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Press release and speech by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), March 10, 2000
House International
Relations Committee

Benjamin A. Gilman, Chairman


DATE: March 10, 2000
FOR RELEASE: Immediate

Contact: Lester Munson, Communications Director (202)225-5021


WASHINGTON (March 10) - Saying that "Colombia's survival as a democracy and our own national security interests are at stake," U.S. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (20th-NY), Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, today endorsed a $1.3 billion supplemental aid package for Colombia during a speech at the Heritage Foundation. His full remarks follow:

Speaker Dennis Hastert and a core group of Republican Members of Congress have been urging this Administration for years to pay attention to the exploding drug crisis in Colombia. The specter of a consolidated narco-state only three hours by plane from Miami, and the disastrous consequences in our nation, has made it patently clear to us that America's national interest is at stake.

Eighty percent of the cocaine and seventy-five percent of the deadly heroin consumed in our nation comes from Colombia. The Andean region is, in fact, wracked by the drug scourge and a devastating economic crisis.

Colombia, a democratic ally of the United States, is in deep trouble. Illicit drug profits skimmed from the staggering 120,000 hectares of coca cultivation and more than 6,000 hectares of opium poppy in Colombia are fueling a violent civil conflict that is destabilizing the government of that nation.

What happens in Colombia on the narcotics front affects every school, hospital, courtroom, neighborhood and police station across America. In 1996, we in Congress warned the Administration of the devastation being wrought in our communities by the Colombian heroin crisis. In 1997, when Colombia surpassed Peru as the world's leading producer of coca leaf, our pleas for better helicopters and other aid to eradicate the Colombian illicit crop fell on deaf ears at the White House.

Each fiscal year has seen the GOP Congress demanding more aid for the Colombian National Police (CNP) to fight the illicit drugs that fuel Colombia's insurgents.

The fate of Colombia's democratic government is of importance to the United States. The anti-drug strategy we are pursuing in Colombia is straightforward. By preventing illicit drugs from reaching our shores, we protect our citizens from their poison and we undercut the flow of drug money that arms and sustains the insurgent forces that are destabilizing Colombia. The American people will fully understand that both of these goals are in our national interest.

As the sun begins to set on his Administration, President Clinton has finally turned to face the reality of the Colombian crisis. We welcome the President's emergency supplemental request for Colombia. Former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter put it very eloquently when he said, "Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late."

Let us hope that the Administration's emergency supplemental appropriation for Colombia is not too late for our beleaguered neighbor to the south. That being said, the importance of the Republican-led Congress and the White House joining in support of this funding request must be recognized. We have to work together now to make up for the Administration's previous years of neglect and begin to turn things around.

Heroes like Colombian National Police leader General Jose Serrano convinced me that there are good people in Colombia who love their country and want the United States to stand with them in their fight against the drug lords. The Colombian National Police has lost more than 4,000 men and women in their fight to save their children-and ours-from the cruel clutches of the drug trade.

We must not abandon the good people and institutions in Colombia who are willing to fight the drug scourge. The American people must also understand that this problem has grown to such proportions that, as long as we have honest and willing partners in Colombia, this effort will require a commitment of our attention and resources for a number of years to come.

Colombia is not asking for and nor should we offer American troops. We are, however, the only country in the world that has the courage and the vision to provide the equipment and tools that the Colombians need to do the job for themselves.

A number of false analogies are now being drawn between Colombia and El Salvador and Vietnam. Ralph Peters, a former U.S. army officer and Office of National Drug Control Policy official, sagely pointed out in a recent edition of the Washington Post that "The greatest difference between Colombia and Vietnam is, paradoxically, that Colombia matters strategically and immediately to the United States."

Bear in mind that illicit drugs from abroad cost our society more than $100 billion per year. The 15,000 American lives that are snuffed out by illicit drugs each year can never be recaptured. The misery and suffering that these illicit drugs from Colombia visit on American families is incalculable.

Investing $1.3 billion now in an emergency supplemental package to stem the hundred-fold costs to our society is just sound common sense. This is the proper role for our federal government. We cannot ask our state and local governments to eradicate Colombian opium poppies that are the source of the heroin that is being dumped up and down the East Coast of our nation. Our state and local governments can do nothing to eliminate the Colombian coca leaf that produced that crack cocaine that was traded in Flint, Michigan for a gun that killed a six-year-old, first-grade student.

The federal government has the responsibility to eradicate these drugs at their source by supporting our allies in Colombia. I support the emergency supplemental package for Colombia because it increases aid to the Colombian National Police's anti-drug unit, which has a proven track record as an effective ally in the war on drugs. The package also provides sorely needed aid for the Colombian military. This aid will be administered in accordance with the Leahy human rights provisions. That too is the right thing to do.

It is, however, time for the State Department to get smart and channel this package through the foreign military sales program so that American aid is delivered quickly and efficiently. It is no secret that the State Department has not given many of us confidence that it can effectively deliver counter-narcotics assistance. The American people deserve better.

I have been urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this important legislative package when it comes to the floor of the House next week. Colombia's survival as a democracy and our own national security interests are at stake. It is worth repeating that the threat could not be any more clear and present: eighty percent of the cocaine and seventy-five percent of heroin poisoning our society originates in Colombia.

We cannot afford not to act. Thank you.

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