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Last Updated:9/6/00
Press Conference, President Clinton, President Pastrana, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Sen. Joseph Biden, August 30, 2000
THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary (Cartagena, Colombia) ________________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release August 30, 2000

PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT CLINTON, PRESIDENT PASTRANA OF COLOMBIA, HOUSE SPEAKER DENNIS HASTERT, AND SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN

Casa de Huespedes Cartagena, Colombia

3:05 P.M. (L)

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Good afternoon. On behalf of all Colombians, it is my great privilege to welcome to Cartagena, President Clinton, who has been Colombia's steadfast friend, and honors us enormously with his visit today. I would also like to welcome the distinguished members of his delegation, starting with the Republican Party, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a very good friend of Colombia, Dennis Hastert; and from the Democratic Party, another great friend of ours, Senator Joseph Biden.

You, Speaker Hastert, are not foreign to Colombia, given that you have defended our democracy for many years now and have guided the assistance package through the House. Colombia is truly fortunate to have you as a friend, sir.

Senator Biden, we're also very pleased to have you once again here in Cartagena. Your understanding of the very complex issues of Plan Colombia, from human rights to alternative development, have been crucial.

Senator Bob Graham and Mike DeWine are also with us today, two individuals who have led the way in the U.S.-Colombian relations, providing leadership in both trade and counternarcotics. They are with their colleague, Senator Lincoln Chafee, who is visiting Colombia for the first time. Gentlemen, we are very honored with your presence.

However, there is a notable absence that hurts our hearts of another friend of Colombia -- Paul Coverdell. His passing last month was a deeply-felt loss, and I cannot imagine how we would have gotten this far without him. We miss him, but what he did so bravely will allow us to pursue.

I would also like to welcome our good friends from the House of Representatives, Congressman Douglas Bereuter, William Delahunt, Sam Farr, Porter Goss, Ruben Hinojosa, and Jim Moran. Each in your own way have worked for popular changes for our country.

I'd also like to welcome the members of the President's Cabinet -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno -- leaders of the highest order who have visited us here before. You have taken the cause of burden-sharing in the war on illegal drugs across the globe.

The same is true for General McCaffrey, who has worked tirelessly through very many complicated details of our bilateral strategy. And we're also proud to have with us Sandy Berger, National Security Advisor, and John Podesta, the White House Chief of Staff.

Two years ago, I traveled to Washington with the high hopes of forming a new partnership with the United States. Today, I can affirm that we have accomplished that goal -- beyond our expectations. Today there exists between our two countries a much closer commitment than at any other time in our common history.

The United States government and Congress have offered significant assistance to Plan Colombia, which is my government strategy for national recovery. This package has been developed by Colombians, has been planned by Colombians, has been presented to the rest of the world by Colombians, and is being implemented -- or will be implemented by Colombia.

The very important resources support many of the central elements of the plan, including support of political negotiation, alternative developments for subsistent farmers, the battle against drugs, the strengthening of justice, humanitarian assistance and the protection of human rights. The U.S. assistance is a recognition that the menace of illegal drugs is truly international and, therefore, requires a concerted global response.

We Colombians must address the many challenges our nation faces at this moment in history. We know that the solutions must be our own. Equally important is the understanding that Colombia's armed conflict must be solved by political means. We have asked the United States and the international community to provide us with new tools and additional resources to build the Colombia of the 21st century. We are grateful for the assistance you have provided.

Many times over the past decades, Colombians have felt alone in bearing the burden of the international drug war. Undoubtedly, this is an international presence, and your presence here today, Mr. President, as a representative of the American people, is a commitment that leads us to know that we're no longer isolated in this struggle.

I'm also pleased we have had the opportunity today to discuss our bilateral economic agenda. Peace in Colombia is tied to prosperity, to economic growth and new opportunities for all our people, and this includes expanding bilateral trade.

I believe the time has come to move towards an agreement that allows better access for Colombian's products into the U.S. markets. I am convinced that at the end of the day, trade and investment will do more for Colombia and will be more decisive instruments in the battle against drugs, given that they will have a sustainable impact for future generations, and will contribute to a more prosperous Colombia.

Today is indeed an historic occasion. It marks a decisive moment in a time when two nations join forces to attain common objectives. I have no doubt, ladies and gentlemen, that we have the right policies and that we will be implementing them in the right way and with the right partners.

Finally, I'd like to say that Colombia is most fortunate to have friends as President Clinton, who has earned admiration around the world for his commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East, Africa, and today here in Colombia. His legacy as one of his generation's most dedicated peacemakers is assured.

And now it is my privilege to invite the President of the United States to take over the microphone and the podium.

Sir, you are acknowledged. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First, I want to thank President Pastrana, members of his government and legislative leaders who have welcomed us so warmly here today. I'd also like to thank the members of the Colombian media who are responsible for the opportunity I had last night to address the people of Colombia about the commitment of the United States for the success of your democracy.

I'm pleased to be here with all the people the President mentioned -- Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert; Senator Joe Biden; other members of Congress and the Cabinet and the White House. And I want to thank you, Mr. President, for your reference to Senator Coverdell, who was a friend of Colombia and a friend of our common efforts.

Together we come here to say that the United States, executive and Congress, Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, stand with Colombia in its fight for democracy.

In our meetings I had a chance to thank President Pastrana for his truly courageous leadership, for a peaceful, prosperous, democratic country free of narco-trafficking. He has pursued this vision fearlessly, as has so many others. The 11 widows of those who gave their lives for the rule of law and human rights and a better future that we met earlier today are the most eloquent testimony of it.

The United States has a strong interest in Colombia -- in your economic recovery of the country, in the conservation of your democracy, in the protection of human rights for the people of Colombia, and in your pursuit of peace, security, stability, not only for Colombia, but for the whole region, and, undoubtedly, in reducing the international drug trade.

Meeting those objectives for us is what Plan Colombia is all about. It takes aim at all the interwoven challenges facing Colombia both in the economy and in the civil conflict, fighting drugs, defending human rights and deepening democracy. And as President Pastrana said, it is Plan Colombia -- a plan made by the leaders of Colombia for the people and future of Colombia.

Our support of that plan includes a tenfold increase for social and economic development to help farmers grow legal crops, to train security forces to protect human rights, to help more Colombians find justice by extending access to the courts. This afternoon, I will visit a new Casa de Justicia here in Cartagena that does just that. We've also made clear our confidence in President Pastrana's economic approach, and we're working closely with the international financial institutions to encourage their support of the Colombian economy.

Our assistance also makes a substantial investment in Colombia's counter-drug efforts. Drug trafficking breeds violence, breeds corruption, and drives away the jobs that could help to heal this country's divisions. It also supplies most of the cocaine and much of the heroin to the United States. Our assistance will enhance the ability of Colombian security forces to eradicate illegal crops, destroy drug labs, stop drug shipments before they leave Colombia.

Let me make one point very clear: This assistance is for fighting drugs, not waging war. The civil conflict and the drug trade go hand-in-hand to cause great misery for the people of Colombia -- 2,500 kidnappings in the last year alone; over the last 10 years 35,000 Colombian citizens have lost their lives; 1 million have been made homeless. Our program is anti-drugs and pro-peace.

Forty years of fighting has brought neither side closer to military victory. The President himself has said that over and over. Counter-drug battalions will not change that, and that is not their purpose. Their purpose is to reduce the drug trade that aggravates every problem Colombia faces, and exports chaos to the world, including the United States.

I reject the idea that we must choose between supporting peace or fighting drugs. We can do both; indeed, to succeed, we must do both. I reaffirmed to the President our support for the peace process. The people of Colombia have suffered long enough, especially in the area of human rights. No good cause has ever been advanced by killing or kidnapping civilians, or by colluding with those who do. Insurgents and paramilitaries alike must end all human rights abuses, as must the security forces themselves.

The President is doing his part to hold the military accountable, and today we discussed his efforts to accelerate efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish all offenders, whoever they may be.

What happens in Colombia will affect its citizens and this entire region for a very long time to come. There is a lot riding on this President and this Plan Colombia. We are proud to stand with our friend and our neighbor as it fights for peace, freedom and democracy, for prosperity, human rights and justice, and for a drug-free future. All these things should be the right of all Colombians.

Thank you. (Applause.)

SPEAKER HASTERT: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, President Pastrana. The people of the United States and the people of Colombia have a great deal in common. There's the distance of an ocean, but there is a tradition of democracy -- here, the oldest democracy in the Southern Hemisphere, and in the north, a democracy who has strived for over 200 years to ensure that people have human rights, that they can determine their future, that they can work to better themselves in an economic way.

So why are we here today? Not only do we share a great heritage of democracy, but we also share a great burden. In our nation, over 14,000 young people, children, lose their life every year to either drug use or drug violence. And it happens in our wealthiest communities and on the street corners of our most devastated inner cities.

In this country, thousands of people lose their ability to make a living, to farm their land, to dream the dreams that they want for their children and their grandchildren, because narco-traffickers have changed in many ways the promise of democracy.

We think that there's time for a great partnership between the United States, and Mr. President, your country, this wonderful democracy called Colombia. We hope that in the next few years we can work together, because we know it is our responsibility to cut the demand for drugs. And we know that there is a possibility, if we work together, that we can find those people who need to depend and make their living on growing coca or poppy today, can find a better way of making a living and pass a better future on to their children.

So we have passed in the Congress the Plan Colombia. The President has taken -- President Clinton has taken the necessary steps so that we can release monies and we can get this plan working today. But as any great task, as any huge job that is before two peoples, we have just begun.

We have to work in our country to make sure that we can reduce the demand for drugs, that we can work with your countrymen to make sure that you have the resources to fight the battle against drug traffickers here in Colombia. And there are those in this country, and there are those in the United States, that would be very happy to see us fail. But for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we can't afford to let this fail. Our work has begun. We make a commitment for a long period of time that we will work together to find success.

I want to congratulate the people of Colombia, because you're a brave people. I've visited your hospitals for your policemen and some of your army people several years ago in Bogota. We visited widows today who are raising children without fathers because of the tragedies that have happened in this country. And we know of the victims who are taken hostage and threatened, and have changed their lives. We can make a better life for the people of Colombia and the people of the United States.

And, Mr. President, I look forward to this partnership and working together, and winning this contest. Thank you very much. Gracias. (Applause.)

SENATOR BIDEN: Mr. President, it's good to be back. I visited here and was exposed to the hospitality of you and your family earlier in the year. I came, like other Americans have come in the Congress, to determine whether or not, for myself, your Plan Colombia was feasible and, quite frankly, whether or not I would, in my case, recommend to my colleagues in the Senate that it was a worthwhile investment for us to play the part -- and we're only playing a part -- in Plan Colombia.

But, Mrs. Pastrana, I didn't plan on bringing all these people back when I came again. So I apologize -- a big lunch. (Laughter.) But when I was here last, I was able to swim in that beautiful pool and no one paid attention. And you're all welcome to stay for the weekend if you'd like. (Laughter.)

The Speaker indicated an aspect of this we don't often speak to. Much more is at stake in your fight here in Colombia than merely whether or not narco-traffickers win or lose. I like to think of it, I say to my friends in the States, this way: Can you imagine the hemisphere at peace if Colombia is no longer a democracy? Can you imagine that circumstance? Can you imagine there being a healthy hemisphere without there being a healthy Colombia? I cannot imagine that.

So from a purely foreign policy standpoint, whatever the cause of the dilemma, I can't fathom the United States not doing everything within its power to be a good partner for Colombia. For Colombia's interest is our interest. It's a hemispheric interest, and it's in the interest of the United States.

We also have the very, very poignant and devastating problem of drug use in my country, and the fact that this is the place where the vast majority of heroin and cocaine emanates. The bad news and the good news is -- the bad news is, it's almost all concentrated in Colombia now. When I first started working on this issue as a young senator, this was the processing and transiting forum. The good news is, in a strange way, it's all located here now, which gives us a significant opportunity with your Plan Colombia, as I've been educated to it by both you and General McCaffrey in the United States, to be able to deal a very crippling blow to the narco-traffickers.

The President said it, as he always does, absolutely correctly -- Americans, United States citizens, are prepared to be involved in the war on drugs, they're not prepared to be involved in what they believe to be a civil disturbance unrelated to a war on drugs. And that's a very difficult line for you to parse. And much of what will be judged at home in the United States -- and again, we're only a small part; this is a $7 billion program, we're $1.3 billion here, so it's a big part, but we are not the plan, you are the plan -- but the continued support of the United States, rightly or wrongly, will be judged in large part by how much political consensus is sustained for congressmen, senators and future presidents to vote this kind of money.

And that will depend in great part, Mr. President, as you know better than anyone, on the perception as to whether or not human rights are being honored, whether you are as equally as dedicated to moving on the FARC as you are on the paramilitaries. So your job is a very, very difficult one. We're playing a part, along with Colombia, Europe, Japan, to restore the rule of law and to bolster this great democracy.

Mr. President, I've been doing this job a long time. I can't remember many countries where I've been a small part of a delegation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, the President of the United States, the Drug Director and this many congressmen and senators of both parties have shown up. We obviously care deeply and we wish very much for you to succeed.

One last point that I will make. If we make a mistake, those of us who have been involved in drug policy issues in the United States, if we make a mistake, we may lose an election. All of you sitting here representing Colombia, if you make a mistake you may lose your life. This is high stakes for you, compared to what the stakes that we play for in the United States, those of us who make policy or participate in a small way in making policy. And so, do not underestimate how much your personal courage and the courage of your colleagues -- and your families -- how much a part that has played in the willingness of the United States of America to get as deeply involved as we are. It is a big, big deal.

We want you to know and the thousands of Colombians who do heroic things every day to fight this trafficking, that we do appreciate -- we don't fully understand because we've never been subject to it -- we do appreciate not only the political commitment you're making, but the personal commitment.

And, Mrs. Pastrana, I say to you and the next president and whoever his or her spouse will be, it is an incredible sacrifice you make. I had the opportunity to spend time with your son, who, I tell you what, I'd take as my son. He's a hell of a kid. And I watched as we went into Cartagena, in a social gathering. I watched how your husband watched. I watched how he watched without trying to be overbearing about it.

Many of you have literally risked everything in this fight. The least we can do is to play our part. We're happy to play our part. And I want to thank our President, President Clinton, and the Speaker of the House, the third man in line to be President of the United States, of different political parties -- each of whom have had a commitment to be involved in this in a way that previous Presidents and previous Speakers have not. It would not have happened were it not for them.

The journey now begins. We're in it for the long haul, as long as you are able to, as you've been in the past, demonstrate at least to my countrymen that human rights is very high on your agenda. I thank you and compliment you for your efforts. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Let us begin with the round of questions.

Q President Clinton, the Colombian government has been working in order to obtain tariff benefits with the United States. Mr. President, with what do you commit yourself in order to open the way so that Colombia will benefit from benefits which are granted to other countries? And specifically, will the treaty that benefits the Colombian textile makers, will it be extended?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, the short answer is, I hope so. But if I could, let me explain this issue not only to the Colombian press, but to the American press, because it hasn't received a lot of attention.

We passed a very important bill this year to increase our trade with Africa because we thought we had not done enough. And we have many African Americans in the United States, as you do have citizens of African descent in Colombia, and all over the Eastern part of South America. In that bill, we also had legislation to give more duty-free access to goods from the Caribbean Basin, in the Caribbean. We did it because when we passed the NAFTA trade agreement back in 1993, benefitting our trade with Mexico enormously, it had the unintended consequence of putting a big burden on the Caribbean nations -- mostly the little island nations. And it took us all this time to correct it.

Now, we know that this legislation could have severe unintended consequences on Colombia, in ways that would undermine the impact of Plan Colombia. So Senator Graham, who is here on this delegation, and Senator DeWine, and perhaps others who are here, have sponsored a bill which would, for one year on the textile front, in effect, treat the Colombian textiles in the same way as those from the Caribbean island nations, and the Central American nations. And that would prevent a mass migration of jobs out of Colombia, and it would give the next President and the new Congress a full year to debate what the next step in the economic integration of our region should be.

So I will say, I will tell you the exact same thing I told the President and the government inside -- we are a couple of months away from an election. The Congress will not be in session much longer. But I think this should be done, the Speaker thinks it should be done, and we don't want the Congress to be in a position of having -- or the administration, either -- of having come up with over $1 billion in aid that is partly designed to restore the Colombian economy and to move people out of coca production into legitimate earnings, and then turn around and take the economic benefits away that were there before we started.

So it's a problem. There is a narrow legislative fix, which Senator Graham and others, Senator DeWine and others, have proposed -- which, for the benefit of the American press, would not increase textile imports into our country over and above what they will be anyway over the next year, but would keep massive migration of jobs from Colombia to other places in the Caribbean region from occurring. That's basically what Senator Graham's trying to do.

So I just -- because it's so close to the end of the session, I wish I could promise you that this will happen. I cannot promise you it will happen. All I can tell you is, I will try, and I hope we can do it.

Q President Clinton, 10 years ago President Bush visited here with the same purpose as yours. And in the intervening years, the flow of drugs to the United States illegally has only increased. What makes you believe this new U.S. aid package, although it be part of a broader Colombian plan, can reverse that trend without drawing U.S. troops into a shooting war here?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think that there's a lot of evidence that the flow of drugs out of Colombia per se has increased, as Senator Biden said, because efforts in Bolivia and Peru and several other places have been relatively successful. But the overall problem in the United States is abating.

Unfortunately, it's getting worse in some other parts of the world. And I give a lot of credit to General McCaffrey, to the Attorney General, to the Secretary of State and others. We have worked very hard on this. And I give a lot of credit to the Congress, including the majority party in Congress. There's been an enormous effort over the last five years to intensify our efforts to reduce demand in the United States and to more effectively deal with supply. So that's the first thing I would say. We have some evidence that we can succeed.

The second thing I would say is, a condition of this aid is that we are not going to get into a shooting war. This is not Vietnam; neither is it Yankee imperialism. Those are the two false charges that have been hurled against Plan Colombia. You have a perfect right to question whether you think it will work or whether you think we've properly distributed the resources. But I can assure you -- a lot of the opposition to this plan is coming from people who are afraid it will work. So that won't happen.

The third thing you asked me -- I believe this will work because I think that this President and this government are willing to take the risks necessary to make it work. I think that they're working on developing military forces and police forces that both respect human rights and know they'll be held accountable for abuses, and are honest and competent enough to be effective in this battle if the rest of us will give them the resources, support and training to do it -- on a level that, at least in our experience -- you heard Senator Biden, he's been in the Senate a long time -- we have never seen this before at this level in Colombia.

And the fact that the President understands, that he's willing to do something -- and I hope the people of Colombia will understand it and be patient with him -- he's trying to do two things that no one's ever tried to do at once, but without it, I don't think either problem can be solved. He's trying to fight the narco-trafficking and find a way to have a diplomatic solution to the civil unrest that has dogged Colombia for 40 years. It is a massive undertaking.

Anyway, to summarize, I believe this will work -- number one, because we have some evidence that we can make a difference in the last five years; number two, because we have an enormously courageous and I think thoughtful President and plan and team here committed to it; and number three, there won't be American involvement in a shooting war because they don't want it and because we don't want it because what we have to do is to empower them, and then if there are problems on their borders, to empower their neighbors to solve this with our support.

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: I think that the situation today is totally different from the situation 10 years ago, first of all, because we have an integral program to fight against drug trafficking. This is something we did not have before. And this issue was approached only from the police standpoint. But today, for the first time, we are investing in the people.

Plan Colombia, as we have discussed with President Clinton, is not a plan for war, it's a plan for peace. It's a social plan. Seventy-five percent of Plan Colombia will go to social investment, to capacity-building, alternative development. And this is why, for the first time, what we now see is a comprehensive policy so as not to work only from one side, but to see how in an integral way you can better put an end to the drug issue.

This is why, in addition to Plan Colombia, we're now implementing Impresa Colombia, which means that all the social resources of the Colombian states of $4 billion-$5 billion that were contributing to Plan Colombia we're going to allocate it to earmark these resources. They'll be going to the poorest regions and we'll be investing in infrastructure, alternative development, agricultural policies, social investment -- particularly in those areas which are now being affected by violence and civil unrest.

Only a year ago, in Colombia -- because with the assistance of Speaker Hastert and other Democrat and Republican senators, the U.S. had given us $230 million for military equipment. And last year we had the largest U.S. investment in Colombia. Last year it was $230 million invested in helicopters, and these went to the police. And today, a large amount will be invested only in the social area. So this means that $250 million will be invested in the people, in our social development and the promotion and strengthening of human rights and alternative development.

And this is why I would like to highlight that for the first time the United States is investing not only -- because it's not only military assistance -- and I want to be very clear -- the U.S. assistance is an assistance to fight against drug trafficking, and for this reason I say today that we Colombians must feel very pleased to see that this large amount -- over $250 million --will be invested in the marginal areas, in the poorest areas in Colombia.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Could I just follow up and just make one other point on this -- again, just because I think it's important that what we do be clearly understood. We have received some criticism in the United States from people who say, well, a majority of the money we're giving is for military or law enforcement purposes. Even though the money we give, about $300 million, for boosting government capacity and alternative economic development is a tenfold increase over what we were giving before.

It is true that a majority of our assistance is for increasing the capacity of the Colombia people to fight the drug war. But it is important to recognize that that is true largely because we have a unique ability to give those tools to the Colombian forces.

And I want to reiterate what President Pastrana said, because this is what he said to me when he asked us to do this. He said, I promise you three-quarters of the total investment of the plan will be for non-military, non-law enforcement things -- to build government capacity, to develop the economic and social capacities of the country.

And so, the American aid package needs to be seen in the larger context. And I want to thank -- the United Nations has given money to this, Spain has given money, Norway has given money, Japan has given money. The international financial institutions and the government of Colombia is going to contribute a majority of the $7.5 billion. And anyone within the sound of my voice: We still need another $1 billion or $1.5 billion, and we would be glad to have some more help. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.

Q President Clinton, is there a specific situation in which the U.S. government might consider perhaps giving Colombia military support to fight the guerrillas?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our involvement is laid out in the terms of Plan Colombia. The President has developed this plan with his team, and it does not contemplate that. And so, the answer is, no, that's not authorized by what we did.

What we want to do is to increase the capacity of the Colombian government to fight the narco-traffickers, and in so doing, to reduce anyone else's income from illegal drug trade and increase the leverage that the President has to find a peaceful resolution of the civil conflict. And that is his policy, not my policy. I'm supporting his policy.

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Once again, in order to make it very clear, while Andres Pastrana is the President of Colombia, we will not have a foreign military intervention in Colombia.

Q Mr. President, several Democratic lawmakers and human rights organizations have criticized you for waiving six conditions, the majority on human rights, in order to release the $1.3 billion for this plan. How do you reconcile the waiver with your policy of protecting human rights around the world? And, President Pastrana, how long will it take you to meet those conditions, and are they realistic?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, let me say why I did the waiver, and begin by saying I support strongly human rights and I support the human rights provisions of Plan Colombia -- or, if you will, the human rights requirements for disbursing the aid under Plan Colombia. But there is a reason Congress gave me waiver authority here. Not because they didn't care about human rights, but because they knew that President Pastrana was committed to human rights. He was committed to human rights before he was President of Colombia. He was committed to human rights before he thought of Plan Colombia and before he ever asked us to help. And I would remind you that he has been the victim of perhaps the most severe human rights abuse of all.

So the Congress gave me the waiver authority because they knew there was no way, between the time that they appropriated the money and we needed to spend it, that he could meet every criteria in the legislation, but that if I thought he was committed to doing so and acting in good faith, I could give a waiver so we wouldn't wait another year.

I don't think anyone seriously believes that either the guerrillas or the narco-traffickers will be more careful with human rights than this President. And so creating another year of vacuum in which innocent people can be crushed I think would be a terrible mistake.

On the other hand, you heard what Joe Biden said. If there is to be continued support from the Congress and the next President, then Colombia must meet the requirements of the law. And the President said to me repeatedly that -- and he just said publicly that he was. I think I should let him address that.

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: As I have told President Clinton and many of my colleagues, journalists, the issue of human rights is not imposed on us by the U.S. government or by President Clinton. It is the first commitment of the Colombian government of President Pastrana to fight against the violation of human rights.

As of the moment when we proposed Plan Colombia, as I've had the opportunity of telling several of you, we knew that the eyes of the world would be focusing on our country, and particularly regarding the issue of human rights.

But we're also asking the rest of the world to understand the complexity of the problems that we have in our country. And many times it's difficult for people to understand that we have the illegal defense groups, or the guerrilla drug-trafficking, common criminals. But, likewise, I think that we have made a lot of headway. We have greater awareness on the part of the members of our military forces. And we are demanding the insurgents and the illegal defense groups to better understand that they have to cooperate in terms of not violating human rights. And hopefully, the first agreements to be made in the negotiation peace talks will be related with international humanitarian law and human rights, so as to exclude the civil population and minor combatants from this conflict. Hopefully we'll be able to arrive at this agreement.

And, in addition, we've done a lot also on our part. We have passed the new criminal code. And issues which are very sensitive such as forced disappearance, genocide, torture, will be dealt with by civil courts. And we have reformed the criminal and military code. We devoted a lot of years to this reform, but today it's a fact. And finally, the government itself, via the Minister of Defense, has asked for special powers by Congress so as to reform our military forces, and these powers will expire in the future weeks. And this will allow us to get rid of people who are with the military and that might be linked to any human rights violation issues. And it's going to be very important, because in the past our laws did not allow us to do this.

And we gave this as a signal to the rest of the world. The Vice President of Colombia is the person in charge of this issue of human rights. Never before in Colombia has the Vice President and the Vice President's office been in charge of this very important topic in order to promote all our policies regarding human rights.

And I think that many of the proposals made by Congress in order to give Colombia certification for the purposes of Plan Colombia will be achieved in the future weeks. And hopefully, with these reforms that I have mentioned, we'll make headway. But this is a commitment of our government, and we will support, of course, human rights.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because I expect this is my last trip here before the end of my term, there's one point I did not make in my opening statement that I should have on behalf of the President and the people of Colombia. I would like to make a personal plea to the neighbors of Colombia and the leaders of those neighboring states -- with whom I have worked closely for years, most of them -- to be strongly supportive of President Pastrana and Plan Colombia.

There have been many reports that others are reluctant in Latin America to support this for fear that the Plan Colombia, as it succeeds, will cause the problem to spill over the borders into other states. Now, let's be candid: If it's successful, some of that will happen. But we have funds in Plan Colombia, in the American portion of it, that can be used, a substantial amount of money, to help other countries deal with these problems at the borders right when they start.

And I would ask the neighbors of Colombia to consider the alternative. If you really say Colombia can't attack this in an aggressive way because there will be some negative consequences on our border, the logical conclusion is that all the cancer of narco-trafficking and lawless violence in this entire vast continent should rest on the shoulders and burden the children of this one nation. And that's just not right.

And so, I understand the reluctance of the leaders of other countries to embrace this. It's a frightening prospect to take on this. But this man, more than once, has risked his life to do it. So I just want to assure the other countries the United States will not abandon you. We actually have specific provisions in this bill to provide assistance to neighboring countries that suffer adversely because of the disruptions. But this is something that the democratic leaders of this continent should do together, arm in arm, hand in hand. We will be as supportive as we can, but in the end they'll have to do it together in order to succeed.

And again, Mr. President, I thank you, and I want to thank the leaders of our Congress from the bottom of my heart for doing what I think is a good thing for America to do. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

END 3:57 P.M. (L)

As of September 6, 2000, this document was also available online at http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri-res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/2000/8/31/1.text.1

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