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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), June 22, 2000
Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, the foreign operations appropriations bill that the Senate completed debate on today contains $934 million to launch a major counter-narcotics initiative in Colombia. Other financing attached to the Military Construction and Defense Appropriations bills boosts that total to well over a billion dollars.

This funding will enable the United States to embark on a massive ramping up of its counter-narcotics offensive in Colombia. But curiously enough, the bulk of this program is being implemented through a series of supplemental funding measures. A major anti-narcotics program in Central America, anchored on the provision of U.S. military equipment and U.S. military and State Department advisers, seems to me to be a policy issue that begs for in depth Congressional discussion and consideration. And yet, we are effectively creating it through supplemental appropriations. This may be an expedient way to deal with a difficult problem, but I question its efficacy. I wholeheartedly support aggressive counter-narcotics efforts. Illegal drugs and drug abuse are scourges on our society, and we cannot pretend that the problem will go away if we simply ignore it. But I am concerned about the large number of unanswered questions surrounding the President's plan.

I understand where the money is to be spent, and what it is to be spent on, but I am unclear as to what the results are expected to be. What precise impact is the U.S. assistance expected to have on the production of cocaine and heroin into the United States? What impact will massive U.S. assistance to Colombia have on drug production in other Andean Ridge nations? What impact will intensified U.S. assistance to the government of Colombia's have on Colombia's internal politics and simmering civil war? And, most importantly, what impact will this initiative have on reducing drug abuse and the toll of the illegal drug trade within the United States.

Providing answers to those, and other questions, is the primary intent of a provision that I added in Committee to the foreign operations appropriations bill. My provision requires the Administration to seek and receive congressional authorization before spending any money on U.S. support for the counter-narcotics program in Colombia, called Plan Colombia, beyond the funding contained in this and other relevant spending bills. If this funding is sufficient, all well and good. But if more money is needed to prolong or expand the anti-drug effort, then Congress has a responsibility to reevaluate the entire program. The purpose of my provision is to prevent the U.S.

government from slowly but steadily increasing its participation in the anti-narcotics effort in Colombia until it finds itself embroiled in, at best, a costly and open-ended anti-drug campaign throughout the Andean Ridge, or, at worst, a bloody civil war in Colombia.

A secondary goal of my provision is to limit the number of U.S. personnel engaged in the counter-narcotics offensive in Colombia to specific levels unless Congress approves higher levels of U.S. personnel. The provision, which I modified to address concerns raised by the Defense Department, imposes a ceiling of 500 U.S. military personnel and 300 U.S. civilian contractors working on Plan Colombia in Colombia unless Congress authorizes higher levels.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Defense Department indicated that it would not be opposed to troop caps. This is a prudent measure that Congress should endorse to ensure that U.S. involvement does not unwittingly spiral out of control in Colombia.

In an effort to ensure that my provision does not impede ongoing counter-narcotics operations in Colombia, I amended it to address concerns raised by the Administration regarding the availability of funds provided in the FY 2001 Defense Appropriations Bill, and the availability of relevant unobligated balances in other spending bills. My amendment protects ongoing programs without giving the Administration the green light to begin empire building in Colombia.

There are those, I am sure, who will say that my provision is too cumbersome, that we should simply handle this huge counter-narcotics offensive in the normal course of business. That, I believe, would be a dangerous course of action, one that would invite mission creep and deep entanglement in the internal affairs of Colombia.

U.S. assistance to Plan Colombia is not, and should not be, business as usual. If the Administration is sincere in its commitment to launch a major, coordinated, inter-agency offensive against the burgeoning drug industry in Colombia, then the Administration should welcome the spotlight that my provision will shine on its efforts. The Administration should welcome the extra safeguards that this language provides against unintended consequences.

Mr. President, winning the war against illegal drugs is vitally important to the future of our nation and to the future of our neighbors, but it is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that we are allocating U.S. taxpayers dollars in the most effective manner possible. Congress cannot make that determination without fully exploring the goals and potential ramifications of this effort to provide assistance to Colombia. My provision provides the minimum necessary safeguards to ensure congressional oversight of Plan Colombia. I commend the Senate for maintaining the integrity and the intent of this provision.

As of June 25, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S22JN0-125:
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