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Statement of Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, April 4, 2000
Statement of Rand Beers
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau for International Narcotics and
Law Enforcement Affairs
Before the Senate Armed Services Committee

April 4, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today about the threat that drug trafficking in Colombia and the surrounding region poses to U.S. national security interests and democratic stability in South America.

We have just completed a year in which we have seen a continuing, steady decline in the Andean coca crop, the source of all the cocaine destined for the United States. This achievement is a direct result of our counternarcotics alliance with two major Andean drug producers, Bolivia and Peru. It is also a tribute to the political will which these countries have demonstrated in meeting the challenge of a very difficult adversary with considerable resources. Even taking into account a marked expansion of cultivation in Colombia, overall Andean coca cultivation totals are at a new low. The most dramatic declines occurred in Peru and Bolivia, formerly the world's two principal coca producers. They now rank a distant second and third behind Colombia.

With continuing support, I believe that we can consolidate the gains made in Bolivia and Peru so that Bolivian and Peruvian drug traffickers no longer pose a threat to the national security of the United States. In order to do that however, we must assist the government of Colombia in creating the same economic and law enforcement environment that is allowing the governments of Bolivia and Peru to succeed against drug trafficking. Otherwise, the continued existence of resilient Colombian drug trafficking organizations will pose a constant threat of resurgent drug trafficking to the entire region.

The government of Colombia has risen to this challenge and is confronting these threats. The "Plan Colombia" is a package of mutually reinforcing policies to revive Colombia's battered economy, to strengthen the democratic pillars of society, to promote the peace process and to combat the narcotics industry. The strategy combines existing Colombian policies with ambitious new initiatives in forging an integrated approach to that nation's most pressing challenges by strengthening government institutions, promoting economic recovery, carrying out social reform, and boosting counternarcotics efforts. The United States did consult with the Colombian leadership throughout the plan's development, but the plan was formulated, drafted and approved by President Pastrana and his team in Colombia.

Plan Colombia cannot be understood simply in terms of the U.S. contribution. In all, Plan Colombia is a $7.5 billion program toward which President Pastrana has pledged some $4 billion of Colombia's own scarce resources. He called on the international community to provide the remaining $3.5 billion. In response to this request, the Administration is proposing a $1.6 billion assistance package. A significant share of our package will go to reduce the supply of drugs coming into the United States by assisting Colombia in its efforts to confront the cocaine and heroin industries. This focus on enforcement-related assistance, the so-called "stick", will allow other sponsors to provide support for the "carrot," the developmental and humanitarian assistance projects for which they have special interests and expertise. That said, we still intend to provide Colombia $240 million dollars to support administration of justice reform, strengthening human rights mechanisms, humanitarian assistance for the internally displaced and alternative development crop substitution programs.

The essential point of this effort is to establish Colombian central government authority over narcotics-producing sanctuaries. The country's many social and economic problems cannot be successfully resolved while narcotics-financed armed groups flourish in these lawless zones. Estimates of guerrilla income from narcotics trafficking and other illicit activities are undependable, but the drug trade is definitely their largest single source of income. Paramilitary groups also have clear ties to important narcotics traffickers and obtain much of their funding from them. Like his FARC counterparts, paramilitary leader Carlos Castano has publicly admitted taxing the drug trade. As a result, these groups are well-funded and well-armed. The strength of Colombia's armed insurgent groups has limited the effectiveness of joint U.S.-Colombian counternarcotics efforts. In order for our counternarcotics programs ultimately to be successful, we cannot allow certain areas of the country, like the Putumayo region, to be off-limits for counternarcotics operations.

There is also a need to re-establish government order in Colombia for human rights purposes. According to the Colombian NGO Pais Libre, guerrilla, paramilitary, and other criminal groups kidnapped 2,945 people last year, including 51 foreigners. This is a 33 percent increase from 1998, with the two busiest groups, the FARC and the ELN, combining for half of the abductions. Kidnapping is neither an insurgent nor a political statement. It is a crime. Colombia must disrupt the narco-financing of these groups, regardless of any political orientation they may claim, if any comprehensive solution to Colombia's problems is going to succeed.

In doing this, we cannot ignore the rest of the region. For example, Bolivian and Peruvian successes against the trafficking trade are unprecedented. With U.S. assistance, both countries have been able to reduce coca production dramatically. This was achieved through successful efforts to re-establish government control and bring government services to former drug producing safehavens. Both Bolivia and Peru combined vigorous eradication and interdiction efforts with alternative development incentives for small farmers to switch to legal crops and other licit ways to make a living. Colombia's aim is to achieve a similar record of success.

But these successes are also tenuous against the seductive dangers of the narcotics trade. This is why our Plan Colombia support package includes $46 million for regional interdiction efforts and another $30 million for development in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These countries deserve our continued support to solidify the gains they have striven so hard to attain. We have no intention of allowing cultivation and production of narcotics simply to relocate in an international game of cat-and-mouse.

Over the last year, Colombia has been a major topic of discussion in my conversations with senior officials from the region. More often than not, these officials are the first to raise the subject expressing concern over the expansion of coca and opium cultivation; the potential projection of the Colombian narco-guerrilla threat into their own countries; and finally, how the U.S. intends to support not only Colombia, but also their own countries against a potential narco-guerrilla spillover across Colombian borders. Our dialogue with Peru is well-advanced in this area, and President Fujimori has deployed military units along the Colombian-Peruvian border to stop FARC and drug trafficking incursions into Peruvian territory. Already, Peru is seeing an increase in the number of cocaine refining labs within its territory, a possible effect of Colombian-influenced changes in regional trafficking patterns. Bolivia fears that Colombian success in eradicating coca and opium will bring renewed trafficker pressure that will undermine its alternative development efforts in coca-growing areas. Ecuador, which is in a precarious economic state at the moment, is preoccupied with the potential trafficker and refugee spillover across its northern border with Colombia, should the Colombians bring pressure to bear on the Putmayo region. Similarly, Brazil and Venezuela are in close consultation with us on ways to support the Colombian government and minimize their roles as major narcotics transit countries to the U.S. and Europe.

The intent of the Administration is to provide for a strengthened regional counternarcotics effort, with Colombia at the center. Moreover, beyond budgetary contributions, we are committed to lending our political influence to engage European and Asian donor countries in the effort to buttress Latin American counternarcotics efforts. We have already done this for Peru and Bolivia, and are working to engage them as sponsors for Colombia as well. As these efforts come to fruition, and individual countries' drug strategies are implemented, we anticipate that we will meet the challenge of closing off trafficking "escape routes," which will make our support for Colombian counternarcotics efforts that much more important in the next few years.

(end text)

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