Pickering, undersecretary of state for Political Affairs, and Peter Romero,
acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, press
briefing, May 10, 2000
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
May 10, 2000
ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING UNDERSECRETARY
OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS THOMAS R. PICKERING AND ACTING ASSISTANT
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS PETER F. ROMERO ON COLOMBIA
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon,
everybody. Welcome back to the State Department briefing room.
As advertised, we are very
pleased to have Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, as well as
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Peter Romero, to brief you this afternoon
on their upcoming trip to Colombia where they will be discussing Plan
Colombia and meeting with Colombian officials, including President Pastrana.
Both gentlemen have brief opening remarks, and then they will be happy
to take your questions.
So let me go directly to Under
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
Thank you, Phil, very much.
Peter Romero and I leave tomorrow
for Cartagena, Colombia, with an interagency group. This will be the third
mission we've undertaken to Colombia in nine months, and it underscores
our concern about the situation in that country. During the visit, we
will be meeting with officials of the Colombian government, including
President Pastrana, to discuss the details of Plan Colombia implementation.
While, as you know, Plan Colombia
is a Colombian plan, we share with the people of Colombia the goals of
eradicating illegal drugs, promoting alternative crops and economic development,
fostering respect for human rights and the rule of law, and reaching a
peace agreement in that troubled country.
The situation in Colombia
is serious, and the United States has serious interests at stake. Ninety
percent of the cocaine reaching the United States originates in Colombia,
and Colombia also produces a very large share of the world's heroin. The
pernicious effects of drugs hit our communities all over this country
every day, and are putting great strains on the fabric of Colombian society.
Last year, as we have noted
many times in the past, 52,000 Americans died -- in one way or another
-- as a result of drug trade and drug trafficking, and over $110 billion
were lost to our economy. Last week in his address to the Council of the
Americas, President Clinton called on the Congress swiftly to approve
funding for the United States aid package in support of Plan Colombia.
He also said, and I quote, "We must not stand by and allow a democracy
elected by its people, defended with great courage by people who have
given their lives, be undermined and overwhelmed by those who literally
are willing to tear it apart for their own agenda."
The delay in the Congress
has hurt our efforts to help Colombia deal with its problems. There appear
to be some members who lack understanding of the urgency of the situation
and the costs of this delay. Already, we have had to curtail helicopter
pilot training, and our spraying operations against coca and poppy cultivation
are down 50 percent.
This will degrade our ability
to support Colombia's counter-narcotic efforts, if our Congress is not
able to act quickly to provide the adequate resources. We are grateful
for the support of many members who voted for the supplemental in the
House of Representatives, and particularly to Speaker Hastert for his
leadership on this critical issue.
In contrast, the Senate's
slow response to this crisis contrasts with the letter sent to the President
last summer by the House and Senate leadership, urging speedy action to
deal with the Colombian situation. Now is obviously the time for the Senate
to take its own advice.
The bills, as marked up yesterday
by the Senate, present a mixed record. Of the $1.3 billion of new resources
requested in the President's supplemental, the Senate has provided $1.1
billion. We would, of course, prefer the full request, and we would prefer
that the supplementals move as quickly as possible.
In addition, the Senate has
introduced -- for the first time, I understand, quite possibly -- a point-of-order
condition for the non-military portion of the bills that are related to
the supplemental request, which now means that rather than requiring a
50 percent majority for passage, if a point of order is called on these
portions of the bill, a small minority of 40 percent can block further
action on that part of the funding -- something, obviously, that we believe
is a serious mistake, and our hope is that it will not influence the outcome
of this very important legislation.
While the focus of our session
this afternoon is on Colombia and on the Andean region, I want to take
this occasion, because my own responsibilities cover the broad range of
the Department's interest, to note that we consider the lack of funding
for assistance programs in Kosovo, UN peacekeeping operations, and State
Department security in diplomatic activities to be serious omissions from
yesterday's bills marked up in the Senate.
I would now like to turn the
podium over to Ambassador Peter Romero, who will speak to you about the
regional context of our support for Colombia, and after that both of us
are prepared to address your questions.
Thank you. Pete.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO:
Thank you, Tom. What I'd like to do is to give you a little bit of an
overview as to the regional dimensions of Plan Colombia, but also what
we have pulled from our experiences in the last couple of years and incorporated
into the Plan Colombia.
What we have is unprecedented
and historic reductions in coca cultivation, in both Peru and in Bolivia,
over the last couple of years. In Peru, we have a reduction of about 66
percent of hectarage devoted to coca cultivation in the last three years
and, over the last two years in Bolivia, approximately 52 percent.
But that's only a piece of
the story. The story is that these governments -- with our collaboration
-- have learned to do a better, more comprehensive, integrated job in
getting to the root causes of coca cultivation and combating them, through
programs designed for alternative development; micro-enterprise, the kinds
of community-based benefits where you can use the community to police
the others to ensure that there's no return to coca cultivation; local
elections; in some, kind of bootstraps-type programs that have been highly
successful in countries that have engaged in lots of coca cultivation,
particularly Bolivia and Peru where the majority of coca was produced.
In conjunction with that,
there has been significant efforts at law enforcement to cut the air bridge
in Peru, but also to engage in filling the vacuums of government presence
and law enforcement presence in these areas. And I think, if I can leave
you with anything today, that is the key. Because in the upper Huallaga,
in Peru, and the Chapare in Bolivia, the key to success has been filling
the vacuums of an absence of government presence that existed before with
government programs and law enforcement. Finally, interdiction has been
very, very important, particularly as it relates to Peru.
All of those lessons learned
are what we are attempting to do and what we are asking the Senate to
do now in its action to fully support Plan Colombia. There is a good regional
component to what the President has submitted and what the House marked
up and what the Senate passed out of committee yesterday. But the key
ingredient is to be able to reach this area, called the Putumayo in Colombia,
which is currently outside of government reach. And it is there where
it is no coincidence that "cocalleros," or coca growers, have
essentially located themselves where there is a high guerrilla presence
and where the government does not enjoy control, particularly out of the
Q: I would like to ask Mr.
Pickering a question. Plan Colombia was announced, as I recall, by President
Pastrana last September. Could you give us your assessment as to what
has transpired in those seven or eight months vis-à-vis that Plan?
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
Yes, I think it is useful to do that. Plan Colombia was announced in September.
By early December, we had put together a very large package of support
for two years, 2000 and 2001: $1.6 billion, 1.3 billion in new money.
Of this particular package, slightly less than $300 million was essentially
for some of the critical questions that Pete just mentioned, which played
a large role in the success in Bolivia and Peru: alternative development;
democratic governance and its spread into the countryside; human rights
and the protection of human rights workers; judicial reform; rule of law
-- the essential underpinnings of making a society work successfully.
The bulk of our effort --
and that has to be fitted into a $7.5-billion program over multiple years
supported by the Colombians at the level of about $4 billion -- is to
provide in many ways the critical military equipment required to deal
with the special facets of the problem in Colombia. In the Putumayo and
Caqueta Departments, for example, the drug trade is currently protected
by both the left-wing FARC guerrilla organization, and now, increasingly,
by the right wing extremist paramilitaries. Now both of them, in fact,
are deriving enormous incomes from protecting and in fostering and, indeed,
in becoming engaged themselves in the growing, in the laboratory treatment,
in the transport and marketing, of these crops; particularly in those
The sense that we have is
that the level of monetary gain that this represents for the guerrillas
is now approaching between four and five hundred million dollars a year.
It makes them, in fact, extremely rich and extremely able to re-equip,
as they have, their troops with new equipment, some of the best in the
world, and to continue to spread this malign practice.
And, therefore, just this
point I think is important to make: You are seeing, in a sense, the hollowing
out of government in critical regions of Latin America, and its replacement
by individuals who are, in fact, introducing a narco-government, a narco-small
empire, if you would like to say it that way, which in fact is increasingly
threatening the local governments as well as the United States, through
the drug trade and the military action that it supports.
And if they ever had political
and economic objectives, they seem to have faded, maybe with the end of
the Cold War and the disintegration of Marxism on the left, and probably
with the very lucrative trade that this represents for the extremists
on the right.
So how do we get at those
particular issues, or how do we help -- better to say it -- the government
of Colombia to get at those issues? In many cases, these people are so
well armed and organized that it requires organized military activity
on the part of the Colombian Government. And, here, the vetted battalions,
those who have been examined so that we are not supporting anybody who
is engaged in human rights violations, and special training, and the ability
to move rapidly provides the central spearhead for the recovery of those
areas that Peter talked about that was so important in Bolivia and in
Once recovered, obviously,
the rest of the program can come into play. Police can engage in eradication
if, in fact, they don't have to meet massive firepower on the other side
to defend the fields and the coca crop or the laboratories.
Secondly, alternative development
can kick in. Displaced persons can be moved to places where they can find
an alternative living at a reasonable rate with government support. New
crops can be grown in the regions, and we already have experience in the
places that Peter talked about, where those individuals we know can make
an honest living in carrying forward honest work with government help.
So this is the thesis of all
of this, and this is why our aid is spread over these various arrangements.
Final point. A big share of
the Colombian Government contribution is also not in the military area.
Probably nearly a billion dollars already committed, especially to Plan
Colombia targets by the international financial institutions, is all in
the non-military area. And we are working closely with Colombia and European
governments and Japan for a further contribution which will support, again,
the non-military portion. But I wanted you to have the balance and the
integrated relationship, and what our feeling is about the potential for
this particular approach, based on the success already achieved in the
region for producing a successful advance.
Q: I'm a little unclear as
to exactly what you're going to be talking about when you get down there,
because it seems to me this may be a little - this trip may be a bit premature.
The Colombians already know how much you want to get to give them to help
them, but you don't have it yet, and you're going down there with nothing.
I mean, you're not going down there with a check in hand because you don't
have it yet.
So why now?
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
I think it's an excellent question, and it's an important one. We are
going down as part of a series of discussions we've had with the Colombians,
building on ideas for a plan -- their putting together of the Plan --
which is an overall strategy, moving on to particularly working with them
as to how this Plan can get operationalized. And particularly Pete's pointing
out the Putumayo Department, the importance of an integrated effort by
the United States in support of a fully integrated effort by Colombia
to deal with that issue. And I've pointed out how it all has to work together
is very significant
So we will be talking specifically
to Colombians about this southern portion of the plan, about how to integrate,
about how to strike the appropriate balance in areas. Are people going
to have to move from the jungle because it can't support their agriculture,
or is there good land where they can be resettled and protected by the
government? A whole series of very intricate questions in this process
Also, just as in our government,
our military and civilians don't sit down every day across the board,
including many of the agencies that will be engaged in supporting this
Plan. So too in Colombia; civilians, police, and military have rarely
sat down and worked together. And one of the things we will be able to
do, we believe, as a result of our meeting in Cartagena, is to begin to
get both sides used to the fact that if there is to be success particularly
in this element of the Plan, and in others, there has to be a broad contribution;
that we have to know and they have to know what it is their going to do
with each facet, and the pieces all have to work together.
You can't have a finely functioning
watch with only one gear, as we all know. So all the gears have to mesh,
all the parts have to work together, all the plans have to be understood
by each other, and there has to be a mutual contribution. If the police
say they can't do "x," then we know that the alternative development
can't do their piece, and that the military can't do their piece. On the
other hand, if it can be fitted together appropriately, we know it can
work, and we have seen it work in places like Bolivia and Peru.
So this is a very important
next stage. You're right. It isn't easy to go to a country like Colombia
and say, "We're sorry. The Congress isn't ready, yet." Despite
the fact when they can read the letter in August that said the Administration
is too slow, they haven't come forward. Now we have take a careful approach
to a very difficult problem, but we're dealing with an emergency and we
have speeded up our efforts to get this whole process moving and ready.
And that, unfortunately, each
day and week of delay spells higher costs at the end of the day -- costs
in human terms in our own country, costs in human terms in Colombia, additional
costs for getting the process reversed, which we have to do, and off on
the right track: a long, hard, and difficult process. So, obviously, our
point today is planning, yes, and we will go ahead, even if, in fact,
we're not ready with the funding. It's an appropriate time to do that.
It will, in our view, provide a better basis for the use of the funding
when it is available, which we hope will be very, very soon.
Q: Sir, what are the chances
of Plan Colombia succeeding without the Blackhawks, which the Senators
have knocked off the supplemental?
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
First and foremost, I would say this: that I'm not here to lobby for any
particular item of equipment. Our military have examined this; our experts
have examined this, and made what they believe are the best judgments.
We are grateful, obviously, for the fact that the House has gone ahead
pretty much along the lines that we approached, and we knew that there
were differences in the House. We hope that this difference over helicopters
gets worked out in conference. There is always an opportunity.
I would like to point out,
however, that one of the difficult questions -- and, indeed, one that
I highlighted in my statement -- is pilot training. And when you calculate
that a Blackhawk can carry two-and-a-half times the number of people as
the improved Huey, then you recognize that our pilot training program
is immensely complicated by the substitution of one aircraft for another.
In addition, if you note that the Blackhawk is the choice aircraft of
our own military because it provides better armor, faster speeds, longer
range and a higher-altitude capability, which is particularly useful in
getting at the heroin which grows at high altitudes, you will understand
why the military experts told us that the Blackhawk, despite its cost,
is a much better helicopter to deal with the problems we have.
Obviously, we hope that this
is worked out. Obviously, we believe that the most efficient, the least
costly to maintain and perhaps that which can provide the greatest amount
of service, will be seen by the Congress overall as they look at this
question as the right selection to make. We stand by our initial judgments
that we provided the right mix of aircraft, and we hope that the Congress
will take a careful look and a positive look at that.
Q: Ambassador, would you say
then that perhaps a push into southern Colombia could really be weakened
by a change in the Blackhawks to Huey II's?
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
I would say this: I don't make those military judgments, but I do believe
that, in fact, both the delay in time and the inability -- if I could
put it this way -- to optimize the equipment that is now available to
the task, will represent a significant handicap for the forces that have
to carry forward the effort.
Now, those forces, in my view,
are very dedicated, and I believe that they are available to do the job.
I would hope that our original judgments about what's the best required
to do that, to protect their lives, to make the job more effective and
more efficient, to allow the government forces, in fact, to have the advantage
this equipment was supposed to provide them in dealing with the increasing
firepower that is arrayed against them, will be the right choice. And
I believe that our friends in the Congress will take a careful -- I hope,
sympathetic and understanding -- view of this issue, once we have a chance
further to explain to them the detailed reasons why we think this is the
Q: The Senate yesterday --
I mean the Committee of Appropriations not only cut the Blackhawks, but
they also proposed limits on the amount -- the number of personnel down
there, both in the military and civilian contractors. In this situation,
do you think that the Colombians can eventually use the U.S. economic
help to buy helicopters somewhere else, and hire contractors from some
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
Basically, our help will be tied to whatever conditions the House and
Senate agree in conference to put on them. We believe -- and we will work
hard to defeat any conditions that we believe make the program unworkable.
With respect to the question
you asked about the limitations on the numbers of Americans involved in
this activity, we have from time to time, responding to congressional
questions said, at any one time, there are between 80 and 250 American
military present in Colombia on training missions. And we envisage, as
we looked out over the future even in connection with this Plan, that
we could do the training job, the advising job, the support job with that
So we would be, obviously,
not interested in artificial limits, particularly if they really restrict
what we can do. But we cannot argue against limits which comprehend our
own predictions of what is necessary to carry forward the job. And that's
the way we have generally looked at these kinds of questions in the legislation.
Q: How long do you think this
is really going to drag on on the Hill, now that the Senate has tied the
Colombian money --
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
I thought you were going to say how long is the problem going to live
in Colombia. I hope an awful lot shorter than it does in Colombia. Now,
of course, there is a direct relationship between the two. My hope is
Q: Excuse me. Now that the
Senate is tying the Colombia monies to the Kosovo -- to new conditions
on the Kosovo situation.
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
Well, the supplemental was always conceived of as a package. And I frankly
would be happy that, at the end of the day, the conference will produce
a result which will fund all of our needs -- Colombia, Kosovo, peacekeeping
and embassy security -- because these are all, in our view, emergency
requirements. One only has to read your writings every day to understand
why those are emergencies in each case. And that if the Senate hasn't
seen fit to put the money on, we hope that the friends in the House who
have put the money on will fight hard for it in conference, and we will
have a resulting bill that we can fully support and will indeed meet the
kinds of needs that we have.
On Colombia, in fact, we are
closer together on some of these questions because there is money for
Colombia in both bills, not all that we want in the Senate bill. But we
hope that, in fact, by hard work we can arrange to convince the senators
that they should, in fact, accept the House version rather than vice versa.
Now, you said how long. I
don't know, and I've learned that predicting what's going to happen on
the Hill is a very difficult art. But my hope is, given their own sense
of the emergency that they have written us about, that they will find
a way to do that, at least this month. I would like to see it even earlier.
I think any delay is costly.
Q: You spoke about the need
to recover areas outside government control, as though this - by military
means -- as though this was inevitable. What does this imply about the
level of confidence and your expectations about the peace talks between
the government and the FARC?
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING:
I think that, as I mentioned in my opening statement, a very important
part of what is going on in Colombia is the fact that the government has
opened a peace table, is pushing the FARC very hard to move ahead with
the peace process, has now achieved an agenda of 12 items, four of which
are being currently discussed. I believe that the "No Mas" group,
its manifestations in Colombia show, with the ability to put five-to-ten
million people in the streets in favor of a peace process, and in favor
of moving that rapidly ahead, that this has gained a great deal of popularity
among the people of Colombia, well above the 3-or-4 percent which the
FARC normally enjoys. And this is the popularity of a peace process and
a peaceful conclusion.
My own view is, after carefully
examining the record of the peace process, that the commitment of our
President to a very large program, and his commitment to work that through
the Congress has helped to speed along the peace process rather than retard
it, as some had predicted. And I think that, in fact, the closer that
this process moves to turning the question around, that it is no longer
a growth in cocaine, but those who support and defend it being under increasing
pressure, both from their own people, which I think is very important,
but also from the government that we can see further progress.
And I believe that, in fact,
the history of these kinds of questions, particularly in the hemisphere,
has been that when there is firmness, determination and a willingness
to accomplish its objectives on the part of a government which is also
determined on a fair peace negotiation, that that peace negotiation can
MR. REEKER: We have run out
of time. Sorry, we've already kept Secretary Pickering beyond what we
So thank you very much, gentlemen.
Thank you all for coming.
As of May 12, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://usinfo.state.gov/admin/011/lef401.htm