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Last Updated:4/5/00
Statement of Luis Alberto Moreno, ambassador of Colombia to the United States, April 4, 2000
Statement of Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno, Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Before the Senate Committee on Armed Services

April 4, 2000

Introduction

Chairman Warner, distinguished Members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you today to present my government's views on the United States pending program of assistance to Colombia. Last week's strong House vote in favor of this package sent a powerful message to the drug traffickers that Colombia is not alone in the tight against illegal drugs. Failure to move this legislation forward swiftly would provide opportunities for traffickers, insurgents. paramilitaries. and others who seek to thwart U.S.-Colombia cooperation in the elimination of drugs from both our countries. This morning I would like to urge your support of this program. to hear your views, and to address certain questions posed in your letter inviting me here. I plan to emphasize the following key factors that merit your consideration:

* The assistance package proposed by your Administration is urgently needed to address the problems and responsibilities our countries share due to drug trafficking and consumption of illegal drugs;

* The assistance supports a well-conceived, comprehensive strategy based on the strong cooperation of our governments;

* We are asking the United States to help provide us with tools to do the job of fighting drugs, not to intervene in our internal conflict;

* The U.S. assistance will supplement a much larger commitment of resources by Colombia and other members of the international community; and, most importantly:

* The assistance will support a strategy that is anchored equally on commitments to reduce drug production and trafficking. to achieve peace, to protect human rights, and to promote the rule of law in our country.

Conditions Confronting Colombia Today

President Pastrana was elected on a platform to achieve peace in Colombia. But upon entering office he faced the challenges of restoring economic growth and confronting a booming drug trade. President Pastrana has taken bold steps to address these inter-related problems.

First, we have embarked on a path toward peace. For the first time in forty years, we have a framework and agenda for the negotiations. We hope to achieve peace by showing the guerillas a non- violent way to enter Colombian society. At the same time, our negotiating position will be backed by the strength of our country's institutions, including the military.

Second, and equally important, we have moved with determination to restore the trustworthiness of our military leadership and the effectiveness and morale of our troops. We have adopted bold measures in the short term to address immediate problems in the military especially in the area of human rights protection. Since President Pastrana entered office in late 1 998 we have taken aggressive steps to protect human rights, including: (1) dismissing senior military officials with poor human rights records; (2) selecting a chief of the armed forces with a strong commitment to human rights; and (3) declaring and enforcing a strict human rights policy that does not tolerate any links between the military and illegal armed groups. This policy has had results. Allegations of human rights abuses against the military have decreased dramatically. Still, we recognize that we must continue to do more to protect human rights. We have also initiated a long term, far-reaching military reform program that addresses institutional weaknesses that have hampered the effectiveness of our armed forces. I will discuss this reform program further in a moment.

Third, we have expanded Colombia's commitment to combating the drug trade. We have continued eradication and interdiction efforts in close cooperation with the United States. We have begun to extradite drug traffickers to the United States. We will continue to do so. Important successes, however, such as the eradication of nearly 130,000 acres in 1999 and the arrest of several major traffickers as part of Operation Millennium do not obscure the fact that there is no miracle cure. We need a sustained, comprehensive approach and we have a long way to go.

President Pastrana has also attacked the economic ills that afflict Colombia. With unemployment rising and investment flows threatened, our government has made difficult but necessary choices to stabilize the economy. We have reduced spending, instituted banking sector reforms, accelerated privatization programs, strengthened our pension programs, and adopted targeted stimulus programs to create jobs and secure the social safety net. These measures, coupled with a strategy to increase trade and investment, will provide needed opportunities for the poorest Colombians and those displaced by internal violence.

Finally, to consolidate and preserve all of the expected results of our strategy, we must focus on strengthening Colombia's democratic institutions. We are working to improve the accountability and effectiveness of our courts, make local governments more responsive to citizen's needs, and to expand educational and economic opportunities throughout Colombian society. Recently, President Pastrana proposed a constitutional amendment that will bring needed reforms and improvements to the Colombian Congress.

The Need for U.S. Assistance and International Help

In spite of the gravity of our problems, we are very optimistic. We see the problems clearly and have the will to find and implement necessary solutions. These solutions are embodied in Plan Colombia, a comprehensive, integrated strategy to address Colombia's inter-related problems. Plan Colombia seeks to advance the peace process, improve the protection of human rights, strengthen the economy. enhance counter-drug programs, and promote democratization and social development.

You have asked what steps Colombia is taking to support Plan Colombia. As you may know, Plan Colombia calls for a total expenditure of $7.5 billion over 3 years. The larger part of this cost will be borne by Colombia -- $4 billion directly from Colombia's resources and an additional $900 million in loans to Colombia from international financial institutions. The U.S. Government has proposed $1.6 billion in assistance, and we are seeking an additional $1.0 billion in funds from the international community. We are working hard to press Europe and Asia to commit to this effort. The Government of Spain will host a donor's conference for European Union members on July 7th. High level representatives of our government have recently visited Tokyo and we have reason to be optimistic about Japan's response. We are confident that we will attract the level of support required.

Let me take a moment to address a critical issue. Some commentators have stated that Colombia is asking the United States to fight a war we are unwilling to fight ourselves. The record plainly shows that this is utterly false. Our country has been plagued by violence for decades now. Insurgents opposed to our democratic government have waged a war against our people that has cost 5.000 Colombian lives. Drug traffickers, flush with money and weapons from abroad, have conducted terrorist acts against government and the citizenry. Thousands of brave Colombian policemen. soldiers. judges, and public servants at all levels have laid down their lives in the name of fighting drugs. Thousands of other Colombians serving in such positions today continue to serve at great personal risk because we intend to protect our democracy, end violence, and establish the rule of law. We intend to leave our children a country free of drug-fueled violence. We must continue on this path whether the United States and the international community help us or not. But the tremendous benefits of success will come sooner and more surely if we share the burden and help each other.

The Nature of U.S. Assistance Needed

The assistance package proposed by the Clinton Administration is weighted heavily in favor of the kind of assistance the United States alone can provide. In large part, the assistance package is designed to give Colombia the tools we need to more effectively fight drug production and trafficking. It will enable the Colombian Government to bolster counter-drug activities in southern Colombia. With U.S. assistance, we will establish two new counter-narcotics battalions in the Colombian military. The assistance package contains vital equipment and training for these battalions, including Blackhawk and Huey helicopters. In the remote parts of Colombia that are home to drug production, mobility is the highest priority of our strategy. These special military units, together with an existing counter- narcotics battalion, will move into southern Colombia to protect Colombian National Police (CNP) forces as they undertake counter-drug missions. Members of these counter-narcotics battalions will receive extensive human rights education and training. The aid package provides additional funding to enhance the counter-drug efforts of the CNP.

We are seeking aid from the United States to bolster our counter-drug programs, not to help us combat guerilla forces. Our success against drug production and trafficking will weaken these guerilla forces, as they rely heavily upon the drug trade to finance their operations. But President Pastrana has repeatedly made clear that Colombia is not seeking and will not accept any direct U.S. military intervention in our internal conflict. We anticipate that the number of U.S. personnel involved in training these battalions will remain at the current level of approximately 200.

The U.S. assistance we need to implement Plan Colombia is broader than counter-drug assistance alone. The aid package also provides humanitarian assistance to displaced persons, funding for alternative economic development programs, and assistance to help the Colombian Government improve human rights and other rule of law programs. The Colombian Government and other members of the international community will provide additional assistance in these areas. As a result, the profile of proposed U.S. assistance does not accurately reflect the overall profile of Plan Colombia or the relative budgetary emphasis given to each function under the Plan.

How Colombia's $4.0 Billion Share of Funding Will Be Allocated

As I mentioned, Colombia will expend $4.9 billion to carry out Plan Colombia. This represents 65% of the total funding of $7.5 billion. The Colombian contribution will be allocated in the following way:

* $1.0 billion will be spent on economic programs aimed at providing increased opportunities for Colombians threatened by or dependent upon the drug trade. These initiatives include agricultural export development and improvements to the social safety net.

* $886 million will be spent on social development and democratization. These initiatives include alternative development, human rights protection, and humanitarian aid.

* $6 million will be spent on the Peace process initiated by President Pastrana.

* Finally. $3.0 billion will be spent on counternarcotics, security, and judicial cooperation. These activities include strengthening governmental authorities and their counternarcotics efforts, enhanced drug interdiction, increased police counternarcotics operations and improvements to Colombia's prison system.

Colombia's direct appropriations for this strategy have already been budgeted and represent a significant sacrifice for a country whose federal budget is normally around $18.0 billion. The additional $900 million derived from IFI loans to Colombia also has been approved by the IMF and the World Bank.

President Pastrana's Military Reform Program:

You asked me to comment on the potential for military reform, including repeal of the bachelleres program. President Pastrana already has initiated a major military reform program. Some of its elements already have been achieved, and others are well underway. Highlights of the program include the following:

1. Military Justice: Last year, President Pastrana succeeded in pressing our Congress to pass a military justice reform that had been languishing in Congress for five years. The law, which is in the final stages of implementation. provides that most allegations of human rights abuses will be tried before civilian courts, as determined by the independent Supreme Judicial Council. Military courts are being reformed as well, notably by creation of a Judge Advocate General office to assume prosecutorial responsibility previously held by unit commanders.

2. Military Leadership: President Pastrana passed over seven generals to select General Tapias to head the Armed Forces. This was due to General Tapias' strong commitment to protecting human rights, and eliminating corruption and inefficiency. The President successfully pressed for passage of a law that will allow him and General Tapias to expeditiously dismiss personnel suspected of human rights violations. This law, to be implemented shortly, will afford the military the ability to clear its ranks in the manner carried out successfully by the Colombian National Police.

3. Professionalization of the Military and Elimination of the "Bachelleres": When President Pastrana assumed the Presidency the Colombian military's 105,000 soldiers included 40,000 conscripts known as "bachelleres". Under a longstanding policy, these conscripts were exempted from combat on the basis of their educational status. President Pastrana's sweeping military reform program calls for the complete elimination of this program. Already, the number of bachelleres has been reduced to 20,000. By the end of this year, there will be only 10,000, and by the end of President Pastrana's administration, there will be none. No new recruits or conscripts will be placed in this classification. To make this reform permanent, we are proposing legislation that eliminates any distinction in terms of eligibility for combat service within the Colombian military.

The existing Colombian counternarcotics battalion and those to be established as part of Plan Colombia will be composed entirely of professional soldiers with at least five years' experience. All members of the battalions are vetted and trained for human rights protection and other attributes. For example, all of our helicopter pilots are officers with high school degrees and at least four years of higher education. In this way, the battalions formed with U.S. help and training will serve as a model for modernizing and professionalizing the entire Colombian military.

Why the Congress Should Approve the Package

Before I conclude. I would like to reiterate why we believe this Committee should support the Administration's proposal. The war on drugs is not a war in Colombia. It is a war that is being fought and must be fought throughout the world.

It is true that much of the cocaine and heroine consumed in the United States is produced in Colombia. No one regrets this more than the nearly 40 million law-abiding and peace-loving citizens of Colombia. We have a responsibility to ourselves. to our children, and to our neighbors such as the United States to stop the scourge of illegal drugs. It also must be said that most of the cocaine and heroine we are talking about is purchased and consumed illegally here in the United States. We know that this reality is no less regrettable for the United States than it is for Colombia to be the source of the drugs. And we recognize and appreciate the costs and sacrifices made in the United States in the name of treatment, prevention, and law enforcement.

It does illustrate that our countries share the terrible burdens that illegal drugs place on our people. General McCaffrey stated recently that over 50,000 Americans die each year due to drug abuse. At the same time, successive generations of Colombian children are growing up in a country where profits from illegal drugs fuel daily violence, weaken government institutions, and finance terrorist activities that threaten human rights and the future of our democracy.

I urge you to support the Administration's proposal.

I appreciate your attention to my views. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

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