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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), June 21, 2000
Mr. LAUTENBERG. Mr. President, I rise in reluctant opposition to the amendment offered by the Senator from Minnesota.

While I share his conviction that we as a country must do more to reduce the demand for illegal drugs in our society, I do not believe we should undermine our assistance for Plan Colombia to pay for increased domestic drug treatment and prevention programs.

Mr. President, I recently visited Colombia to assess what our aid could accomplish. I went to see the scope of drug crop cultivation and processing, to look into the political context, the human rights situation, the goals of the Pastrana Government, and to assess the capabilities of the military and the police.

I went with an open mind, though I was concerned about the reported abuses of human rights and with the effects of Colombian cocaine and heroin on the streets of New Jersey and other states.

I left Colombia convinced that we can help Colombia and help America by cooperating in the fight against drug production, trafficking, and use.

Mr. President, aid for Plan Colombia is strongly in the U.S. interest. While there can be legitimate differences of opinion about the exact content of the aid package, such as what kind of helicopters should be provided, we must use the opportunity to cooperate with a fellow democracy to fight the scourge of drugs which harms both our people.

Colombia's political will is strong. While the political situation in Colombia is uncertain, President Pastrana and the Colombian Congress have backed away from forcing early elections and appear to be working out their differences. But the Colombian people and their elected representatives want an end to the violence. They support peace negotiations with the FARC and ELN guerrillas.

And they know the violence will not end as long as it is fueled by drug trafficking and its dirty proceeds.

The U.S. and Colombia have a symbiosis of interest in combating drug production and trafficking. While the Colombians mainly want to end financial support for various armed groups, they are highly motivated to cooperate with our main goal--eliminating a major source of narcotics destined for the United States.

Mr. President, we absolutely need to improve protection for human rights in Colombia. The Colombian people face very real risks of murder, kidnaping, extortion, and other heinous crimes, so they always live in fear. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the violence. The Colombian Government--including the military and the police--take human rights issues very seriously.

We need to hold them to their commitments to make further progress, as the Senate bill language Senators Kennedy and Leahy and I authored would do.

Mr. President, was particularly impressed that the independent Prosecutor General's Office--known as the Fiscallia--is firmly committed to prosecuting criminals, particularly human rights violators. But in meeting with Colombian human rights groups, I learned that the overwhelming majority of human rights abuses are committed by the paramilitary groups, followed by the guerrillas.

Colombia must sever any remaining ties between its military and the paramilitary groups and treat them like the drug-running outlays they are. On the whole, winning the war on drugs in Colombia should do more to improve security and safeguard human rights than anything else we or the Colombian government can do.

To return to the amendment now before us, Mr. President, I believe we need to keep working to reduce demand for drugs here in America, but not at the expense of cutting efforts to eliminate a major source of drugs to our country.

We have a tremendous opportunity--if we are willing to devote a reasonable level of funding--to drastically curtail the production of cocaine and heroin in Colombia, while supporting democracy and the rule of law in that country. And, since Colombia is the source of most of the heroin and 80 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States, this is a real opportunity to help address the drug problem in our own country.

I agree with the Senator from Minnesota that America must do more to reduce the demand for drugs, particularly by helping those already addicted. But we should not take away from our support of Colombia's efforts in the process.

I yield the floor.

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