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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), June 21, 2000
Mr. DODD. Mr. President, I will be proposing another amendment briefly. I did not speak during the consideration of the Wellstone amendment but, in effect, the amendment offered by our friend and colleague from Washington is tantamount to the same conclusion as the Wellstone amendment. This amount will be reduced, as I understand the amendment, to some $200 million, in effect gutting the program. An amendment that says we not spend the money would have the same effect, in my view.

This is a complicated and difficult issue. I say to my friend from Washington, for whom I have the highest regard and respect, and I listen to him carefully when he speaks on any issue, I am deeply concerned. This is not a perfect package by any stretch of the imagination. If I were crafting this alone, it would be somewhat different than the package before us. I understand with 535 Members of Congress and a Defense Department and a State Department and dealing with regional governments as well in the hemisphere who are as concerned about this issue as we are, we cannot craft a package that reflects necessarily the views of every single person. We have to put together a package that seems to make the most sense from a variety of perspectives.

I did not speak on the Wellstone amendment, but my feelings are very strong when it comes to this issue of Colombia.

Colombia is the oldest continuous democracy in Latin America.

I do not engage in hyperbole when I suggest to my colleagues that this nation of Colombia is very much, in my view, on the brink of being disintegrated by narcotraffickers and guerrilla forces operating in that country.

The narcotraffickers are accumulating a fortune, a vast fortune, significant parts of which are being used to finance the guerrilla operations. The major source of funding for the narcotraffickers, regretfully, comes from right here in the United States. We lose about 50,000 people a year in the United States to drug-related deaths. We are the largest market for illegal Colombian drugs.

Just in the last 2 years, Colombia's coca production has grown by 40 percent. In 1999, the United States estimated the street value of cocaine processed from Colombia's coca fields and sold on the streets of this country was in excess of $6 billion.

Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in the conflict in Colombia. Because of events in that country and because of our own habits in this Nation, people are dying in the streets of America. This is not some distant conflict without any ramifications here at home.

I do not believe this issue is necessarily going to be resolved because we have a military aid package going to Colombia. It is going to be resolved through a variety of measures and means. I, frankly, have been terribly disappointed; we are now almost in July--this is a request for help from our neighbor, from President Pastrana, from a democratic government, where 1 million people are now displaced because of the conflict in Colombia. And 100,000 people leave that country every 6 months because of the war there, many of them coming to our shores and many of them going to other nations.

Colombia is greatly distressed. Politicians, journalists, judges, and innocent civilians are being gunned down. We think we put ourselves at great risk when we run for political office if someone slams a screen door in our face. In Colombia, if you run for high office, you run the risk of being killed. That is not an exaggeration.

Literally dozens and dozens of people who have had the temerity to stand up to the narcotraffickers and to some of these paramilitary forces, and others, have lost their lives. President Pastrana, the President of the country, was actually taken hostage and kept in the trunk of a car not that many years ago as a victim of this conflict.

My point is this. This package may not be perfect, but our delay in responding to a neighbor's call for help is getting too long. Every day we wait, every day we delay, means more lives lost, means greater strength for these narcotraffickers, who respect no one, not sovereignty, not governments, certainly not democratically elected governments, and will use whatever means available to them in order to secure their position and gain resources through their illegal trade in death, a trade in death which costs the lives of people in this country.

Obviously, we have to do a lot here at home. We can't blame the Colombians because we have illegal drug habits in this country that exceed anywhere else in the world. But part of the answer is going after the source. So when we step up to offer the Colombian democracy a chance to fight back, we are not only doing it for them; we are doing it for ourselves.

So with all due respect to my friend from Washington, and others, this may not be a perfect plan, but every day we delay in stepping up to help our neighbor, we cause more hardship, more death and destruction in our own country, and greater is the proximity of Colombia losing its democratic government, losing its sovereignty.

So I hope that this amendment will be rejected, as was the previous amendment, and that we will get about the business of passing this legislation, and giving these people a chance to fight back, and also giving ourselves an opportunity to reduce the hardship in our own streets as a result of the narcotrafficking problem.

I do not claim to be any deep expert on the issue of antinarcotics efforts, but I respect those who are. From General McCaffrey to our colleagues in this Chamber, and in the other House, who work on this issue every single day, almost without exception, they say this is a must-pass program; that if we back away from our responsibility, if we back away from an ally and a friend and a neighbor in trouble, then our credibility, when it comes to fighting back on this issue, will be severely damaged, if not lost entirely, in this part of the world.

President Pastrana deserves the admiration, support, and respect of the American people and this Congress. From the first days he was elected to office, he has sought to resolve the conflict in his country with a major guerrilla group in his nation that has operated for 40-some years, by sitting down with them to try to resolve their differences. He even turned over a sizable portion of Colombia, his own nation--a small percentage of the population resides in this area of Colombia.

I have here a partial map of Colombia. It is not clearly shown on the map, but a substantial portion of Colombia is in an area called the llanos, a Spanish word for lowlands, wetlands. When you come out of the Andes in Colombia, and come down into the llanos areas, the flat areas, there is a large section of this piece of territory which President Pastrana and his government conceded--in effect, an autonomous region--as part of the effort to try to resolve this 40-year-old conflict with the major guerrilla group called the FARC. As I said, a small percentage of the Colombian population actually lives there. But that was part of his concession to try to resolve this dispute. Just recently, he also made a concession of some additional property.

I show you a better map of Colombia. It is a little clearer. On the map you can see the darker area. Here is the Andean ridge that runs from Venezuela down through Ecuador and through Colombia. There are major population centers in the northern sections of Colombia around Bogota.

This area over here is the least populated area of Colombia. It is in this shaded area shown here where this concession was made. There have also been concessions made in the north.

President Pastrana has desperately tried to bring this conflict with this age-old guerrilla operation to a conclusion. But the problem is, the major cocaine and major coca productions occur in areas very similar--in fact, this is the darkened area, the DMZ area, in an area called Caqueta and Putumayo. The Putumayo region is along the border of Ecuador. And the Caqueta region is very similar to it. This is the largest region from which these killer drugs come that end up on our streets.

It is estimated, by the way, these narcotraffickers have profits in excess of $1 million a day--some would suggest three times that number--daily profits made in the streets of the United States to fund their operations and to support guerrilla activities. They cannot handle this alone. If it is left entirely up to Colombia to solve this problem, it gets worse every hour.

I know it is a lot of money, $1 billion. It is not cheap. But every day we delay, every day we refuse to step up, this problem becomes worse and the narcotraffickers get stronger. They are already now in Ecuador. They moved into this region, where they moved the product up through Ecuador to the chemistry laboratories and then back down through Ecuador and either back into Colombia or out to the United States. It is a serious issue.

Their government has pleaded with us for some help for over a year. We are now almost finished with this session of Congress, and we still have not addressed this issue.

Again, I respect my colleague from Washington. But there was another time, a half a century ago, when neighbors in another part of the world asked for our help--not our direct involvement--in something called the Lend-Lease Program. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a national address to the country, described it to the American public in terms of a house being on fire and neighbors asking for some help.

In a sense, today, that is what we are being asked to do. We have here a democratic neighbor, the oldest democracy in Latin America, one of our best allies in the world, a group of people who have supported us and have been through hell over the last 20 years as judges and presidential candidates, prosecutors, state legislators. Anyone who had the guts to stand up to narcotraffickers has gotten gunned down or their families kidnapped and put through a reign of terror by these people, and now they ask us for a little help. All of those drugs come here. They end up on our streets. They kill our kids. They want to know if we will help to put an end to it. I think it is very little to ask, considering the magnitude of the problem, how precarious it is for us here at home and for this good neighbor and friend to our south.

Regardless of party, political persuasion, or ideology, this is a time when we need to say to democratic countries in this hemisphere, we stand with you, particularly when the fight involves us very directly. I hope this amendment will be resoundingly defeated and a strong message sent that this Congress, despite its demands for attention and time and resources, is not going to turn its back on the people of Colombia. Rather we will be saying that we will, in an expeditious fashion, provide the resources necessary so these people have a chance to fight back against a crowd who wants to take their sovereignty and simultaneously add to the carnage on our own streets.

For those reasons, I urge rejection of this amendment. When the tabling motion is offered, I hope my colleagues will support it.

I yield the floor.

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