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Last Updated:10/14/00
Statement of Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, October 12, 2000
Statement of Rand Beers Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs before the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform

October 12, 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 twenty 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 in September 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 (NAS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 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 (DSCA).

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 (CNP), 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 fifty 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, and Puerto Asis. 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 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 twelvemonth 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 eradication is getting underway, a Putumayo-focused interdiction effort will also be launched, to disrupt the supply of important precursors entering the region and the shipment of cocaine base and processed cocaine out of the region. Another principal activity will be the dismantling of processing laboratories. These actions should decrease the revenue potential of coca in the target area. When combined with the increased expense of time and money caused by eradication, the resulting distortions in the Putumayo coca market should encourage growers to abandon the crop as a source of income.

An essential element of the interdiction efforts in southern Colombia will be the Colombian army's Counternarcotics Battalions. The first battalion completed its training in December 1999. The second battalion is scheduled to complete its training in December 2000. Personnel for the third battalion are now being identified and are expected to complete their training in April 2001, at which point the three battalions will constitute a brigade.

With regard to the helicopters themselves, we are complying with the legislative mandate to purchase the UH-60 BlackHawks through DSCA, which has provided us with delivery estimates. These original delivery estimates, that by the Army's own admission were conservative, indicated that the brigade's UH-60 BlackHawk utility helicopters would begin to arrive by October 2002, with all scheduled to be in Colombia by May 2003. These dates were based upon the worst-case assumption that the aircraft will be contracted in April, with the first aircraft being completed eighteen months later. Clearly, those dates were prudent to work with until details for a faster delivery could be finalized. We know that this matter is of concern to Congress. It is of concern to us as well. That is why we have worked with DSCA, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and the Government of Colombia to establish a new timetable that, if all goes as expected, will put all of the UH-60s into Colombia in 2001.

We currently expect the brigade's contingent of Huey 11 helicopters to be fully fielded within two years, with the first aircraft arriving in mid-2001. These are current contractor estimates and, as was the case with the UH-60s, the delivery schedule may shorten as details are finalized. The exact delivery dates have not been determined, but the aircraft will follow immediately behind the Huey IIs currently being processed for the CNP. We have signed a contract with Bell Helicopter for the first 12 Huey IIs kits and have taken delivery of them.

Over the past week I have briefed a number of Congressional staff members on the issue of the number of BlackHawk and other helicopters that we may be able to procure with the funding from the supplemental appropriation. Aviation experts at INL and at the Department of Defense have determined that for the mission and the threat level, the Colombian Army would be better served by 13 fully configured UH-60s than by 16 lesser-equipped aircraft. The Colombian army agrees with that assessment. Similar conversations are ongoing regarding the procurement of Huey IIs and helicopters for the Colombian National Police.

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. 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.

Hoping to further improve the quality of our assistance, and sensitive to standing concerns over NAS program management, especially in light of this $1 billion package, we requested that the Department of State's Inspector General perform a management audit of the Bogota program earlier this year. We have received her report and are responding to the recommendations now. At approximately the same time, GAO conducted a separate review of the program. We concur with that report's two recommendations. One points out the need to complete the implementation plans for our assistance to Plan Colombia. This has been addressed above. The other recommends that training and logistical support requirements be identified so as to provide the necessary out-year support. It has, in fact, always been our intent to incorporate those future requirements into our annual budget process and we are doing so, starting with fiscal year 2002.

We are also working with Colombia to encourage their necessary preparations. 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 or early January, 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 fifty-percent reduction of coca cultivation in Putumayo and a thirty-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 October 14, 2000, this document was also available online at

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