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Speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), June 21, 2000
Mr. LIEBERMAN. I thank the Chair and my friend and colleague from Kentucky.

Mr. President, I rise to support the amendment offered by my friend and colleague from Connecticut. I am proud to be a cosponsor of that amendment. I respectfully oppose the amendment offered by my friend and colleague from the State of Washington.

As has been amply testified to here on the floor today, Colombia is in a crisis that includes a flourishing drug trade emanating from that country, an aggressive guerrilla movement spreading within it, right-wing paramilitary operations, and human rights abuses on all sides. All of this represents a fundamental threat to democratic government, the rule of law and economic prosperity in Colombia, and undermines stability in the region. It also, closer to home, results in the sad reality of a continued massive drug flow into these United States. There has been literally an explosion of cocaine and heroin production in Colombia, and too much of it ends up in our country.

The democratically elected leader of Colombia, President Pastrana, has urgently asked for our assistance and has shown strong leadership in developing a long-term comprehensive strategy for dealing with the multifaceted crisis his country faces.

The United States is not pushing its way into this situation, nor are we attempting to impose an outside solution. The Colombian Government quite simply cannot carry out these constructive plans it has without substantial help from its friends abroad. Our Government has quite responsibly pledged that the United States will make a major contribution to this critical effort, and I am convinced that is in our national interest to do so. The administration's budget request for what has become known as Plan Colombia seeks to help that country and other nations in the region tackle the issues of the drug trade, guerrilla and paramilitary violence, human rights abuses, internally displaced people, and economic deterioration.

This assistance package would allow for the purchase of 30 Blackhawk helicopters to do the essential job of transporting counter narcotics battalions into southern Colombia. These Blackhawks are fast, they have tremendous capacity, and they are well suited for long-range operations. Unfortunately, the Senate version of the foreign operations appropriations bill eliminates the funding for the Blackhawks and replaces them with twice as many of the slower, less capable Huey II helicopters. While the Huey II is an improvement over the 1960s vintage Huey helicopter, it does not have the same performance capabilities, including range, speed, lift, or survivability, at any altitude as does the Blackhawk.

The Colombian Army itself chose the Blackhawk to meet its long-term requirements for all of its forces and believes it is the best solution for providing helicopter support to the newly formed counternarcotics battalions. The Blackhawk would allow the Colombians to put more troops on the ground, more quickly and from greater distances, allowing for a higher initial entry of the battalions and for more rapid reinforcement, all necessary to achieve success against opponents on the ground. For some missions in the mountains at high altitudes, the Huey II simply will not work at all.

In sum, the Colombians have concluded that the Blackhawks best suit their need for counter drug missions, which is at the heart of our American interest in this aid package. Both General McCaffrey and General Wilhelm have strongly concurred.

In addition, in May, a team of 24 U.S. Army aviation experts was sent to Colombia to conduct an assessment of the operational effectiveness and support requirements of the Blackhawks versus the Huey IIs in Colombia. In a preliminary report on its finding, the team said:

[Page: S5527]
The superior troop carrying capacity and range of the
UH-60L, or Blackhawk, versus the Huey II, coupled with the combat nature of operation, limited size of landing and pick up zones within the area of operations, the requirement to operate in high altitude areas and the increased survivability to both aircrew and troops, clearly indicated that the Blackhawk is the helicopter that should be fielded to Colombia in support of a counter drug effort.

That was from a U.S. Army report.

Senator Dodd and I have offered an amendment that says the U.S. Department of Defense, in consultation with the Colombian military, will determine what kind of helicopters will be most effective to support the purposes for which we are spending this money, which are counternarcotics in Colombia. The Senate ought not to micromanage the decision on which helicopters will be used. It is a decision that ought to be left to those who are the experts.

We cannot pretend this overall emergency aid package is a perfect solution to all the problems confronting Colombia or any of the other countries in the region. Neither is this assistance a panacea to the problems of drug abuse and addiction in the United States. It is a strong and credible step forward.

For these reasons, I support the underlying package, oppose the Gorton amendment, and proudly support and cosponsor the Dodd amendment.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

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