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Last Updated:3/20/00
Statement of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy


February 24, 2000

Every six or eight years, the administration that occupies the White House at the time proposes to dramatically increase military aid to fight drugs in South America.

Each time, the Congress is presented with wildly optimistic predictions, but few facts with which to make informed decisions. Each time, we respond by appropriating billions of dollars, but the flow of illegal drugs into the United States is unchanged.

I recognize the great challenges facing Colombia today. There is no dispute that a 40 year civil war and the violence and corruption associated with the drug trade have inflicted a terrible toll on that country.

I agree with the Administration, and many in Congress, that the United States should try to help.

But I have serious doubts about the Administration's approach. Today's prediction is that by building up the Colombian Army and eradicating more coca, the guerrillas' source of income will dry up, and they will negotiate peace.

It is just as likely that it will lead to a wider war, more innocent people killed, more refugees uprooted from their homes, and no appreciable change in the flow of cocaine into the United States.

The Administration has requested $1.6 billion over two years, 79 percent of which is for the Colombian Armed Forces, an institution that has a sordid record of human rights violations, corruption, and involvement in drug trafficking.

Today, while the Army's direct involvement in human rights violations has fallen sharply, there is abundant evidence that Army personnel regularly conspire with paramilitary death squads, who like the guerrillas are also involved in drug trafficking.

I cannot support this military aid without strict conditions to ensure that military personnel who violate human rights or who aid or abet the paramilitaries are prosecuted in the civilian courts. The Colombian military courts have shown time and again that they are unwilling to punish their own.

The Administration's proposal is for two years, yet it will be that long before most of the equipment even gets to Colombia and their people are trained to use it.

The Colombian Government cannot possibly afford to maintain this equipment, most of which is sophisticated aircraft, so this is a down-payment on a far longer, far more costly commitment.

Like every previous administration, this proposal contains only the vaguest justification.

Nothing in the materials I have seen describes the Administration's goals with any specificity, what they expect to achieve in what period of time, at what cost, and what the risks are to civilians caught in the middle when the war intensifies, or to our own military advisors.

Maybe General Wilhelm and Ambassador Pickering, two men I admire greatly, can give us the details.

As of March 13, 2000, this document is also available at

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