President Bush was targeted for assassination by Colombia’s biggest Marxist rebel group this week when he visited the Caribbean port city of Cartagena, a top Colombian official said on Saturday.
“According to informants and various sources, we had information indicating that various members of the FARC had been instructed by their leaders to make an attempt against President Bush,” Defense Secretary Jorge Alberto Uribe told reporters.
He would not be drawn out on the details of the threat.
The White House had no immediate comment.
The U.S. Secret Service, which protects the president, said it “does not comment or release information regarding our protective intelligence and protective methods.”
“We do not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees,” said Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman.
The 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, fighting a 40-year guerrilla war against the state, has long accused the the United States of backing business interests in this Andean country while ignoring the 60 percent of the population that lives in poverty.
There was heavy security in Cartagena when Bush visited the city on Monday on his way back from the APEC forum in Chile. Military helicopters packed with armed soldiers flew over Bush’s motorcade while naval vessels kept watch offshore. Many shops were shuttered.
The FARC has made many attempts against the life of President Alvaro Uribe, one of few conservative South American presidents with strong ties to Washington. Uribe, whose father was killed resisting kidnap by the FARC in the 1980s, narrowly survived a car bomb attack by the FARC during his 2002 presidential campaign.
The last U.S. president to visit Colombia was Bill Clinton, whose trip to Cartagena was marked by the seizure of bomb-making materials from a house six blocks from a building Clinton was visiting.
Bush used his four-hour trip to solidify his alliance with Uribe, whom he considers an ally in the effort to curtail the illegal drug trade and fight terrorism.
Colombia produces about 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States and 50 percent of the heroin.
Washington has paid out more than $3 billion over the past four years for Plan Colombia, a security and anti-drug program developed by Clinton and former Colombian President Andres Pastrana. Bush has promised more support.
Colombia’s economy is expected to grow by 4 percent this year and next as it takes advantage of a reduction in violence in its war involving the FARC and far-right paramilitaries, both of which have links to the country’s huge cocaine trade.