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Statement of Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, September 21, 2000
Statement of Rand Beers
Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
before the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee
September 21, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today about the situation in Colombia, the threat it poses to regional security, and the implementation of our assistance to Plan Colombia.

Over the last year, the nature of the situation in Colombia has been repeatedly discussed in hearings such as this one, in the media, and in international fora. There is little doubt that the Colombian people are suffering greatly from the violence produced by that nation's guerrilla insurgents and paramilitary vigilantes: groups that support themselves through a host of criminal activities, the most important of which, the illegal narcotics industry, provides them with untold millions of dollars every month. Colombia's historic neglect of the nation's outlying areas has allowed this problem to fester, and it has been exacerbated by an economic down-turn of a magnitude Colombia has not seen for seventy years. In short, Colombia must overcome critical challenges.

Why is Colombia's situation critical? It is critical because Colombians are dying. It is critical because the guerrilla and paramilitary groups that perpetuate the violence in Colombia are financed by the proceeds of illegal drug trafficking and the thousands of Americans that it kills in our streets every year. It is critical because that drug industry is clear-cutting Amazonian rainforest in order to expand cultivation and is polluting the Amazon Basin with tons of toxins used in drug processing. It is critical because, with unemployment topping 20 percent and government resources strained, the financial lure of the narcotics industry is powerful.

The leadership of Colombia recognizes the need for action. President Pastrana is committed to resolving his nation's problems. He was elected on a pledge to resolve peacefully 30 years of violence and, since taking office two years ago, he has maneuvered through a minefield of issues to bring the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and, hopefully, the National Liberation Army (ELN) to the negotiating table. His administration understands the complexities of the issues confronting the country, laid them out in Plan Colombia, and, even while negotiating with insurgents, took the courageous step of admitting that they required the assistance of the international community to address that country's multiple crises.

In consultation with the government of Colombia, an interagency group, including representatives of State, Defense, Justice, USAID, and Treasury, developed a proposed U.S. assistance package for Bogota's Plan Colombia, with a particular emphasis on the Plan's counternarcotics component. Funding for that package, with some modifications, was passed with the support of this committee and was signed by the president on July 13.

Since the package was passed in its final form, U.S. and Colombian planners have worked together to develop a comprehensive plan for the implementation of our $1.3 billion of assistance and for its integration into the broader efforts of the Colombian government. The U.S. planning team, which included representatives of State, USAID, and DoD, returned from Colombia just last week after nearly two months of daily consultations with their Colombian counterparts. The result is a comprehensive Interagency Action Plan that defines the implementation of our support to Colombia's robust counternarcotics efforts and provides a mechanism to coordinate the various elements of our aid, particularly regarding eradication and alternative development. With the government of Colombia's planning document in hand, U.S. agencies are now refining their draft implementation plans.

In their recently completed Interagency Action Plan, the government of Colombia has laid out an organizational structure that will assist in coordinating the counternarcotics programs with the other elements of Plan Colombia. Representatives of the Colombian police, military, PLANTE (the Colombian agency that administers alternative development programs), and the social security agency will coordinate with mayors and departmental governors at the local and regional level. They will work under the supervision of a national technical committee consisting of representative governmental ministries, such as PLANTE, social security, and the security community. U.S. Embassy representatives will interact with this committee and at the local levels, with the Embassy's Military Group, Narcotics Affairs Section and Drug Enforcement Administration personnel addressing counternarcotics matters. The Colombian technical committee, in turn, will report to an interagency Colombian government body at the vice-ministerial level and finally to the heads of the ministries involved. Senior members of the Embassy country team will handle bilateral issues at this level.

The U.S. agency representatives will coordinate operational issues within the Embassy, with lead responsibility for specific projects generally falling to those agencies responsible for the project's funding. Exceptions to this approach can be found, particularly with regard to the UH-60 BlackHawk helicopters which, although funded through the Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, are being purchased through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and will be managed by Defense Department personnel.

The initial two-year phase of the Interagency Action Plan focuses on southern Colombia. It will start with a rapid expansion of programs aimed at social action and institutional strengthening. Interdiction operations will follow shortly and eradication efforts will commence before the end of the year. Alternative development and other programs to strengthen local communities will expand into neighboring departments where counternarcotics programs will continue regionally. This will include the expansion of voluntary eradication to Caqueta. During this first phase, these regional efforts will be accompanied at the national level by public outreach and programs meant to prepare for the eventual expansion of the programs nationwide.

Implementation of Plan Colombia's counternarcotics elements will require a multiyear effort and a great deal of coordination between the U.S. and Colombian agencies involved, as well as care in the synchronization of equipment deliveries and the operations that the equipment is intended to support.

In the first two years of Plan Colombia, the Action Plan calls for a concerted effort to eradicate illegal crops from southern Colombia, support for expanded interdiction efforts, continued support for the Colombian National Police, alternative and economic development, and additional funding for human rights and judicial reforms.

Although the counternarcotics elements of Plan Colombia are national in scope, the specific objectives for the first two years call for programs to strengthen the government of Colombia's presence in southern Colombia while reducing the production, processing, and trafficking of illegal drugs in the area. One initial objective will be to establish the security conditions necessary to permit the implementation of other, civilian-run, programs. During these first two years, the Interagency Action Plan focuses its counternarcotics energies on southern Colombia in an attempt to reverse the current surging expansion of coca cultivation and, through the implementation of sustainable alternative development and institution building, to make dramatic inroads towards a coca-free Putumayo by achieving a 50 percent reduction in that region's coca cultivation.

Eradication in Putumayo will start with identification of the coca cultivation to be targeted. A coordination committee including representatives of PLANTE and the Colombian National Police will make these targeting decisions prior to the commencement of eradication operations. The operations will include the aerial eradication of agro-business, plantation scale crops and the establishment of voluntary eradication agreements, sometimes referred to as "Community Pacts," between the government of Colombia and communities within the area that is dominated by small-scale cultivation of three hectares or less per farm. Eight communities have been identified in this alternative development area, including Villa Garzon, Puerto Guzman, Puerto Asis, and Orito. Through this program, they will be given the opportunity to eradicate their illegal crops voluntarily as part of their development projects. The pace of implementation for these voluntary eradication and alternative development projects will depend heavily on the local farmers and their willingness to participate and comply with verifiable compliance benchmarks. Aerial eradication, the cornerstone of current eradication efforts in Colombia, will continue to be important in the more remote areas of Putumayo, where large agro-business coca plantations dominate the landscape, The spray campaign aimed at those targets is scheduled to begin in December. This timing coincides with the beginning of the local dry season, when aerial eradication is most effective, and with the anticipated completion of training by the Colombian army's second counternarcotics battalion, as well as the arrival of the UH-1N helicopters needed to provide transportation for it and for the first counternarcotics battalion.

After the first twelve months of the eradication campaign in Putumayo, those communities in the alternative development area that have opted not to participate in the voluntary eradication program will be subject to possible aerial eradication. This does not mean that spray operations will begin immediately upon the expiration of the 12-month grace period. It is merely intended to leave aerial eradication available as an option for the Colombian authorities to use in combating coca cultivation, which, under Colombian law, is a criminal act.

While funding for the training and support of these battalions was contained in the supplemental appropriation, our greatest contribution to the brigade, both in terms of dollar amount and operational need, is helicopter lift. That said, the helicopter platforms themselves are just one part of the helicopter equation. We must also take into account the training needed to produce the pilots, mechanics and crews and the logistical network necessary for the helicopters to be functional aircraft. We are working, with the Colombians, to address all these issues.

On the helicopters themselves, we are complying with Congress's wish to purchase the UH-60 BlackHawks through DSCA, which has provided us with delivery estimates. These delivery estimates, that by the Army's own admission are conservative, indicate that the brigade's UH-60 BlackHawk utility helicopters should begin to arrive by October 2002, and all are scheduled to be in Colombia by May 2003. These dates are based upon the worst-case assumption that the aircraft will be contracted in April, with the first aircraft being completed eighteen months later. Clearly, it may be possible to complete the contract sooner than April and it may be possible to deliver the aircraft in less than eighteen months. We know that this matter is of concern to Congress. It is of concern to us, as well, and we will make every effort to pin down earlier dates, but we are not in a position to say anything beyond the Army's estimates at this time. Similarly, we expect the brigade's contingent of Huey II helicopters to be fully fielded within two years, with the first aircraft arriving in mid-2001. These are current contractor estimates. The exact delivery dates have not been determined, but the aircraft will follow immediately behind the Huey IIs currently being processed for the CNP. Moreover, we will sign a contract with Bell for the first 12 Huey II kits before the end of September.

There have also been a great number of indications and rumors that the number of BlackHawk and other helicopters being provided through the supplemental appropriation may be less than Congress authorized. We believe that this is due to widely different cost figures circulating among the parties involved. We are working to resolve this confusion so that the programs can proceed and we will share those cost figures with the Congress as soon as they are available.

Last year, eighteen UH-1N helicopters were sent to Colombia to provide lift to the counternarcotics battalion. Those aircraft were used to train pilots. Then, in the spring, because funding we expected from the supplemental appropriation was not yet available, the program was temporarily suspended, including training with the ground forces. Those aircraft are now being brought back into service. The first will be operational in October and the full complement of 18 complete in November. These 18 helicopters will be available for training with the first and second counternarcotics battalions. Additionally, all fifteen UH-1N helicopters provided by the supplemental are expected to be available the first quarter of 2001. These 33 helicopters were always envisioned as providing interim air-mobility for the first two battalions and eventually for the third battalion, when it becomes operational.

Pilot and mechanic development and logistical training are also key to implementing Plan Colombia's counternarcotics goals. We believe that this training requirement can be successfully addressed. The delay between the order and delivery of the Huey II and UH-60 aircraft, for example, will allow pilots and others for those aircraft to be trained at a sustainable rate. No other counternarcotics element of Plan Colombia raises the question of absorptive capacity in so serious and difficult a manner. While the supplemental provides important new resources, those resources, with the exception of the helicopters, will primarily serve to expand upon programs already underway in Colombia. Past U.S. government assistance for those programs has been easily absorbed.

Colombian preparations, however, must go beyond mere absorptive capacity and the training of personnel. In order to undertake such an ambitious counternarcotics strategy, Colombian governmental institutions have conducted difficult but necessary reforms to improve efficiency and interagency coordination. This includes the breaking down of long-standing intra-service rivalries, which is key for the success of the envisioned joint operations, and the improvement of communication between the country's security forces and organizations dedicated to humanitarian assistance, both within and outside of the government. This essential public outreach has been insufficient so far, but the Colombian government is now carrying out a campaign to educate the population, especially in Putumayo, regarding the social and developmental aspects of the counternarcotics efforts.

Colombia must also work to address the human rights and counternarcotics certification criteria identified in the supplemental legislation. The documentation that accompanied the August 23 certification and waiver decisions noted that President Pastrana had provided the written directive regarding jurisdiction over military personnel that was required for certification. The Colombian legislature has recently also passed a package of military reforms that gives the government the ability to dismiss military personnel with less than 15 years of service who are credibly suspected of human rights violations and/or collusion with the paramilitaries. We are confident that the next certification process, expected in December, will be able to document progress in the prosecution of alleged human rights abusers in the military. The Department of State is also working with the government of Colombia to develop a more aggressive plan for the eradication of illegal crops. Already, the Colombian government has revised its goals to include a 50 percent reduction of coca cultivation in Putumayo and a 30 percent reduction over the rest of the country within the next two years.

The government of Colombia has committed itself to making an all-out effort to resolve that country's problems. With our assistance package of $1.3 billion, the United States has pledged much-needed support. While teams in both countries continue to plan and adjust operational modalities, the implementation process is now underway. I am confident of the success of these projects and of Plan Colombia, and I look forward to working closely with the Congress as we continue to address these critical issues.

As of September 23, 2000, this document was also available online at

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