of Adam Isacson, Senior Associate, Center for International Policy
Before the House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Criminal
Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
May 1, 2001
Souder and members of the subcommittee, it is a pleasure to appear
before you today to testify about this important issue. Thank
you for inviting me to participate.
five years I have coordinated a program at the Center for International
Policy that monitors the United States' relationship with the
militaries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though this
relationship has strong implications for human rights, democratization,
and all of our relations with the hemisphere, it gets little oversight
and it's often difficult to get information about current policies
U.S. military relationship with the region includes arms transfers,
training of over 13,000 Latin American military and police each
year, exercises and exchanges, bases, hundreds of deployments
of U.S. personnel, and a wide variety of engagement activities.
have to admit that among all these activities, the "air bridge
denial" program in Colombia and Peru was not getting much
of our attention. This program was going after the criminals high
up on the drug-production chain, not the peasants growing coca
just to survive. It carried little risk of sucking us into an
armed conflict, like our current strategy on the ground in Colombia.
There was little risk of massive human rights violations - or
so we thought, because we'd been assured that strict rules of
engagement were in place. Besides, the GAO reported in late 1999
that "there has been little or no U.S. airborne intelligence
or surveillance of air traffic routes between Peru and Colombia
I was shocked and dismayed when I turned on the news a week and
a half ago and saw what was done to innocent civilians in the
area. I wish now that we had investigated this policy more, explored
the risks more closely, and tried to increase transparency over
the way it was being carried out. We could have had a debate about
the shootdown policy's merits a long time ago.
thing that has disturbed me during the last week and a half is
the United States government's rush to blame Peru for the incident,
washing its hands of responsibility. The details might reveal
that U.S. personnel objected strenuously to the use of deadly
force that day. But the United States nonetheless shares the blame.
While a Peruvian pilot pulled the trigger, he pulled the trigger
of a gun provided by the United States while flying a plane provided
by the United States. He was trained in these operations by the
United States. And he was alerted to his target by intelligence
provided by the United States.
Peru was following a policy put in place by the United States.
Over the years, the United States has given Peru strong incentives
to pursue its shootdown policy with extreme zeal. Peru was rewarded
handsomely for carrying it out. Peru's military received aid,
base upgrades, and - perhaps just as important - political support.
During the yearly drug certification process, U.S. officials and
documents always hold up the shootdowns as a shining example of
successful cooperation with the United States. U.S. officials
always mentioned the Peruvians' success not just at hearings like
this one, but in public appearances with officials in Peru, repeating
the number of planes shot down like a wartime body count. Colombia
has been urged to follow suit; I have heard U.S. officials disparage
Colombia's tendency to force planes down and strafe them on the
ground because it lets the traffickers get away.
shootdowns are only one of the risks that this policy carries.
What we're doing in the Andes is risky and deserves a lot more
scrutiny than it's getting.
our single-minded focus on drugs can severely distort these countries'
political development. Peru is a perfect example. The United States
worked very closely with the Alberto Fujimori regime in Peru simply
because it was a loyal partner in supply reduction efforts. Open
shows of U.S. support and muted criticism of abuses created a
lot of political space for President Fujimori and his sinister
intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. If they had not been
shooting down planes so enthusiastically, Fujimori would have
become a Japanese citizen and Montesinos a fugitive a long time
the Washington Post reported two days ago, "The agreement
that established U.S. cooperation with the Peruvian government
was negotiated directly with Vladimiro Montesinos." The same
Montesinos who cracked down on Peru's free press, who spied on
congresspeople, civic leaders, human rights activists and opposition
parties, and who helped fill jails with political prisoners while
enriching himself enormously. The same Montesinos who worked throughout
the 1980s as a lawyer defending large narcotraffickers.
used the [drug interdiction] agreement as a political weapon,"
the Post reports. "He occasionally threatened to suspend
the partnership when it appeared the U.S. government was putting
too much pressure on Fujimori's authoritarian government."
Even when Fujimori stole an election outright, the United States'
criticism was surprisingly muted. The U.S. even attended Fujimori's
inauguration last July.
because Peru's leaders cooperated with our anti-drug efforts,
the United States government swallowed hard, quieted its criticism
and worked with them. We ignored what should be a basic rule of
counter-drug strategy: that if a partner nation is flouting the
rule of law, then it is not going to be a reliable partner no
matter how many planes they shoot down or bases they allow us
to use. By offering political support to Fujimori and Montesinos,
we were reinforcing the impunity that made the Peruvian military
such a questionable anti-drug partner. We should have been pressing
to end this impunity.
climate of impunity fosters corruption, a second policy risk.
Again, we need look no further than Peru, where last month we
saw the arrest of Gen. Nicolás Hermoza, who headed the
armed forces from 1992 to 1998. Gen. Hermoza is being charged
with aiding and abetting drug traffickers, and he reportedly has
$14.5 million dollars in Swiss bank accounts. The Washington Post
also told us the other day that over the past few years, "U.S.
officials repeatedly have uncovered evidence of Peruvian pilots
and military officers conspiring with drug traffickers."
This reminds me of the celebrated case of Gen. Gutiérrez
Rebollo in Mexico, the "drug czar" who it turns out
was cooperating with our efforts against one drug cartel while
helping another cartel. To what extent has the United States been
unwittingly helping corrupt officials in other countries bust
one cartel while strengthening another?
corruption, warning signs about the reliability of Peru's military
have long been evident for anyone willing to look. The Peruvian
armed forces' respect for democratic rule has been questionable
at best, and it has serious problems with corruption and human
rights abuse. For years, Peru's generals have been above the law.
Why, then, should we be surprised when they violate aircraft interdiction
our anti-drug cooperation in South America is encouraging militaries
to take on roles that would be illegal for our own military to
perform in the United States. Drug interdiction is an internal
law-enforcement role that requires frequent contact with civilians.
Here in America, our military is focused on external threats to
national security. In much of Latin America, militaries have played
internal roles, focused on internal enemies, with devastating
consequences for human rights and civil-military relations. In
much of the region, the post-cold-war period has been a time for
building democracy, and one of the most difficult steps has been
to get the military back in the barracks. These new counter-drug
roles give the regions' armies a powerful reason to remain outside
U.S. anti-drug activities in the region are being carried out
in a way that avoids scrutiny and oversight. While some secrecy
is needed to protect U.S. personnel and to keep from alerting
traffickers, we need more information in order to gauge the policy's
effectiveness, to be more alerted to the risks involved, to guarantee
an informed debate, and - let's face it - to prevent incidents
like last Friday's shootdown from occurring again in the future.
now, we cannot say with confidence how much the United States
is spending on its interdiction program in the Andes. We don't
know how many U.S. military personnel and contractors are working
in the region. We do know, however, that the U.S. military presence
goes well beyond what most Americans would imagine. I have included
a map in my written testimony indicating the locations of radar
sites, forward operating locations, air facilities, training locations,
and other sites in the region. I'm sure it's incomplete. But it's
remarkable how spread out our forces are - including some sites
where illegal armed groups are quite active - with little public
discussion or knowledge.
this is the U.S. involvement we know about. There are entire agencies
whose operations are obscured by an informational black hole.
The fact is, U.S. citizens can't get information about what their
government is doing in a key nearby part of the world.
informational void surrounds what appears to be a large and rapidly
growing role played by private contractors. Contractors were involved
in the Peru incident, but this phenomenon has gotten more attention
in Colombia. There, at least six private U.S. corporations are
performing services that include flying drug-crop fumigation aircraft,
ferrying battalions into combat, serving as mechanics and logistics
personnel, performing bottom-up reviews of the armed forces, and
gathering aerial intelligence. Some of these are rather delicate
missions. In Colombia, three spray-plane pilots have died in crashes
since 1997, and in February of this year, contractor personnel
working for the Virginia company DynCorp found themselves in a
firefight with FARC guerrillas while performing a search and rescue
mission in Caquetá department.
little more is known about the contractors: the names of companies,
other roles they may be playing, how much U.S. money is going
to them, why they are being used instead of U.S. government or
host-country personnel, and to what extent their lives are in
contractors taking on missions that are considered too dangerous
for U.S. personnel? Are they getting too close to participating
in shooting wars in other countries? Are they bound by the same
human rights standards that apply to military aid in the foreign
aid budget? Are they consistently operating in line with U.S.
policy goals? Who is making sure?
are very serious questions, but I can't come close to answering
them because contractor operations are taking place with almost
no transparency. There is no annual report to Congress on contractor
activities, and even some good investigative reporters have been
able to uncover little.
leads to a lack of effective oversight over contractors. Lack
of effective oversight leads to bizarre policy choices and incomprehensible
decisions - such as including non-Spanish speakers on surveillance
planes in Peru.
all of these risks, perhaps the most tragic thing about the current
policy is that the ends don't even justify the chosen means. We
hear all the time about how air bridge denial has reduced coca
cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. But the gross amount of coca
grown in the Andes hasn't budged at all - coca cultivation in
Colombia has made up the difference, and Colombia has lots of
room to grow. Meanwhile, street prices and purities in the United
States haven't been affected at all.
shootdown policy has succeeded only in inconveniencing drug traffickers,
forcing them to use routes other than air to get their product
out. We haven't found anything approaching a defense against short-hop
transshipment flights, the use of rivers and, increasingly, transport
coca cultivation elsewhere and forcing traffickers to use other
shipment methods are not policy successes. And they certainly
don't justify a large military presence, a risky shootdown policy,
and being forced to work with corrupt and abusive governments.
hope that the April 20 incident in Peru signals the beginning
of a change in our policy. There are many new directions we must
nobody thinks that narcotraffickers have a right to fly illegal
drugs around at will. But the shootdown policy can be less aggressive
without sacrificing much effectiveness. Since the policy already
skirts the edges of international law and ignores due process,
it makes sense to err on the side of caution. Lets hope new rules
of engagement reflect this in the future. The United States should
also play a more active role in discouraging questionable decisions
to fire upon aircraft.
might argue that a less aggressive shootdown policy might allow
more drugs to travel by air. If that happens, though, our experience
so far would indicate that less drugs will travel by water or
land as a result.
we need to put some limits on our use of contractors. This trend
appears to be going too far. Congresswoman Schakowsky has the
right idea with her recently introduced bill to cut funding for
contractors working with security forces in the Andean Ridge.
I hope that the bill inspires a lot of debate and questioning
about the contractors, because Congress needs to take a good,
long look at this.
let's be more careful about our choice of drug-war partners in
the region. We need to develop stricter standards to govern who
we're working with, what we're giving them, what we're training
them to do, and how we're empowering them in their own countries.
A zealous drug-war ally who ignores the rule of law at home is
not likely to be an ally for very long. Sacrificing democratization
and human rights for short-term drug goals threatens these same
goals later on.
it's been said a million times but we need to focus more on reducing
demand at home. I'm sure you've all heard about the 1994 RAND
Corporation study that found a dollar spent on drug treatment
to be as effective as 23 dollars spent on source-zone interdiction.
We need to make it easier for our addicts at home to get off drugs.
There has been a little progress - treatment funding has risen
41 percent since 1994. But overseas interdiction funding rose
by 175 percent in the same period.
we need to pay more attention to the reasons why poor people in
the Andes produce drugs in the first place. In almost all cases,
peasants produce coca or poppy because they have no other economic
choices. They've come to a place where land is available, but
their government never followed them, building roads and maintaining
the rule of law. In Putumayo or the Huallaga Valley, you cannot
break even with legal crops. We have to address this with infrastructure-building,
state strengthening and alternative development programs that
are agreed with local communities. If we keep on fumigating without
improving conditions, drug crops will keep moving around. There's
a lot of places for them to move to in the Amazon basin.
can only resolve our drug crisis when we make it easier to get
off drugs at home and make it easier to make a legal living in
Latin America. These are not dramatic solutions offering quick
results. But unlike the current policy, they will offer results
eventually. The political cost not as high as one might think.
Emphasizing treatment and economic development isn't "soft
on drugs." The biggest challenge will be forcing some agencies
to endure reduced budgets.
echo many observers' sentiment that a military response is inadequate
to drugs, which are a social and economic problem. I repeat the
warning of Caspar Weinberger, who wrote thirteen years ago that
using military force against drugs makes for "hot and exciting
rhetoric, but would make for terrible national security policy,
poor politics and guaranteed failure in the campaign against drugs."
hope that last week's terrible tragedy may wake us up and start
a re-evaluation. I look forward to your questions.