of Jess T. Ford, director, International Affairs and Trade, U.S. General
Accounting Office, October 12, 2000
Mr. Chairman and
Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to be
here today to discuss the work you requested on the counternarcotics efforts
of the United States and Colombia. Today we will highlight the preliminary
findings from our ongoing review of the U.S. assistance to Colombia. Our
draft report is with the responsible agencies for comment; we expect to
issue a final report at the end of October. I will discuss three broad
issues: (1) how the drug threat has changed in recent years, (2) problems
the United States has had in providing its assistance to Colombia in the
past, and (3) challenges the United States and Colombian face in reducing
the illegal drug activities.
In October 1999,
the Colombian government announced a $7.5 billion plan, known as Plan
Colombia, which among other things, proposes reducing the cultivation,
processing, and distribution of narcotics by 50 percent over 6 years.
Colombia has pledged to provide $4 billion to support the plan and called
on the international community, including the United States, to provide
the remaining $3.5 billion. To assist in this effort, in July 2000, the
United States agreed to provide about $860 million to Colombia for fiscal
years 2000-01, in addition to the more than $330 million in
U.S. assistance planned for fiscal years 2000-01.
U.s. estimates indicate that
the drug threat from Colombia has both expanded and become more complex
over the past several years. During fiscal years 1996-2000, the United States
provided Colombia more than $765 million in assistance to help reduce illegal
drug activities. Nonetheless, Colombia remains the world’s leading producer
of cocaine, doubling its production during 1995-99. Over this period, Colombia
also became the major source of heroin consumed in the United States. Furthermore,
the number and types of organizations, including insurgent groups, involved
in illegal drug activities has increased and these groups control more than
40 percent of Colombia’s territory. Both these factors make eradication
and interdiction operations to reduce illegal drug activities more difficult.
The United States
has had long-standing problems in providing counternarcotics assistance
to Colombian law enforcement and military agencies involved in counternarcotics
activities. Although U.S.-provided assistance such as aircraft, boats,
and training has enhanced Colombian counternarcotics capabilities, it
has sometimes been of limited utility because the United States did not
provide spare parts or the funding necessary to operate and maintain them
to the extent possible for conducting counternarcotics operations. Moreover,
the U.S. Embassy has made little progress implementing a plan to have
the Colombian National Police assume more responsibility for the aerial
eradication program, which requires the assistance of costly U.S. contractors.
U.S. Embassy officials also expressed concern that the National Police
has not always provided documentation about its use of some counternarcotics
The U.S. and Colombian
governments face a number of management and financial challenges in implementing
Colombia’s strategy to reduce the cultivation, processing, and distribution
of narcotics by 50 percent in 6 years. Although both governments
are taking certain actions to address the challenges, at this point however,
the total cost and activities required to meet the plan’s goals remain
unknown, and significantly reducing drug activities will likely take years.
- U.S. agencies,
including the Departments of State and Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID), are still developing comprehensive
implementation plans for eradication and interdiction operations and
alternative development projects. However, negotiating for
the manufacture and delivery of major equipment, such as helicopters,
is ongoing and staffing new programs in Colombia will take time. As
a result, agencies do not expect to have many of the programs to support
Plan Colombia in place until late 2001.
- Officials from
State and DOD are now determining how the Blackhawk and Huey II helicopters
mandated by the Congress for Colombia will be equipped and configured.
They do not yet know if the funding planned for fiscal years 2000-01
to support Plan Colombia will be sufficient. In addition, State officials
have begun planning for funding in fiscal years 2002 and beyond to continue
the Plan Colombia programs initiated in fiscal years 2000-01. While
estimates have not been completed, these officials stated that substantial
funding would be needed.
- Colombia is relying
on international donors in addition to the United States to help fund
Plan Colombia, but much of that support has yet to materialize. To date,
the Colombian government has not shown that it has the detailed plans
and funding necessary to achieve stated goals.
- Colombia faces
continuing challenges associated with its political and economic instability
fostered by its long-standing insurgency and the need to ensure that
the National Police and military comply with human rights standards
in order for U.S. assistance to continue.
As evidenced by past
U.S. counternarcotics assistance programs, the United States has not always
provided the necessary support to operate and maintain the U.S.-provided
equipment to the extent possible to help counter the illegal drug activities
in Colombia. If these past problems continue, the dramatic increase in
U.S. support for
Plan Colombia will not be used in the most effective way. At a minimum,
if the United States or Colombia does not follow through on its portion
of Plan Colombia, or other international donors do not support Colombia’s
appeals for additional assistance, Plan Colombia cannot succeed as envisioned.
For more than two decades, the
United States has supported Colombia’s efforts to reduce drug-trafficking
activities and to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States.
Table 1 shows the U.S. assistance provided to Colombia during fiscal years
U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance to Colombia (Fiscal years 1996–2000)
did not include the $860 million appropriated through the Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations Act, FY 2000 (Division B of P.L. 106-246) in fiscal year
2000 figures because the agencies have not yet allocated the funding between
fiscal years 2000 and 2001.
$173.2 million in Colombia-specific counternarcotics assistance provided
to State in the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
Act, Fiscal Year 1999 (Division B of P.L. 105-277).
amounts delivered through September 1, 2000, from emergency drawdowns
of DOD inventories authorized in fiscal years 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999.
For fiscal year 1996, DOD could not provide funding data on its other
The Colombian government’s
$7.5 billion, 6-year Plan Colombia represents a significant change from
prior efforts. The government recognizes that the program must address
the conditions that foster the growth in illegal drug activities. Central
to the program is the Colombian government’s effort to regain control
of the drug-producing regions of the country from insurgent and paramilitary
groups, increase drug interdiction efforts, provide coca farmers alternative
ways to earn a living, and enhance the protection of human rights. All
key Colombian ministries, including the Justice and Defense ministries,
are assigned roles and specific tasks in the plan.
In July 2000, Congress
appropriated over $860 million in additional funding for fiscal years
2000-01 to directly support activities in Plan Colombia. The
activities include providing equipment, such as helicopters and fixed-wing
aircraft, and training to support counternarcotics operations of the Colombian
military and National Police; alternative development projects in drug
producing areas; judicial reform and rule of law initiatives; strengthening
Colombian human rights organizations; assisting displaced persons; and
supporting the peace process.
Historically, Colombia has been
the world’s largest producer of cocaine. However, starting in 1997, Colombia
surpassed Bolivia and Peru as the world’s largest cultivator of coca. Since
1995, the area under coca cultivation in Colombia expanded by over 140 percent
to over 300,000 acres in 1999. Most of this increased cultivation took place
in the areas of southern Colombia that are controlled by insurgents and
paramilitary groups. Moreover, the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia
has increased by 126 percent since 1995, from 230 metric tons to 520 metric
tons in 1999. Finally, according to recent U.S. government estimates, Colombia
has become a major source of the heroin consumed in the United States, producing
nearly 8 metric tons in 1999.
Despite U.S. and
Colombian efforts to disrupt drug-trafficking activities, the U.S. Embassy
in Colombia has not reported any net reduction in the processing or export
of refined cocaine to the United States. Moreover, according to the Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA), while two major groups (the Medellin
and Cali cartels) dominated drug-trafficking activities during the late
1980s and early 1990s, hundreds of smaller and more decentralized organizations
are now involved in all aspects of the drug trade. According to DEA, several
billion dollars flow into Colombia each year from the cocaine trade alone.
This vast amount of drug money has made it possible for these organizations
to gain unprecedented economic, political, and social power and influence.
To further complicate
matters, the two largest insurgent groups–the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia and the National Liberation Army–and paramilitary groups have
expanded their involvement in drug-trafficking. The insurgents exercise
some degree of control over 40 percent of Colombia’s territory east and
south of the Andes, an area equal in size to Texas.
According to DOD,
two-thirds of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s units and one-third
of the National Liberation Army units are involved in some form of drug-trafficking
activity. U.S. Embassy officials stated that information over the past
2 years indicates that units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
have become more heavily involved in growing coca, establishing coca prices,
and transporting cocaine in Colombia.
Moreover, in 1998,
DEA reported that certain leaders of some paramilitary groups that emerged
as self-defense forces in response to the insurgents’ violence had become
major drug traffickers.
The United States has had long-standing
problems in providing counternarcotics assistance to Colombian law enforcement
and military agencies involved in counternarcotics activities. In 1998,
we reported that planning and management problems hampered U.S. counternarcotics
efforts in Colombia. For example, we reported that limited planning and
coordination between U.S. agencies hampered the delivery of some counternarcotics
equipment, such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and boats, to the National
Police and the Colombian military. We reported that this equipment required
substantial funding to make it operational.
Between October 1998 and August
1999, State provided the National Police with six additional Bell 212 helicopters
and six UH-II helicopters. Neither set of helicopters was provided with
adequate spare parts or the funds to ensure adequate logistics support because
of budget constraints. Recognizing that the National Police could not operate
and maintain the helicopters, the Narcotics Affairs Section budgeted $1.25
million in fiscal year 2000 to replenish the low supply of spare parts.
However, according to a U.S. Embassy official, the funding was not available
until March 2000 because of delays in submitting State’s plan for the funds
to the Congress. Further aggravating the situation, the Embassy requested
spare parts for some of these helicopters from DOD stocks. While DOD agreed
to provide $3.1 million worth of helicopter spare parts, only $378,000 worth
had been delivered as of September 1, 2000. Although DOD intends to deliver
the remaining parts, a DOD official did not know when.
Furthermore, in September 1999,
State and DOD initiated a plan to provide the Colombian Army with 33 UH-1N
helicopters State had purchased from Canada to support Colombia’s three
counternarcotics battalions. Between November 1999 and February 2000, 18
of the helicopters were delivered to Colombia, and a U.S. contractor trained
24 pilots and 28 Colombian Army copilots to operate them. The original plan
called for using these helicopters beginning in May 2000 to support the
first U.S.-trained counternarcotics battalion, which was ready to begin
operations on January 1, 2000. The helicopters were to move troops into
insurgent-controlled areas so they could secure the areas and enable the
National Police to conduct eradication or interdiction missions.
At the time State
agreed to purchase the helicopters, it had not included the funds necessary
to procure, refurbish, and support them in its fiscal year 1999 and 2000
budgets. As a result, the helicopters could not be used for conducting
counternarcotics operations and 17 of the 24 contractor pilots trained
to fly the 18 UH-1Ns were laid off beginning in May 2000.
In August 2000, after
the U.S. assistance for Plan Colombia was approved, State reprogrammed
$2.2 million from the U.S. counternarcotics program for Mexico to rehire
and retrain additional personnel. According to State and U.S. Embassy
officials, it will take about 3 months for the counternarcotics battalion
to commence operations with the helicopters—nearly a year after the original
date to begin operations.
During fiscal years 1996 through
1999, the United States agreed to provide Colombia almost $148 million worth
of equipment and services from DOD inventories to support counternarcotics
efforts. As of September 1, 2000, it had provided only about $58.5 million.
According to DOD officials, the difference between the amount of assistance
requested and the amount delivered is the result of a combination of factors—from
overvaluing the items when the request was initially developed to the unavailability
of some items in DOD inventories and the length of time to obtain and the
ship articles. For example, in 1996, DOD agreed to provide the Colombian
military and National Police with 90 secure radios and supporting communications
equipment from its inventories. However, according to DOD records, this
equipment was not available.
Beginning in 1998, U.S. Embassy
officials became concerned over the increased U.S. presence in Colombia
and associated costs with an aerial eradication program. At the time, the
Embassy began developing a plan to phase out U.S. contractor support of
aerial eradication by having the National Police assume increased operational
control over this program. This would be accomplished by providing the National
Police with training, aircraft, and other support needed to develop an infrastructure
to enhance their overall abilities to eradicate coca leaf and opium poppy.
According to Embassy personnel, the National Police have not formally approved
the plan, and State has not approved the funding needed to begin the phaseout.
Now, according to State officials, implementing Plan Colombia is a higher
priority, and they do not know when the phaseout program will be approved.
According to U.S.
Embassy officials, despite extensive training and other efforts to have
the National Police develop a management program that would ensure a more
effective aerial eradication program, little progress has been made. For
example, the National Police continue to emphasize training high-ranking
officers, even though the Narcotics Affairs Section has informed the National
Police that training should be given to junior officers in areas such
as logistics, operations, flight instructors, maintenance, and administration.
Moreover, the July 2000 State Inspector General report stated that the
National Police rotate more experienced mechanics into other areas for
developmental purposes. The Police are therefore constantly training new
personnel, making it difficult to maintain a skilled workforce that is
needed to repair the aerial eradication aircraft. According to the Inspector
General report, it will take 3 to 4 years before entry-level mechanics
will become productive journeymen.
Department of State policy requires
that Narcotics Affairs Sections adequately oversee U.S. counternarcotics
assistance to ensure that it is being used as intended and that it can be
adequately accounted for. However, U.S. Embassy officials stated that the
National Police have not always provided necessary documents, such as budgetary
and planning documents, to determine if the National Police are using the
resources in accordance with eradication and interdiction plans. In two
instances, U.S. Embassy officials said they observed the National Police
using U.S.-provided helicopters for purposes other than counternarcotics,
but the Police did not cooperate in their attempts to clarify how the helicopters
were being used.
Also, until recently,
neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Colombian National Police had conducted
program reviews, as required in annual bilateral agreements. Recognizing
it may have a problem, the Narcotics Affairs Section requested in early
2000 that the State Inspector General audit the major National Police
accounts for the first time in 15 years. In May 2000, the State auditors
reported to the Narcotics Affairs Section that the National Police could
not account for 469,000 of the 2.76 million gallons of fuel provided for
counternarcotics missions in 1999. The auditors concluded that the fuel
may have been misused.
The governments of the United
States and Colombia face a number of challenges in implementing Colombia’s
strategy to reduce the cultivation, processing, and distribution of narcotics
by 50 percent in 6 years. Although both governments are taking steps to
identify funding and complete implementation plans, at this point, the total
cost of U.S.-supported activities required to meet the plan’s goals remains
unknown. In addition, Colombia must deal with the political and economic
instability fostered by Colombia’s long-standing insurgency and human rights
As in the past, State and DOD
will have to request additional funding to support U.S.-provided equipment.
Officials from State and DOD recently testified that they do not know if
sufficient funding is available to procure the number of helicopters mandated
by the Congress because they have not determined how the helicopters will
be equipped and configured. According to State, the funding proposed by
the administration and approved by the Congress was not intended to support
the equipment scheduled to be provided through the 6-year life of Plan Colombia.
State officials noted that they are still developing cost estimates for
fiscal year 2002 and beyond but that funding just to sustain the equipment
included in the current assistance for Colombia would be substantial.
During our recent
visit to Colombia, government defense and budgeting officials said that
with their already tight defense budget they cannot afford to operate
and sustain the new U.S. helicopters by themselves. Colombian and U.S.
Embassy officials agreed that Colombia will need to establish a new logistical
and support system, including maintenance and repair, for the Huey IIs
that are not currently in the Colombian’s inventory and that this will
likely require continuing U.S. support.
Most of the assistance provided
under Plan Colombia is targeted for the Colombian military, but U.S. Southern
Command officials said their original input on Colombia’s needs was based
on the information they had and intuitive assessments of the Colombian military’s
basic requirements. At the time the administration was developing its assistance
package, Colombia did not have a military plan on which to base its needs.
Moreover, the Southern Command had not expected large increases in the levels
of assistance for the military, and the daily management of the current
assistance program precluded military officials in the U.S. Embassy from
assessing Colombian overall needs.
To better define
the Colombian military’s requirements, DOD recently undertook two studies.
The first specifically targeted the deployment of the helicopters included
in the assistance package and addressed issues such as support for mission
requirements and the organization, personnel, and logistical support needed.
The second addressed how the Colombian military should structure and modernize
itself to address the internal threats of narcotics and insurgents. DOD
officials said that these two studies provide sufficient information to
develop the operational doctrine, structure, and systems necessary to
use U.S. assistance and meet counternarcotics goals effectively.
State is also drafting
an implementation plan for U.S. assistance that is necessary to better
synchronize all U.S. programs and activities involved in supporting Plan
Colombia. State officials presented their draft to the Colombian government
to help them develop their strategy for the use of U.S. funds. State officials
stated that they expect the U.S. implementation plan to be approved by
U.S. agencies in October 2000.
State obligated most of the
funds appropriated for Plan Colombia activities in late September 2000.
However, DOD and the Colombian Army have not finalized specifications for
the Blackhawk helicopters and State officials testified in September 2000
that the first Blackhawk may not arrive in Colombia until October 2002.
Similarly, State testified that the first Huey IIs may not be delivered
until mid-2001. In addition, although State expects to initiate pilot projects
such as alternative and economic development and judicial reform in September
or October 2000, State and the U.S. Embassy cautioned that it will take
years to show measurable results.
U.S. Embassy officials
said that their ability to begin implementing and overseeing programs
will hinge on obtaining additional staff to manage programs. The Narcotics
Affairs Section estimated it might need up to 24 additional staff, and
USAID estimated it might need 40 more staff to implement programs envisioned
under Plan Colombia. As of September 2000, State and other agencies involved
were still determining the number of additional personnel needed and ways
to address security and other issues, such as the lack of secure office
space in the U.S. Embassy.
Although the Colombian government
has pledged $4 billion for Plan Colombia, State and Colombian government
officials were pessimistic about Colombia’s ability to obtain much new money
without cutting other government programs. They expect that Colombia will
try to raise $1 billion from bonds and loans. As of August 2000, it had
collected $325 million from domestic bonds and planned to collect an additional
$325 million from bonds by the end of 2001. Colombian government officials
indicated that, at best, most of the funds that will be available are already
included in the national budget. However, according to an official with
the Planning Ministry, it is difficult to document the purposes of funding
in Colombian budgets because Colombian ministries’ budget preparation and
coordination among ministries vary.
The Colombian government
is also seeking donations of more than $2 billion from donors other than
the United States to fund the social, economic, and good governance development
portions of Plan Colombia. As of July 2000, other donors had pledged about
$621 million, and State officials were optimistic that the remainder could
be obtained. They said that many donors responded favorably to Plan Colombia
and made plans for meetings in the fall 2000 to revisit the issue.
The Colombian government has
not yet developed the detailed implementation plans necessary for funding,
sequencing, and managing activities included in Plan Colombia. In early
2000, State officials began asking the Colombian government for plans showing,
step-by-step, how Colombian agencies would combat illicit crop cultivation
in southern Colombia, institute alternative means of making a livelihood,
and strengthen the Colombian government’s presence in the area. In May 2000,
State officials provided Colombia extracts from the U.S. draft implementation
plan with the expectation that the Colombian government would develop a
similarly detailed plan. However, Colombia’s product, provided in June 2000,
essentially restated Plan Colombia’s broad goals without detailing how Colombia
would achieve them. A U.S. interagency task force went to Colombia in July
2000 to help the Colombians prepare the required plan. The Government of
Colombia provided their action plan in September 2000 which addressed some
of the earlier concerns.
The Colombian government
agrees that ending the civil conflict is central to solving Colombia’s
problems. State reports have noted that a peace agreement would stabilize
the nation, speed economic recovery, help ensure the protection of human
rights, and restore the authority and control of the Colombian government
in the coca-growing regions. However, unless such an agreement is reached,
the continuing violence would limit the government’s ability to institute
its planned economic, social, and political improvements.
The U.S. Embassy
has already reported that initial Plan Colombia activities have been affected
because of security concerns. Specifically, the lack of security on the
roads in southern Colombia prevented the Justice Ministry from establishing
a justice center there. Moreover, indications are that the insurgents
have warned farmers in one area not to participate in alternative crop
development projects unless they are part of an overall peace plan. The
Embassy has reported that these security impediments are probably a small
indication of future security problems if peace is not achieved.
Regarding human rights,
the Colombian government has stated that it is committed to protecting
the human rights of its citizens. State and DOD officials said they will
apply the strictest human rights standards before approving assistance
under Plan Colombia. For example, State did not approve training for the
second counternarcotics battalion until an individual officer suspected
of a violation was removed from the unit, even though the Colombian government
had cleared the person of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, human rights organizations
continue to allege that individuals in the Colombian armed forces have
been involved with or condoned human rights violations and that they do
so with impunity. As such, Colombia’s failure to adhere to U.S. to human
rights policies could delay or derail planned counternarcotics activities.
Although the Congress
required the President to certify that Colombia had met certain human
rights standards prior to disbursing assistance for Plan Colombia, the
President waived the certification as permitted by the act. According
to State officials, the waiver was issued because it was too soon to determine
the extent to which Colombia was complying with the legislation’s requirements.
Mr. Chairman and
Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would
be happy to respond to any questions you may have.
For future questions regarding
this testimony, please contact Jess T. Ford at (202) 512-4268. Individuals
making key contributions to this testimony included Al Fleener, Ron Hughes,
Al Huntington, and Joan Slowitsky.
As of October 14, 2000, this
document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/reform/cj/hearings/00.10.12/GAO.htm