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Last Updated:3/31/00
Speech by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), March 29, 2000
Mr. 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 as well.


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:

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