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Last Updated:4/1/00
Statement of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, February 24, 2000
For Immediate Release
February 24, 2000


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 what’s worked. While the Administration likes to claim credit for Peru’s 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 Peru’s 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 it’s 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 hasn’t worked so far, why will it now? I guess what I really want to say is: Who are you kidding?

Our strategy will have to change to succeed. We can’t pretend the FARC and ELN are not tied to traffickers. We can’t 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 can’t 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 $1.6 billion.

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 Administration’s 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.

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