of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) at a hearing of the Senate Foreign
Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, February 24, 2000
February 24, 2000
OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR
JOINT HEARING OF FOREIGN OPERATIONS, DEFENSE, MILITARY CONSTRUCTION ON
SUPPLEMENTAL REQUEST FOR COLOMBIA
When I traveled to Colombia,
Peru and Ecuador to examine U.S. support for regional counter-narcotics
programs, I was taught four lessons
(1) There is no substitute
for aggressive political leadership in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador;
(2) Drug lords, guerrillas,
and the paramilitaries are all profiting and part of the same problem
-- our narco-security strategy must reflect that fact;
(3) Containing one country,
only shifts the problem elsewhere -- we need a regional strategy; and
the fourth lesson, while most obvious, seems least observed,
(4) The American public must
be told the truth about what lies ahead.
I am not convinced that the
Administration has learned these lessons or can pass this test.
To determine how we proceed,
I think it is worth taking a look around the region to consider whats
worked. While the Administration likes to claim credit for Perus
success, the truth is they succeeded alone. The U.S. suspended all assistance
in 1991 and 1992. Nonetheless, President Fujimori launched an aggressive,
broad scale assault on both the traffickers and the guerrillas protecting
their trade. I doubt anyone would be calling Peru a success today if traffickers
were in jail, but the Sendero Luminoso had stepped in to take their place.
Critics argue that Perus
success came at a very high human rights price. As a result, many now
argue that we must carefully concentrate only on the Colombian drug war
and avoid any involvement or support of efforts which target the paramilitaries
or guerrillas. Hence, we must not step up military training, support or
the presence of U.S. troops. I am already hearing soothing Administration
reassurances that Plan Colombia is a counter-narcotics effort, and we
need not worry about the quagmire of a counterinsurgency or military campaign.
What exactly does this mean?
What is the Administration really promising in Plan Colombia. It seems
to me its more - much more - of the same thing we have been doing.
For several years, we have provided substantial support to the Colombian
Narcotics Police in their attack on coca crops and cartels. While the
CNP deserves credit for arresting king pins and shutting down trafficking
routes, coca growth and cocaine production have exploded.
The more the Administration
spends in Colombia, the more coca is grown.
Now, we plan to offer more
of the same support, but this time to the Colombian Army. We will train
two counter-narcotics battalions and provide counter-narcotics helicopter
gun-ships and weapons, all the while keeping a comfortable public distance
from targeting the other two major threats to Colombia and our interests.
If it hasnt worked so
far, why will it now? I guess what I really want to say is: Who are you
Our strategy will have to
change to succeed. We cant pretend the FARC and ELN are not tied
to traffickers. We cant argue that a push into Southern Colombia
will reduce drug production, as long as there is a policy of allowing
the FARC and traffickers safe haven in a DMZ the size of Switzerland.
We cant ignore the increase in paramilitary involvement in the drug
trade. These are the same extremists with close ties to Colombian military
which we plan to train.
If the Colombian government
meets the test and demonstrates political will, the Administration should
acknowledge that we are prepared to do whatever it takes to support a
serious effort that goes after the whole problem: traffickers, guerrillas
and paramilitaries. If we are not really committed if we are uncertain
about how involved we want to become if we question the risks and
are not confident of the results we should quit now and save our
If we proceed, the public
deserves to know that we can not succeed over night -- in fact, I believe
we will be well past this election year before we can expect any results.
Not only should we avoid a
half-hearted effort in Colombia, we should avoid a half-baked strategy
in the region. The emphasis on Colombia must not overshadow requirements
in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Without a regional strategy, an attack on
production in one country will only push the problem elsewhere.
Bolivia is a good case in
point. In a few short years, the new government has executed a determined
and effective effort to eradicate coca and substitute alternative crops.
But, recently, when the Vice President was in town, he made clear that
the job was not done. Any pressure on Colombia risks a resurgence in Bolivia
if alternative development opportunities are not better funded.
We have invited leaders from
Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru to address their national needs. I do not view
this as a choice between support for Colombia or her neighbors
each has important interests -- all have a common stake in success. It
is disappointing that the Administrations request does not support
an approach which makes Colombia the anchor, but recognizes that this
is a broader partnership.
I would hope that this hearing
achieves a consensus so that we can correct that course.
As of April 1, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://mcconnell.senate.gov/Releases/FEB00/02242000.htm