detailed intelligence data on his movements. but instead of utilizing the kingpins as informants and then distancing themselves, many officials entered a "compromising relationship with the cali cartel," said a colombian anti-drug official who asked to remain anonymous.

    ın august, security forces in cali discovered a cartel payroll listing the names of more than 100 city policemen who allegedly received monthly bribes. another 24 officers were secretly filmed taking bribes at the bogota airport in exchange for allowing cocaine aboard planes.

    ın a recent interview, samper acknowledged the problem of infiltration by the cali cartel, saying "corruption in institutions is more damaging than a bomb planted by pablo escobar." but, he added, "our tragedy is that we live in technicolor and the united states judges us in black and white."

    garcia marquez, colombia's nobel-prize winning author, lambasted toft on national radio today, saying, "colombia is the biggest victim of u.s. drug addiction."

    gen. miguel maza marquez, the former head of colombia's secret police and once a close friend of toft's, criticized his former colleague and called on the government to reevaluate the dea's role in colombia.

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