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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida), June 21, 2000
Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I have spoken earlier this afternoon on the issue of Colombia in the context of the amendment offered by the Senator from Minnesota. But now that we have another amendment relative to this provision within the foreign operations appropriations bill, I am pleased to have been afforded this opportunity to speak a second time.

I believe that the fundamental thrust of the amendment offered by the Senator from Washington, which would cut all but $200 million of the recommended appropriations for the United States share of the financing plan in Colombia, would essentially eviscerate not only the U.S. participation but would probably eliminate the prospects of other nations, that see themselves looking to the United States for leadership in terms of dealing with the crisis in Colombia, and would probably have a very destabilizing effect on Colombia's stated intention to provide more than half of the $7.5 billion cost of the comprehensive plan in Colombia.

Essentially, what we would be saying, by adopting this amendment, is that we are prepared to see Colombia continue in the almost death spiral of downward direction in which it has been in for the past many months.

I would like to first point out what are some of the national interests of the United States that would be sacrificed if we were to allow that to occur. Of course, the most fundamental sacrifice would be the loss of an effective democratic partner in the efforts to build stability within the Western Hemisphere. Colombia is the longest continuous democracy on the continent of South America. It is a country that other countries, which are relatively new democracies, look to for leadership and example.

What a horrendous consequence it would be if, by our lack of responding to the call for help at this critical time, we were to be the principal agent of converting this nation of over half a century of democracy into a failed state.

There are also consequences to the region, particularly the Andean region. That is a region that is already in trouble, as I know the Presiding Officer is well aware.

There is a new and untested government in Venezuela. We have, in Ecuador, the first successful military coup in Latin America in almost two decades. Peru is in the midst of a very

contentious election aftermath which in many quarters has been called incredible in the sense of not being a credible election.

Even Bolivia, which has been a source of stability, had to impose essentially a period of martial law. And on the north side, we have Panama, which has recently been given full control of the Panama Canal, and where there are great concerns about the stability of that country, and particularly its vulnerability to drug traffickers.

So here Colombia sits, in the middle of this very vulnerable, fractious part of our hemisphere. If it goes down, it will have enormous spillover effects, and the consequences will be dire for U.S. interests.

What we most think about when we hear the word `Colombia' is drugs. Colombia has become an even greater source of drugs due, in part, to the success of our efforts in Peru and Bolivia in reducing coca production, but also, unfortunately, due, in large part, to the fact that we now have a marriage between the narcotraffickers, the guerrillas, and the paramilitaries who are all working together in various places in Colombia, particularly in the southern most regions, to have contributed to a doubling, maybe soon a tripling, of drug production in that nation over the last decade.

Colombia is also an important economic partner of the United States. It has one of the larger economies in Latin America, and it has been a significant trading partner for the United States.

Colombia has had a long period not only of democracy but also of sustained economic growth. It was not until 3 or 4 years ago that the record of every year being better than the last was broken in terms of the economy of Colombia. It was able to avoid a series of economic crises in South America and be a solid bastion of economic stability. That pattern is now broken, with 20 percent unemployment, a 3- to 5-percent drop in gross domestic product, and an outflow of investment.

Finally, we have a national interest in terms of the people of Colombia believing that their future and their hope is in Colombia, and that they do not have to flee and become another diaspora in the United States.

There has been substantial out-migration, oftentimes of the people with the very skills that are going to be necessary to restore the democracy and economy in Colombia.

When I was in Bogota, in December of last year, I was told that if you wanted to apply for a visa to leave Colombia, even as a tourist or for one of the standard visas, it took 10 months to get an appointment to meet with the U.S. consulate official to apply to get a visa.

That is how backlogged they are because of the number of people who are trying to legally leave the country. One can imagine if these conditions of violence and economic turmoil continue how many people will be leaving illegally from Colombia with the United States as their primary destination.

We have a lot at stake. This is not a trivial issue with which we are dealing. I hope just as we, by a very strong vote, rejected previous propositions that would have diluted our capacity to be a good neighbor on this critical issue, that we will do so again in defeating the amendment offered by the Senator from Washington.

Once we have acted, we still will have some work to do, in particular work to do in terms of internationalizing the friends of Colombia to be a strong support group to continue this effort, remembering that 30 percent of Plan Colombia is going to be paid by other than the United States or Colombia--the Colombians have yet to identify who will pick up that 30 percent of the cost--and that we must put greater emphasis on the economic recovery of Colombia, which I hope will include items such as bringing parity to the Andean pact nations vis-a-vis the recently adopted increase in trade preferences for the Caribbean Basin and extending the Andean trade preference to the year 2008 in order to give investors greater confidence.

There is important work to do today, important work to do tomorrow. The goal is to be a good neighbor and contribute to the salvation of a very good friend of the United States, Colombia, at a time of dire need.

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