of Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state, Bureau for International
Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
of Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau for International Narcotics
and Law Enforcement Affairs, before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics
September 21, 1999
Mr. Chairman and Members of
I want to thank you or this
opportunity to speak to you today about the situation in Colombia, and
about our ongoing policy review. Colombia stands at a critical crossroads
now, and there are considerable threats to U.S. national security interests
in Colombia. What the United States does or does not do in Colombia over
the next few years, and perhaps even over the next several months, will
have a great impact on the future of that country.
The Current Situation
It is difficult to describe
the current situation in Colombia without sounding alarmist. Colombia's
national sovereignty is increasingly threatened -- not from antidemocratic
elements in the military or the political sphere, but from well-armed
and ruthless guerrillas, paramilitaries and the narcotrafficking interests
to whom they are inextricably linked. Although the central government
in Bogota is not directly at risk, these threats are slowly eroding the
authority of the central government and depriving it of the ability to
govern in outlying areas. And it is in these very areas, where the guerrilla
groups, paramilitaries and narcotics traffickers flourish, that the narcotics
industry is finding refuge.
The links between narcotics
trafficking and the guerrilla and paramilitary movements are well documented.
We estimate that two-thirds of the FARC fronts and one half of the ELN
fronts are involved in narcotics trafficking to one degree or another.
By involvement, we mean not just that the guerrilla groups collect "taxes"
as they do with all legitimate businesses in areas they control, but that
they actively participate in other ways. Reporting indicates that guerrilla
groups protect illicit fields and labs, transport drugs and precursor
chemicals within Colombia, run labs, encourage or intimidate peasants
to grow coca, accept drugs as payment from narcotics traffickers and resell
those drugs for profit, trade drugs for weapons, and have even begun to
ship drugs out of the country -- to Brazil and Venezuela. Estimates of
guerrilla income from narcotics trafficking and other illicit activities,
such as kidnapping and extortion, are undependable, but it clearly exceeds
$100 million a year, and could be far greater. Of this, some 30-40% comes
directly from the drug trade. Paramilitary groups also have clear ties
to important narcotics traffickers, and obtain much of their funding from
traffickers. Carlos Castano, the paramilitary leader, has been previously
identified as a significant narcotics trafficker in his own right.
Profits from illegal activities,
combined with a weakening economy and high unemployment, have enabled
the FARC, in particular, to grow rapidly in terms of manpower. This growth
has occurred despite an apparent loss of ideological support in the cities,
where polls show extremely low approval ratings for the FARC. Much of
their recruiting success occurs in marginalized rural areas where the
groups can offer salaries much higher than those paid by legitimate employers.
This is an example of an area where counternarcotic efforts will have
a spillover effect on Colombia's counterinsurgency successes by reducing
funds available to the insurgent groups.
The strength of Colombia's
armed insurgent groups has, in turn, limited the effectiveness of joint
U.S./Colombian counternarcotics efforts. While aggressive eradication
has largely controlled the coca crop in the Guaviare region, and is beginning
to make inroads in Caqueta, any gains made in Guaviare have been more
than offset by explosive growth in the coca crop in Putumayo, an area
which, until recently, has been off-limits for spray operations because
the Colombian National Police have been unable to establish a secure base
there due to heavy guerrilla presence. Only in recent weeks have eradication
operations ventured into Putumayo. Even then, operations have moved no
more than 10 miles into the area. Interdiction operations in Putumayo
are similarly limited. We are unable to carry out any meaningful alternative
development programs in most of the coca-growing region because the Colombian
government lacks the ability to conduct the monitoring and enforcement
necessary for the success of such programs. In order for our counternarcotics
programs to be ultimately successful, we cannot allow certain areas of
the country like Putumayo to be off-limits for counternarcotics operations.
Fortunately, there are reasons
for optimism. In the Pastrana administration, the U.S. finally has a full
and trustworthy partner that shares our counternarcotics goals in Colombia
and is committed to full cooperation on the full range of counternarcotics
efforts. The Colombian National Police, under the direction of General
Serrano, has continued its superb record of counternarcotics activity,
reinforcing its image as one of the premier counternarcotics forces in
the world. Now, for the first time, the CNP's commitment to counternarcotics
has been adopted by the Colombian armed forces.
security forces have not fared well in confrontations with the guerrillas,
who, over the last few years, have scored a string of tactical successes.
Recently, however, the Colombian military and police have been able to
inflict significant defeats on the guerrillas. While these recent engagements
give us reason for optimism and are a sign of increasing commitment and
aggressiveness by the Colombian armed forces, the Colombian military must
still address severe deficiencies in training, doctrine, organization
and equipment to be able to deal effectively with the guerrilla and paramilitary
Under its current leadership,
the Colombian military is also undergoing a cultural transformation which,
if sustained, bodes well for Colombia. Defense Minister Ramirez and Armed
Forces Commander Tapias have taken dramatic steps to deal with the legacy
of human rights abuses and impunity that have clouded our bilateral relations
in the past. Our human rights report has also documented a steadily declining
number of reported human rights violations by the Colombian military.
Clearly much work remains to be done to address the problem of human rights
in the Colombian military, but we now believe that the will exists to
Concurrent with this effort
to clean up the military, is a renewed Colombian military commitment to
counternarcotics. The new leadership realizes that one of the best ways
to attack the guerrillas is to attack their financing, in the form of
narcotics profits. The Colombian Army has greatly expanded cooperation
with and support for the Colombian National Police, and is forming a brand
new counternarcotics battalion, specifically designed to work directly
with the CNP on counternarcotics missions. The Colombian Air Force has
undertaken an aggressive program to regain control of their airspace,
and deny its use to traffickers. They have registered some significant
successes and demonstrated considerable competence and will, but are still
limited by outdated equipment, limited operating funds and inadequate
training. The Colombian Navy is working closely with U.S. forces on maritime
interdiction, and has participated in many significant seizures, despite
limits on equipment and operating funds. Overall, cooperation with the
Colombian military on counternarcotics operations has never been better.
Joint Counternarcotics Programs
The USG in general, and INL
in particular, is involved with the government of Colombia on a wide range
of programs in support of our Colombia counternarcotics strategy, which
is, in turn, an integral part of the President's Source Zone Strategy.
Our strategy for Colombia calls for an integrated program of support for
interdiction and eradication efforts, justice sector reform, alternative
development, and institutional strengthening. Colombia is the largest
single recipient of U.S. counternarcotics assistance, over $200 million
in FY99 alone. Much of this is from the emergency supplemental passed
by Congress last year.
In 1998, the joint CNP/INL
eradication campaign sprayed record amounts of coca, over 65,000 hectares.
In the Guaviare region, where much of the spray effort has been concentrated
and which was the center of the Colombian cocaine industry, the crop has
decreased more than 30% over the last two years, and very little new cultivation
is reported. Similar inroads are being made in the Caqueta region now.
Unfortunately, this success has been undermined by the inability of spray
aircraft to make meaningful penetration into the Putumayo region, where
coca cultivation has increased an astounding 330% over the last two years.
The center of gravity of the coca industry in Colombia has clearly shifted.
On the opium poppy front,
spray activity has prevented the expansion of the opium poppy crop, which
has remained essentially stable for several years. During this time, however,
Colombian-origin heroin dramatically increased its market share in the
United States, and now increasingly dominates that market, particularly
in the eastern U.S. For that reason, in conjunction with the CNP, we began
an intensive opium poppy eradication campaign in December 1998. Already
this year, the CNP has sprayed over 7600 hectares of opium poppy, a record
total. They have essentially sprayed the entire poppy crop in the Huila
growing area and have now shifted operations to Cauca.
We have just begun to provide
support for a nascent alternative development program in Colombia -- $5
million in FY99. We are limiting our support to areas in which the government
can exercise reasonable control. Experience has taught us that without
this control, alternative development cannot succeed because compliance
among drug cultivating farmers cannot be monitored and enforced. As a
practical matter, this has limited our assistance to programs in the opium
poppy region, where the government has a better presence, and where the
necessary infrastructure already exists. The alternative development program
is being integrated with the aggressive opium poppy eradication program;
and combined, the programs aim to eliminate the majority of Colombia's
opium poppy crop within three years.
We continue to provide support
for the interdiction operations of the Colombian National Police, which
have continued at a high rate throughout this year. We are also working
closely with the Colombian Air Force to improve the effectiveness of its
aerial interdiction program, and its expansion into southern Colombia.
To this end, the Department of State is funding facility improvements
to the air base at Tres Esquinas, including a runway extension. We are
also funding life-extension and night capability upgrades of A-37 interceptor
aircraft and, with DOD, are examining the addition of OV-10s to the intercept
fleet. Additionally, we are working with the interagency community to
provide better detection and monitoring support, not just in Colombia,
but throughout the source zone.
We support an administration
of justice program in Colombia, working with AID, OPDAT and ICITAP to
provide technical assistance and training to the beleaguered Colombian
justice system, which continues to be the weakest link in the Colombian
counternarcotics effort. We are pressing actively for continued reforms,
including improved asset forfeiture procedures, tighter money-laundering
enforcement, and stiffer penalties for narcotics trafficking offenses.
We are also working with Colombian authorities on improved prison security
to ensure that inmates cannot escape or continue to operate their illicit
enterprises from behind bars.
We are working directly with
the Colombian military in two important areas. First, we are coordinating
with SOUTHCOM and DoD to provide training and equipment for the Colombian
Army's new counternarcotics battalion. This battalion is a 950-man unit,
comprised entirely of personnel who have been vetted by both the Embassy
and the State Department to ensure that none of them have been involved
in alleged human rights violations. In addition to training and equipment,
the USG is providing mobility to the unit in the form of 18 UH-1N helicopters.
I understand that the first two phases of training are complete and that
the Colombian government believes the full battalion will be operational
by January 2000. The mission of this unit is to conduct counternarcotics
operations and to provide force protection support to the CNP. This is
an important illustration of the growing ability of the military and the
CNP to work cooperatively. Additionally, the clear definition of areas
of responsibility for the military vis-a-vis the police strengthen them
both as democratic institutions.
We are also working to improve
the Colombian security forces' ability to collect, analyze and disseminate
intelligence on counternarcotics activity and on insurgent activity which
could threaten counternarcotics forces. A key element in this is helping
the CNP and the military to share the information they do have, so that
all relevant forces have access to the best available information on activity
in their area. Intelligence is a force protection issue as well as an
operational concern. We are taking steps to ensure that we have all of
the information necessary to protect U.S. personnel in the region, including
State Dept. contractors helping with the eradication effort and DoD personnel
conducting training in non-operational areas.
One of the top priorities
of the Pastrana government and of Plan Colombia is implementing a peace
process to bring an end to the violent conflict that has drained that
nation for four decades. The USG believes in and supports the peace process
not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it would be
of great benefit to U.S. interests in Colombia. It would stabilize the
nation, help Colombia's economy to recover and allow for further improvement
in the protection of human rights. More importantly, in the context of
this hearing, a successful peace process would restore Colombian government
authority in the coca-growing region. The demobilization and reintegration
of former insurgents into civil society will remove the umbrella of insurgent
and paramilitary protection that the narcotics traffickers currently enjoy.
However, we have made it
very clear to the Pastrana government that "peace at any price"
is not an acceptable policy. We have consistently asked the Colombian
government to press the guerrillas to cease their practices of kidnapping
and forced recruitment of children, and to provide a full accounting for
the three New Tribes mission members who were kidnapped by the FARC on
January 31, 1993. We have also demanded that the FARC turn over to the
proper authorities those responsible for the March 4 murder of three U.S.
citizen indigenous rights activists. We have made clear to all parties
that the peace pro process must not interfere with counternarcotics cooperation,
and that any agreement must permit continued expansion of all aspects
of this cooperation, including aerial eradication. The Pastrana government
understands our priorities and fully agrees with and supports them.
One of the key limitations
confronting the Pastrana administration during the negotiations is the
fact that the guerrillas currently feel little pressure to negotiate.
Their intransigence is fueled by the perception that the Colombian armed
forces do not pose a threat and by profits from narcotics trafficking
and other illegal activities that will allow them to continue building
their strength through recruiting and arms purchases for the foreseeable
future. Essentially, the guerrillas have little reason to negotiate other
than an opportunity to rejoin a society they are fighting to destroy.
For this reason, we have encouraged the Colombian government to strengthen
its military. Although it may not be possible for Colombia to end the
insurgency militarily, we do believe that the Colombian armed forces must
improve their capacity to defend the civilian population against guerrilla
and paramilitary aggression and defend national sovereignty. Furthermore,
a stronger military will enhance the negotiating position of the Colombian
government by offering the FARC a much- needed incentive to pursue peace.
Over the past several weeks,
the government of Colombia has developed a comprehensive strategy, the
Plan Colombia, to address the economic, security, and drug-related problems
facing that country. By bringing together the various entities already
engaged in confronting issues, the Colombians are producing a unified
strategy of mutually supporting actions that will address these interrelated
crises. This strategy integrates four fundamental tenets: social development,
economic development, integrated counternarcotic strategy, and resolution
of the insurgency. All four elements are essential to the success of the
plan and all four deserve our support.
Colombia invited the U.S.
government to contribute to the development of this plan. An interagency
team, under the leadership of Under Secretary Pickering and including
representatives from ONDCP, USAID, and the Departments of State, Justice,
Defense, Treasury, and Commerce are in an on-going discussion with the
Colombian government to determine how we can best support their efforts.
Clearly, the Plan Colombia will have resource implications. We expect
the major part of these resources to come from Colombia itself and other
donors. We are currently involved in discussions within the Administration
regarding how we can use existing authorities and funds to support counternarcotics
operations. We are ready to work with the Colombians to assess the resource
implications of their strategy and the optimum ways in which the United
States can assist.
Of primary importance to
us with regard to the United States' interest in counternarcotics is the
commencement of operations in Putumayo. As long as this region remains
a sanctuary for traffickers, progress elsewhere will be undermined. In
order to operate effectively in this area, which is heavily dominated
by the FARC, the CNP will need the support of the Colombian military.
The CNP cannot operate there alone. We must therefore begin working with
the Colombian military to bring their capabilities up to a level where
they successfully operate alongside the CNP and contribute to the counternarcotics
effort. We are currently examining the needs of the Colombian military
forces involved in counternarcotics and searching for ways to steer the
appropriate resources toward them. We have no intention of becoming involved
in Colombia's counterinsurgency, but we do recognize that given the extensive
links between Colombia's guerrilla groups and the narcotics trade, that
counternarcotics forces will come into contact with the guerrillas, and
must be provided with the means to defend themselves and carry out their
We also believe an active
aerial interdiction program is absolutely necessary. In Peru, we have
seen the dramatic effect such a program can have on the economics of the
drug trade, and we would like to recreate that effect in Colombia. The
Colombian Air Force is willing, but requires considerable assistance to
carry out the mission. Monies have already been appropriated to upgrade
the capabilities of Colombian intercept aircraft. With the Colombian government,
we are working to implement a system to better track air traffic in the
skies over rural Colombia. Additionally, our governments have established
improved means to share a wide range of trafficking-related -intelligence.
We cannot forget the Colombian
National Police, which maintains primary responsibility for counternarcotics
operations in Colombia. While the list of CNP achievements is illustrious,
they still have outstanding equipment needs and an ongoing need for operational
Finally, we need to continue
working to reform the Colombian justice system and provide licit alternatives
for coca and opium producers so that they do not replant illicit crops
The problem of narcotics in
Colombia is daunting and complex. While it is convenient to think of it
in criminal terms, it is linked at a fundamental level to the equally
complex issue of insurgency, and any action directed at one will have
spillover effects on the other. Because of this, it is all the more important
to maintain our focus on the counternarcotics question at hand. In Colombia,
we have a partner who shares our counternarcotics concerns and a leadership
that regularly demonstrates the political will to execute the needed reforms
and operations. Our challenge, as a neighbor and a partner, is to identify
ways in which the U.S. Government can assist the Colombian government
and to assure that we are able to deliver that assistance in a timely
manner. I look forward to working closely with Congress as we continue
to address these critical issues.
As of March 13, 2000, this
document is also available at http://www.usia.gov/regional/ar/colombia/rand21.htm