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Last Updated:3/22/00
Press release by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), February 15, 2000
House International
Relations Committee

Benjamin A. Gilman, Chairman


DATE: February 15, 2000
FOR RELEASE: Immediate

Contact: Lester Munson, Communications Director (202)225-5021


WASHINGTON (February 15) - U.S. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (20th-NY), Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, made the following statement today at a hearing on the drug crisis in Colombia before the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources of the Committee on Government Reform:

Mr. Chairman, your continuous interest in the vital issue of drug trafficking has helped keep the heat on our nation’s policy which has been notoriously slow to act on the threat which illicit drugs pose to our security.

Colombia, now the source for more than 80% of the world’s cocaine, and most recently, up to 75% of the heroin sold or seized on our streets, is a major national security concern for the United States. It is a similar threat for the rest of the world as well. For years, many of us in the Congress have urged the administration to pay attention to what is happening to our neighbor to the south.

Colombia is now capable of producing more than 500 tons of deadly cocaine annually. That massive drug production capacity, along with the Colombian drug lords’ creative ability to market and create demand for heroin here in our nation, should be a wake-up call for both the United States and Europe. It should set off an alarm throughout the globe for everyone truly concerned about the safety and security of our young people and communities from the scourge of illicit hard drugs originating in America’s backyard.

The administration, which recently fought us tooth and nail over just a few helicopters for the police to eradicate the growing opium and coca leaf production in Colombia, is now sounding the alarm about that beleaguered Andean nation. As Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, “Wisdom too often never comes, and one ought not reject it merely because it comes late.” Let us hope it isn’t too late in the case of Colombia.

We are all pleased that General McCaffrey, our nation’s drug czar, is here today to testify and we congratulate him on the new counter-narcotics intelligence sharing plan announced yesterday to improve coordination and information sharing. Hopefully, with the help of this process, in the future we can avoid being caught off guard on developments like the Colombian heroin crisis we now face. We now welcome these serious concerns about Colombia and our drug policy. Along with many others here in Congress, we raised similar concerns years ago when Colombia became a major player in the heroin business, and again in 1997 when it first became the world’s greatest coca leaf producer, exceeding Peru.

Yesterday, Gen. McCaffrey stated, “We have a drug emergency in Colombia -- support for the administration’s plan is critical if we are to stop increased production in Colombia from outstripping gains made in the rest of the region.”

Now that we have admitted that this serious problem exists, we can start going about treating the cause in Colombia. On 60 Minutes recently, the President of Colombia, accurately identified the core of the problem. According to President Pastrana, the $1 million to $2 million a day which the insurgency earns from drugs now threatens his nations’ very survival as a democracy.

Until recently, when Congress took the lead, our nation provided less than $100 million of U.S. counter-narcotics aid to Colombia each year. That’s equal to six weeks income for the Colombian narco-guerillas. These massive amounts of illicit monies make them the best armed, best trained and best equipped guerillas anywhere in the world, with their war chest financed from the drug trade. Hopefully, now the administration is about to get serious. It is long overdue to treat Colombia as a serious national security and regional threat.

Only when we get this serious and when we give the courageous Colombians like General Jose Serrano and his anti-drug police sustained support for the fight against drugs at the source can we expect to turn this crisis around. Regrettably, I am skeptical of the State Department’s performance -- witness the latest mess with our delivery of the armor flooring which did not fit the Black Hawks which we previously provided to the anti-drug police. This endless series of failures does not give us much comfort.

It is essential that we face the reality that there is a narco-based war raging in Colombia and the good guys, our friends and neighbors in Colombia, are losing. Our national security is at stake, as is the future of Colombia. It is encouraging that yesterday a high-level U.S. delegation met with Colombian leaders to discuss Speaker Hastert’s $1.3 billion aid package to Colombia that will help in Colombia’s war on drugs. The Congress will be taking up the “Plan Colombia” aid package in early March.

I look forward to our witness’s testimony today. In particular, I am anxious to hear how the Administration reached its decision to heavily tilt this counter-narcotics aid package toward the military over the anti-drug police. As we all know, the elite anti-drug police in Colombia have a proven track record fighting drugs, consistent with a fundamental respect for human rights. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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