by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), March 29, 2000
ACKERMAN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in reluctant support of H.R. 3908. With this
bill, we are today embarking on a new course in our involvement in the counter-narcotics
effort in Colombia. I support the bill because I believe we have an obligation
to support democracies when they are threatened. Colombia is the oldest
democracy in Latin America and is clearly under siege.
But Colombia is not fighting
a traditional insurgency whose followers claim some ideological justification
for violence. It was once that way, but it isn't anymore. The guerrilla
movements in Colombia have abandoned their ideology and instead provide
protection to the narcotics traffickers who poison our children. The guerrillas
also resort to kidnaping and extortion. From both these activities, the
guerrillas generate substantial income making them the best funded insurgency
probably in the history of the world. So the first point I would make
to my colleagues is that we should be clear about the real purpose of
this bill. It is not only to support a counter-narcotics strategy, it
also supports a counter-insurgency strategy. It is designed to punish
the guerrillas and their drug-trafficking allies in order to drive the
guerrillas to the negotiating table and, with luck, arrest the traffickers.
We also need to consider who
we are providing our assistance to. The Colombia national police have
an outstanding human rights record. They are an organization we should
be proud to assist. But the bulk of this package will go to the Colombian
military, which has one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere.
On top of that, there are credible allegations of ongoing cooperation
between elements of the Colombian military and the paramilitary organizations.
The good news is that our assistance will be provided to battalions that
have been vetted and trained by us. In addition, it appears to me that
the leadership of the Colombian military genuinely wants to address human
rights issues. We should demand that our assistance be contingent on genuine
efforts to arrest and prosecute abusers of human rights.
Lastly, I am concerned about
the direction of our counter-narcotics strategy. As we have seen in Bolivia
and Peru, when there is success with eradication and interdiction in one
area the traffic merely moves to another area. In a very real sense, much
of the turmoil in Colombia is our fault. Our citizens consume the drugs
grown and produced in Colombia, and unless we intensify our efforts to
reduce demand here, a supply-side strategy is doomed to failure.
In a larger sense, we are
faced with a choice all of us would prefer not to make. None of us wants
to become more deeply involved in another civil conflict in Latin America,
yet doing nothing imperils not only Colombia but her immediate neighbors
On balance, I believe we should support the assistance package to Colombia
as the best of the options available but we should understand the obligations
this policy places on us and we should be aware that we will be involved
in Colombia for a very long time.
As of March 30, 2000, this
document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:H29MR0-173: