Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, May 3, 2000
May 3, 2000.
The Honorable JESSE HELMS
Chairman, Committee on Foreign
Relations DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN:
On April 19 and 20, I traveled
to Colombia to examine counternarcotics programs there. In particular,
my objective was to discuss the "Plan Colombia" proposed by
the Colombian Government, and the U.S. proposal to assist the plan. While
there, I met extensively with President Pastrana, Minister of Defense
Ramirez, the President's Chief of Staff, Jaime Ruiz, U.S. Ambassador Curt
Kamman, and senior Embassy officials. I also met with representatives
of Colombian non-governmental organizations working on human rights, and
representatives of the Colombian offices of two U.N. agencies.
I owe a great debt of gratitude
to the Colombian Government, particularly President Pastrana, for facilitating
my visit. President Pastrana graciously hosted me at his government guest
house in Cartagena. I also owe much to U.S. Ambassador Curt Kamman, Political
Counselor Leslie Bassett (who served as the delegation control officer),
and other staff of the Embassy who traveled with us to Cartagena.
I was accompanied and assisted
on the trip by Minority Counsel Brian McKeon, and Professional Staff Member
Marcia Lee. They also traveled to Colombia in March for four days, during
which they conducted numerous meetings and visited forward operating locations
in southern Colombia. Some portions of this report are based on their
work in March.
The delegation was ably assisted
throughout the trip by Lt. Cdr. Valerie Ulatowski, USN, to whom I am extremely
I came away from my visit
convinced that the U.S. Congress should act quickly to approve President
Clinton's request for supplemental funding for Colombia. Unless the Congress
acts quickly to approve funding for this plan, a critical opportunity
in the fight against narcotics trafficking in Colombia may be lost.
I understand the Committee
on Appropriations will soon markup the Fiscal Year 2001 foreign operations
appropriations bill, as well as the Colombia supplemental for Fiscal 2000.
I hope this report will be useful to the Senate during consideration of
this important issue.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.,
Ranking Minority Member. (III)
KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. The United States has a
rare enforcement opportunity in Colombia. Colombia today is the primary
source of cocaine and heroin sold in the United States. It is the primary
source of the raw material (coca leaf and opium poppy), the primary site
of the major laboratories, and the primary site of the leading trafficking
organizations. Never before in recent history has there been such an opportunity
to strike at all aspects of the drug trade at the source. We also have
an important opportunity because of the strong commitment of the Government
of Colombia to fight narcotics trafficking. The United States should seize
this rare enforcement opportunity by providing assistance to Plan Colombia.
2. The security crisis in
southern Colombia warrants increased U.S. counter-narcotics assistance.
Guerrilla fronts have a heavy presence in southern Colombia and have a
significant role in protecting drug trafficking operations. Similarly,
right-wing paramilitary organizations are operating in portions of southern
Colombia. Because of security concerns, U.S.-Colombian coca eradication
operations were temporarily suspended in late March. Increased U.S. assistance
to Colombian military units which will assist the Colombian National Police
in counter-narcotics operations is warranted by the serious guerrilla
and paramilitary threat to the Police.
3. There are considerable
costs associated with Congress' delay in approving the Colombia supplemental.
Among the costs are delayed delivery of the Blackhawk helicopters, delays
in training of the Colombian counter-narcotics battalions (which have
already occurred), and reduction in U.S.-Colombian eradication operations.
The delay also undermines President Pastrana's ability to implement Plan
4. The U.S. and Colombian
Governments should ensure that Plan Colombia focuses on drug trafficking
both in the north and south of Colombia. Plan Colombia focuses initially
on southern Colombia, where guerrilla organizations predominate. The plan
should also focus on coca trafficking in the north of Colombia, where
paramilitary organizations predominate. This is necessary not only to
demonstrate that no trafficking organization is immune from attack, but
also to contain the further spread of narcotics trafficking in the north.
5. The Colombian Government
should continue to make strong ef forts to improve the human rights record
of the Colombian Armed Forces, and to prosecute all violations of human
rights. U.S. engagement with Colombia is an important factor in continued
improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia. President Pastrana
reiterated his personal commitment, and that of the Colombian Government,
to improving human rights. Congress should consider increasing the amount
of U.S. assistance proposed for human rights efforts.
6. Coordination between the
Army and the Police needs improvement. Important to the success of the
military component of Plan Colombia will be coordination between the Colombian
Army and the Colombian National Police. There are indications that the
Police are unreceptive to working closely with the Army. Similarly, the
Army counter-narcotics battalion at Tres Esquinas has conducted operations
unilaterally-without including the police in planning or giving them adequate
notice to participate. The United States must continually emphasize to
the Colombian Government the importance of improving Army-CNP cooperation.
7. The United States is well-served
by the Country Team, but more staff are needed. The U.S. Embassy team
working on Plan Colombia is led by a veteran Ambassador, is highly motivated
and is working diligently to advance U.S. counter-narcotics objectives.
Morale appears to be high. But the Narcotics Affairs Section is understaffed
and needs additional personnel, and the Political Section needs additional
officers to monitor human rights.
OVERVIEW: AID TO "PLAN
COLOMBIA" IS A CRITICAL OPPORTUNITY FOR THE UNITED STATES
Since February, a request
by President Clinton to provide nearly $1 billion in supplemental funding
in Fiscal 2000 to help Colombia and its neighbors fight drug trafficking
has been pending in Congress. The request was approved by the House of
Representatives in March, but it has since languished in the Senate.
During the Easter recess,
I traveled to Colombia for a first-hand look at the situation and to discuss
U.S. and Colombian counternarcotics programs with senior Colombian Government
officials, U.S. Embassy officials, and representatives of non-governmental
and international organizations.
I spent several hours over
the course of two days with President Pastrana, who graciously hosted
me at the presidential guest house in Cartagena. I believe that my lengthy
meetings with him, mostly in informal settings, afforded me the opportunity
to take the full measure of the man. I am fully convinced of President
Pastrana's personal commitment to the counter-narcotics effort. I also
spent several hours with U.S. Ambassador Curt Kamman and his team, both
in Bogota and in Cartagena. I was deeply impressed by the dedication,
knowledge and commitment of the senior Embassy team.
I came away from my visit
convinced that the U.S. Congress should act quickly to approve President
Clinton's request for supplemental funding for Colombia. Unless the Congress
acts quickly to approve funding for this plan, a critical opportunity
in the fight against narcotics trafficking in Colombia may be lost. Colombia
today is the primary source for two leading narcotics sold on the streets
of the United States: cocaine and heroin. It is the primary source for
the raw materials (coca leaf and opium poppy), the site of the major processing
labs, and the site of the major trafficking organizations. Never before
in recent history has there been such an opportunity for the international
community to strike against the bulk of the narcotics industry at the
Colombia today has a president
committed to working closely with the United States. He has developed
a $7.5 billion dollar plan - "Plan Colombia" - to fight traffickers
and revive his country's economy. President Clinton has proposed that
the United States provide $1.6 billion to assist Colombia and other Andean
nations, or about 20 percent of the plan. International financial institutions
have provided nearly $1 billion. Europe and Japan are being asked to contribute
Every day that the Senate
delays imposes a cost on this plan and to U.S.-Colombian counter-narcotics
efforts. Production of the proposed helicopters will be delayed, as will
training of the necessary pilots. Training of two Colombian counter-narcotics
battalions has already been delayed. The Colombian effort to raise money
from Europe is proceeding slowly in part because of hesitation in Washington.
Most important, delay in Washington undermines President Pastrana and
his ability to implement the plan in Colombia.
Helping Colombia is squarely
in America's national interest. It is the source of many of the drugs
poisoning our people. It is not some far-off land with which the United
States shares little in common. It is an established democracy in America's
backyard-just a few hours by air from Miami.
Colombia is hardly a stranger
to the drug war. It has been battling this scourge for decades. In the
1980s, its equivalent of the Supreme Court was attacked by traffickers.
A decade ago, its presidential candidates were gunned down. The current
president, when a candidate for Mayor of Bogotá, was kidnapped
by traffickers. The people of Colombia have demonstrated great courage
in fighting drug trafficking. Colombia has achieved some major successes
in this effort-in the 1990s it dismantled the major cartels in Medellín
and Cali-cartels that a decade ago were thought to be invincible. Last
October, in a joint U.S.-Colombian operation, over 30 major traffickers
were arrested on the same day.
America's apparently insatiable
demand for narcotics has, undeniably, helped fuel the drug trade in Colombia.
Colombia seeks significant U.S. assistance to help confront this trade-and
is pledging substantial funds and action by its government. Colombia has
a highly professional police force dedicated to counter-narcotics, and
now requests U.S. assistance to train and professionalize military units
that will be used against narcotics traffickers. I believe the United
States should answer Colombia's call for help.
There is, to be sure, no guarantee
that this plan will work in significantly reducing narcotics trafficking.
Anybody who says they are certain that it will succeed is either lying
or is a fool. But in my 28 years in the Senate, I have been deeply involved
in studying and debating narcotics policy. I strongly believe that at
this moment, with this president in Bogotá, we have a real opportunity
to make a significant difference against the drug trade in Colombia. That
opportunity could slip away unless we seize this rare enforcement moment.
BACKGROUND ON COLOMBIA AND
A. OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION
Colombia is the third most
populous country in Latin America, with just under 40 million people.
It is the second oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere, after the
United States. Unlike many countries in Latin America, it has rarely been
subject to military dictatorship. Military rulers have governed Colombia
for only three brief periods since the formation of the republic in the
early 19th century the last time was over forty years ago. Today, as democracies
across the Andes are threatened by renewed rumblings from military barracks,
or authoritarian tendencies by incumbent leaders, Colombia remains squarely
and unalterably in the camp of democratic nations.
Although civilian rule has
been the norm, it has not spared Colombia from instability. Rather, Colombian
history has long been marked by internal conflict. During the late 1940s
and 1950s, for example, Colombia went through a civil conflict referred
to as "La Violencia," during which over 200,000 people were
killed. The violence ended when the two major parties, the Liberals and
Conservatives, agreed on a 16-year period of "National Front"
government during which the two parties rotated the presidency and had
parity in other elected offices.
It might be said that Colombia
is going through a second-or perhaps extension of-"La Violencia".
Colombia today is wracked by violence. It faces a three-front war: with
drug traffickers, with left-wing guerrillas, and with right-wing paramilitaries.
These fronts are often intertwined; for example, guerrillas and paramilitaries
both cooperate with drug traffickers, and the paramilitaries cooperate
with the armed forces. None of these groups are monoliths; there are numerous
drug trafficking organizations, two guerrilla groups, and numerous right-wing
paramilitary groups. The Colombian Government actively fights on two of
these fronts: against the drug traffickers and the guerrillas, and occasionally
fights, but occasionally cooperates with, the right-wing paramilitaries.
At the same time, the government is engaged in peace negotiations with
both guerrilla groups, and has agreed to "demilitarized zones"
for both of them.
The violence associated with
the civil conflict and drug trafficking has been accompanied by an erosion
of the rule of law. Last year, for example, there were some 25,000 murders
in Colombia (this far exceeds the murder rate in the United States-a country
with more than six times the population of Colombia-where there were about
17,000 murders in 1998). Of these, about 2,000-3,000 were considered to
be "political" crimes, that is, crimes related to the civil
conflict. The rest were common criminal murders. Kidnaping is also widespread:
there were over 2,500 last year, which is one out of every three kidnapings
in the world. Justice is often denied. A recent judicial report in Colombia
found that 63 percent of crimes go unreported, and that 40 percent of
all reported crimes go unpunished. Because of the violence, particularly
the risk of kidnaping, the State Department currently warns U.S. citizens
against traveling to Colombia, and states that "there is a greater
risk of being kidnaped in Colombia than in any other country in the world."
Colombia is, as it has long
been, the source of up to 75 percent of the world's processed cocaine
(cocaine HCL). It now also holds the dubious distinction of being the
world's leading producer of cocaine base (the intermediate step prior
to cocaine HCL), as reductions in cultivation in Bolivia and Peru have
pushed cultivation into Colombia. Colombia is also the leading supplier
of heroin to the United States.
Colombia is currently suffering
through a recession. Its gross domestic product fell by 3.5 percent in
1999, the first time the Colombian economy suffered negative growth in
three decades. Unemployment at the end of 1999 was around 20 percent;
inflation was over 9 percent. And approximately one million people (out
of a total population of about 40 million) have been internally displaced
in the last several years because of the civil conflict.
B. U.S.-COLOMBIAN RELATIONS
AND THE BACKGROUND TO PLAN COLOMBIA
U.S.-Colombian relations have
historically been strong. Under the previous Colombian president, however,
the relationship soured because of credible allegations that he received
financial contributions for his 1994 presidential campaign from drug traffickers.
This led President Clinton to twice "decertify" Colombia under
the Foreign Assistance Act. A general reduction in the level of cooperation
between the United States and Colombia also resulted.
The inauguration of President
Andrés Pastrana in August 1998 changed the atmosphere in the U.S.-Colombian
relationship. President Pastrana made restoration of strong relations
with the United States a high priority, and he has succeeded in that objective.
Undoubtedly, President Pastrana
has demonstrated his commitment to a key issue for the United States-the
fight against narcotics trafficking. Among other things, Pastrana has
released a first-ever national drug strategy, and renewed extradition
of criminals to the United States, as authorized by a December 1997 constitutional
amendment. He has also formulated a plan to combat drug trafficking and
revive the economy, which he has called "Plan Colombia". Announced
in September 1999, the plan calls for a $7.5 billion investment over three
years (2000-2002); of this, the Colombian Government would provide $4
billion, and would seek the remaining $3.5 billion from the international
community. As articulated by the Colombian Government, Plan Colombia focuses
on five areas:
1. The peace process (i.e.,
negotiations with the guerrillas);
2. The economy;
3. The counter-drug strategy;
4. Reform of the justice
system and protection of human rights;
5. Democratization and social
In January 2000, President
Clinton announced his proposal for U.S. support of Plan Colombia: a two
year, $1.6 billion contribution. Of this amount, approximately $150 million
is the base Colombia program for Fiscal 2000 and 2001. The enhanced funding
would include $954 million in supplemental appropriations in Fiscal 2000,
and an additional $318 million in Fiscal 2001. The supplemental request
was approved by the House of Representatives on March 30, and is currently
pending before the Senate.
A. BACKGROUND ON THE CURRENT
1. Trafficking Organizations
Organizationally, the drug
trade in Colombia is no longer dominated by major cartels based in Medellín
and Cali, as it was a decade ago. Because of law enforcement pressure
by the U.S. and Colombian Governments in the early and mid-1990s, these
cartels have been largely dismantled, and their leaders killed or imprisoned.
The result as been what the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) aptly
terms the "decentralization" of the trade, with numerous smaller
trafficking organizations emerging, the rise of independent traffickers
in Bolivia and Peru producing their own cocaine HCL, and changes in the
distribution networks such that Mexican organizations are not merely middlemen
for the Colombians, they now have their own distribution networks in the
2. Production and cultivation
The organizational changes
described above have not affected Colombia's role as the source of the
large majority of processed cocaine, or cocaine HCL (up to 75 percent
of the world's cocaine HCL comes from Colombia). Because of enforcement
pressure in Bolivia and Peru, much cultivation has shifted to Colombia.
As recently as 1995, Colombia only produced about 25 percent of the world's
cocaine base; it is now the world's leading producer, at about 68 percent.
Coca cultivation is literally exploding in Colombia: in the last four
years, net coca cultivation has more than doubled in terms of area, from
51,000 hectares in 1995 to 122,500 hectares in 1999. Moreover, a recent
U.S. intelligence study determined that Colombian leaf produced a higher
yield than previously thought, and that Colombian labs were more efficient
than previously thought. Colombia's estimated potential cocaine production
in 1999 was 520 metric tons; this compares to 70 metric tons in Bolivia,
and 175 metric tons in Peru.
Much of this new cultivation
is in southern Colombia, primarily in two departments (or provinces),
Putumayo and Caquetá. The government does not have much of an institutional
presence in this region-that is, there are few roads, schools, or hospitals-and
has not for most of the history of the republic. It is remote and much
of it is jungle. There is also significant cultivation in two northern
departments, Norte de Santander and Bolivar.
Nearly half of the coca in
the country-about 56,000 hectares- is cultivated in Putumayo Department.
Although I did not visit southern Colombia, in March two members of the
Committee staff visited three forward Army and Police bases in Putumayo
and Caquetá Departments, and rode on Colombian National Police
helicopters to witness an eradication operation (i.e., fumigation of coca
leaves) in Caquetá. They also flew by plane over portions of Putumayo
Department where significant cultivation occurs. In Caquetá much
of the cultivation the staff saw was somewhat hidden, at least on the
ground, within wooded areas. That is, the peasants clear-cut several acres
of jungle to grow a plot of coca, but attempted to keep the presence of
the field hidden on the ground (though it obviously cannot be hidden from
aerial view). In Putumayo, there was no such effort to hide the plots
of coca: it was out in the open, and went on and on for hundreds of acres.
In addition to coca cultivation,
Colombia is now the leading source of heroin sold in the United States.
Starting from almost nothing a decade ago, the opium and heroin trade
has expanded significantly: by 1993, Colombian heroin accounted for 15
percent of the U.S. supply, and by 1998 it accounted for 65 percent. In
1999, Colombia produced an estimated 8 metric tons of heroin, more than
Mexico. Though it amounts to only a small percentage of the world's heroin
supply, Colombian heroin dominates the trade in New York and other East
Coast cities; it is high quality and of high purity, allowing it to be
smoked rather than injected.
3. Involvement of guerrillas
and paramilitaries in narcotics trafficking
In addition to the drug trafficking
organizations, both left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries
are involved in the Colombian drug trade.
The two major guerrilla groups
in Colombia are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (commonly referred
to by its Spanish-language acronym of "FARC"), and the National
Liberation Army (or ELN). The FARC is the larger of the two-it is believed
to have about 10,000-14,000 personnel, and is better trained and equipped.
It operates primarily in the south and eastern lowlands, though it has
some urban cells. The ELN has about 3,0006,000 personnel and operates
primarily in the north and the center of the country.
It would be "misleading,"
says an unclassified portion of an otherwise classified DEA report, to
characterize the FARC or ELN as drug cartels per se. Rather, they assist
traffickers by providing security for drug operations and assisting in
transportation of narcotics. They also impose taxes, not only on the drug
trade but all economic activity in areas they control. In some areas,
they allegedly establish the price paid to peasants for coca leaf. Estimates
of the profits the guerrillas derive from this activity vary significantly,
from a few hundred million dollars to nearly $2 billion per year (this
higher end estimate was provided by a Colombian Army official, and it
appears to be greatly inflated).
Right-wing paramilitary groups
are also involved in the drug trade, and some of them are considered to
be traffickers. The paramilitaries were originally formed in the 1980s
as a response to guerrilla violence, and several of these were originally
authorized by the government to protect rural areas. These groups are
now illegal. The leader of the largest umbrella group of paramilitaries
is Carlos Castaño, the leader of the "Peasant Self-Defense
Groups of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU)." Most paramilitary operations
are in the north, though they do have a presence in the south. Like the
guerrillas, most of the paramilitary groups do not appear to be directly
involved in any significant drug cultivation, but instead levy taxes and
protect the traffickers. The DEA recently testified, however, that Castaño's
organization, and possibly other paramilitary groups, "appear to
be directly involved in processing cocaine," and that "at least
one of these paramilitary groups appears to be involved in exporting cocaine
B. KEY ISSUES IN IMPLEMENTATION
OF PLAN COLOMBIA
During my visit, I focused
on several key issues related to the implementation of Plan Colombia by
the Colombian Government and the U.S. Government.
1. The military component
of U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia - and the need for it
A key component of the U.S.
contribution to Plan Colombia is military assistance, specifically, the
training and equipping of three Colombian Army counter-narcotics battalions.
One battalion of about 950 men was trained last year by U.S. forces, and
is now in p lace at the Tres Esquinas base in southern Caquetá
Department. Together the three battalions will form a brigade, just under
The basic argument for training
and equipping the Colombian Army-rather than the Colombian National Police
(CNP), the primary counter-narcotics agency in Colombia-is that the CNP
lacks the muscle to take on the guerrillas and paramilitaries that are
involved in drug trafficking in southern Colombia. In other words, because
the guerrillas and paramilitaries often protect traffickers and their
operations, the police cannot go after the traffickers without also risking
encounters with well-armed irregular forces. And, because the police are
primarily a law enforcement agency, it lacks the military power and training
to confront the well-trained and well-equipped FARC fronts and paramilitary
It bears emphasis that the
United States is hardly neglecting the CNP with this plan. It has provided
over $775 million in support for the CNP since the mid-1980s, and the
Administration proposal provides roughly $100 million in additional equipment
and training for the CNP.
The security threat in Colombia
warrants increased U.S. counternarcotics assistance. Numerous FARC fronts
(the estimate of how many is classified), as well as paramilitary units
operate in the south. Nearly half of the coca leaf grown in Colombia is
located in Putumayo Department. There is a continuous security threat
to the current U.S.-Colombian eradication operations. In March, the State
Department temporarily suspended day-time coca spraying operations because
of the security situation. During the past four years (including the first
three months of this year), U.S.-CNP spray planes in Colombia were hit
over 100 times by groundfire, including 21 times in the last six months
alone. Because of the threat from groundflre, two helicopter gunships
and a search and rescue helicopter continually accompany the spray planes.
U.S. assistance to the battalions
will be in two basic forms: training by U.S. military forces, and equipment,
particularly helicopters. Most of the training will be conducted in Colombia
by U.S. Special Forces on temporary duty. Some of the training, particularly
for the brigade headquarters staff, will be conducted in the United States.
Anywhere from 20 to 160 U.S. personnel will be involved in training at
any one time. Some training missions will be conducted at forward operating
bases in Colombia.
The training will be just
that: training. Pursuant to a Department of Defense memorandum issued
by Secretary of Defense Cohen in October 1998, Defense Department personnel
are prohibited from accompanying foreign law enforcement and military
forces on actual counterdrug field operations or "participating in
any activity in which counterdrug-related hostilities are imminent."
Moreover, they are prohibited by the same directive from accompanying
such law enforcement forces outside a secure base or area. Secretary Cohen
reemphasized these points in a memorandum to Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton
in March 2000.
In addition to training the
battalions, the United States will fill a key shortfall in the Colombian
military arsenal: tactical mobility. Under the U.S. contribution to the
Plan, the United States will provide 30 UH-60 helicopters (Blackhawks)
to the Colombian Army. The Blackhawks will be newly procured from the
contractor, Sikorsky Helicopters. Delivery of the helicopters will be
at a rate of two per month, and is projected to begin in early 2001. In
the interim, 15 additional UH-lNs (Hueys) will be provided to Colombia,
which will add to the 18 already in country. Up to six of these Hueys,
however, will likely be diverted from Colombian counter-narcotics operations
for use in training additional Colombian pilots.
2. The costs of delaying
There are considerable costs
associated with Congress delaying the supplemental appropriations that
would provide nearly $1 billion in assistance for Colombia in Fiscal 2000.
First, delay exacerbates the
lag time for procurement of the Blackhawks, the training of the pilots
and the building of the infrastructure to house and maintain them. Even
if the supplemental were enacted today, the first Blackhawks could not
be delivered until next year due to production schedules.
Second, the training for the
second and third counter-narcotics battalions has been delayed because
of uncertainties about the funding for Colombia. Training of the second
battalion was scheduled to begin in early April. Because the entire training
schedule was due to occur in sequence-that is, training of the second
battalion followed by training of the third-the entire training schedule
will now likely be pushed back.
Third, because of the delay
in the supplemental, the Huey helicopters that are currently in Colombia
and designated for the counter-narcotics battalions are not yet forward
deployed-for the simple reason that funds are not available, because they
were to be provided by the United States under the supplemental. Consequently,
the initial counter-narcotics battalion at Tres Esquinas is greatly hampered
in its range of operation. To date, it has conducted operations only on
Fourth, the State Department
has forward-funded some eradication operations in Colombia because it
expected the supplemental to pass by now. The Department increased the
operating tempo of eradication, in effect gambling that the money from
Congress would soon arrive. It was a reasonable gamble given the original
64-135 00-2 10 11 reception to President Clinton's proposal and the recent
successes in eradication. But the gamble has not worked. The State Department
just laid off 40 contract employees, severely reducing spraying operations
in Guaviare Department, where there has been significant success in spraying
in recent years.
Fifth, the delay in approving
the supplemental undermines Colombia's efforts to raise funds from Europe
and Japan. In April, President Pastrana met with British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, and in March his foreign minister traveled to Tokyo to seek
help from Japan. This summer, Spain will host a conference of donor countries
to garner more international support. But, in the face of inaction on
our part, all those efforts may be a waste of time. I do not expect Europe
and Japan to contribute to Plan Colombia unless the U.S. Congress takes
the first step.
Finally, and most important,
we need to move now because we have a limited window. President Pastrana
is an ally of the United States. But he is only going to be president
for two and one-half more years. The hesitation of the United States has
a negative psychological effect in Colombia and Pastrana's effort to push
forward his strategy. Every day we wait to pass the spending bill means
one less day that Pastrana will have to implement Plan Colombia. And every
day that we delay, more coca seeds are planted, more coca leaf is processed,
and more cocaine is shipped to this country.
3. What does the Plan do to
counter trafficking by paramilitaries?
The debate in the U.S. Congress
to date has focused in part on suggestions that the "push into southern
Colombia" may be a counter-insurgency in disguise-in that the south
is also the area where the stronger of the two guerrilla groups, the FARC,
During my visit to Colombia,
I impressed upon Colombian and U.S. Embassy officials about the importance
of taking actions against paramilitary trafficking in the north of the
country simultaneously with the push into the south-not only to demonstrate
that no trafficking organization is immune from attack, but also to contain
the further spread of narcotics trafficking in the north.
The push into southern Colombian
will in fact engage paramilitaries. Although it is not well known in this
country, hundreds of paramilitaries are struggling with the FARC for control
of the drug trade in Putumayo province. Operations against drug trafficking
in Putumayo will not be targeted against organizations because of their
political views, they will be targeted against drug traffickers.
In addition, the plan contemplates
operations against drug trafficking elsewhere in the country during the
second phase, beginning during the second year. Finally, senior Embassy
personnel indicated that it was an achievable objective to undertake operations
against coca cultivation in the north of the country-where paramilitary
organization predominate-simultaneous with the "push into southern
4. Concerns about coordination
between the CNP and the Armed Forces
The military assistance component
of Plan Colombia is predicated on the need for the Colombian Army to secure
portions of southern Colombia so that police operations, and ultimately
alternative development programs, can occur. The Colombian Army counter-narcotics
battalions will not operate alone, because, as is the case with the U.S.
military, there are legal restrictions on its ability to conduct law enforcement
operations. Rather, they must coordinate their operations with the CNP,
which has the law enforcement authority and expertise to make arrests
and take down laboratories.
The CNP is formally part of
the Ministry of National Defense, but, as with any military establishment,
there are institutional rivalries between the CNP and the other services.
The rivalry between the CNP and the Army goes back at least half a century,
when the two services backed different political parties during "La
The U.S. Government recognizes
the importance of improving the joint efforts of the two services. During
an appearance before the Committee on Foreign Relations on February 25,
Brian Sheridan, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations
and Low Intensity Conflict, testified that the Colombian military needs
to "better coordinate operations between the services and with the
CNP." There are indications that the police are unreceptive to working
closely with the Army. Similarly, the Army counter-narcotics battalion
based at Tres Esquinas has undertaken several operations on foot unilaterally.
These were not mere training missions: there was a counter-narcotics objective
to each operation (typically a cocaine laboratory). The Army has failed
to properly coordinate these operations in advance with the CNP, but instead
gave the police only a few hours' notice that the operation was imminent-leaving
the CNP inadequate time to prepare for the mission.
Coordination between the two
services will be essential to the success of the "push into southern
Colombia." The United States must make it a high priority to foster
and encourage coordination between the two services. Embassy officials
are aware of this objective, and appear to be taking steps to promote
it. So, too, are Colombian Government officials. I spoke at length about
this issue with the President and the Minister of Defense, and impressed
upon them the urgent need to improve coordination. The message should
be constantly emphasized by the United States.
5. Security at forward operating
In March, the Committee staff
took a day-long trip to southern Colombia, namely Caquetá and Putumayo
Departments. They visited the Larandia base in northwest Caquetá,
the Army base at Tres Esquinas (on the Caquetá-Putumayo border
in the western portion of Caquetá), and the CNP base at Villa Garzon
in Putumayo Department.
Because of time constraints
and the Easter holiday period, I was unable to visit southern Colombia.
I did, however, discuss the security issue with the U.S. Ambassador and
the head of the U.S. Military Group at the Embassy. I impressed upon them
the need to do everything possible to strengthen security at the forward
The key question for the United
States is whether there is adequate security at the bases where U.S. trainers
will be located during the training of the Colombian counter-narcotics
battalions. It is currently anticipated that some training of the counter-narcotics
battalions will be held at Larandia and Tres Esquinas, which are in southern
Colombia in areas where FARC fronts operate.
There is no such thing as
perfect security, and it is unlikely that Colombian bases will ever meet
standards of U.S. military bases. But U.S. forces should not be exposed
to undue risk. Assistant Secretary of Defense Brian Sheridan stated in
response to a question for the record after a February 2000 hearing of
the Committee on Foreign Relations that "force protection measures
in place are adequate for the deployment of U.S. personnel to train Colombian
forces who conduct counterdrug operations." U.S. personnel in Colombia
echoed this view, though they underscored that they are continually working
with the Colombian military to improve security.
6. Selection and operation
of the Blackhawks
One question before Congress
is whether the tactical mobility requirement of the Colombian Army can
be adequately met with a cheaper option than the Blackhawks, namely Hueys.
The option was rejected by the Administration for three reasons: the Blackhawk
has a greater range, speed, and can carry more troops than the Huey. The
following table demonstrates the differences: UH-60 UH-1N
Maximum range (nautical miles) 306 230
Cruising speed (knots) 150 110
Troop-carrying capacity 11 to 20 8 to 12
To be sure, the costs of the
Blackhawks are substantial: the initial investment under the supplemental
is $385 million to fund the procurement, operations and maintenance, and
pilot training. There will be associated costs for infrastructure at Colombian
bases: at least $13 million in Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001. But the payoff
is a far more capable helicopter to provide the critical requirement of
the Colombian Army. The advantage of buying a new helicopter- as opposed
to a upgraded, but decades-old helicopter-should be self-evident.
Questions have been raised
whether the Colombian military can adequately manage sophisticated helicopters
such as the Blackhawk. The Colombian Army and Air Force, collectively,
al- ready possess 20 Blackhawk helicopters. The Air Force helicopters
are operational 80 percent of time, the Army helicopters 50 percent. The
latter is skewed by the inclusion in the calculations of one Blackhawk
with 73 bullet holes that has been inoperational for 18 months. If this
single helicopter is not included in the data, the operational rate is
70 percent. These data compare favorably to the current CNP aircraft inventory,
which is operational at a 65 percent rate. Perhaps more important, the
operational rate of the Colombian military is comparable to the U.S. military,
in which the operational rates of the Blackhawk average around 80 percent.
So this data suggest that the Colombian Armed Forces have adequately learned
how to operate and maintain the Blackhawks in their inventory, though
additional pilots, maintenance crews, and infrastructure will be needed
for the new helicopters.
7. Alternative development
and assistance for the internally displaced
Two important components of
Plan Colombia are providing alternative development opportunities to peasants
now growing coca and poppy, and assisting those that are internally displaced
by the Plan and Colombia's conflicts.
The U.S. portion of plan provides
for $115 million for alternative development efforts in Colombia. This
is clearly insufficient given the substantial need to persuade thousands
of small farmers to switch from illegal activities. Colombia needs more;
it is planning to contribute several hundred million dollars of its own
funds, and is seeking funds for the effort from Europe-which has been
asked to provide up to $1 billion for alternative development-as well
The key issue is one of timing:
coordinating alternative development programs with enforcement measures,
so the peasants have real economic alternatives at the moment their livelihood
(albeit illicit) is being reduced. This has historically been a difficult
challenge in the Andean region, because development programs often take
longer to develop than enforcement programs. An added difficulty is that
the Colombian Government agency responsible for alternative development,
known as "PLANTE", is relatively new and is relatively small.
Similarly, the Agency for International Development mission must build
its capacity, as its program in Colombia in recent years has been negligible.
The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), which has been operating
in Colombia since 1985, has extensive experience in the Andes, and should
be utilized in this effort.
The Colombian Government plans
to begin alternative development programs in Putumayo Department on a
pilot basis (there are already programs underway in opium growing areas).
Initial programs will be conducted, in coordination with eradication operations,
in an area along the main highway south of the provincial capital. Unlike
many areas in the rest of the province, the soil there is suitable for
agriculture. The programs there will be an important test of whether real
alternatives can work in that region.
It should be recognized that
even the best alternative development programs cannot work unless the
area is secure. Put another way, we cannot expect the Agency for International
Development and PLANTE to work in areas effectively controlled by guerrillas
Plan Colombia also provides
for assistance to the internally displaced. The battle between Colombia's
armed actors-the military, the guerillas, and the paramilitaries-has had
a tremendous impact on the Colombian people. Kidnapings, massacres, battles,
and threats force tens of thousands of Colombian families to flee their
homes each year and move elsewhere in the country. Squatter settlements
of displaced people have sprung up around Bogotá and other cities.
These internally displaced persons need food, clothing, shelter (temporary
and permanent), health care, counseling, job training and employment.
(In international law, these are not "refugees"; refugees must
cross an international border. Those displaced by crises, but still within
their own borders, are referred to as "internally displaced persons,"
Estimates of the number of
IDPs vary considerably: ranging from several hundred thousand to 2 million.
The State Department estimates that at least 800,000 people, primarily
women and children, have been displaced since 1996-a level similar to
those displaced in Kosovo in 1999. The "Red de Solidaridad Social"
(RSS), Colombia's government agency which coordinates relief services,
numbers the displaced at 400,000. The reason for the disparity turns on
definitional disputes regarding precisely who is displaced. I am not in
a position to settle this dispute, but it is clear that the government
has a serious problem on its hands.
The problem is widespread
in the country. According to the Colombian Government, the internal displacement
problem involves 139 of the country's 180 municipalities. Forty-four percent
of IDP families are headed by a female, 23 percent of IDPs are less than
seven years old, and nearly 17 percent are ethnic minorities. Most are
poor families from rural areas with an agricultural background.
The cause of displacement
varies. The Council for Human Rights and the Displaced, a respected non-governmental
organization in Colombia, estimates that 45 percent of IDPs are displaced
by the paramilitaries; 30-32 percent by the guerrillas; and 8 percent
by the armed forces.
The push into southern Colombia
is expected to displace 30,000 to 40,000 of the estimated 300,000 residents
of the Putumayo Department. Many of those expected to be displaced are
migrant farmers who have moved to the region to grow or pick coca. Because
the displacements in Putumayo will be the result of U.S.-assisted enforcement
measures under Plan Colombia, the United States will have a special responsibility
to assist those displaced from that region. The Clinton Administration
proposal requests $12 million in 2000 and $19 million in 2001 for resettlement
assistance. Given the large number of people already displaced and the
additional people who will be displaced as a result of the "push
into southern Colombia," this amount is probably insufficient, and
additional resources should be considered during debate on the supplemental
or in the regular FY 2001 budget.
8. Embassy staffing requirements
for Plan Colombia
The Narcotics Affairs Section
(NAS) in the U.S. Embassy is understaffed. In September 1999, with the
approval of the Ambassador, the Section applied to Washington for 31 new
positions to help manage the counter-narcotics program, which has grown
significantly in the past few years-from about $20 million in Fiscal 1996
to some $235 million in Fiscal 1999-without a corresponding increase in
staff to manage the program. Senior State Department officials have assured
the Committee that these positions will be approved; to date, 18 of them
have been. These staff are needed now. It bears emphasis that these additional
30 positions were requested before submittal of Plan Colombia. The Section
estimates that it may need up to 20 additional positions in order to support
the increase of U.S. assistance under Plan Colombia.
The importance of the State
Department providing adequate staffing to this mission cannot be overemphasized.
If the U.S. Government is going to devote substantial resources to fighting
narcotics in Colombia, it must provide adequate staff to help ensure that
these resources are spent properly.
C. COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT AND
1. Securing assistance from
other international sources
Plan Colombia is predicated
on international assistance. The United States has pledged, but not yet
provided, over $1 billion in new assistance. International financial institutions
have committed nearly $1 billion. The Colombian Government is making serious
efforts to raise additional funds from Europe and Japan. A donors conference,
sponsored by Spain, will be convened in Madrid in July for this purpose.
The Colombian government is
working hard to solicit other international assistance. The week before
my visit, President Pastrana traveled to the United Kingdom for meetings
with Prime Minister Blair and Foreign Secretary Cook. In March, Colombian
Foreign Minister Fernandez traveled to Tokyo to discuss a possible Japanese
Should they be provided, contributions
from other international donors are designed to complement the Colombian
and U.S. portions of Plan Colombia. Europe is being asked to provide up
to $1 billion for alternative development. The Japanese Government has
expressed an interest in helping with reforestation and programs for the
There are reasons to be skeptical
that European states will provide assistance-Europe has been slow to provide
assistance for Kosovo reconstruction-but one thing seems clear: neither
Europe nor Japan is likely to provide assistance unless the United States
does. In short, the failure of the United States to approve the supplemental
has delayed commitments by other foreign donors.
2. Peace process
Another key component of Plan
Colombia, from the perspective of the Colombian Government, is a peace
process underway with the two main guerrilla movements. President Pastrana
was elected in 1998 with a strong mandate to end the civil conflicts,
and a sizable civic movement called "No Mas" has marched in
the streets of Colombian cities in the last two years demanding an end
The talks with the FARC are
further along than the negotiations with the ELN. Through negotiations
with the FARC, last year the government agreed to a demilitarized zone
in south-central Colombia, in Meta and Caquetá Departments (the
zone, which is about the size of Switzerland, consists of about 4 percent
of the country's land mass; 100,000 of Colombia's roughly 40 million people
live 16 17 there). While the negotiations continue, the conflict goes
on outside the zone. There has been no formal cessation of hostilities,
and there are frequent military encounters between government forces and
the FARC around the country.
There are reasons to be cautiously
optimistic that President Pastrana will make progress in these negotiations.
Last winter, FARC leaders went on a three-week tour of European capitals.
In part, the trip was designed to show FARC leaders, many of whom have
been living in the jungle for decades, how the world has changed. It also
exposed them to criticism from left-of-center politicians in Europe, who
used the opportunity, I was told, to press the FARC leadership on its
own violations of human rights and involvement in drug trafficking. Colombian
officials believe the European tour will have a positive effect in the
long run on the FARC position. While I was in the country, the FARC announced
the formation of new political party-perhaps an indication that the guerrillas
recognize the domestic political need to begin operating within the framework
of normal politics.
Just after my visit, the Colombian
Government agreed to a demilitarized zone with the ELN, though the exact
parameters of the zone, and the terms and conditions, have not been finalized.
HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
1. Background and Colombian
The dire human rights situation
in Colombia has been well documented in the annual State Department human
rights report, in reports by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
office in Colombia, and reports by respected non-governmental organizations
such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. I do not attempt
to repeat their findings or analysis here. It is enough to say that there
is a crisis in the country: massive human rights violations are committed
by the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and to a lesser extent the Colombian
In recent years, there has
been a measurable decline in the number of human rights violations directly
attributable to the military. At the same time, violations by right-wing
paramilitaries have increased, leading to the widespread belief in Colombia
that the military collaborates with the paramilitaries-and lets them do
their dirty work. In February, a Human Rights Watch report linked "half
of Colombia's eighteen brigade-level army units (excluding military schools)
to paramilitary activities." Their report concludes that "military
support for paramilitary activity remains national in scope and includes
areas where units receiving or scheduled to receive U.S. military aid
I discussed the human rights
situation with the President, the Minister of Defense, and the U.S. Ambassador.
I impressed upon them the importance of human rights issues in the Congress,
and urged them to keep making efforts to improve the record of the Colombian
Armed Forces. I emphasized to them the need to end impunity in the Armed
Forces-that is, to prosecute all violators of human rights.
The Colombian Government,
at high levels, concedes that there is a human rights problem in the country,
and has taken certain efforts to address it. These actions by the government
are commendable, but it must do more. It must continue to make human rights
a priority. It must continue to send a message throughout the armed forces
that institutional tolerance of paramilitary activity must cease. The
actions take to date by the Government include: Firing of high-level officials:
President Pastrana fired four Army generals in 1999 for collaboration
with or failure to take action against paramilitaries. Despite those dismissals,
many military officials who are under investigation for links to the paramilitaries-
and some who have been found guilty by the civilian courts for violating
human rights-continue to serve in the military, and some have even been
promoted. A number of investigators working on cases linking the Army
and the paramilitaries have been threatened and either forced to resign
from their posts or to leave the country.
According to Colombian officials,
within the next six months, the head of the Armed Forces, General Tapias,
will be given the authority to dismiss any officer tied to paramilitary
groups without going through lengthy dismissal proceedings. This would
give Tapias the same power that enabled General Serrano, the head of the
Colombian National Police, to purge the police of human rights violators.
This authority to clean house is often credited with professionalizing
the police force and it is hoped that it will do the same for the military.
New military penal code: the Colombian Government passed a new military
penal code in August 1999, but it has yet to be implemented. This new
code includes protections for soldiers who refuse to follow orders which
would involve violations of human rights. It also creates an independent
body, similar to the judge advocate general corps in the U.S. military,
so that unit commanders will no longer be judging their own troops. The
new code gives civilian courts jurisdiction over all "crimes against
humanity" including genocide, forced disappearance and torture. Notably
absent from this list of offenses, however, is murder.
Law on forced disappearances:
the new military code requires that forced disappearances be tried in
civilian courts, but the law to implement it has been stalled. Though
President Pastrana initially supported this policy change, in December
1999 he vetoed the necessary legislation due to his objections over certain
provisions in the bill. As a result, forced disappearance continues to
go unpunished in Colombia: very few of the more than 3,000 cases reported
to authorities since 1977 have been resolved. The government has promised
that the bill will move quickly during the current session of Congress.
Recent decree on human rights: in March, President Pastrana signed a decree
to create an inter-agency mechanism designed to provide "early warning"
of potential massacres-so the government forces can act to prevent them.
This mechanism will be coordinated by the Ministers of Defense and Interior,
with the cooperation of Colombian law enforcement agencies and the Prosecutor
General. The Minister of Defense will be charged with dispatching the
military to secure areas where massacres are believed to be imminent.
It is too soon to say whether this mechanism will be effective.
2. Discussions with human
rights and UN representatives
While in Bogotá, I
met jointly with three representatives of nongovernmental organizations
working on human rights issues, and representatives of two U.N. bodies-the
High Commissioner for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
All five individuals expressed
concern about various aspects of Plan Colombia. They emphasized different
points: that the Colombian Government had not demonstrated enough of a
commitment to the internally displaced, that increased military assistance
could lead to increased displacements, that there was a great need to
reform the military and improve its human rights record, that the plan
could undermine the peace process, and that the plan did not place enough
emphasis on alternative development.
I assured the group that the
United States was firmly committed to human rights, and would continue
to press the Colombian Government on these issues. I also pointed out,
however, that the human rights situation in the country was unlikely to
improve unless the United States was fully engaged with Colombia. In other
words, U.S. engagement and assistance to Colombia would inevitably (because
of U.S. emphasis on human rights) have a positive effect on human rights
in Colombia, and the converse-U.S. disengagement-would not be helpful
to the cause of human rights. One individual present responded by saying
"I essentially agree with what you have said."
3. Need for additional political
officers in the Embassy
Currently, just one officer
at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá is designated to monitor human rights
on a full time basis. While others in the political section also have
responsibility for monitoring human rights, I believe more officers may
be needed to focus exclusively on this matter.
Under the "Leahy Amendment"
to the Foreign Operations and Defense Appropriations Act, all members
of Colombian military units receiving U.S. training must be vetted to
assure that they have not been involved in gross human rights violations.
Embassy staff must review available records on each and every individual
to receive U.S. training. This is a painstaking and time-consuming task.
Moreover, the scope of the human rights violations in Colombia requires
constant monitoring and reporting.
SCHEDULE OF MEETINGS
Wednesday, April 19
- Arrive Bogotá;
travel to U.S. Embassy
- Meeting with Jaime Ruiz,
Chief of Staff to the President
- Meeting with representatives
of U.N. offices and non-governmental organizations: Michael Hurtado,
UNHCR; Javier Hernandez, UNHCHR; Marco Romero, CODHES; Rev. Fernando
Gonzales, CINEP; Andres Sanchez, Colombian Commission of Jurists
- Travel to Cartagena aboard
presidential aircraft; discussions with President Pastrana and U.S.
Ambassador aboard plane
- Dinner with President
Pastrana, Minister of Defense Ramirez, U.S. Ambassador, and senior
U.S. Embassy staff
Thursday, April 20
- Breakfast briefing byU.S.
Ambassador, Head of Narcotics Affairs Section, and Commander of U.S.
Military Group, U.S. Embassy
- Meeting with Minister
of Defense Ramirez; briefing by Rear Admiral Cubillos, Commander,
Cartagena Naval Base
- Meeting with President
Pastrana and U.S. Ambassador Dinner with President Pastrana
STATEMENTS BY THE PRESIDENT
OF THE UNITED STATES
TABLE OF U.S. ASSISTANCE
TO COLOMBIA, FY 1995-2000
WORLDWIDE ILLICIT DRUG CULTIVATION
WORLDWIDE ILLICIT DRUG PRODUCTION
REMARKS OF ANDRES PASTRANA
ARANGO, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF COLOMBIA, AT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY
OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS, WASHINGTON DC, APRIL 12, 2000
My former colleagues in the
media-ladies and gentlemen:
I am honored to be here today
to address the American Society of Newspaper Editors at your annual convention.
Let me thank your president, Christian Anderson, for this generous invitation,
and all of you for making me feel at home, and for easing the anxiety
every politician feels standing before a large room full of journalists.
Let me also express my admiration
for this society's long commitment to upholding the First Amendment, promoting
and protecting the free flow of information, and nurturing the great responsibility
that comes with an open and independent press. And in this time of unparalleled
prosperity and leadership for the United States, when our globalizing
world grows constantly more interconnected, those everywhere who believe
in freedom are grateful for your work with the Freedom Forum, and for
your continuing self-examination of how your newspapers can better cover
the international arena, and bring responsible and relevant news to your
readers. In the Cold War, the United States was deeply concerned with
the way it was seen by other nations. In the post-Cold War era, other
nations are concerned about how we are viewed, politically and economically,
in the United States. We Colombians welcome and invite increased interaction
with the entire spectrum of your media- to exchange ideas, challenge misperceptions,
and widen understanding.
The last President of Colombia
to speak at your convention was Virgilio Barco in 1986. From this platform,
President Barco made a strong plea for the United States and Latin America
to do more together in the war on drugs. Here the first steps were taken
that led to the landmark 1990 drug summit, attended by President Bush
in Cartagena. The effort marked the beginning of the end of the Medellin
Today, I return here with
a similar, urgent call for both our nations and the entire international
community once again to do more in the fight against a new wave of drug
trafficking and drug violence. I also come here to speak candidly about
a dangerous problem of misinformation about Colombia. As you know better
than anyone, in the era of instant information, it can be difficult to
distinguish impression from truth, and the headline of one news cycle
from the cycle of history. Today I ask you, in a decisive time for my
country, to reflect with me on the real Colombia . . our strengths, our
problems, our resolve, and our prospects.
In recent months, Colombia
has become what truly can be called "a hot topic" here in the
United States. Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Charlie Gibson and Tom Friedman
have come to Bogota plainly expecting the worst, with a preconceived idea
of what our country was all about-in a phrase, violence and cocaine. Yet
they each left with a powerful sense of the character and values of the
Colombian people, our commitment to peace and democracy, and our unbending
determination to reforming and modernizing our society for the twenty
What may sometimes be lost
in the glare of the media moment is the historic truth that Colombia is
South America's oldest, most resilient democracy, and that we Colombians
share your long tradition of a free press and open access to information.
Our newspapers are a powerful, independent influence-something we politicians
learn again everyday. El Tiempo, the largest national daily and one of
Latin America's most highly respected newspapers, has been at the center
of Colombian life for almost a century, along with its main competitor,
El Espectador. Our other major cities-and Colombia has five cities with
over one million people-each have influential newspapers, and so do many
In reality, it is this regional
diversity that defines us as a nation. I could also argue that Colombia
stands as a microcosm for all of Latin America. Consider, just for a moment,
our geography. Central America ends at our border with Panama. From there,
to the east, stretch 1000 miles of Caribbean coastline, at its center
the walled city of Cartagena, once the third most powerful city of the
Spanish Empire, is today a magnet for tourists from around the world.
To the south, 600 miles along the Pacific Ocean is an area still largely
undeveloped, with extraordinary potential, especially as Asia looks more
and more to Latin America. We share borders with Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
and with Brazil, at the very heart and soul of South America, the vast
Amazon rainforest. Across our entire country, which is the size of Texas
and California combined, 33 national parks shelter more plant and animal
species per square mile than anywhere else on the planet.
Yet it is the Andes Mountains,
more than anything else, that have shaped Colombia as it is today. Most
of the Andes, like the Rockies or the Alps, are one massive chain, rising
above a continent. But in Colombia-and only in Colombia-the Andes literally
branch out into three distinct ranges, with altitudes that reach 15,000
feet. Crossing Colombia by car is no easy task, and can take many days.
The distance traveled in a 35 minute flight can take an eight to ten hour
drive. No wonder Colombia was the first country in all of the Americas
with a national airline.
There is an old saying from
your old West: "Give me men that match our mountains." Colombia
has been blessed with a people of energy, faith, and enterprise. We have
67 years of uninterrupted economic growth, and a pantheon of Colombians
who have made a difference in the wider world, like Manuel Patarroyo,
the scientist who has done more than anyone to eradicate malaria, or Rodolfo
Llinas a worldwide recognized neurologist. There is our Nobel Laureate,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude"
has sold more than 30 million copies in over 40 languages, Fernando Botero,
whose sculptures have lined Park Avenue and the Champs Elysees, Juan Pablo
Montoya, our Formula Cart world Champion, and Shakira, our amazing Spanish
I also take pride in reminding
people that six out of every ten fresh-cut flowers imported to the United
States come from Colombia, that we are your seventh largest source of
crude petroleum, and will soon become the world's third largest exporter
of coal. Such is the Colombia of our history and our hopes, a Colombia
which today also faces fateful choices.
The choices, and the crises,
are, in my view, often misreported and misunderstood. I am regularly surprised
and sometimes genuinely stunned by what I read in the foreign press. When
you see your country's name continually misspelled, even in the most distinguished
newspapers, you naturally worry about the rest of the reporting. And even
when a wire service isn't saying that the United States is being drawn
into a guerrilla war, some editorial board here is predicting my government's
imminent collapse. A ripple can too easily be mistaken for a wave; the
limelight on one event can obscure the complicated interplay of underlying
The problem is not one of
intentions. I know the need to capture and convey drama in a headline
or in a news story. Still, I ask you to imagine what it is like when El
Tiempo or our evening TV news reports a standoff between a guerrilla unit
and an army platoon several miles away from Bogota, and the headline in
the United States reads: "Colombia's capital under siege." For
us, every single casualty is cause for national concern, but it is not
a signal of national collapse.
To understand modern day Colombia,
we must look beyond the incidents and see the conditions for what they
are-or in this case, as they are NOT. For starters, Colombia is not in
the midst of a civil war, despite what is continually said in the international
media. Colombians have never referred to this conflict as a civil war,
for the simple reason that it isn't one.
A civil war occurs in a divided
nation, torn apart into armed camps of more or less the same size. Ireland.
the former Yugoslavia and the Congo-these are present day examples of
civil wars. Colombia's case is dramatically different. There are approximately
35 000 well-armed and well-financed insurgents, both guerrilla and paramilitary,
operating malnly in the remote countryside. They have inflicted enormous
suffering, killing innocent civilians, driving others from their homes
and villages, and blocking any chance for development and progress.
But the insurgents make up
barely one tenth of one percent of the total population. Militarily, their
tactics are classic guerrilla- hit and run, strike and retreat. Every
time they have faced the Colombian Armed Forces out in the open, they
have been soundly defeated. And unlike guerrilla movements in other places,
they have completely failed to convince Colombians that they provide a
legitimate alternative to our tested democracy.
The guerrilla's roots are
in the 1940s and 50s, at the very height of the Cold War. In the decades
that followed, however, their support steadily decreased until today,
when the guerrillas can claim little more than threeor four-percent popular
support. Even intellectuals and university students, once the bedrock
of guerrilla sympathy, have turned against them as they wage continuous
war on the civilian population.
The guerillas' loss of support
reflects more than the end of Cold War confrontation. Colombia today is
a much more modern, urban and just society than it was a half century
ago. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a civil war; and even though billions
of dollars generated by drug-trafficking sustain the violence, the guerillas
cannot overthrow our democracy-and no one knows this better than they
Yet the talk, so common here
in the United States of a Colombian government under siege, on the verge
of collapse, has given rise to another false assumption-namely, that Colombia
is somehow another Vietnam. A quarter century after the fall of Saigon,
the shadow of Vietnam understandably continues to shape public opinion
and influence policy makers.
But Colombia is no Vietnam,
and for many reasons. While Vietnam was a divided country and an ideological
battlefield-its borders imposed by the Geneva Accords of 1954-Colombia
is a unified nation with a strong national identity, where 95 percent
and more of our citizens believe in democracy, freedom of the press, and
an open economy. While Vietnam had been a colony under foreign domination
for over a century, Colombia has been a free and independent nation since
defeating the Spanish empire in 1819. The Vietcong enjoyed significant
support, while the Colombian insurgents are almost entirely without political
support or sympathy. Equally important is the fact that while Vietnam
was a distant Asian country, Colombia is an integral part of this hemisphere.
Colombia is your neighbor, with Bogota roughly the same distance from
New York as Los Angeles is.
What must be understood is
how drug-trafficking and its obscene profits have changed the very nature
of our conflict. My own opinion-one shared by most Colombians-is that
we would already be a nation at peace, were it not for the violence and
corruption fueled by the illegal drug trade. No nation has suffered as
severely as Colombia from the boom in the demand for illegal drugs over
the last generation. Rather than fall victim to this menace, we have systematically
opposed it, taken on and destroyed ruthless cartels from Medellin and
The cost has been high. Imagine
U.S. Supreme Court justices murdered in their chambers, or federal judges
from Miami, Los Angeles or Chicago killed by the scores. Imagine one fifth
of your FBI and local police forces wounded or killed with their wives
and children also targeted. Imagine courageous public officials-Cabinet
Ministers and Mayors, Senators, Governors and Presidential candidates-gunned
down for giving voice to a society that refuses to back down. Imagine
being given just ONE option, plata o bala- a bribe or a bullet.
And I ask all of you to imagine
newspaper editors, publishers and reporters shot in cold blood, their
offices bombed into rubble, or exiled because they would not be intimidated,
because they held on to the conviction that was worth living for-and all
too tragically, all too often worth dying for as well.
Imagine this, my friends,
and you get a clear idea of what Colombia has endured in this generation.
Heroic men and women have p aid the ultimate price, earning the lasting
admiration of all Colombians, and we will never forget their sacrifice.
So we fight on. We push back
the forces of violence-and then we read that Colombia is on the verge
of collapse, of becoming a narco-terrorist state. Nothing is further from
the truth. Indeed, after the break up of the cartels, the nature of drug-trafficking
has changed dramatically. Unlike the days of Pablo Escobar, the drug war
has shifted from the cities to the Amazon region, particularly the Putumayo.
Today, a new breed of criminals operates in smaller organizations, underground,
with closer ties to traffickers in other countries. Indeed, drug maflas,
too, have become increasingly globalized.
There is a growing awareness
in Colombia, the United States, and around the world, that the threat
of drug trafficking is no longer a national or regional issue. For example,
the precursor chemicals needed to process cocaine are smuggled into Colombia
from abroad, while most of the tainted profits that drive the drug trade
end up invested in financial markets abroad. As long as a demand exists,
there will be suppliers somewhere to meet it. This is why we urgently
need improvements in education and prevention, as well as more drug treatment
Colombia's resolve to combat
production and distribution has not lessened, but intensified. Last October,
after months of preparation and with the help of your drug enforcement
agencies, we conducted the most important worldwide drug bust in over
five years. In Operation Millennium, 30 of the most powerful of the new
breed of drug traffickers were arrested across Colombia and elsewhere.
And we have sent those still at large the strongest message, in the clearest
possible terms: Drug-traffickers will never be tolerated in Colombia,
and we are determined to destroy them and their empires.
But Colombia cannot and should
not continue to bear the greatest weight of this global crisis. I have
taken the message of greater burden sharing in the fight against drugs
to the international community. President Clinton has committed the United
States to do more in this crusade. We discussed this at our first meeting,
in August of 1998, and since then we have worked closely to execute a
bilateral strategy. Leaders on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats
alike, have been essential in this effort.
In some quarters, I know there
is resistance to U.S. assistance for Colombia. The most common argument
is that you could become, and I quote, "entangled in a Vietnam-like
quagmire." I would like to make one more point about this-one that
I cannot emphasize too strongly.
Implicit in the Vietnam analogy
is the belief that the United States would end up committing troops to
Colombia. But that is flat out impossible. Neither your public opinion
nor ours would support or permit such a move-and neither your government
nor ours has considered this in even the most extreme circumstances. It
is simply not on the table, and as long as I am President this will not
happen. You can quote me on that.
What Colombia has proposed,
and your government endorsed, is giving us the resources, the hardware
and the training needed to combat the changing nature of the drug trade.
This means exposing and penetrating remote jungle areas once beyond the
sustained reach of our security forces. Earlier on, I spoke of our unique
geographic make-up and how this has influenced our development as a nation.
Well, this unique geography also plays a critical part in the war against
narcotics, where often inaccessible areas have become hot beds for cocaine
production-areas we could not fully control in the past, but where our
reach is now becoming increasingly stronger.
Our strategy here is twofold:
in the end, we must negotiate a meaningful peace agreement with the guerrillas;
but from the beginning, we must root out the drug-traffickers and the
violence they cause our society and the damage they do to our economy.
U.S. assistance is meant to support counter-narcotics operations, as well
as alternative crop development, economic stimulation, and government
Our strategy is called Plan
Colombia, a comprehensive blueprint for our future. And while our goal
is peace, our first order of business has to be the strengthening of our
institutions, political, judicial and military. No peace process can succeed
without the institutional strength to support it. Above all, our democratic
institutions must serve the people, and this means guaranteeing their
fundamental human rights.
Plan Colombia's cost is estimated
at 7.5 billion dollars over three years. My government is pledged to providing
4 billion, while actively seeking additional support from the international
community. In addition to the Clinton Administration's assistance package,
we will be meeting with European leaders at a conference this July in
I have called our efforts
"Diplomacy for Peace"-because if we have learned anything from
the recent progress in Northern Ireland, Central America, and the Middle
East, it is that the international community must be actively engaged
in order for peace to prevail.
A Colombia at peace is in
everyone's interest. Not only will it bring an end to the violence and
human rights violations, so those displaced from their homes can return
to them unafraid. A Colombia at peace also depends on more effective counter-narcotics
operations, in terms of both interdiction and alternative crops for subsistence
farmers. That means not only less violence on our streets, but less drug-trafficking
on yours. Every shipment of drugs we stop in Colombia is a shipment that
doesn't reach American neighborhoods, playgrounds, and schools.
In Colombia, the last year
and a half has witnessed dramatic steps forward in the name of peace.
Never in our history has there been such a commitment, from all sectors
of our society, to bring a lasting end to the violence and an honorable
end to the insurgency.
Only days after my election,
I flew to the jungle to meet with the leaders of FARC, the oldest and
largest guerrilla group. I was the first President to do so. Since then,
we have agreed to a twelve point agenda for negotiations. And only last
month, government and guerrilla delegations traveled in Europe together,
in order to show the guerrillas, who have lived in almost total seclusion
for decades, how the world has changed and the wide range of new social
More recently, last weekend
we started with the public hearings procedure, which will give citizens
the chance to make their contributions to the peace process.
At the same time, Richard
Grasso, Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Congressman Bill Delahunt
of Massachusetts, Jim Kimsey, founder of America Online, and Joe Robert
are just a few of those who have met with the guerrilla leaders, carrying
a realistic message of progress and development, of the shared prosperity
that can come with peace. Such exchanges go a long way to remove outdated
stereotypes and suspicions. They show the guerrillas the intentions of
the international community, the opportunities available to a united,
peaceful Colombia, and the potent fact that guerrilla warfare has no part
in a modem nation.
Perhaps more important have
been the strides on the domestic front. A little over a year ago, more
than 10 million Colombiansalmost one third of the entire country-marched
peacefully through our streets, calling for a negotiated end to the insurgency.
And just as Plan Colombia recognizes the need for strong, accountable
institutions to sustain any peace agreement, we are convinced that only
by engaging civil society as a whole-labor unions and business executives,
teachers and health care workers, farmers and truck drivers-only then
can we meet everyone's legitimate needs.
Equally important is the economy.
Job creation, low inflation and interest rates, sustained GDP growth-all
of this plays a decisive role in strengthening our society. So does expanding
trade and attracting more foreign investment-another way the international
community can help. The sheer size of our economy-around $86 billion dollars-makes
Colombia one of the largest and most attractive markets for U.S. trade
and investment in all the Americas. Bilateral trade with the U.S. exceeded
$8 billion dollars last year. There are over 120 U.S. companies operating
successfully in Colombia, most of them for many decades. Political strength
and economic health are bound together. At the end of the day, Colombia
cannot be a nation at peace if it is not a nation in prosperity.
Plan Colombia also includes
the most ambitious and organized strategy of social reform that has ever
been proposed in the country. The purpose of this reform is to create
new and better opportunities for progress for the poorest Colombians.
This component of Plan Colombia
includes on the one hand, the Social Emergency Fund made up of three basic
programs: "Hands to work," "Subsidy for Poor Families,"
and 'Training for the Unemployed Youth." All of these programs geared
toward creating a better quality of life for the most needy through investment
in health, education and job creation.
On the other hand, we will
assign more than $2 billion dollars for Alternative Development and Human
Rights and Humanitarian Aid programs. The first program seeks to go beyond
crop substitution by promoting a comprehensive regional development strategy
that will generate legal work alternatives for Colombian peasants. In
matters of Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, we intend to improve the
mechanisms for the respect and protection of these rights and the attention
of the victims of the armed conflict with special emphasis on displaced
One the main enemies we face
to make Colombia a peaceful and prosper nation is corruption. This terrible
cancer, on one hand, undermines the legitimacy of the Government and,
on the other, subverts social ethics, creating a vicious cycle of mistrust
For instance, a large corruption
scandal was recently uncovered in our Congress, thanks to my government's
accusations. As a result, a very serious investigation is being carried
out to uncover those responsible.
However, the magnitude of
this case demands a more profound response, one that assures this will
never happen again. It is necessary to make a radical reform of our political
system, and especially of the legislative branch.
For that reason, last week,
based on our Constitution and our laws, I proposed to the Colombian people
a referendum, in which they will vote for a change for honesty and transparency
in the way of doing politics. More than 90% of the Colombian people have
expressed their support for this initiative, which I am sure will serve
as the cornerstone of the transformation of our democratic system.
In closing, I would like to
extend to all of you, as leaders in American journalism, an open invitation
to visit Colombia. Talking about misperceptions will do little unless
you are given first-hand access. Our problems are formidable, yet our
nationwide determination to overcome them is making a difference. I want
nothing more than to demonstrate that our resolve and our progress are
much more than words delivered from a podium.
Behind my invitation stands
a big, bold and beautiful land. It is a land full of people who would
welcome you in their homes and neighborhoods, villages and schools, their
soccer fields, offices and places of worship. You will hear stories of
great success and serious struggle. You will witness sorrow mixed with
joy. And only then will you understand the real Colombia.
By helping us, I believe that
in the truest sense you also help your own country. Only provide us with
the tools and we will do the job. I thank you for the opportunity to speak
here today, and I hope for a new beginning in the way you see and report