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Last Updated:5/13/05
Background memo to committee members from Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), Hearing of the House International Relations Committee: "Plan Colombia: Major Successes and New Challenges," May 11, 2005
COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

U.S. House of Representatives

MEMORANDUM

May 10, 2005

TO:       Members of the Committee on International Relations

FROM: Chairman Henry J. Hyde

RE:        Background Memorandum for Full Committee Hearing, "Plan Colombia:  Major Successes and New Challenges," Wednesday, May 11, 2005, 2:00 p.m.

I.          The Self-Evident Success

Under Plan Colombia, the United States has led efforts against "narco-terrorism" by spending more than $3 billion in aid since the year 2000, with the result that murder, kidnapping, and terrorist attacks are down by more than 50 percent.  Extraditions to the United States of major drug kingpins and terrorist leaders are at an all-time high.  Illicit coca crop cultivation has fallen by about one-third, and more than 50 percent of the opium crop has been eliminated.  The opium crop reduction is particularly important since, unlike cocaine, it is nearly impossible to interdict small, easily concealed, and deadly heroin kilos.

Security force action against illicit drugs has also increased.  At least 4,000 paramilitary (AUC) members have "demobilized" in groups, and more than 6,000 guerrilla members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) have "demobilized" individually; ex-members of both of these combatant terrorist groups have given up arms and drug production.

Legal crops and licit cultivation in the rural areas in the very same time frame have increased by nearly 40,000 hectares, and overall the Colombian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has nearly tripled.  Many Colombians feel a renewed sense of security and safety and now, more than ever, freely travel about much of the country.  Colombia is a key U.S. ally and a stabilizing force in the very unsettled Andean region, and it needs our continued support.

II.        The broad problem and new challenges

With all this noted progress, what remains wrong?  The U.S. government has not been able to fully capitalize and take maximum advantage of many of these fruits of victory, especially concerning the large number of demobilized ex-combatants, which numbers close to 11,000.  We have not made use of these defectors in manual crop eradication, which is denying the potential for more eradication in areas where aerial spraying may not be the best option (e.g. in national parks and in small, hard-to-find plots mixed in, with or near licit crops).

We must also do better in our efforts at interdiction of the finished product, and there is a specific shortfall in this area.  There has been a lost opportunity to effectively interdict processed drugs which are headed to the United States.  Due to more pressing and critical homeland security concerns after 9/11, U.S. military marine patrol aerial assets (MPA) have been brought back home and their participation in our counter-drug interdiction efforts in both the Caribbean and Pacific have been cut by more than 70 percent.  Civilian assets, such as U.S. Customs P-3s, are still available to help, but only on a random basis, not full time. 

We must be mindful that the great success in reducing Colombian opium has caused a balloon effect of increasing opium production in nearby Peru, as drug traffickers seek other sources of raw material for their heroin product.  We have not seen this balloon effect on coca, as there has not been substantial replanting of coca in Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere.  While the progress is enormous and unprecedented on the illicit crop eradication and drug interdiction front, and we can do even better on both the eradication and interdiction fronts. 

We have seen a major gap develop in the military aerial efforts at interdiction of processed drugs headed from Colombia to the United States, through either the Pacific or the Caribbean.  Due to more pressing and critical homeland security concerns post 9/11, U.S. marine patrol aerial assets (MPA) have been cut by more than 70 percent and brought back home. Civilian assets such as the U.S. Customs P-3s are still available to help on a random basis, but not full time. 

This may be undercutting our own eradication efforts and overall counter-narcotic success in Colombia, because it is becoming easier to get the processed drug (cocaine), which we can't eradicate at the source, into the United States or into Europe, and this is where 40 to 50 percent of Colombian cocaine is headed, by some expert estimates.

While cocaine interdiction seizures are still very high and there are other effective marine interdiction programs, the Administration to date has yet to come up with a plan to make up for the military MPA shortfall.  Despite the fact that they have cut these assets so dramatically, they have been aware of the counter-narcotics marine interdiction gap for some time.

The House International Relations Committee staff was alerted to the MPA problem last year by our embassy in Bogota.  In response to the Ambassador's specific concerns, proposed solutions would turn much of the MPA mission over to the very effective, but much underfunded, Colombian Navy.  The Colombian Navy itself has the best opportunity close to shore to work with their own excellent and effective Colombian National Police anti-drug unit to detect and catch the fast boats and other marine vessels carrying drugs to the United States, before they ever get close to reaching our shores.  (The best interdiction strategy, according to experts in the Unites States Coast Guard (USCG), is to seize illicit drugs when they are nearest the shore.)

We would like to see a start on "Colombianization" of some of our interdiction efforts, and one day to be able to end the need for U.S. Navy, USCG, and other U.S. military services to handle all of the MPA anti-drug functions.  We need the Administration to provide some ideas and suggestions about how and when are they going to permanently close the military MPA interdiction gap for illicit drugs coming from Colombia

We are open to any suggestions or creative ideas the Administration might have on this MPA anti-narcotics interdiction gap, but it cannot be ignored forever.  A mismatch of borrowed military or civilian aircraft is not a solution and leaves us wide open to major drug trafficking activity.  Drug traffickers generally know and gather intelligence on when there is, or is not, marine air surveillance coverage.  They take advantage of any such gaps.

III.       Demobilization of Terrorists

The United States has been on the sidelines while lawyers debate our role in helping to end terrorism and drug production.  Because of the fear of the Department of Justice potentially charging a U.S. Government official with materially supporting a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by helping them in demobilization efforts with these ex-terrorists, or by transporting on U.S. aerial assets these former FTO members to do manual eradication, the U.S. program for Colombian demobilization has been stuck in legal limbo for more than a year.

 Since April  of 2004, the U.S. embassy in Bogota has faced the threat of federal indictments for helping the demobilized ex-combatants efforts in Colombia, and little or no aid money has been expended to help the Colombians with this massive challenge of 11,000 ex-combatants.  We are missing an opportunity to accomplish even more in the manual eradication area by using this cheap labor work force; but, more importantly, we are failing to take these former narco-guerillas and terrorist permanently out of the business of killing, producing, and trafficking in illicit drugs to our nation and around the globe. 

We need to establish clarity for U.S. efforts in this vital area during the hearing.  Our hearing will examine how we can overcome this legal logjam over demobilization and maximize our efforts in the global fight against narco-terrorism that is consistent with U.S. overall counter-narcotic and counter-terrorism policy. 

IV.       Balloon Affect Opium Eradication and Shift of Poppy Production to Peru

We have made great progress in the eradication of opium in Colombia, as we have previously said.  Now we are seeing the shift of opium to nearby Peru, and U.S. policy and strategy have not yet made the shift.  Office of National Drug Policy data of March 25, 2004  indicates that opium poppy cultivation in Colombia fell 52 percent between 2003 and 2004.  The estimated 4,400 hectares of opium for 2003 decreased steeply to 2,100 hectares due to police eradication, both through aerial spraying, and manual eradication.

Recent Ministry of Peru data indicates that Peru may now have 1,400 hectares of opium, mostly in the north near the Ecuador and Colombian border, and opium latex is now being trafficked by Colombian drug dealers through Ecuador into Colombia for processing into heroin.

A recent seizure of 440 kilos of opium in Peru (nearly a half ton of opium) shows how serious the growth of opium is now in that nearby nation and why Peru needs an opium eradication plan.

These and other issues will be the subject of our hearing, and we will have all of the Administration offices represented before the Committee to answer questions.

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