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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), June 21, 2000
Mr. HELMS. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Minnesota.

Mr. President, more than 80 percent of the cocaine, and most of the heroin flooding America's streets comes from Colombia. That is just one of many reasons why helping honest Colombians is an urgent and absolute necessity.

Today, Colombia's democratically elected government is besieged by blood-thirsty communist guerrillas who have gone into business with narcotraffickers, and, Mr. President, without U.S. help, Colombia may very well lose its fight with these narcoterrorists--and that is why the United States must move swiftly to help President Andres Pastrana save the second oldest democracy in the Americas.

I support doing whatever it takes to save Colombia--not only because of the enormous cost of drugs to our country but because the United States of America should stand with a decent, democratic government in our own hemisphere that is threatened by Marxist terrorist groups.

I am grateful to the distinguished Senator from Alaska, Mr. Stevens, and the able Senator from Kentucky, Mr. McConnell, for including in the foreign operations bill the emergency anti-drug assistance for Colombia and surrounding countries.

This bill deserves our support even though I expect that the House-Senate conference will choose to make some adjustments.

For example, we must resist unrealistic conditions that will block the delivery of badly needed support. Also, I am persuaded that we must supply the Colombian Army with Blackhawk helicopters so they have the mobility to respond to the hit-and-run tactics of the guerrillas who are part of the drug trade.

The stakes are enormously high. Colombia is one of the most important U.S. trading partners in the Americas, with $4.5 billion in direct U.S. investment in sectors--not counting the key petroleum sector. Also, the guerrillas have expressly targeted American businesses and citizens in Colombia for bombings, kidnapings, and murders.

Further, the threat to regional stability is acute: Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador all have massed troops on their borders with Colombia. Panama, which has no army, is helpless to secure its frontier from smugglers of drugs and weapons.

President Pastrana doesn't ask us to do his fighting for him. In fact, no man alive has taken more risks for peace. If anything, he might be criticized for making too many concessions to bring the guerrillas to the peace table.

The guerrillas have responded by launching murderous attacks on civilian targets. While President Pastrana is going the extra mile for peace, the guerrillas have launched a recruitment drive--bent on tearing Colombia apart.

These guerrillas are criminals and terrorists who thrive on drug trafficking, kidnaping, and extortion. They are playing an ever-increasing role in the drug trade, which earns them a blank check from the narcotraffickers who realize that chaos is good for their dirty enterprise.

These 20,000 guerrillas move about the country virtually unchallenged while most of Colombia's army is pinned down protecting bridges, oil pipelines, and power stations from terrorist attacks. That leaves only 40,000 soldiers, with a mere 30 helicopters, to take on the guerrillas in a rugged, mountainous country almost twice the size of Texas.

What can the United States do to help?

We can approve emergency anti-drug aid to Colombia and to her neighbors, thereby giving them a fighting chance to stem the tide of lawlessness and cocaine that threatens the entire Andean region.

U.S. support will bolster the Colombian army's counter-drug battalions, providing continued U.S. military training, better intelligence and communications, and increased mobility in he form of transport helicopters. We will also provide support to eradicate illegal crops and create alternative employment for displaced farmers.

Current U.S. law requires that any military units receiving U.S. aid must be `scrubbed' for human rights violations. That is as it should be. But we should not hold U.S. support hostage to unrealistic preconditions.

If America fails to act, Colombia will continue to hurdle toward chaos. If the war drags on--or if desperate Colombians lose their struggle or are forced to appease the narco-guerrillas--the United States and the rest of the hemisphere will pay a very dear price.

The longer we delay, the higher that price will be.

I urge Senators to support emergency anti-drug support for Colombia--and to do so without delay.

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