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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), June 21, 2000
Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I thank the managers for their efforts on this very important piece of legislation. They will have my support.

Mr. President, I have been associated with this very important piece of legislation providing aid to Colombia since it was first recommended to the Congress of the United States.

I commend the administration and, in particular, General McCaffrey. I have had an opportunity, as chairman of the Committee on Armed Services and, indeed, for some 22 years to work with General McCaffrey, particularly during the period of the Gulf War in 1991 when he showed extraordinary leadership as a troop commander in that decisive battle to turn back Saddam Hussein's threats.

Now he has volunteered, once again, as an American patriot, to take on this somewhat thankless task of dealing with the almost insoluble problems of the importing into this country of drugs. This is one effort by the general--indeed, the administration, and others--to try to curtail this illegal importation of drugs.

I heard a colleague earlier today concerned about: Well, we are not spending enough money here at home. My quick research and consultation with other colleagues indicates that I think some $500 million in taxpayers' money has been added by this Congress to the Administration's budget requests for domestic programs over the past 3 years. This money has been expended in an effort to educate and to, in every other way, help Americans, first, avoid the use of drugs and then, if misfortune does strike an individual and their families, to try to deal with the tragic consequences.

So I rise to speak in support of the U.S. counternarcotics activities in the Andean ridge and neighboring countries, as provided for in this bill, and to address the impact of drug trafficking on the stability of the region.

The importance of this region to the United States cannot be overestimated. I will give you one example. The region provides the United States with almost 20 percent of the supply of foreign oil. The number is likely to increase with the recent discovery, in Colombia's eastern plains, of reserves estimated at 2 million barrels. The ongoing controversy over the price of gas by the American motorists at this very moment is reason to help Colombia fight this problem.

When I say help this nation, I have been privileged to meet with their President in the course of his visits here, and also meet with the Foreign Minister, the Ambassador--the very courageous Ambassador from Colombia to the United States--and many others from that nation. And, indeed, I have met with private citizens here in America who have had their origin and background in Colombia. So I have talked to a wide range of individuals.

This legislation is the right thing. I commend all those, certainly here in the Senate, and particularly those in the current Government of Colombia, as well as the citizens who have worked to foster this legislation.

Mr. President, to reiterate I rise to speak in support of United States counter-narcotics activities in the Andean Ridge and neighboring countries as provided for in this bill, and the impact of drug trafficking on the stability of the region. The importance of this region to the United States cannot be overstated.

This region provides the United States with almost 20 percent of its supply of foreign oil--a number that is likely to increase with the recent discovery in Colombia's eastern plains of reserves that are estimated at two billion barrels. The ongoing controversy over the price of gasoline that the American motorist is paying only serves to reinforce the importance of this commodity in our everyday life and economy.

In sharp and tragic contrast is the threat from this same region posed by illegal drugs to American citizens on the streets of our cities and in the playgrounds of our schools. An estimated 80 percent of the cocaine and 90 percent of the heroin smuggled out of Colombia is destined for the United States. Sadly these drugs have caused, directly and indirectly the death of 50,000 Americans each year and the loss of billions of dollars from America's economy.

I am also very concerned about the impact that narco-trafficking in Colombia is having on the democratically elected governments in the region. Many of these countries have only recently transitioned from military dictatorships to democracies--and as recent events have demonstrated--these democracies are fragile. The `spill over' effect from the narco-trafficking in Colombia could prove enormously destabilizing to the surrounding nations.

Additionally, this region is home to the Panama Canal, a waterway of significant importance to America. With the United States no longer maintaining a permanent military presence in Panama, it is crucial that we be vigilant against any threat as a consequence of drug trafficking our friends in the Panamanian Government and the Canal itself.

The President's recent request for a $1.6 billion supplemental aid package to assist Colombia and its neighbors in their counter-narcotics efforts, and the funding which will be appropriated through this and other acts for that purpose, represents an increased U.S. role in the region's difficulties. The rampant violent criminal activities of the various terrorist organizations and paramilitary groups involved in narco-trafficking, including kidnaping and murder, continue to undermine the stability of the democratically elected governments of the region. This is particularly true in Colombia.

The proposed aid package, much of which will be provided to Colombia in order to fund portions of the $7.5 billion Plan Colombia, represents one of the most aggressive foreign policy actions of the United States in Latin America in recent history. However, the funding contained in this package is only a small part of our overall commitment to this problem. We already spend hundreds of millions of dollars and deploy hundreds of military personnel to the region every year. In addition to the proposed increase in funding, our support for Plan Colombia will require us to deploy many more military personnel in order to train Colombia law enforcement and military personnel. This is a matter of grave concern for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has as its primary focus the safety and well-being of the men and women who proudly serve in the Armed Forces.

The decision by the Congress to support Plan Colombia and an increased American involvement in the region was not to be an easy one to make. Some have compared the situation in Colombia to Vietnam, and warn against such a U.S. military involvement in an internal matter. Others believe that such involvement is in our vital interest and warn of the consequences if we refuse to engage.

On April 4th of this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on this issue in order to explore the problem and determine what, if any, assistance was appropriate. Our witnesses at that hearing included Brian Sheridan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict; Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; General Charles Wilhelm, Commander-in-Chief, United States Southern Command; and Mr. Peter Romero, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Mr. President, at that hearing I asked our witnesses five questions I believe to be essential in making a decision regarding what role the United States should play in this effort:

(1) Is it in our vital national security interest to become involved?

(2) Will the American people support this involvement?

(3) Can we make a difference if we become involved?

(4) Will American involvement create a reaction amongst the people of the region that is counter to our interest? and

(5) Are those we propose to help committed to achieving the same goals we support?

These are not easy questions but the testimony of the witnesses left me to conclude that it is in our interest, that we can make a difference, and that we will have the support of the people of the United States and the people of the region if we take appropriate and effective action to help the democratically elected governments of this region regain control of their sovereign territory.

Mr. President, this bill represents that appropriate action and I believe that our Armed Forces will ensure that it is effective.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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