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Last Updated:6/19/02
Speech by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), June 6, 2002

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, at a time of bipartisan agreement that the Colombian government must pursue a unified campaign against the narco-trafficking and terrorist threat to Colombia's democracy, the Senate Appropriations Committee has chosen to deny the Administration's request for the authority to support our Colombian ally.

As my colleagues know, our assistance to Colombia is channeled through both the State and Defense Departments. To the President's credit, American policy has dispensed with the illusion that the Colombian government is fighting two separate wars, one against drug trafficking and another against domestic terrorists. The democratic government of Colombia has long insisted that it is the nexus of terrorists involved in the drug trade that threatens Colombian society. American policy now recognizes that reality, and abandons any fictional distinctions between counter-narcotic and counter-insurgency operations.

Our government properly allies itself with the Colombian people against the narco-terrorists who threaten the government they elected, and the system of government that rejects the violent and absolutist aims of those who would overthrow it by force of arms. We in the United States have a considerable stake in the Colombian government's success, for the narcoterrorist state the enemies of the Colombian government would establish would present a compelling national security threat to the United States in our own hemisphere.

Congress has shown an admirable commitment to supporting the Colombian government's campaign to bring basic security to its people. But America's commitment has been limited to providing training and assistance to combat drug production and trafficking. The Administration has requested not new money but new authority to use appropriated funds to combat narco-terrorism. Yet this Supplemental Appropriations bill grants that authority only to the Department of State, and places overly restrictive and burdensome constraints on that authority.

Our amendment would provide the Administration the authority it has requested, in consultation with the Congress, to use appropriated funds to support a unified campaign by the Colombian government against drug trafficking and terrorist insurgency. The House-passed version of this bill provides both the departments of State and Defense with this authority for the current fiscal year. The Senate bill would leave in place existing restrictions prohibiting use of Department of Defense assistance in the war against the FARC and the ELN. Our amendment mirrors the President's request to provide the Department of Defense the authority to use funds already appropriated for this purpose to support our Colombian ally. I hope the conference committee to this bill will provide the Administration with this authority.

In a presidential election last month, the Colombian people gave their leadership a clear mandate to defeat narco-terrorism by electing Alvaro Uribe as President. President-elect Uribe campaigned on a platform of decisively defeating the FARC terrorists, who have shown little interest in a negotiated, peaceful solution to the war they have been waging against Colombia's government for four decades.

This is not an authoritarian regime located in a far-off corner of Central Asia. This is a democratic government, one of the longest-standing in our hemisphere, that has allied itself with the United States in order to defeat the threat to our common values posed by the FARC and the ELN terrorists, as well as by AUC paramilitary forces whose abysmal human rights record rivals that of their opponents.

Under existing law, human rights conditionality and restrictions on the American military presence in Colombia remain in effect on all U.S. assistance to that country. Our amendment would ensure that existing American funds appropriated to support American policy in Colombia reflect the reality that the Colombian government is not simply fighting a drug war.

It is estimated that one million would-be voters in Colombia could not express their preference at the ballot box last month due to FARC violence and intimidation. The number of political candidates who have been intimidated, abducted, or murdered for their ambition to serve their people is staggering. One presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, remains a hostage to the FARC, who abducted her on the way to a campaign rally in February.

On May 2, 2002, a rocket fired by FARC guerrillas killed 117 civilians taking refuge in a small church. Forty of the dead were children. Colombian officials call it the worst single loss of civilian life in the nation's 38-year civil war.

President-elect Uribe has been given a clear mandate by his people to give them back their country. Our values and our interests require us to support our ally. There is an important role for the United States, not only to provide assistance and technical support to the Colombian police and armed forces, but also to exercise our influence to ensure that our values triumph over both terrorist violence and paramilitary brutality.

These values are worth fighting for. We should stand proudly with the people of Colombia in their struggle.

To reiterate Mr. President, the situation in our own hemisphere in regard to Colombia is a very serious one. We are understandably worried about events between Pakistan and India, Afghanistan, et cetera. The situation in our own hemisphere as regards Colombia is of the utmost seriousness because that is where the drugs come from that destroy the minds and bodies of our children.

On May 2, 2002, a rocket fired by FARC guerrillas killed 117 civilians that were taking refuge in a small church. Forty of the dead were children. Colombian officials call it the worst single loss of civilian life in the nation's 38-year civil war.

It is estimated that 1 million voters in Colombia couldn't express their preference at the ballot box last month due to FARC violence and intimidation. The number of political candidates who have been intimidated, abducted, or murdered for their ambition to serve their people is staggering.

One Presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, remains a hostage to the FARC who abducted her on the way to a campaign rally in February.

I understand the reluctance of Members of this body to relax certain restrictions that are associated with our assistance to Colombia. I hope all of my colleagues will review the situation as it exists today--a direct threat to the security of the United States of America--if Colombia collapsed in a civil war between different parties.

There is the ELN, the paramilitary, the FARC, and there is the Government. They are all fighting amongst one another, and the FARC recently being rejected from the sanctuary they were granted, I believe, is a mistaken policy on the part of the Colombian Government.

We now have a new President, Alvaro Uribe, who is committed to using whatever sources and means necessary to bring peace and stability back to its country.

Again, I don't want to take the time of the Senate at this late hour. It is in our national security interests to see some kind of Government peace and stability restored to Colombia because that is where the drugs are coming from that are killing our kids.

I hope in the days ahead we will devote some of our attention to the country of Colombia and see what the United States can do not only to help these people who are literally afraid to leave their own homes, but to try to combat the great threat of narcoterrorism and the flow of narcotics, which is another aspect of our war on terrorism that we need to do whatever is necessary to combat.

I thank Senator Graham not only for his amendment but for his continued involvement in the affairs of our hemisphere.

As of June 19, 2002, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?r107:FLD001:S55163

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