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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), June 21, 2000
Mr. DURBIN. I thank the Senator from Kentucky for yielding.

Sunday afternoon, 3 days ago, I was in southern Colombia in a Blackhawk helicopter. We spent an hour going over the treetops of a jungle and looking down. A general from the Colombian army was pointing out to me the fields of coca plants, the plant that ultimately produces cocaine. After a few minutes, I told him he could stop because we could literally see them in every direction. I am talking about 600 square miles of coca plants growing a product which has one use: to create an addictive narcotic. Where will it be sold? Right here, most of it in the United States.

I think we all know the devastation it wreaks on this country. The likelihood that one will be robbed or murdered is usually connected to narcotics. The safety of American homes, neighborhoods, and communities is usually connected to narcotics. The prisons of America are bursting at the seams primarily because of narcotics. Eighty percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States comes from one country: Colombia. That is a reality; that is a fact.

The Senator from Minnesota is one of my favorite colleagues. I say this in all sincerity. Thank God Paul Wellstone is in the Senate. He stands for principle on so many issues and reminds all of us of the issues of conscience which should be part of every debate.

I am honored so many times to stand as his ally. This is one of the rare occasions when I am on the opposite side and will oppose his amendment. As some would like to construct it, this amendment is a Faustian choice, an impossible dilemma. Should we allow drugs into the United States? Certainly not. Should we support a Colombian military that has a record of human rights abuse? Well, certainly not. But we have to make a choice here.

The Clinton administration has come forward, working with the President of Colombia, and said we think we can find a way to reform the military and we can also reduce the narcotics coming into the United States.

I might add that I salute Senator McConnell and Senator Leahy for this fine bill they have brought to us. They went further than the administration. Please read the section on Plan Colombia, and you will see page after page of efforts by Democrats and Republicans here to address the very real human rights concerns raised by Senator Wellstone of Minnesota.

Time and again, they come forward and say we are going to do more and make certain, as best we can, that before money comes from our Treasury down to Colombia to eradicate narcotics, the people receiving the money are not going to collaborate with the narcotraffickers who are guilty of things that have been proven in the past.

I salute the committee. For friends of mine in the human rights community in the United States, I hope they will read what has been done here by Senators Leahy and McConnell. It is very positive.

Imagine, for 40 years Colombia has been involved in what has been called a civil war or an internal conflict. What does that mean? Forty years ago, groups on the left who were inspired either by Moscow, or Beijing, or whatever, came to the front and said, we are going to push for reform in this country so that the poor people of Colombia have a better chance. That sort of revolution was taking place all over Central and South America.

But things changed over 40 years. What started off as a leftist-inspired, popular uprising to improve life for the poor people in Colombia quickly became subsumed and taken over by the narcotics trade. The World Bank estimates that there is a billion dollars in money coming into Colombia to sustain the narcotics trade. That money is going to the leftist guerrillas and the right-wing group, the terrorist paramilitaries. They all use the same tactics. They don't go into villages and beg for soldiers; they stick a gun to their heads and say, `You are now part of our paramilitary group.' They enslave them. If they don't cooperate, they kill them. And they are involved in kidnapping.

The President of that country has been kidnapped. His father-in-law was kidnapped and murdered. When we met Saturday morning, the Defense Minister said his brother was kidnapped. Everybody there told stories about kidnapped people. If you think this is a typical civil war where the left is moving for poor people and the government is against it, it doesn't fit the description. When we sat down with the human rights groups, they said the guerrillas on the left and the paramilitaries on the right are just as guilty of human rights abuses in this country as any other group. No question about it.

There are very few good guys in this story. But from the U.S. point of view, I think the President is right, and I think

this bill is right to say we cannot stand idly by and let these drugs flood into the United States with all of the negative consequences.

I totally support Senator Wellstone's premise that if we just stop the supply of drugs coming into the United States, that is not enough; we have to deal with the demand side of it. America is a great consumer of narcotics. That is why those plants are being grown thousands of miles away. When Senators Wellstone and DeWine come to the floor and say put more money into drug prevention and rehab in the United States, they are right. But it is not an either/or situation; we need both.

This bill addresses reducing and eliminating the supply of narcotics coming into the United States. Senator Wellstone believes the military in Colombia has a record of human rights abuses, and he is right. The State Department stands behind that. This bill addresses that and says, we will bird-dog you every step of the way, demand reforms in the Colombian society, and we will demand that you not be engaged in human rights abuses to be part of this partnership to reduce narcotics in Colombia.

I might also add, to suggest we will give money to the police and not to the army really doesn't tell the whole story. They are together in Colombia. The national police and the army are together. When I sat down with the Minister of Defense, I sat across the table from General Gilibert, who is head of the police, and General Tapias, head of the army. They work together. We want to use helicopters to secure areas where we can send down planes to spray with Roundup these coca plants and kill them, so that coca is not turned into paste and white powder and sold on the streets of Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL, addicting people and sending them to prison after committing crimes. That is a good thing to do. I support the administration in their efforts to achieve that.

It is true that Senator Wellstone says we may be taking sides. I hope we are taking sides against narcotics and saying to the leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries: We have no use for either one of you.

As said to me by the President of Colombia, `They are both our enemies. We have to deal with both of them.' We should view it that way. As I met with the Army and Marine Corps personnel from the United States advising these troops in Tres Esquinas, a remote location in the Putumayo Province, it is clear that these men in the Colombian Army were prepared to put their lives on the line to stop the narcotrafficking that ultimately will corrupt and kill so many Americans. I think we have to stand behind them. We have no other choice. To step back and say we will do nothing now is unacceptable.

This bill makes it clear that we have not forgotten the poorest people in Colombia. I commend again the subcommittee for saying that additional assistance is given to the Agency for International Development, so that once that coca planter in Colombia has his crop sprayed, we can give him an alternative, find some other agriculture in which he can be involved. That is the humanitarian and sensible way to approach this. This bill does that; it tries to make sure some alternative, legal agriculture is available to the people there.

Is it worth a billion dollars to America to send this money to Colombia? I will use my State as an illustration. In 1987, we had 500 people in Illinois prisons for the possession of a thimbleful of cocaine. Today, we have

9,000 prisoners in Illinois for the possession of a thimbleful of cocaine. It costs us about $30,000 per prisoner a year. The taxpayers of Illinois are spending $270 million a year and the story can be repeated in every other State. That is $270 million a year in Illinois because of what is growing in Putumayo Province in Colombia.

I think we have to have a coordinated effort of interdiction and stop it at its source, to do everything in our power not to let these drugs come into the country. Then we can deal with the demand side of it and see that drug rehab is available--a sensible and a balanced approach.

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