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Last Updated:11/19/04
Testimony of Robert B. Charles, Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Hearing of the House International Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, November 18, 2004

Aid to Colombia: The European Role in the Fight Against Narcoterrorism

Robert B. Charles
Assistant Secretary
Bureau for International Narcotics
and Law Enforcement Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Testimony Before Chairman Cass Ballenger and the
House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

Washington, DC
November 18, 2004

Mr. Chairman, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to discuss aid to Colombia and the European role in the fight against narcoterrorism. Before I begin to talk about the subject of today, I would like to take a moment to recognize the extraordinary efforts of Chairman Cass Ballenger over the years. Representative Ballenger, you have been a staunch and longtime supporter of INL programs in Colombia and you will be missed in Congress, in the State Department, in INL, and in Colombia. I salute your many years of fine service.

I have told you before that I believe we are at a tipping point in Colombia. Seizures and eradications are at record levels. Kidnappings, massacres, and murders are down significantly. People are now talking about peace as something that could really happen sooner rather than later. All of these success stories create a powerful testament for more assistance to Colombia, so that this hard earned momentum is not lost. Congress has recognized this by providing continued bipartisan support to Colombia. However, we cannot provide this assistance alone. Help is needed from other nations that are friends of Colombia and who have a stake in combating narcoterrorism and drug consumption. Both Europe and the United States have recognized the need for demand countries to take responsibility along with supply countries.

I would preface my comments by making a broad general statement. European support and concern for Colombia seem to be growing, although both are still not what they could be. On counternarcotics, the European focus is on demand reduction and alternative development, rather than eradication and interdiction. Nonetheless, this support is welcome. European engagement contributes to the overall social and economic progress being registered in Colombia. The Europeans, multilaterally and bilaterally, are engaging more directly and we encourage this.

Our support to Plan Colombia, complemented by our regional efforts in the Andes, represents a significant investment by the American people and Congress to fight the flow of drugs responsible for ending thousands of lives each year in the United States, most of them young Americans. It is also a robust effort to fight powerful, often entrenched terrorists in this Hemisphere. Finally, it is a bold and uncompromising initiative to protect democratic rule in Colombia, and across the Andean region. The grand gamble of robust support by the U.S. Congress – now showing fruit in Colombia – would not have been possible without the extraordinary, courageous and determined leadership of President Uribe. Since taking office in August 2002, his administration has taken an aggressive stand against narcoterrorism. That stand has enabled the broad panoply of hard and soft Colombia programs to work. I would like to say for the record, here today, that I believe President Uribe qualifies as one of the most courageous leaders in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps in the history of our hemisphere. He is showing the kind of political leadership, perhaps even for allies in the region, which engenders more than respect – it is the kind of intellectual and operational leadership that causes lasting, sustainable change in a country, and may across the entire region and in the hemisphere. He is at the tip of a spear, and the spear is a true paradigm shift, away from a world that views drug trafficking and terrorism as immutable, and toward a world that calls and renders both terrorism and drug trafficking part of a dead past. He is cutting a swath that we all should be proud to follow, in many ways like the leadership of Elliot Ness in 1930’s Chicago or Rudolph Guilliani in 1990’s New York. He is demonstrating that past assumptions are subject to challenge, and that past norms can be altered and even ended. I am grateful to him for his leadership, and all Americans should be, even as I am enduringly grateful to the U.S. Congress and the leaders on and off this committee who have long championed the Andean Region counter-drug effort and before it, Plan Colombia. I must pause to note that one of the strongest leaders on this issue has been this chamber’s present leader, and my former boss, Speaker Dennis Hastert, as well as many of the members and staff of this committee. That said, it is today my pleasure to be able to testify before you. I earnestly thank you for your unwavering support for the people and programs that are making a difference in Colombia – and therefore in heartland America.

The abhorrent plagues of narcotics consumption and narcoterrorism do not recognize national borders. They are transnational problems that require transnational solutions. The drug problem is not limited to just the U.S. or to Colombia. Every nation on Earth is affected daily by the heartbreaking loss of life, productivity, and health directly attributable to illegal narcotics. Our friends and allies in Europe are not immune from the negative effects of illegal drugs. Cocaine consumption is a growing problem in Europe. The European Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) 2003 report indicates that cocaine use in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands is increasing. As our own experience has shown, this problem must be engaged on all fronts, and with all available tools.

Europe as a whole and individual countries have been actively engaged in Colombia since the beginning of Plan Colombia and have implemented some very worthwhile projects, some of which I will describe to provide an idea of European efforts. Nevertheless, it is important to repeat that more could be done. We are at a point where we must keep the pressure on the narcoterrorists and provide opportunities to Colombians who want peace and prosperity. Letting up now would be like quitting in the third quarter of a football game. We must push forward. We may not be in the end zone, but we have certainly passed the 50-yard line. Significant and increased support from Europe will be necessary if we are to sustain the positive momentum in Colombia. Colombia and Europe will benefit from increased European support, and both will suffer without it.

Our Efforts to Promote European Assistance
Since Plan Colombia was announced, there have been three formal donor conferences in Madrid, Bogotá, and Brussels. On July 10, 2003, there was a donor planning meeting in London, and the fourth donor conference will be held in Cartagena, Colombia in 2005 to review progress and better coordinate programs that are being implemented as a result of the earlier meeting. This fourth conference was originally planned for 2004, but has now been postponed until 2005. Secretary Powell, my colleagues in other bureaus of the State Department, and I regularly engage the Europeans bilaterally and in multilateral fora to engage them on the needs of Colombia and the benefits to increasing their assistance. My bureau pressed these issues last month in direct talks with the European Union in Brussels and again, earlier this month at the Major Donors Meeting of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). These conversations are sometimes tough, and they should be. Other mechanisms we use to promote cooperation and greater European assistance include the Dublin Group, Mini-Dublin Groups, and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of the American States (OAS).

Overall European Assistance -- A Complicated Picture
European aid to Colombia is varied in both sources and funding mechanisms. There is no one clearinghouse or entity that provides the complete picture. There is multilateral aid and bilateral aid. There are loans, grants, and concessions, plus a variety of budget approval and disbursement processes. In addition, most countries track funds by project execution and not years, as we do. Many countries provide assistance solely through multilateral organizations like the UN and others via Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). Many of the projects are not directly linked to confronting narcotrafficking. In spite of all these difficulties in tracking the numbers, the universal sentiment in Colombia and in the State Department, is that EU and European bilateral assistance has increased, but that more could and should be done by the countries of Europe. Due to the difficulty in getting definitive numbers, I will rely heavily on overall big picture numbers provided by the European Union and the Colombian Agency for International Cooperation (ACCI) for what has actually been spent in Colombia. I am sure that some projects have been missed and some numbers may be lower or higher. Nonetheless, I believe that the overall portrait of numbers that I will share with you is relatively accurate.

According to ACCI, the EU and its member states invested about $120 million in Colombia in 2003, of which $84 million was bilateral. Major bilateral programs included Belgium ($2 million), France ($8 million), Germany ($20.9 million), the Netherlands ($8 million), Spain ($30 million), and Sweden ($11.4 million). EU commission projects include a $35 million Peace Laboratory in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, and a $33 million Peace Laboratory in the state of Norte de Santander. Other projects are much smaller in scope and include such projects as rural development, strengthening of penal institutions, assistance to uprooted communities, and promotion of organic fruit production with small farmer collectives.

The U.S. on the other hand, obligated $580 million in Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) funding alone in 2003. This included $168.2 million in alternative development and institutional building. In other words, in 2003 the U.S. obligated over 4 times the amount of money as the entire EU and its member states. These numbers do not include support from the UN, but remember we also support Colombia via the UN. These figures move into even sharper focus when you consider that at least 150 metric tons of cocaine enters Europe each year, while the U.S. receives over 300 metric tons. To put it more clearly, the U.S. consumes twice the amount of cocaine that is consumed in Europe, yet the U.S. obligated in Colombia 400 percent more in assistance in 2003 than did the EU and its member states. While Colombia is not the sole provider of cocaine to the U.S. or to Europe, it is certainly the major provider producing two-thirds of the world’s coca and processing even more.

Where the European Assistance is Going
The European Union and the countries of Europe do have a number of worthy projects in Colombia. In general, the Europeans prefer to invest in what we often call "soft" projects. These projects are often development oriented in nature and generally devoted to non-law enforcement recipients. The EU also has appropriated a substantial amount of money for humanitarian projects via the EU Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). For the period of 2002 through 2004, the EU provided over $35 million to Colombia for this purpose even though much more has been promised. This is indicative of one of the problems with the European efforts to date; some pledges have yet to materialize, and when pledges are actually obligated, there is great delay in disbursing the funds. The time to act in Colombia is now, while the narcoterrorists are on the ropes, not possibly two or three years from now.

European Union Multilateral Assistance
The Colombian Agency for International Cooperation lists five major European multilateral projects in Colombia. These projects have disbursed less than $10 million in the last five years. They include alternative development in the Colombian states of Meta, Caquetá, and Santa Marta; a monitoring system for illicit crops; decentralization of the National Drug Plan; capacity building for control of drugs and precursor chemicals; and strengthening of local authorities in the fight against corruption. These are all projects that clearly are worthwhile and need to be done, but $10 million is not nearly enough to address problems that have a profound effect on Europe. These are all important projects, but we would like to see more. Big problems require uncompromisingly bold solutions.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
At present, the UNODC has at least five projects in Colombia that receive funding from European countries. The total value for these projects is a little over $11 million with a little over half of this amount already used in Colombia. The largest of these provides $4.3 million for an alternative development project with farmers in the states of Caquetá and Meta. The project started in January of 1999 and will finish in December of 2006. The next largest project is one entitled, "Sustainable Livelihoods" that is also a developmental project. It began in September of 1999 and has a completion date of December 2004. The approved budget is $1.9 million. A third project provides $1.7 million to strengthen the capacity of the Colombian justice system in investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing drug and precursor traffickers. This project started in January of 1998 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2005. The fourth project is a prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation project for $1.7 million. It began in January of 1999 and will wrap up in December of 2005. The final UNODC project is for almost $1.5 million and is designed to build upon the work of a previous project that developed an integrated monitoring system for illicit crops. The goal of this project is to expand the database beyond geographical data to include social and economic data as well. These projects complement a USAID grant to UNODC totaling $5 million supporting alternative development activities in the department of Nariño and complimentary verification and monitoring systems. There are issues that require intense and continuing dialogue with UNODC, and I am well aware of them, but the efforts are on-going and generating results.

Where Greater Assistance is Needed
What we do in places like Colombia has a direct effect here, in the United States. The same is true for Europe. Failure to invest more in Colombia will only compound the problems of narcotics consumption and narcotrafficking in Europe in the future. Six areas that will be discussed at the upcoming Cartagena conference are: Forestry, Reintegration into Society, Alternative and Productive Development, Strengthening the Rule of Law, Regional Development Programs, and Forced Displacement and Humanitarian Programs.

We believe Europe can provide significant help in the area of dealing with internally displaced persons, demobilized persons, and deserters. As peace flourishes, there will be a significantly increased need for programs and projects dealing with these individuals and ensuring that they are integrated back as productive members into Colombian society. We have asked the Europeans about their plans in this area and have been told that they are considering how to respond. President Uribe has recently announced that Colombia will begin to demobilize thousands of paramilitary members in the coming months. I want to emphasize that this demobilization must in no way exonerate members of the insurgent and paramilitary groups who have committed serious crimes and acts of terrorism from facing justice in Colombia, Europe, or the U.S., and President Uribe has echoed this sentiment to us.

Another area where European assistance is needed is the area of money laundering and terrorist financing. This is the lifeblood of the narcoterrorists, and we must attack their money at every opportunity and in every country. Europe has a well-developed banking system and significant experience and expertise in dealing with money laundering. The Colombian narcoterrorists use European banks, and European assistance would be particularly welcomed in this area. Since September 11, our own experts have been working double time on terrorist financing, and we would welcome European assistance.

Europe is especially well suited to help combat the diversion of precursor chemicals. Europe, like the U.S., has a highly developed chemical sector that exports to the whole world. Unfortunately, some of these chemicals are diverted to the manufacture of drugs that are killing children in Colombia, the U.S. and Europe. Denying this vital component to the drug trade would certainly seem like a promising area for the Europeans to pursue with Colombia.

Counternarcotics Achievements in Colombia
Even though you, the Members of Congress need no convincing, I think it important to review what we have done in Colombia, so that everyone knows that the American taxpayer’s dollars are being put to good use. If the Europeans look closely at these success stories, I think that they too would agree that increasing their investment in Colombia’s battle against narcoterrorism is the right thing to do. I would encourage them to mimic the comprehensiveness of our program and not limit themselves to just "soft" projects and programs. The bird’s eye view of Colombia is encouraging. The commitment of Congress and the effective implementation of our programs are paying off, and Colombians finally have hope for a better future.

In 2003, INL and the Colombians, working closely together, eradicated 116,000 hectares of coca via aerial spraying. At the same time, alternative development programs in Colombia resulted in the manual eradication of an additional 8,441 hectares. The 113,850 hectares under cultivation this year represents a 33 percent reduction from the peak-growing year in 2001 when 169,800 hectares of coca were under illicit cultivation. Riding on the success of Colombia reductions, production of coca in the Andean region dropped for the second straight year -- this time by 16 percent.

The Colombian government, with USG support, is making similar progress on opium poppy eradication. In 2003, Colombia sprayed 2,821 hectares of opium poppy while 1,009 hectares were manually eradicated. This was a reduction of 21 percent for 2003. In 2002, our efforts reduced coca cultivation by 15 percent. This was a double-digit decline for the second straight year -- a first time accomplishment. With Colombian heroin victimizing children from Florida to Illinois, New York, Maine, and points West, we must continue our vigorous efforts to eliminate all the poppy in Colombia.

This year our spray goal for coca and opium poppy is ambitious: 130,000 hectares of coca and all opium poppy. To date, we are ahead of schedule on these eradication milestones. As of November 15, 2004, we have sprayed over 119,000 hectares of coca and over 3,000 hectares of poppy. When we meet our 2004 goals, it will be the third year in a row that coca and opium poppy eradication has increased. I am certain that we will meet the spray goals for 2004, and we will have our third year in a row of record eradication. I wish I could then say "Three strikes and you are out," to the narcotraffickers, but much remains to be done. However, record eradication statistics combined with record seizure numbers are going to have a positive effect on our constant efforts to keep illegal drugs off the streets of America.

I would be remiss if I did not state for the record that we take environmental concerns very seriously in our spray program. We have sought to be responsive to Members of Congress and non-governmental organizations that have understandably expressed concern about the potential effects of aerial eradication on human health and the environment. We adhere to a higher level of environmental safety in Colombia than any comparable use of herbicide in the world.

Alternative Development
Consolidating gains and sustaining progress requires that those who grow coca or opium poppy be not only discouraged from involvement in the drug trade, but also encouraged to enter legitimate markets. Accordingly, alternative development complements interdiction and eradication programs by increasing legal economic opportunities for former producers of coca and poppy. These USAID programs, initially concentrated in Putumayo and Caquetá, areas of Colombia’s densest coca cultivation, have expanded into other departments with high incidence or threat of coca cultivation. This year, our efforts have already supported more than 10,000 hectares of legal crops, for a cumulative total of 49,000 hectares since 2000. These activities have benefited more than 38,000 families.

Alternative development is more than alternative crops. It also includes activities that improve Colombia’s rural infrastructure, so that licit crops can be transported and marketed. This year alone, over 200 infrastructure projects were completed for a total of almost 900 since 2001. The project built more than 90 schools, 40 water systems, and 80 municipal buildings -- ranging from homes for the elderly to business centers and community centers. Projects completed also include 195 sewage projects and 35 roads. Another indication that democracy and legitimate, accountable businesses are taking root is that 21 citizen oversight committees were formed last quarter, for a cumulative total of 220 municipalities with improved public services.

USAID-sponsored alternative development projects in Colombia are reinforcing the core functions and values that underpin Colombia’s democratic civil society. Program beneficiaries are uniting and forming associations to ensure progress achieved continues after USAID funding has ended. The Association "Building a Future," for instance, comprised of 14 small farmer organizations, representing 388 families from Mocoa, recently gained national attention when they were invited to speak at a forum in Bucaramanga sponsored by the influential Colombian non-governmental organization, Planeta Paz. The President of the Association, Libardo Martinez, when speaking with other local leaders, stressed the importance of community work and organization. According to Martinez, "...the Putumayo experience has become the reference point for progress for the other departments and for the rest of the world." Colombians are increasingly proud of the future they are creating, using rule of law and the legitimate economy as a pivot point.

Interdiction efforts are central to the continuing success in Colombia, and an area where European support could be increased. We provide assistance to and work closely with Colombia’s armed forces and police. As a result, Colombian forces reported seizures of 145 metric tons of cocaine and coca base in 2003. If sold on U.S. streets, we estimate an additional $1.75 billion would have reached drug traffickers and the narcoterrorism they support. In fact, cocaine seizures have increased every year since 2001. Since President Uribe took office in August 2002, Colombian forces have also seized nearly 1,500 kilograms of heroin.

Another good news story seldom written or talked about is Colombia’s effective Air Bridge Denial program (ABD). This program is proving to be a highly effective deterrent to international narcotrafficking. Since its resumption in 2003, the program has tracked and sorted thousands of flights, and forced down and/or destroyed over 26 suspected narcotics trafficking aircraft. As of August 2004, the Colombian Air Force and its regional partners had seized almost two metric tons of illicit drugs through the ABD program. In 2003, the program resulted in 6.9 metric tons of drugs seized regionally. The key here is not the number of planes destroyed or the amount of drugs destroyed; rather, our goal is to effectively deter the use of Colombian airspace by traffickers, while protecting civil aviation. Narcotics trafficking patterns are beginning to measurably change in response to the Colombian Air Force effort.

We are undermining the narcotics industry, while also methodically and decisively extending democracy and strengthening security throughout Colombia. We have helped fund the establishment of police in 158 municipalities, many of which had not seen any government or security presence in decades. For the first time in the recorded history of Colombia, there is now a state presence in all 1,098 of Colombia’s municipalities. This is an enormous step forward for the people of Colombia and their democratically elected government. As John Locke might say, where there is security and a stable social compact, people will abide the law and mix their labor with the land in a legitimate, lasting way. Due in very large measure to the foresight of this body -- the U.S. Congress -- we are seeing real success.

Democratic Institution Building and the Rule of Law
To improve the rule of law, USG projects also have assisted the Government of Colombia in establishing 37 Justice Houses (casas de justicia), which increase access to justice for poor Colombians. Make no mistake: this is not a small victory or goal -- it is at the very heart, in our view, of sustainable progress and U.S. support. So far, these casas de justicia have handled over 2.8 million cases, easing the burden on the over-taxed judicial system. Remarkably, the Department of Justice and USAID "Administration of Justice" initiatives have also established 35 new Oral Trial courtrooms and trained over 10,000 lawyers, judges and public defenders in new oral legal procedures designed to reduce impunity and quicken the judicial process. Similarly, an "Early Warning System" is up and running, which monitors potential conditions that might trigger human rights violations and thereby provides warnings of impending threats. In addition, 11 new mobile satellite units of the national human rights unit have been arrayed around Colombia to provide a more immediate response to allegations of human rights violations in the most remote areas of the country. Together, these projects are creating a civil and human rights protection infrastructure -- a climate of respect -- so that the Colombian government may be able to prevent or be more responsive to human rights violations.

Also on human rights, the Colombian government "protection program" has been expanded to include protection for mayors, local human rights officials, council members, municipal human rights workers, medical missions, journalists, and former mayors. In the third quarter of FY 2004, more than 40 individuals received protection measures for a cumulative total of 3,540. During this quarter, ten additional offices are in the process of being armored, for a cumulative total of 87 offices protected as of June 2004. Further, a professional police corps has been trained and equipped to protect judicial personnel, witnesses, and government officials. By providing protection to these individuals and offices, we are playing an increasingly important role in ensuring the ability of Colombia’s leaders, human rights defenders, and local officials, to conduct activities in as secure an environment as possible. This is another area in which European support and expertise would be welcome.

Finally, we provide emergency and longer-term assistance to so-called "Vulnerable Groups," particularly Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). This assistance, administered by USAID and the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Migration, and Refugees includes food, shelter, psychosocial assistance, physical and mental health services, community strengthening, income and employment generation, urban assistance, education, and rehabilitation of ex-child combatants. It also strengthens the Colombian agency responsible for IDP coordination, protection, and border monitoring. The program runs more than 300 projects in 25 departments and 200 municipalities throughout the country.

Last quarter, IDP programs collectively aided more than 130,000 persons for a cumulative total of over 1.9 million persons since 2001. During the same period, more than 7,500 jobs were created for IDPs and other vulnerable persons, such as youth at risk of displacement or recruitment by illegal armed combatants. To date, IDP programs have provided vocational and skill development training for nearly 52,000 IDPs and created over 65,000 jobs. Equally important, access to education was increased during the last quarter for more than 900 displaced and other vulnerable children for a total of 164,840 recipients since the program began. Finally, more than 200 families who were willing and able to safely return to their original communities were assisted last quarter, for a cumulative total of 19,535 families, or over 97,000 individuals since 2001. The IDP Program also assisted 170 additional child ex-combatants during the last quarter. By providing viable life and employment options, the program discourages families from taking up cultivation of illicit crops. European countries have similar projects in this area and I would encourage them to increase their efforts.

Concluding Remarks
We all know the facts; the United States has invested well over $3 billion in Colombia since 1999 to fight narcoterrorism. This investment is beginning to produce some very impressive results that will have a direct positive impact on our national security. The U.S. Congress has been incredibly supportive in this noble endeavor and should be commended. Drugs, violence, and crime undermine democracy, rule of law, and the stability required for economic development. The drug trade continues to kill tens of thousands of people throughout the world. Consumer nations like ourselves and the countries of Europe have a moral obligation to assist Colombia in its battle. Besides the moral obligation that seems obvious, the European countries should act out of self-interest, because their citizens are consuming drugs from Colombia. This consumption will generate greater crime and increased social ills. Even scarier is the fact that the drug trade funds terrorists and violent criminal groups in Colombia, which could spread to other countries if not stopped. If we want the evils caused by illicit drugs to stop, we, the Europeans, and all other countries must be resolved to halt the production and trafficking of cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics now. For, if we do not, we will most assuredly see them again -- on our doorsteps and street corners. The violence seen on our television screens against our friends and allies to the south is difficult to bear; violence in our very midst imposes a burden far heavier on our hearts and lives. I promise you that I will redouble my efforts to ensure that the nations of Europe realize that we all have a stake in ending the drug threat in Colombia and that there is a need for greater investment in the battle against narcoterrorism.

On balance, the Colombians, with U.S. assistance and support, are on track to dismantle narco-terrorist organizations by seizing their current and future assets in all manners possible. We will face challenges in the coming years that, if not addressed aggressively, have the potential to reverse some of these gains. In particular, the outcome of Colombia’s peace process will affect our operations. We must also sustain our support for other allies in the Andes to make sure that the Colombian criminal organizations do not export their production and processing methods to other countries. European assistance is key to ensuring not only that Colombia’s ability to build a strong, peaceful country is enhanced, but also that European countries will stand with us to achieve these mutual goals.

I appreciate this Committee’s strong commitment to our efforts and look forward to exchanging views on how to carry these efforts into the future. Let me close by offering you this assurance that with or without additional support from Europe I will continue to ensure that outstanding performance and positive results are achieved in the U.S. assistance program to Colombia INL. We will continue to make progress in combating illegal drug production through partnerships with our foreign allies and with the many federal agencies involved in these efforts. We are committed to fight the scourge of narcotrafficking and narcoterrorism in our hemisphere and welcome others who share this commitment to join the fight. Full stop.

Thank you.

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