by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida), June 21, 2000
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
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
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
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,
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: