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Last Updated:3/27/02
Press conference in Bogotá with DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, March 26, 2002
March 26, 2002
Bogota, Colombia

JASON WEBB (Reuters): During the first year of Plan Colombia, the area of coca under cultivation rose. What results do you expect in the second year of anti-drug operations. And what's the outlook for drug interdiction flights.

ASA HUTCHINSON: In reference to the coca eradication program, this was designed under Plan Colombia to be a multi-year approach. We have to remain constant. We have to continue the plan in order to give the maximum possibility of chances for success. One of the key ingredients is complementing the eradication program with the growth of the criminal justice aspect of Plan Colombia, and the strengthening of the judicial system. That is having great success, going after the criminal organizations. We will continue down that path, and with each of those items complementing each other, I believe will have ultimate success.

In reference to the air-interdiction program, as Secretary Powell said, that review is being conducted; and I am optimistic that program will be re-engaged because of its importance to the interdiction efforts. Certainly we need to have adequate controls over that program, but I do expect it to be re-instituted.

JORGE DURAN (daily El Tiempo): What are the real possibilities that U.S. aid to Plan Colombia will be used to combat guerilla groups?

ASA HUTCHINSON: As you know, the administration under President Bush has submitted to Congress a broadening of the authority to go after not just in the counterdrugs arena, but also in going after the terrorists. With the recent indictment of "Negro Acacio" and other leaders of the FARC, it is clear that there is really not a distinction between the drug traffickers and many of the terrorist organizations. So I am optimistic that the Congress of the United States will be broadening the support for Colombia in fighting both the terrorists and the drug traffickers, because in many instances they are one and the same.

MARIO ROMERO (Radionet): Is current evidence against FARC leaders strong enough to request their extradition?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Under the United States' system, our prosecutors would not have indicted "Negro Acacio" and others without the confidence that we can present the case adequately in court with sufficient evidence. When "Negro Acacio" is apprehended, then we will then certainly work closely with the government of Colombia to proceed with extradition.

MILLER RUBIO (Canal Caracol): Are you aware, or do you have information about, a "drug summit" led by the paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño, which would have allegedly concluded with a process to surrender to U.S. justice?

ASA HUTCHINSON: First of all, Carlos Castaño is under investigation for drug trafficking. Whenever he makes the bold statements admitting his involvement and his organization's involvement in drug trafficking, we must investigate and pursue the case. We do not negotiate with narco-traffickers unless they simply want to know how to surrender. And then we're happy to inform them of how to do that.

SIBYLLA BRODZINSKY (USA Today): You just mentioned Carlos Castaño, and that you were investigating him. After the indictment of "Negro Acacio" and the other FARC members, can we expect to see indictments against, not just Carlos Castaño, but other paramilitary leaders involved in drug trafficking?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Clearly there is a cause for investigation and pursuing the case against leaders of the FARC as well as leaders of the AUC. Ultimately we simply have to weigh the evidence that we are able to accumulate as to who we can indict and how far the investigation goes.

Let me -- before we do another question, I did want to remark on my affection and high regard for General Gilibert, and the Colombian National Police, and the military who operate with great bravery in Colombia. We can set high designs in the United States as to who is going to be apprehended. But it is ultimately dependent upon the Colombian National Police, their leadership and the cooperation they have with the DEA.

MARTA ROJAS (daily El Espectador): When the United States requested the extradition of "Negro Acacio," it was reported that he had links to Venezuela and Brazil. What exactly are those links to Venezuela? Does Venezuela support drug trafficking and the Colombian guerrilla groups?

ASA HUTCHINSON: The drug-trafficking organization that was assisting "Negro Acacio" came out of Brazil. One of the routes was through Venezuela. Venezuela is an important partner in our counternarcotics efforts. We cannot achieve success without their cooperation and commitment.

ALFREDO BUSTILLO (Channel RCN): Is there evidence that the FARC as an organization has a policy of working in drug trafficking to finance subversion?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Yes, that is certainly reflected in the fact that the 16th Front, combined with a number of other fronts, are actively engaged in drug-trafficking activities. And it is our belief that the policy decisions that follow the drug-trafficking pattern originate from the top.

JENNY GONZALEZ (Dallas Morning News): Are you concerned about the support by Venezuela to the Colombian guerrilla groups? Apart from the routes you have detected, what other contacts or links have you found that help the guerrillas to work in drug trafficking?

ASA HUTCHINSON: We are very concerned about the cross-border activities of the FARC between Colombian and Venezuela. This does not necessarily reflect a lack of vigilance on the part of the Venezuelan government and police. It reflects a reality of the activities of the FARC and our concern that it will spread over into Venezuela and they will use that area. That is why it is essential that we maintain close cooperation with Venezuela and they continue putting law-enforcement pressure on their side of the border.

JARED KOTLER (Associated Press): You mentioned the apprehension of "Negro Acacio." Is there an expectation on the part of the U.S. government that the Colombian government will now make a special effort or operation to apprehend "Negro Acacio?" There hasn't been a top guerrilla leader captured here in quite some time. Was that kind of operation discussed during your visit here?

ASA HUTCHINSON: I certainly discussed with my law-enforcement counterparts the importance of bringing to justice a drug trafficker such as "Negro Acacio." As to how that is accomplished, that is an operational responsibility that should not be discussed in open public.

We all understand the importance of bringing "Negro Acacio" to justice, and how that will elevate the rule of law in Colombia. There is a growing confidence that we can achieve success when we all work together to achieve this important goal.

JUAN LUIS MARTINEZ (Canal Uno): You mentioned the FARC as a terrorist organization and U.S. commitment to fight terrorism. What is the U.S. commitment to the Colombian National Police and the Colombian authorities to fight the FARC as a terrorist organization and as a drug-trafficking organization?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Again, there used to be a distinction between the drug traffickers and the insurgency groups. Now that the proof is clear that the terrorists are engaged in trafficking as well, our support for the efforts in Colombia should recognize that the traffickers are also terrorists. And our support should cover law-enforcement activities when you are going after those organizations that are engaged in trafficking and terrorism. We know Congress will review this and I am hopeful that they will be supportive.

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