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Last Updated:9/4/01
Press conference by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, Bogota, August 31, 2001


AUGUST 31, 2001

Thank you for being here this morning. Let me introduce myself. I am Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. I am part of a team made up of people working on the United States government's effort in Colombia.

This is my first visit to Colombia. I want to thank President Pastrana and the many other distinguished Colombians I have met for their hospitality and their insights. I also wish to salute Ambassador Patterson and her mission [personnel]. They do a great job.

Our conversations have given me a better understanding of the situation in Colombia that I will convey to Secretary Powell as he prepares for his visit to Colombia.

President Pastrana's government is engaged in a struggle that matters to everyone in this hemisphere because Colombians are fighting to re-establish two things that almost every citizen of our hemisphere wants: peace and prosperity.

Let me highlight one other thing before we continue. Drugs are a challenge to society shared by producing and consuming countries. As President Bush noted last May, "The most effective way to reduce the supply of drugs in America is to reduce the demand for drugs in America."

Colombia matters to the United States. When President Pastrana asked us to provide security and development assistance to support Plan Colombia, with bipartisan support in the U.S Congress, we provided a $1.3 billion assistance package.

To continue and broaden the scope of that support, President Bush has proposed a $880 million Andean Regional Initiative that will help address the regional problems of instability and poverty, and prevent drug trafficking from moving across borders from Colombia to its neighbors, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama.

We support Plan Colombia because:

-- Plan Colombia recognizes that a negotiated settlement is the only way to achieve peace.

-- Plan Colombia recognizes the effect of drug trafficking; it is the main source of supply for continued unrest in this country. The FARC, ELN and AUC are all involved in the drug trade.

-- Plan Colombia recognizes that jobs and economic opportunity must be created to help turn turbulence into stability. I visited a hearts-of-palm factory in Putumayo yesterday.

-- Plan Colombia recognizes that without full protection for human rights, no democracy is complete.

With all the discussion there's been on Plan Colombia, it's easy to forget that U.S. assistance to Plan Colombia is less than a year old. There are positive things to say:

-- More than 34,000 farm families have already signed manual eradication pacts. The first tranche of a 5-year $222.5 million USAID agricultural assistance package is now beginning to arrive to help them make a living with legal crops instead of drugs.

-- Social and government reform programs have begun. For example, out of 40 planned Casas de Justicia, or community legal service centers, 18 are now active.

-- U.S. assistance has strengthened Colombia's ability to deal with internally displaced persons and human rights violations. There is a pilot early-warning system to prevent guerrilla and paramilitary massacres, now being tested in the field. Satellite human rights units are being established around the country so police and prosecutors are able to respond rapidly to suspected human rights violations.

-- In southern Colombia, the U.S.-trained Counter-Drug Brigade has shut down scores of narcotics fields and labs -- without a single credible charge of human rights violations against the soldiers who took part.

-- The combination of aerial spraying of coca plantations and voluntary, manual eradication for farmers who sign crop substitution pacts with the government has had a serious impact on drug production in southern Colombia. Fifty thousand hectares of coca plantations have been sprayed from the air nationwide in what we believe is a safe and environmentally sound manner.

-- Let me talk for a moment about glyphosate. Enormous quantities of glyphosate-based formulations are safely used worldwide in agriculture each year, including in the United States, which has some of the strictest environmental regulations in the world. In Colombia, the government, with U.S. support, carries out a spray program with stringent guidelines, safeguards and verification measures to prevent damage to the health of Colombians and the environment.

-- The governments of the United States and Colombia also would welcome a review of our procedures, a study of our materials, and any other aspect of the coca eradication program -- consistent with the need to maintain the security of individuals in the program -- so long as we are confident that such a review is carried out by persons who are neutral, credible and scientifically qualified.

Does more need to be done to implement Plan Colombia? Of course. We need:

-- A stronger push to modernize and strengthen Colombia's criminal justice system;

-- More alternative development programs for former small-scale narcotics producers;

-- Increased effectiveness of government human rights units and programs to counter kidnapping, money laundering, and corruption; and

-- Additional support for Colombian programs to rehabilitate child soldiers and protect human rights and labor union officials who have been targeted for violence. We are concerned about attacks against civil society by the guerrilla groups and illegal self-defense groups. The Colombian police and military face many challenges, but they need to do more to protect these courageous people who are trying to improve the lives of Colombians.

-- Have the anticipated 35 helicopters arrive in Colombia to increase the mobility and effectiveness of the government's counter-narcotics battalions.

We also want to work with Colombia and its neighbors to increase trade to provide a permanent alternative to harvesting drugs. Key to that will be renewing the Andean Trade Preferences Act. The Bush Administration will work with Congress to renew, enhance, and expand ATPA before it expires in December of this year.

Why are we doing all this? Because Colombia matters. Colombia is a fellow democracy, the second most populous country in South America. Colombia is the fifth-largest export market for the U.S. in Latin America, with two-way trade last year exceeding $11.1 billion. Colombia exported $3.6 billion worth of oil to the U.S. last year, making it our seventh-largest supplier. The U.S. has more than $4.5 billion in direct commercial investment in Colombia. Colombians deserve the right to live in peace and freedom.

So what happens in Colombia matters. If we act with resolve and skill, we can fashion an outcome that benefits everyone: a strong, stable, democratic Andean region at peace and free from the plague of drugs.

Questions and Answers

Erika Fontalvo. Caracol TV: The U.N. has recognized that in our country there is a crisis in the peace process. With the FARC there are no agreements, at least not specific, and with the ELN the dialogue is completely suspended. That way, there are no results after three years of negotiation and attempts and efforts from President Pastrana's Government to obtain results in this process. Until when can the U.S. guarantee political support to the peace process, without results in the middle term, and noting that the human right violations from illegally armed groups, inside and outside the demilitarized zone, are permanent?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: Thank you very much for the question. I think, as I said in my statement, no country could support the peace process more than the United States of America. That is a point that I made to President Pastrana. It's a point I made when I had the chance to meet human rights groups and NGO's last night. And I would say to you that President Pastrana in his conversation with me was very clear about his desire to get the peace process moving again, and we very much support that. I had the good fortune to have dinner the other night with Jan Egeland after he'd spoken to all of you, and obviously he would have to speak for himself, but I would say there is not a bit of difference between the way he sees the need for reestablishment of the peace process in Colombia and what we see. Peace is crucial to the future development of Colombia and that's why we support the peace process. Thank you.

Andrés Monpotes. El Tiempo: Mr. Grossman, good morning. President Pastrana's Government has stated difficulties in consolidating Plan Colombia. For example, they have said that the resources are not being disbursed very fast. You mentioned now the helicopters that the U.S. Government plans to send to Colombia. When are the resources coming? What's going to happen with TPS, which is included in the aid package asked for Colombia? What's going to happen with the requests of more antidrug bases for the Police? And what's going to happen with the social component of Plan Colombia, because those in charge have stated that they still don't have the U.S. resources to carry out social projects?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: Thank you very much for that question. I could take probably the rest of the day to answer all those questions. But let me step back and try to make three points if I could. First, again as I said in my statement, the way people talk about Plan Colombia, you'd think we'd been working on Plan Colombia for fifteen years. In fact, American participation, American support for Plan Colombia is just over a year old. I think that we have a good story to tell and I believe, I hope, that there are some fact sheets that the Embassy has prepared for you today, on the work we have been doing on Plan Colombia. And I urge you, sir, to take a look at that. Because, as I said in my statement, I think there are some positive things to say, and we want to say them, we want to be clear about that. Second, when you say well, so when is the rest of it coming? As I tried again to say, there is a huge amount of work yet to do in support of Plan Colombia, and that is support for counternarcotics, it's support for human rights, it's support for the justice component, and very importantly as well, it's support for alternative development. As I said, I had the good fortune yesterday, with some of my colleagues to visit this hearts of palm factory, which is the kind of thing that is going to be absolutely necessary if there's going to be a permanent solution to this problem of drugs, and so we need to focus on what needs to be done next. Third thing I would say is that I would hope that you all would be supporters of the Andean Regional Initiative, because it's the next way to think about this issue. The Andean Regional Initiative is a proposal for $882 million dollars in front of the Congress, divided between aid for Colombia and aid for other countries in the Andean region. Divided between support for counter narcotics and support for all of the other things that are so important, here in Colombia. So, we have done a lot. There is a lot more to do and we actually, I believe, have quite a coherent vision of how to go forward from here.

Martin Hodgson. Christian Science Monitor: Good morning Mr. Grossman. There has been some suggestion in recent weeks that the United States might be considering broadening the focus of its interest in Colombia. A couple of weeks ago Subsecretary Rodman made some comments suggesting that the interest might not just be in fighting narcotics, but it might be broadened to the defense of democracy in Colombia. In what kind of danger is democracy in Colombia? And is the United States considering broadening its role and its involvement in the Colombian situation?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: To be fair I don't think that's what Peter Rodman said at all. I know he has been widely quoted in saying a number of things, but I don't think that's what Peter Rodman said. We are here to support Plan Colombia and we are here to support a stable and democratic Andean region, and that's what we are doing. And I think that, as I tried to answer to the gentleman before, if we can focus on the job that we've been given and the job that our Congress has given us, which is to focus to on counternarcotics efforts, to focus on human rights, social development, alternative development, will be making a big contribution here. What we want is a stable, successful Colombia. To me, anyway, the only way that you could meet that definition is by being a democracy.

Martin Hodgson. Christian Science Monitor: ... and this democracy's under threat...

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: No I don't think so. What's under threat here I think I already said, Colombians who are being abused. They are being abused by narcotics trafficking, they are being abused by the illegal groups. I think our support here is extremely important to the success of Colombia.

Fernardo Ramos. CNN en español: Mr. Grossman, good morning. Many of you have said that the U.S. government insists on a negotiated solution to Colombia's conflict. However, some voices in the U.S. have expressed concern over the abuses made by the FARC. Have you made any recommendation to President Pastrana's Government to put an end to abuses in the demilitarized zone?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: I did not make any recommendations to President Pastrana. What I did was agree with President Pastrana that there was a need to restart the peace process. I would say to you sir, and you may not agree with me, but let me make this proposition to you, that it is possible to hold two thoughts in your mind at the same time. It is possible to recognize there is a need for a peace process in Colombia, it's also possible to recognize that the FARC, in my view and I think in the view of many Colombians, has abused Colombians, has abused the international community. So I don't think these are contradictory things. These are two things that are part of the situation here. But as I said, my job in my meeting with President Pastrana was to be very clear that we supported his desire to restart this process.

Lourdes Navarro. AP TV Hi. I would like to ask in particular about the demilitarized zone. Several weeks ago three members, supposed members of the Irish Republican Army, were caught there. And are now undergoing investigation, ultimately leading to trial. What is the position of the United States, clearly, about the demilitarized zone? What is the position of the Bush Administration about the abuses that are being committed there at the moment?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: Well, I'll be as clear as we can. First, the establishment and continuation of such a zone is purely, wholly, totally and solely a matter for the Colombian Government. I take no position on that whatsoever. That is a matter for Colombians to decide. Second, in terms of these alleged people from the IRA, I think the State Department's spokesman has spoken to this on a number of occasions. This is a very disturbing development if this is true. And the allegations that these people were here in Colombia teaching other people how to make bombs and weapons is a serious one. I think we have been very clear about that from the podium at the State Department. Third, as I tried to answer the gentleman's question before, again from the Department we've been very clear that it's got to be of concern to people in Colombia, to people in the international community about what goes on with the FARC and ELN and the AUC. So I can't be any more clearer that that.

Robert Willis. Bloomberg News. Good morning, Mr. Grossman. What's the operative number for hectares of coca under cultivation now that you and the Colombian Government are working with, following the eradication, or fumigation, of about 55,000 between December and June this year? Where does fumigation stand now? I've heard it's been stopped but I've also heard it's continuing on a smaller scale. Thirdly, the drug czar's office here in Colombia, back in July, came out with some figures that showed that at the end of 99 there had actually been a 160,000 hectares under cultivation, instead of the 103,000 hectares that had earlier been estimated. How do you view those new figures? What do they say about the effort?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: Let me try to answer those questions. First, in terms of the number I have, coca cultivation at ... 136,200 hectares. Second, in terms of aerial spraying. Aerial spraying continues. In fact we had the good fortune yesterday to visit Putumayo. We had a chance to visit and take a look at the airplanes and some of the work that they are doing. And I must say I was very impressed by the pilots, by the care that they take, by the technology that they have to make sure that this aerial eradication, that the spraying, is done properly. So, it continues. Your third question about the disparities in numbers I think this is just probably hard. I'll give you the number I have, and other people have to speak for themselves. One of the things that we were going to offer to you, if it is of interest to you, is that Rand Beers, the Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement might just be prepared to stay behind here for a few minutes after I take off and have to meet my obligation at the Embassy, to talk in a little bit more detail on this and he'd be glad to that on the record.

Marisol Espinoza. Fox News: Mr. Grossman, the U.S. State Department admitted last week, publicly, that glyphosate together with some additives does cause mild eye irritation and skin rashes. There is review underway to investigate these claims of other worse illnesses. So first, what other alternatives have been discussed to fumigation if they do show that these herbicides do cause long-term health effects? Second, do you think that the U.S. Government would tolerate for U.S. farmers to have mild eye irritation, mild skin irritation in the name of doing away with drug crops?

Undersecretary Marc Grossman: Let me first of all say that I think that our aerial eradication campaign is sensible, it is safe, it is well documented to be safe, and we are not ashamed of it, and we are actually quite proud of it. We believe that the facts in this case are very much on our side. The embassy here I think has done a tremendous job in trying to answer all of these questions. They have hired, for example, Colombia's most prominent toxicologist to go and review any of these complaints. And I think, as Ambassador Beers will tell you, if you are in contact with the glyphosate in high enough concentrations it does cause skin irritation, but the way we spray it and the levels with we spray it are so low that we don't believe actually that this is a problem either in the short term or in the long term. But as I said in my statement, and I think this is an important thing, we and the government of Colombia would be very glad to have a third party come and review this whole business, as long as that third part is neutral ... and we think it can do a job. And I want to say one other thing, and that is that we say all these things about spraying not because we are trying to be defensive about it, but because there is a public concern about it in Colombia, and that's fair. Colombia is a democracy, America is a democracy. This is exactly the kind of issue that ought to be talked about in public. We think the facts are on our side, we think we have a good story to tell, and that's why we are not sorry to tell it, we are not ashamed to tell, and we would like to tell it to anybody who will listen to it. Anyway, I really thank you all very much for your time. I very much appreciate the chance to talk to you and if you wish I'd be glad to turn you over for a few minutes to Assistant Secretary Beers. Thank you very much.

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