by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood, Georgetown University,
Washington, September 20, 2004
Support for Colombia's National Strategy for Defense and Democratic
William B. Wood
September 20, 2004
would like to thank the Colombia Program of Georgetown University,
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Fundacion
Seguiridad y Democracia, and the Inter-American Dialogue for inviting
me to this discussion of the local dimension of Colombia's policies
for national defense and democratic security.
is an honor to be appearing at a conference that features such
distinguished leaders as General Ospina and General Castro, Governor
Gaviria, and Mayor Fajardo, and so many others with whom I have
had the pleasure of working in Colombia.
is fighting a four-front war, against the FARC, the ELN, the paramilitaries,
and the drug gangs. To meet this challenge, the military and police
forces have been increased from 252,000 in 2000 to almost 360,000
at present strength. Defense expenditures have increased 46 percent
since President Uribe took office, and are expected to continue
to rise, to 4.9% of GDP in 2006. To pay these costs, according
to IMF figures, about 30 percent of Colombia's GDP is collected
in government revenues, although some of this is in the comparatively
inefficient profits of para-statal enterprises.
is not fighting the same way on all four fronts. Against the FARC,
who have refused President Uribe's sine qua non condition of a
declared unilateral cessation of hostilities, the government is
engaged in a maximum, head-to-head effort. Against the drug gangs,
the same. Against the ELN, following the safe return of European
and Israeli hostages late in 2003, and subsequent further demonstrations
of ELN good faith, the government continues its military pressure,
but tempered with an embryonic peace process in which the Mexican
government is serving as facilitator. We will have to see how
that comes out.
the paramilitary organizations, the situation is more complex,
but not less hopeful. The paramilitaries continue to be divided
among themselves. More than 1000 already have been demobilized
through local peace processes in Medellin and Cajibio (in Cauca
province). Up to 6,000 more may be demobilized before the end
of this year from the northern and eastern paramilitary organizations.
(Many among the paramilitaries are trying to stop this development,
and the government remains short of resources to demobilize and
re-insert these combatants.)
talks continue in Santa Fe de Ralito in Cordoba province, where
virtually all other major paramilitary leaders have been concentrated
under government and OAS oversight since early July, based on
a May agreement between the government and those leaders. The
paramilitaries, as was to be expected, are making every effort
to stretch the provisions of that agreement to their benefit;
so far, the government has held very firm.
government continues its military and police operations against
paramilitaries who continue violent or drug-related activity.
The Uribe Administration has killed or captured twice as many
paramilitaries in the last two years as the previous Administration
did in an equivalent period. As of September 1, the government
this year has arrested 3,170 paramilitaries and seized over 3,300
small arms and explosives from the paramilitaries, both substantial
increases over 2003.
Uribe made clear his position in a pivotal ultimatum on April
"[The paramilitaries] must demonstrate their will for peace
by accepting a concentration zone, with clear rules under OAS
verification. They must advance toward demobilization. Otherwise,
the government will continue fighting them until they are eliminated."
The paramilitaries continue to present a grave threat to Colombia.
Contrary to the policy of the Uribe Administration, elements of
the public forces, and elements of the larger society, continue
to cooperate with or, more frequently, tolerate, the paramilitaries
as the lesser of two evils.
paramilitaries do their best to magnify this pernicious misperception.
In a recent presentation by Salvatore Mancuso at the invitation
of the Colombian Congress, he sought to justify the brutality
and lawlessness of the paramilitaries on the basis of what he
termed the "sacrifice" of the paramilitaries in defending
the country. The U.S denounced the event and the argument. And
we continue to be concerned that, even though paramilitary violence
has clearly been reduced, more insidious paramilitary intimidation,
extortion, and selective violence remains a major problem in many
cities and rural districts.
the case of the paramilitaries, the enemy of our enemy is not
our friend. The U.S. and the Uribe Administration are committed
to ensuring that any cooperation with the paramilitaries is punished,
and that the leaders of all terrorist groups, including the paramilitaries,
face the force of law.
also support early adoption of the draft law on "Justice
and Compensation," which provides for judicial processing,
jail terms, and payment of compensation to victims by terrorist
leaders. Passage of the bill would make clear that there will
be no impunity through the peace process and give the Colombian
negotiator, Dr. Restrepo, a firm bottom line in his discussions.
U.S. is providing substantial assistance to Colombia's war against
terror: about $162 million from Andean Counter-drug Initiative
funds, plus about $100 million in FMF assistance, go to this effort.
Our assistance takes the form of sustainment, especially aviation,
training, planning assistance, and equipment. Our forces deploy
only in the capital or in large headquarters. Neither U.S. military
nor U.S contractors patrol with the Colombians or engage in activities
that might place them in a combat situation. As I indicated earlier,
the Colombians recognize that this is their fight and have organized
themselves to wage it; we are proud to help.
combined efforts are paying off. After 14 months in Colombia,
I have seen the Colombian public forces carry out operations that
were beyond them when I first arrived. I have seen improved jointness
across services in operations, planning and logistics, coordination
of intelligence, harmonization of doctrine, centralization of
training and maintenance. But they could still do better.
Colombians are also increasingly skilled in the use of small,
agile special forces units, in psychological operations, and in
other techniques especially suited to counter-terror.
improvements, although not directly military are also contributing.
U.S.-trained anti-kidnapping units have been extraordinarily successful
in rescuing victims of kidnapping for ransom. And our training
has helped the Colombians reduce the number of fatalities during
bomb defusing from a high of seven a year to zero.
enemies of Colombia all operate against the backdrop of the drug
trade. The FARC and the paramilitaries are key narco-trafficking
organizations in Colombia. The only recent large-scale massacre
-- of more than 30 coca-growing peasants in La Gebarra in Norte
de Santander province -- represented an attempt by the FARC to
take over a paramilitary drug area. (In response to the massacre,
the Colombians, with our assistance, re-directed drug eradication
operations to that region, so that they would learn that they
will not profit from such brutality.)
drug traffickers have bought their way into senior paramilitary
positions to give political cover to their drug operations, just
as the FARC use their so-called revolutionary ideology on their
side of the ledger. In fact, even Pablo Escobar attempted to portray
himself as a political actor. And the drug trade has proven its
ability to corrupt further even the most perverse and brutal terrorist
druggers are themselves an important source of violence: In Cali,
Colombia's third largest city, violence has not diminished as
it has elsewhere in the country, because of a brutal feud for
control of the Norte del Valle cartel there.
U.S. is working hard to help Colombia defeat the drug trade, whether
it wears a political face or not. Through the Andean Counter-drug
Initiative, we are providing more than $150 million this year
in assistance to the Colombian National Police, in addition to
more direct cooperation through DEA, Justice, and other U.S. law
the southwestern provinces of Cauca and Narino, the unprecedented
coordination and cooperation of several U.S. agencies, and the
Colombian police, navy, army and air force, carried out last month
a major campaign, against multiple targets. It seized or destroyed
more than 10.5 tons of drugs, three cocaine crystal labs, two
heroin labs, over 5 tons of pre-cursor chemicals, and a number
of high speed boats.
are setting records in every major counter-drug category. In 2003,
eradication, mostly by air but by hand where appropriate, destroyed
more than 130,000 hectares of drugs in the field last year, the
equivalent of 160 metric tons of cocaine and opium. In 2003, combined
U.S.-Colombian operations seized -- by sea, land, and air -- another
140 metric tons. So in 2003, the equivalent of 300 metric tons
of drugs did not get to where it was intended to go. The Office
of the National Drug Control Program estimated that less than
115,000 hectares of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2003.
And, in 2004, we are ahead of last year in both eradication and
paraphrase Tip O'Neill, all security is "local." If
you and your family don't feel secure, there is no security. It
is local to each village and town in Colombia. Local to each mayor
and town councilman. Local to each representative and senator.
And, even in Colombia, where there historically have been strong
local communities but a weak national identity, increasingly local
across the nation.
February, for the first time in modern Colombian history, national
authority was extended to all municipios -- that is, all counties
-- in the country; so for the first time, national authority existed
in 100% of the national territory.
recently recovered towns like Miraflores, a community that for
more than a decade was dedicated to cocaine production under FARC
control, the Department of Defense and USAID are working closely
with the Colombian government to help restore basic public services
and new, legitimate economic activity there.
is on the southeast edge of the area of Plan Patriota where, today,
some 22,000 troops are engaged in fierce fighting to re-take areas
that have been the fortress of the FARC for decades.
fighting is hard. The majority of government casualties come from
terrorist land mines, and the FARC has learned new ways to make
more savage use of them. Now they mount them in trees and bushes
so that soldiers, trained to check the ground for traps, with
heads down detonate chest-high trip wires; and often lose more
than a leg. Now the FARC combines mine fields with sharpshooters,
whose only job is to ensure that patrols entering the minefields
cannot exit the way they entered; they must go through more mines
to get out, under fire.
government has also changed its tactics, in one way more important
than all the others: The Colombian forces no longer seek merely
to engage the enemy, giving the more mobile FARC an opportunity
to melt away and return when the coast is clear. The Colombian
forces have been deployed for months in the Plan Patriota area,
and are there to stay. The effort to keep 22,000 troops deployed,
equipped, healthy, with good morale, in deep, hostile jungle,
hundreds of kilometers from supply bases, is enormous. And, so
far, an enormous accomplishment.
the effort is achieving results. Ten towns returned to governmental
control in the Plan Patriota area. Hundreds of hectares of drug
crops and dozens of drug labs destroyed.
than 200 FARC camps dismantled. These camps range from very small
to very large complexes for FARC leaders. In one camp they found
a 42-inch TV, a video-conferencing facility, and a fully-stocked
hotel that FARC leaders used as a guest house for visiting drug
lords so they could conduct business in luxury. In one FARC leader's
elaborate home, they found a large swimming pool in the shape
of a guitar. (After 40 years of so-called "popular revolution,"
the leaders do not live in the same way as the rank-and-file,
or their captive populations.)
and police efforts are also showing results in the center of national
population: the valleys between the three mountain ranges and
the coasts. (This region is the size of California and has about
the same number of people: 39 million.)
Christmas and again at Easter, Colombians set records for domestic
holiday travel, over roads that had been impassable because of
the terrorist threat. Homicides were down by 20% nationwide in
2003, and kidnappings down by 39%. That trend has accelerated
province where Bogota is located, population more than 9.5 million,
has largely been cleared of terrorist base camps, terrorist violence
has been sharply reduced, and the government has both the tactical
and the strategic initiative there. In the last year, national
forces killed or captured almost a dozen key mid-level FARC commanders
and destroyed several previously powerful FARC fronts there, writing
an end to the FARC strategy of encircling the capital.
the major cities of Medellin, Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa
Marta, with a combined population of 6.5 million, violence also
has declined sharply and the mood of optimism is palpable. In
Medellin, the neutralization of the infamous "Comuna Trece"
bands, and the successful local demobilization of the Bloque Cacique
Nutibara paramilitary group have played a key role in the 51 percent
reduction in homicides in the last year, although paramilitary
and drug elements remain active in the city. In Cartagena, our
records do not show a successful terrorist attack for two years.
In Barranquilla, new investment is spurring new economic growth.
In Santa Marta, the level of violence has declined sharply, in
spite of the city's proximity to the coca fields and drug routes
through the Tayrona National Park that feed the drug trade in
the cities, conditions also have improved. Forced displacements
were down by 49% in 2003, indicating that rural inhabitants feel
less threatened and see more hope at home.
Colombia still has over 2,000,000 internally displaced persons,
the third largest displaced population in the world after Sudan
and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Right here on our doorstep.
Since FY00, the U.S. has provided more than $110 million to help
them; we have assisted more than one million displaced Colombians
in that time.
Security is More Than Security
it is important to remember that security is more than effective
military and police action. Colombia is in its fourth decade of
terrorism and its third decade of drug trafficking. They have
attacked the political system at the national and the local levels,
the justice system, the law enforcement system, and the military,
precisely because these are the institutions that can directly
respond to the narco-terrorist agenda of lawlessness and brutality.
That means Colombia is now in its second generation of resignation,
accommodation or, worst of all, complicity.
Uribe's greatest accomplishment has been to give a sense of hope
to the country, a sense that they can overcome these problems.
Colombians have responded with determination to his message. Elected
with slightly more than 50% of the vote, President Uribe now enjoys
a level of popular approval above 75%. It is increasingly likely
that the Colombian congress will approve this autumn a constitutional
reform permitting him to run for president again in 2006. The
military and the police enjoy levels of popular support above
are returning to Colombia, and returning their money to Colombia
for investment, recovery, and reconstruction. Attacks on the oil
pipeline in northern Colombia have fallen from a high of almost
180 in 2001 to 15 in the last year. In the last six months, major
multinational oil exploration returned to Colombia after an absence
of a decade. Unemployment has fallen from close to 20%, to about
14% last year, and should be under 13% this year. Colombia's enthusiasm
for a free trade agreement with the U.S. -- in spite of the obstacles
posed by the human and financial costs of the war against narco-terrorism
-- is a clear indication of the country's sense of confidence
in its future.
growth also extends to the countryside, where we and the government
are attempting to promote economic activity and more normal social
development. We are focusing our efforts on key rural "growth
corridors," to try to build new infrastructure and stimulate
sustainable opportunities for rural communities.
focus especially on providing an alternative to drug cultivation,
so that areas where coca was once grown, such as Putamayo province,
do not go back, and other areas do not start. Since the beginning
of the Uribe Administration, we have provided aid to more than
22,000 families, and developed more than 700 rural infrastructure
has taken important steps to strengthen the rule of law and improve
the administration of justice. In January, with our assistance,
Colombia will begin to conduct trials through an oral adversary
process which, once it settles in, should dramatically improve
both the transparency and speed of trials. To guard against corruption,
the Prosecutor General has ordered that supervisory prosecutors
take lie detector tests conducted by us; we have tested more than
100 officials this year. He has initiated a new internal investigative
commission within the 18,000-man Fiscalia that, for the first
time in history, will have the mandate, the authority, and the
independence to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. And take
are also pleased that in the last several months the dialogue
between the government and human rights NGOs, both Colombian and
international, has improved. President Uribe has met with representatives
of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a host of others,
and publicly endorsed their contribution to advance human rights.
The U.S. strongly supports this cooperation to advance respect
for human rights. The U.S. is contributing $24 million this year
to advance democracy and human rights in Colombia, in addition
to our humanitarian and other justice-related programs.
of the integrity of the civilian and military justice systems
is the only way to put an end to do-it-yourself justice, corruption,
and impunity. As part of that effort, the U.S. human rights protection
program is helping protect more than 1,300 vulnerable Colombians,
including many in the labor, press, and human rights fields.
are very pleased that the Prosecutor General has recently taken
the lead in investigating the deaths of three labor activists
in Arauca province during a raid by military personnel. We also
are pleased by the efforts of the government to get to the bottom
of the killing of several civilians in Cajamarca by troops on
patrol in FARC-dominated territory. It is vital that these cases
be fully investigated and, if wrongdoing is found, that it be
cases in which the U.S. has the most direct interest, extraditions,
where the accused is believed to have directly harmed U.S. citizens
or broken U.S. law, Colombia continues to provide full support.
In the two years of the Uribe Administration, more than 130 persons
have been extradited to the U.S. for trial for narcotics, terrorism,
and money-laundering offenses, a world record. We believe that
this cooperation, a fundamental element of our alliance, will
have attempted to depict a complex, difficult situation, to which
we are responding with an ambitious, difficult policy. Not all
the news is good every day, not on the military front, not on
the counter-drug front, not on the development and humanitarian
fronts, not on the human rights front. But our policy enjoys strong,
durable bipartisan support because it responds not only the needs
of a friend and ally, but also to the fundamental values and vital
security needs of the United States.
Americans died from drugs coming from Colombia in 2001 than died
in the World Trade Towers. Some three times more Americans have
died in the last year from drugs coming from Colombia than have
died in Iraq. That number will continue to die until the Colombians,
with our help, resolve the threat. We cannot be secure in the
streets of our cities, towns, and suburbs without winning in Colombia.
can we conquer terrorism without winning in Colombia. Colombia
is home to some 30,000 active terrorists -- FARC, ELN, paramilitaries
-- the largest concentration in the world. The FARC has held three
American citizens hostage for more than 18 months. Their safe
return home is one of our highest priorities.
we cannot be secure in our hemisphere without winning in Colombia.
Right now, the other nations of the Andean region are going through
difficult times. Brazil is the second-largest consumer of cocaine
in the world. The wealth and violence of the Colombian drug terrorists
dwarf the ability of the smaller nations of the Caribbean and
Central America to defend themselves. If we do not stop the threat
in Colombia -- where the threat may be most ferocious, but where
the institutions, leadership, and political consensus are also
strongest -- where will we draw the line?
that is my final comment about the "local" aspects of
Colombian national defense and democratic security. It is "local"
here too. In our homeland. And in our homes. And we must stay
September 23, 2004, this document was also available online at http://usembassy.state.gov/posts/co1/wwwsww42.shtml
September 20, 2004