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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida), June 21, 2000
Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Chair.

I strongly support the approval of this assistance for Colombia.

For the past 8 months I have chaired, together with General Brent Scowcroft, a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Colombia. This bipartisan Task Force released an Interim Report in March of this year which recommended that Congress approve the administration's aid request for Colombia, with two modifications. The first, that additional support should be provided to Bolivia, Peru, and other countries in the region, has been incorporated into the bill by the Appropriations Committee. The second modification, that additional trade benefits should be part of the package, I will address with the introduction of separate legislation later this week.

Let me explain why I, and the Task Force, feel so strongly that this assistance package for Colombia needs to be approved.

There is a crisis in Colombia that demands our immediate attention. While Colombia has experienced violence and guerrilla insurgencies for many years, the current crisis is unique in several important ways. First, Colombia is experiencing record violence which is killing over 25,000 Colombians each year. More than half of all kidnapings in the world occur in Colombia. The FARC and ELN guerrilla forces and the paramilitary groups are escalating their violence in ways that have not been seen before.

Second, our success in reducing coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia has shifted the production and cultivation of coca to Colombia, with an explosion of coca cultivation in southern Colombia in the past five years. Over 90 percent of the cocaine on our streets comes from Colombia. More importantly, the guerrilla forces operating in Colombia have become directly involved in narco-trafficking. Where they once provided protection for drug traffickers, they now are directly involved in the production and transport of illegal drugs. This provides them with an almost limitless source of revenue. For the first time we have a guerrilla organization that does not rely on external sources of funding.

Third, the Colombian economy is experiencing its worst recession since the 1930s. An unemployment rate of over 20 percent is exacerbating social and political tensions. The violence is deterring investment making economic recovery more difficult.

Fourth, Colombians are leaving Colombia at record rates. Last year over 100,000 Colombians moved to my State of Florida alone. Hundreds of thousands more have come to other parts of the United States to escape the violence and instability.

It is this combination of factors that led President Pastrana, working closely with our administration, to propose Plan Colombia. To many, Plan Colombia is only about drugs, but in reality it is a broad plan that addresses five key areas: the peace process; the Colombian economy; the counter-drug strategy; justice reform and human rights; and democratization and social development. It is this broad based plan to rebuild the Colombian state that needs our support.

Some have said that Plan Colombia is only about providing military equipment to Colombia. Indeed, Plan Colombia is much more comprehensive and far-reaching. But, the United States contribution to Plan Colombia is heavily weighted toward military equipment. There is a good reason for this. Plan Colombia is a $7.5 billion plan, of which the Colombians themselves will provide over $4 billion. They are looking to the United States to provide about $1.6 billion and to international community for the remainder.

It is appropriate that the portion of the funding being provided by the United States focus on the counter-drug part of Plan Colombia since this is of particular interest to us and since we are the only country that can supply that type of support. It is also the part of Plan Colombia that is most compelling for U.S. involvement, since it involves keeping drugs off of our streets.

Some have argued that there are risks associated with providing this type of support to Colombia. That is true, but there are also risks associated with doing nothing, and I believe that the risks associated with doing nothing are far greater than the risks involved with helping the Colombian Government and the Colombian people.

We have important national interests at stake in Colombia that would be critically harmed were the current situation in Colombia to continue. First, Colombia is the oldest democracy in South America and has been an important partner in bringing democracy and democratic values to all of our hemispheric neighbors, with the

exception of Cuba. We must act to preserve democracy.

Second, the entire Andean region is threatened by instability and Colombia is the center of that instability. Failure to stem the crisis in Colombia could lead to increased instability in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, and Venezuela. A stronger Colombia means a stronger region and a stronger Western Hemisphere.

Third, a complete breakdown in Colombia would make it even more difficult to control the drug trafficking. And the illegal networks that are set up by drug traffickers also involve other illegal activities that threaten our security, such as money laundering and financial crimes, arms trafficking, human smuggling, cargo theft, and terrorism.

Fourth, Colombia is an important trading partner for the United States. It is South America's fourth largest economy and the fifth largest export market in Latin America for the United States. Colombia has the potential to be an economic engine for the Andean region and an even bigger market for U.S. goods. The violence and instability in Colombia are preventing economic growth, including the exploitation of large, newly discovered oil fields that would help to reduce gasoline prices in the United States.

Fifth, the exodus of Colombians, nearly 1 million in the past 5 years, further exacerbates our own immigration problems. A further downturn in the Colombian situation could lead to an immigration crisis that would directly impact the United States.

Finally, for those concerned about human rights, and I consider myself in that category, the deteriorating human rights situation in Colombia can only be reversed through the implementation of Plan Colombia, with the government gaining affective control over its national territory. President Pastrana has demonstrated his will to improve the human rights situation in Colombia, and has taken concrete steps, including dismissing senior military officers, to demonstrate his determination.

With all of this at stake it is hard to understand why we have not been able to move faster to approve this assistance package. And there are direct costs associated with this delay. Last December I visited the first of the Colombian counternarcotics battalions that are to be trained and equipped by the U.S. as part of Plan Colombia. The U.S. Special Forces soldiers who were training them reported that their moral was excellent and they were as capable at their tasks as any soldiers they have ever trained.

Unfortunately, this battalion has been doing very little other than calisthenics since my visit, largely because of our failure to move this assistance package. They are limited to where they can reach by foot, since they have no mobility capability. They have no fuel for the helicopters they were given on an interim basis by the State Department. The valuable training they received is wasting away, and their skills are fading from lack of practice.

In addition, the second Colombian counternarcotics battalion has been vetted but are unable to begin training. Eradication of coca and opium poppy has been halted. Crop substitution and alternative development programs are also on hold, as are the human rights and judicial reform programs that are included in the legislation. Meanwhile, the guerrillas and the drug traffickers continue to strengthen and expand their operations. The peace process has floundered and the violence has escalated. Each day we wait the situation worsens, the regional instability increases, the drugs flow out of Colombia, and the money and effort required to turn the situation around increases.

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to act now and support this vital package of assistance for Colombia.

As of June 25, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S21JN0-36:
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