Last Updated:8/6/03
Speech by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), July 23, 2003

Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding.

Let me just go over a few facts here.

Fact: If the McGovern-Skelton amendment passes, we still have $195.3 million in hard military aid for the Colombian military in this bill.

Fact: That $195.3 million joins the $120.5 million in the military aid under the Defense appropriations bill that passed this House on July 8.

So fact: If the McGovern-Skelton amendment is approved, this House will still provide a minimum of $315.8 million in military aid to the Colombian military.

I want to say to my colleagues the important fact is not how much acreage is sprayed, it is how much coca is grown. And the fact is despite this policy coca production in the Andean region has increased since Plan Colombia was enacted in 2000. Those are not my statistics. Those are the statistics by the United States State Department.

Fact: While coca cultivation in Colombia dropped 15 percent last year, coca levels in Colombia are still higher than they were in 2000.

Fact: The modest drop in coca production in Colombia is completely offset by shifting coca cultivation back to Bolivia and Peru. Is that progress? Is that success? All of us want to protect our constituents from these illegal drugs, but the bottom line is this is not doing it.

Fact: U.S. counterdrug efforts in Colombia and the Andes have had absolutely no apparent impact on the availability or use of cocaine here in the United States. This is according to the January, 2003 National Drug Threat Assessment.

Fact: If we want to stop drug production abroad, then invest in drug treatment and prevention right here at home.

The gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton), the cosponsor of this amendment, raised, I think, a very important issue about the fact that more is being expected of our military personnel in Colombia than of the Colombian military personnel themselves. President Uribe has said that he has introduced a law to change the recruitment criteria so that people who have high school degrees or are from wealthy families in Colombia are not automatically exempt from serving in the military, but such a law has been introduced every year since the 1990s. President Uribe has not made it a priority. His priorities are part of a national referendum this fall, and changing the recruitment law is not one of them. I mean we need to see a little action, not just talk.

The gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Delahunt) talked about how important it is that the government of Colombia is making progress in trying to work out a truce with the paramilitaries, but the fact of the matter is almost every human rights group in the world is concerned about what is happening because the Colombian government Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo confirmed the fears of human rights advocates that paramilitaries involved in horrific crimes will get a free pass. I quote him: ``For those who have committed crimes against humanity, we are looking for punishment that is not jail ..... ''

Another concern with the paramilitaries is that the demobilized paramilitaries could go straight into the peasant soldier program, thus in effect legalizing paramilitaries without screening out the worst offenders or even significant retraining. There is no clear end in sight, no exit strategy as we get more and more involved in Colombia.

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In November of 2001, there were 220 U.S. private contractors in Colombia carrying out military and counterdrug operations. Today there are 308. In November, 2001, we had 117 U.S. military presence in Colombia; today we have 358. The $75 million that we seek to transfer, this modest amount, to the HIV/AIDS tuberculosis and malaria accounts I hope will be used in Colombia. I hope much of it will be used to help the people of Colombia who have suffered so much. Speakers on the other side have talked about all the important development initiatives that are going on there. I support those. I wish that more of our aid to Colombia was in the form of development assistance and not so much of it in the form of military aid.

Let me finally close by saying we talk a lot about human rights in this Chamber, and we talk about human rights in Iraq, we talk about human rights in Iran, we talk about human rights in China, every other place in the world. We need to talk about human rights in Colombia. And anybody who has been to Colombia who has been outside the U.S. embassy, who has been outside President Uribe's palace, who has been outside the U.S. military headquarters there will see firsthand that that country is experiencing a very difficult time right now, and it is not just because of the FARC guerillas which have one of the most brutal records, but it is also because of the impunity that continues to exist in that country and the fact that the Colombian military still has yet to sever its ties with the paramilitaries. Vote for the McGovern-Skelton amendment.

As of August 6, 2003, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/B?r108:@FIELD(FLD003+h)+@FIELD(DDATE+20030723)

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