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Speech by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), June 21, 2000
Mr. WELLSTONE. Mr. President, I remind my colleagues that the amendment I have introduced with Senator Boxer takes nothing away from interdiction. It does not take away from this package. We are focused on the support for the military in the southern part of Colombia. That is what this is about. This is an amendment that would transfer $225 million from aid to the Colombian military for the push into southern Colombia into domestic drug treatment programs. It is that simple. It is not about not providing assistance to Colombia. It is not about not focusing on interdiction.

A number of different questions have been raised. To respond to some of what has been said, I will respond to the comments of my friend from Delaware.

It is important to note that right now in our country, according to ONDCP--General McCaffrey and others have talked about this quite a bit--there are about 5 million people in need of treatment and only about 2 million receive it, private or public. That means about 3 million people, more than half of the people who need treatment, don't get any at all. Why aren't we dealing with the demand side?

We have a bill out here, almost a billion dollars, and the majority leader comes to the floor and says this is all about the war on drugs. I am saying, how about a little bit that focuses on the demand side in our country. Let us have some funding for drug treatment programs for people in the United States. Yes, we have some money in the budget, but it is vastly underfunded.

The 2000 budget for SAMHSA altogether is $1.6 billion. This is the block grant money that goes to drug treatment. The States, which are down in the trenches using a different methodology, report that close to 19 million people in our country are going without any treatment. The ONDCP estimates, moreover, that 80 percent of the adolescents in our country who are struggling with this problem are getting no treatment at all. For women who are struggling with substance abuse problems, 60 percent of them get no treatment at all. In some regions of the country, the waiting list for treatment is 6 months long or longer. The overall cost to our country for elicit drug use is about $110 billion a year, according to the ONDCP. Right now we are spending $1.6 billion on a block grant program that gets money down to the communities for treatment.

If anybody thinks this is just an inner-city problem, consider a COSA report entitled `No Place to Hide,' which showed that drug use, drinking and smoking among young teens, is higher in rural America than our Nation's urban centers. According to this report, eighth graders, 13-year-old children in rural America, are 50 percent more likely to use cocaine than those in urban areas--I remember when I heard Joe Califano say this; I was stunned--and 104 percent more likely to use amphetamines, including methenamine. Drug treatment is needed to treat addiction and to end the demand for drugs. This is not just an urban problem.

We are talking about taking $225 million out of this almost-billion-dollar package for Colombia. We are saying, cannot any of this be put into treatment, if this is going to be called the war on drugs legislation, as the majority leader identified it. I think we have had a different debate on the floor. What I am saying as a Senator from Minnesota is, can't we take some portion of that and deal with the demand side? Can't we put some money into the war on drugs in our own country? If 80 percent of the adolescents aren't receiving any treatment and need some help, can't we get some help to them?

This amendment is supported by Legal Action Center, National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Partnership for Recovery, and State Association of Addiction Services.

Again, I say to my colleagues, this amendment, when all is said and done, is basically saying to Senators that we can provide assistance to Colombia, and we should.

We should provide extensive assistance, including interdiction, but at the same time we ought to avoid entanglement in a decades-old civil conflict and we ought to avoid partnership with an army implicated in severe human rights abuses. Moreover, I am saying we can take at least a small portion of the resources and put it where it will do the most good, and that is in providing funding for drug treatment programs at home.

I just want to echo the words of my colleague from California. It is quite incredible to me that we can find the money for the war on drugs--close to a billion dollars--for Colombia, but we can't take $225 million and put it into community-based treatment programs in the war on drugs in our own country.

Moreover, we have in this legislation--and I think in particular this may interest the Chair--a shift via a 7-to-1 ratio from money for police to military. This is particularly worrisome because, right now, one human rights organization after another--and we have our own State Department report on violations of human rights abuses by paramilitary groups. It points out that we have a country where civilians make up 70 percent of the casualties in that horrible war, and paramilitary groups linked to the army commit over 75 percent of the abuses.

I say to my colleagues, again, President Pastrana has made the political decision that he wants to conduct a military campaign in the southern part of the state. All of a sudden, this debate has shifted because Senators have come out here and have said: Yes, Senator Wellstone, we are taking sides and we should take sides. If President Pastrana says he needs money from us to support his military in this counterinsurgency effort in the southern part of Colombia with U.S. supporters on the ground with them, and if we don't stop this in Colombia, then, God forbid, for the whole future of South or Central America--I have heard this before--at least let's have this debate out in the open.

I know this is a debate about a war on drugs, in which case I would say, yes, yes, yes. I would say, we have in this package support for the Colombian Government, but if we are going to have a war on drugs, do it in our country and deal with the demand side and put more into community treatment programs. I think we win that argument. I am sure the vast majority of people in Minnesota agree. If you are going to spend money on the war on drugs, put some money into our own country. We have a package out here that basically says, for the first time, we are going to be directly aligned with the military campaign in Colombia, in the southern part of Colombia.

I have some very real doubts that militarizing this conflict is going to somehow be a successful war against drugs. Moreover, as I have said earlier, I have some very real doubts, which are expressed by human rights organizations and religious organizations and a whole lot of people in our country and in Colombia, that we should be taking sides and we should be supporting a military which, as recently as this year, has been unwilling to change its practice and stands accused by all of the reputable human rights organizations of human rights violations.

Do we want to align ourselves with this military, with these paramilitary groups that have committed such terrorism against civilians and are responsible for most of the violence in that country? I have not a shred of sympathy or support for

the guerrillas, the left-wing, the right-wing, any of them.

The question is, If it is a war against drugs, don't we want to put some money into the war against drugs here? Other than that, do we want to take sides in this military conflict? That is what my colleagues have been talking about today, and they say we have to. They say that if we do, we will be able to--we have language in this legislation that will safeguard against human rights violations by the military, that we will be able to invest this money in the military operation in southern Colombia and make sure everything will be above board. Frankly, I think that is problematic at best.

I am not sure people in Colombia or in the United States have the faintest idea what we are about to do. We haven't been able to stop any of these human rights abuses over the years. But now, all of a sudden, we are going to be right in the middle of this and take sides, and we are going to be aligned with this military campaign in southern Colombia, and we say we are going to vet it and make sure there aren't any human rights violations.

Never mind that all the human rights organizations on the ground say that will not work and the religious community says it is a profound mistake; that all sorts of government organizations in Colombia with a tremendous amount of credibility say, don't do this; don't align yourselves with this military campaign in southern Colombia. We are being told, no problem; we can vet this now.

I also want to say to my colleagues I don't think we have taken these human rights abuses, either directly by the military or the military assigned with these paramilitary groups, very seriously. Again, that is a declaration from social and human rights nongovernment organizations in Colombia; there must be 45, 50 organizations, or more. We just disregard them. They are saying, yes, interdiction, give us the package. But they are saying don't align yourselves with this military, with such a horrendous, horrific record of violence, murder, violation of human rights--alignment with the worst of the atrocities that have been committed Colombia--just as we don't want to side with the left-wing guerrillas.

Why are we now taking sides?

Again, some of my colleagues come out here and say this amendment is basically taking away assistance to Colombia. It is not. Senator Boxer did a great job on that point. We can take a couple hundred million dollars and put it into the war on drugs in our own country. We deal with the demand side. It is so naive to believe that all of what we see in our inner cities and our rural areas and suburbs, all of the addiction, all of the substance abuse which destroys people's lives--it is so naive to believe that if we now put money into a military campaign in southern Colombia, this is the way to fight a successful war on drugs. We have been down this road forever and ever and ever and ever. When are we going to get serious about dealing with the demand for drugs in our own country and the treatment programs? I don't know.

My colleagues just sort of give the human rights question the back of the hand in this debate. I have here the annual Human Rights Watch Report World 2000--I will read it again--talking about the paramilitary killers and how stark they are in their savagery, and all the ways in which the military has turned a blind eye to it, and sometimes it is connected to these groups. And now we want to put several hundred million dollars into supporting this military directly in a campaign in southern Colombia with some of our people on the ground with them?

I have to be concerned about the path we are taking. I am not going to bore my colleagues with the statistics.

Let me ask the Chair how much time I have.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has approximately 15 minutes remaining.

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Mr. WELLSTONE. Mr. President, this amendment is a sensible approach which permits extensive assistance to Colombia while safeguarding U.S. interests and avoiding entanglement in a decades-old civil conflict and partnership with an army implicated in serious human rights abuses. Moreover, it moves resources to where they will do the most good; that is, providing funding for drug treatment programs at home.

In my State of Minnesota, according to the Department of Human Services, there are 21,277 people who have requested treatment for substance abuse and have not been able to receive it. An additional 4,000 received some treatment but then were denied further treatment because resources weren't available. Most cited lack of funds to pay for the treatment, or they were put on a long waiting list when they needed the treatment the most. Others said treatment services were not appropriate for their needs--women with children, people with transportation problems, people who were trying to find jobs and needed treatment. This amendment calls for some balance.

When we started this debate several hours ago, the majority leader came out on the floor and in a very heartfelt way said this is about the war on drugs; this is about what is going on in Colombia and the ways in which that country is exporting their drugs to this country; they are killing our children.

If it is about the war on drugs, then let's make it balanced. Let's support efforts to have a war on drugs in Colombia. But let's also support the war on drugs in our own country. Some of this money ought to be put in treatment programs.

It is absolutely naive to believe we are going to be able to deal with the substance abuse problem in our country without dealing with the demand side. It is shameful that we have so little for the prevention and the treatment programs. This amendment takes just a little over $200 million and puts it into community-based treatment programs.

I doubt whether there is a Senator, Democrat or Republican, who either does not know a friend or even a family member who struggles with alcoholism or drug abuse. We ought to be doing a much better job of getting the treatment to people. This war on drugs is focused on interdiction. It is focused on a military solution in Colombia. I argue that it is one-sided. I would argue it is naive.

Second, I have today read from about five different human rights organizations' studies, human rights organizations that I believe command tremendous respect, I hope, from all of us. I read excerpts from the State Department report of this past year. I read a letter signed by 70 nongovernment organization, human rights organizations, and people who were down in the trenches in Colombia. They all said it would be a tragic mistake for our Government to now move away from supporting police, supporting interdiction, supporting a lot of efforts in Colombia, and shift a considerable amount of money to a direct military campaign in southern Colombia--a military aligned with paramilitary groups and organizations that have committed most of the violence in the country, a military with a deplorable human rights record. It would be a tragic mistake

for us now to become directly involved in this civil war. It would be a tragic mistake for our Government to support this military with Americans on the ground with them in southern Colombia. What are we getting into?

I conclude this way: I do not agree with some of my colleagues who have said that if we don't do this, it is the end for Colombia, and watch out for all of South America and Central America. I have heard that kind of argument before. It is eerie to me. It has an eerie sound to me.

I do not agree that we should take sides in this military conflict. Instead, I think we should be providing all of the support we can to President Pastrana in his good-faith effort to deal with drugs in this country, to build democratic institutions, and to have economic development. I do not believe we should turn a blind eye away from the blatant human rights violations of the military. I think it is extremely one-sided to `fight a war on drugs' which won't work, which will militarize our foreign assistance to Colombia, which will have our country directly involved in this military conflict, away from at least providing a small amount of money for community-based treatment programs.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

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