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Last Updated:3/20/00
Statement of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware)
Senator Biden's Remarks on Clinton Aid Proposal for Andean Region
(Underlines the need for "transparency")
Following is the text of Senator Joseph Biden's (D-Delaware) February 22 remarks at a Senate hearing on the Clinton Administration's assistance proposal for Andean countries:

(begin text)

Statement of Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Hearing on "U.S. Assistance options for the Andes"
February 22, 2000

A decade ago, the Bush Administration and Congress joined in supporting the "Andean Initiative," a multi-year effort to combat drug trafficking in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Over the past ten years, the United States has provided considerable assistance, as well as special market access to certain Andean products under the Andean Trade Preference Act.

As we start a new decade, we can look back with satisfaction that our joint efforts with the nations of the region yielded some success. In Bolivia and Peru, coca cultivation is much reduced since 1995. In Colombia, the large cartels that once dominated the trade have been largely dismantled. Colombia has resumed extraditing criminals to the United States. Countries that a decade ago appeared to lack the political will to combat drugs are now our partners in this effort.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the scope of the problem is still much the same. Cocaine continues to flow out of the region at extremely high levels. Moreover, the face of the battle in Colombia has changed. There, the cocaine trade has become "decentralized" -- large cartels have been replaced by numerous, smaller organizations.

Colombian traffickers have also moved into a new sector -- the cultivation of opium and the trafficking of heroin -- and are now major players in the Eastern United States. Finally, Colombia is now a major center for coca cultivation -- replacing Peru and Bolivia as the leading suppliers of cocaine base.

In sum, we face a different set of challenges in the region today than we did a decade ago. To address the growing crisis in Colombia, President Clinton has put forward an ambitious proposal designed to support the "Plan Colombia" formulated by the Colombian government.

I agree that we must significantly increase our assistance to Colombia -- and do so quickly. I hope Congress will act promptly on the President's request for an extra one billion dollars in Fiscal 2000. As Congress considers this proposal, we should go in with our eyes open -- everyone should understand that we are entering a new phase in the drug war in the Andes.

The proposal to train and equip counter-narcotics battalions in the Colombian Army is not without risk. Because the drug trade and Colombia's civil war are intertwined in southern Colombia, it seems almost inevitable that these battalions will occasionally become engaged in counter-insurgency operations. We should recognize that reality.

But we should guard against being pulled into Colombia's guerrilla war. I am confident that the U.S. military does not want to become enmeshed in Colombia's civil war; but I am not so sure that the Colombian military wouldn't like the United States to come to its rescue.

We must make clear to the Colombian government, in our words and our deeds, that although their fight against narcotics trafficking is our fight, their war against the guerrillas is their fight to win.

In approving the Administration's proposal, we should seek transparency -- transparency about the numbers of U.S. forces present in the country, transparency about the use of our equipment, and transparency about the activities of the U.S.-funded battalions.

Second, we should remain vigilant and seek continued improvement of the human rights record of the Colombian military. In past years, elements of the Colombian Army have been guilty of serious human rights violations. President Pastrana has made serious efforts to address this problem, and he appears to be making progress. But we should demand that institutional tolerance within the military for atrocities by right-wing paramilitaries must cease.

Third, we should consider additional measures to help Colombia's neighbors. History tells us that pressure in one area will cause the traffickers to relocate their operations -- the so-called "balloon effect." Not only do Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru deserve our continued assistance, but it is essential if we are to maintain progress in the drug war.

Fourth, we must be sure that the economic aspects of this proposal receive sufficient emphasis and support. If enforcement pressure succeeds, we must be ready with alternatives for the displaced.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we should all understand that although the plan before us is a two year budget, this will be a long-term effort. We should recognize that it will take more than two years to make significant progress in turning things around in Colombia.

In closing, I commend the Administration for stepping forward with this plan. The President and his people have done a good job in assembling a comprehensive proposal. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the people before us today to obtain its approval.

(end text)

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