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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), June 21, 2000
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to express my serious concerns about the foreign operations bill that is before us. I am concerned, and I believe that many of my colleagues will be concerned, about what is in this bill. And I am even more concerned about what is not in it.

What is here in this bill, is an extremely expensive package of support to the Colombian military, designated, of course, as emergency spending. I recognize that Colombia is a country in crisis. I believe that it is in the national interest of the United States to help Colombia emerge from that crisis and into an era in which basic human rights and the rule of law are firmly entrenched in the fabric of Colombian society.

I recognize that we all share an interest in fighting the terrible impact that illegal drugs have on our own society and in our own communities. So I have made a very serious effort to evaluate this initiative over a number of months. I have heard the perspectives of my constituents, of the business community, of human rights activists, and of the administration. I have also heard from Colombian civic groups and labor unions and from the Colombian government itself. In the end, I remain deeply skeptical about the wisdom of this undertaking.

My primary concerns about the proposed package of assistance to Colombia are two-fold. First, I am concerned about the degree to which this package involves the United States in a counter-insurgency campaign in Colombia. The aim of our assistance to the Colombian military would be to combat narcotics traffickers, I have no doubt--but its primary use would be to wage war against the rebels who control the south. Our country's history teaches us something about how easy it is to get stuck in such situations, about how seductive arguments to increase our involvement might become after we invest massive resources in this phase of the counter-insurgency campaign. It troubles me that, because of the drug-related elements of the Colombia issue, we in this body are not, perhaps, walking into this scheme with our eyes wide open to these dangers.

But my primary concern, Mr. President, is the impact that Plan Colombia could have on the

human rights of Colombians. The Colombian military, which this package of assistance would directly support, has been involved in serious human rights abuses and has a record of collaborating with the murderous paramilitary forces that terrorize Colombian citizens. The package in the foreign operations appropriations bill seems, in the words of the Economist magazine, to `merely bolt three shiny new antidrugs battalions on to an abusive and unreformed military force.' That action would escalate a war in which civilians bear the brunt of the violence. I know that Senator Leahy has worked hard to establish human rights conditions for the use of this assistance. But I am not at all certain that it is appropriate for the United States to engage the Colombian military to this degree at this time.

I note that the Senator from Vermont has a point when he questions the emergency designation for this spending package. Colombia has been in crisis for some time. But of course, the emergency designation frees this body from fiscal discipline--discipline, Mr. President, that we badly need.

In contrast, for a genuine emergency, for the devastating flooding in southern Africa, this bill provides only one-eighth, one eighth, of the administration's request. It was not so long ago, that the entire country was moved by video and photographs of the people of southeastern Africa, clinging to life in trees and rooftops as flood waters rushed past them. These floods were particularly tragic because the country most seriously affected by them, Mozambique, has made significant strides toward recovery from its long and brutal civil war. Though the country is still affected by extreme poverty, in recent years Mozambique has enjoyed exceptional rates of economic growth. While more needs to be done, the country has improved its record with regard to basic human rights. Mr. President, the people of Mozambique have been fighting for a better future. This kind of disaster comes at a terrible time, and it will require the assistance of the international community to help the people of Mozambique to hold to the opportunities that lay before them before the waters rose.

And an appropriate level of funding for the communities ravaged by flooding in southern Africa is just the beginning. Even a cursory glance will indicate that there is a great deal that is not in this appropriations bill.

The news is not entirely bad. I applaud the increased funding levels to combat the global HIV/AIDS crisis, which I believe is one of the most important international issues that this country faces in this new millennium, although I would still like to see that level increase.

And I am pleased to see provisions linking the resumption of certain military and security assistance programs for Indonesia to key conditions--conditions which bolster the position of reformers in the new government by requiring real accountability for human rights abuses and real cooperation with the international community on matters relating to East Timorese refugees. On this note, I would point out to my colleagues the fact that UNHCR personnel recently suspended activities in three refugee camps in West Timor because the security situation in these camps, where military-backed militias continue their campaign of intimidation and destabilization, has made it impossible to for humanitarian workers to continue to do their jobs. Provisions like those included in this bill are still critically important as are the more comprehensive provisions of a bill that I have introduced, S. 2621, the East Timor Repatriation and Security Act of 2000.

Despite the laudable elements, this bill funds only $75 million of the administration's $262 million debt relief request--and that's excluding the $210 million supplemental request, which also goes unfunded. This bill barely addresses the crushing debt burden that stands as an obstacle to growth and development throughout much of the developing world.

This bill allocates only $85 million for peacekeeping operations. That is a sizable cut. It is likely to threaten one of the most logical and far-sighted initiatives that we have in this area, Mr. President, the African Crisis Response Initiative, or ACRI, which trains African militaries to help them to become more effective in working to secure stability and share the global burden of peacekeeping.

This bill cuts two of the most important accounts for international development aid, the ESF account and the World Bank IDA account, below fiscal year 2000 levels.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that the U.S., when compared to twenty other donor nations worldwide devotes the smallest portion of its national resources to development aid--the smallest portion by far. The typical donor country in the study contributed more than three times the share of national resources that the U.S. contributes. In fact, the U.S. fails--and fails miserably--to contribute the U.N. target level of even point-seven-percent--not seven percent, but seven-tenths of one percent--in aid to the developing world. The Center found that, using a number of different sources, the level of U.S. development aid in fiscal year 2001 would be equal to its lowest level since the end of World War II, measured as a share of the economy. That conclusion refers to the Administration's request, a request that this bill falls $1.7 billion below the President's request. I believe that we must exercise more foresight and that we must re-think our priorities to make more room for the world around us and for the global context in which our great nation will operate in this new century.

I believe strongly in fiscal discipline. I believe in governing within our means. I know that means tough choices. But I also know some of the appropriations bills we have just passed and no doubt will see more of the same as we consider spending in fiscal year 2001. Yet we continue the disturbing trend, a trend that I believe runs counter to our national interest and counter to our national identity, of turning our back on the rest of the world.

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

As of June 25, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S21JN0-228:
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