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Last Updated:3/31/00
Speech by Del. Robert Underwood (D-Guam), March 29, 2000
Mr. UNDERWOOD. Mr. Chairman, I rise in reluctant favor of this bill, which makes emergency appropriations for fiscal year 2000. Notwithstanding my support for the $2 billion package for the costs of the U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo or the paltry, yet sorely needed $854 million for the Pentagon's embattled health-insurance system, I have serious concerns over the Colombia supplemental package.

The $1.7 billion package of counter-narcotics and development assistance for the Andean region, principally Colombia may be spending too much money in the wrong places. Let's briefly list what this package includes:

Assistance for Colombian Army Counter-narcotics Battalions [`Push into Southern Colombia' program]. This includes 33 Huey helicopters and 28 UH-60 (Blackhawk) helicopters, along with training, operations and maintenance and related equipment.

Assistance for Colombian National Police--2 UH-60 helicopters; a spray aircraft; base construction; upgrade of existing aircraft; and provision of intelligence.

Narcotic interdiction assistance for Colombia and neighbors in the region.

Some economic development including crop substitution, employment, and resettlement.

A modicum of human rights protection, democratic governance, judicial reform and the peace process.

Mr. Chairman, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have been privy to many briefings regarding the grave situation in Colombia. And while I believe the U.S. has a responsibility to assist the Colombian government there needs to be a full and unfettered debate on the extent of American assistance.

For example, we have been told by U.S. military chiefs and Pentagon officials that U.S. forces which currently number around 250 personnel, do not and will not engage in combat operations with the Colombian military against the leftist guerrillas. We are told that U.S. personnel are there in Colombia solely to `advise and train.' This sound bite is what has many members and security analysts making comparisons to Vietnam. Looking at this bill, we see vast portions of the funding slated for counter-narcotics interdiction efforts. Yet no one can explain to me (or any member for that matter)--operationally, where does narcotics-interdiction end, and counter-insurgency begin?

Another potential pitfall that troubles me is the right-wing paramilitary groups that have sprung up in Colombia. These armed militias, which are tacitly accepted by the Colombian military, are reticent of the Central-American `Death Squads' that killed thousands there in the 1980s. I don't believe this bill contains enough protections to condition this military aid on a `human rights' certification basis.

Finally, I am deeply disappointed that Congresswoman Pelosi's amendment to mandate funds for domestic treatment programs aimed at reducing demand. Representative Pelosi's proposed amendment would have added $1.3 billion for this purpose. If you are going to effectively attack a problem, you need to do so on every front. With the Republican's shutting off this wise proposal, I can not take seriously their claims to be `doing this for the children of America.'

Mr. Chairman, I am disappointed that there were not significant funds in this bill for a more comprehensive aid package on alternative economic development; increased protection of human rights workers; humanitarian aid to the internally displaced; and the peace process between the Colombian government and the leftist insurgents.

As I noted at the outset, I do support this measure but reluctantly. Whereas I have briefly outlined my personal reservations, I recognize that there are many aspects of this bill that will do a lot of good. In any case, I hope that this body will have a future opportunity to fully examine the U.S. military's involvement in Colombia. Our military experts are setting us up for at least a 5 year commitment. My greatest fear is that years from now our troops will have become embroiled in this civil quagmire in Colombia--a war that has been on going for 40 years. True, the civil/political/military situation in Colombia is very different from Vietnam, but I ask, does it not also look very much the same?

As of March 30, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:H29MR0-173:

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