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Last Updated:6/26/03
Oral Statement by William B. Wood, U.S. ambassador-designate to Colombia, confirmation hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, June 3, 2003
I am delighted and honored to appear before the Committee as the President's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Colombia.

With the support of the Congress, the Administration is embarked on an ambitious policy agenda to assist the Colombian Government to confront the terrorism of illicit narcotics trafficking and subversion, to respond to Colombia's immediate humanitarian needs, to provide better security and better opportunity for the Colombian people, and to extend human rights and democratic rule of law throughout the national territory.

The administration of President Uribe, with whom many members of this committee have met, will have its first anniversary in August. He was elected on the basis of a new clarity and firmness among a large majority of Colombians; his program for "Democratic Security" embodies that effort. The closeness of our policy dialogue with Colombia is illustrated by the appearance before the Senate Drug Caucus this morning of Colombian Vice President Santos.

The U.S. and Colombia agree that the narco-trafficker and subversive terrorist threats are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. They each take strength from the violence, destruction, and despair wrought by the other. The elimination of Colombian drugs on the streets of America remains our top goal. The terrorists of the FARC, ELN, and paramilitaries are in fact narcotics traffickers trying to assume another label.

The pivotal decision first contained in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2002 to permit counter-narcotics resources to be devoted to defeating the FARC, ELN, and the paramilitaries, demonstrates that Congress shares the determination to fight simultaneously the narcotics traffickers and the illegal armed groups. If confirmed, I would do everything in my power to ensure that this consensus is translated into operational success.

We have made progress. We have provided training for Colombian police and military, equipment (including expensive but necessary fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft), and new coordination of interdiction and intelligence efforts. The Colombians are extending the government's presence to more areas of the country and more aggressively engaging the narco-traffickers and the illegal armed groups. The Uribe Administration has extradited more than 44 persons for trial in the U.S. We are successfully helping the Colombians protect the petroleum pipeline and other infrastructure.

Most importantly, the Colombians are carrying out with our assistance dramatically expanded drug eradication programs, in a manner that is safe for the people and for the environment. Coca hectarage was reduced last year for the first time in a decade, by 15 percent. Opium poppy hectarage was reduced by 25 percent, and is estimated to be at its lowest since 1988. If confirmed, I pledge to devote myself to eradication of all illicit cocaine and heroin production in Colombia.

The narco-traffickers and the illegal armed groups are feeling the heat, and they are striking back. This means that not all the news will be good, as we have seen in several tragic examples in the last few months, including the murder and kidnapping of Americans. There are reports of increased terrorist targeting of urban areas, including the U.S. embassy. We must take a renewed sense of mission from such demonstrations of the brutality of our opponents. And we must be willing to continue to reinforce Colombian strength with resources, political support, and bilateral cooperation.

Without optimism for the future, Colombians understandably will be reluctant to shoulder the burdens of the present. We are helping to provide opportunity as an alternative to a devil's bargain with narco-traffickers and illegal armed groups. The U.S. is helping the 2 million displaced Colombians to re-settle peacefully and stably, to find employment and training, to educate their children, and to receive health care. Our alternative development programs have supported some 24,000 hectares of licit crop production, including some 17,000 hectares formerly devoted to coca production.

U.S. assistance also has contributed to 208 projects building roads, water and sewer systems, and schools, and to implement reforms relating to democracy, rule of law, and human rights, values to which the Uribe Administration is fully and actively committed. We also are assisting in judicial reform, to overcome a legacy of impunity, to protect vulnerable leaders and their families, and to help the Colombians establish secure good government in localities through initiatives like the "casas de justicia." If confirmed, I would strongly support programs to help Colombia meet its human rights, humanitarian, developmental, and institutional reform needs.

We continue to be concerned by cooperation by elements of the Colombian military with paramilitary groups. In the case of the paramilitaries, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. The vision of a future Colombia they offer -- of lawlessness, of violence, of narcotics trafficking, of cruelty, of disregard for the rights of citizens and the responsibilities of democracy -- is one we firmly oppose. If confirmed, I pledge to work with President Uribe to sever all links between Colombian military personnel and paramilitary activities.

In all, we are providing some $300 million in FY2002 and FY2003 funding to assist the economic, social, and human rights development of Colombia. For his part, President Uribe has worked to discipline the Colombian government budget, and reached agreement with the IMF and other IFIs. He has obtained some $1 billion in international commercial lending for Colombia. Today's newspapers report that the Colombian economy grew by 3.8 percent in the first quarter, and that international borrowing rates for Colombia declined slightly as a result. Special Trade Representative Zoellick will travel to Colombia this summer to discuss the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement. If confirmed, I will work hard with President Uribe to provide a secure, confident, trustworthy business environment, and to encourage trade and financial flows that reflect it.

This is a daunting policy agenda. Embassy Bogota now encompasses 32 U.S. agencies and, by some measures, is our largest embassy in the world. Ambassador Patterson and her colleagues are a first-rate embassy team. If confirmed, keeping the embassy effective and efficient, with a constant eye on the security of the official and unofficial American community, will be my highest managerial priority.

If confirmed, I also intend to seek detailed, frank, and frequent consultation with the members of this committee and all those in the Legislative Branch with an interest in Colombia. I cannot promise complete agreement on every nuance. But I am committed to doing my part, and more than my part, to ensure clear understanding, no surprises, and a common approach to the challenge and opportunity we see in Colombia today. And I hope that I will have the frequent opportunity to host you and your staff in Colombia.

Thank you for your attention and your consideration.

Washington, D.C.
June 3, 2003

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