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Statement by Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), chairman, Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee, October 12, 2000

Opening Statement

Getting U. S. Aid to Colombia

October 12, 2000

Today this Subcommittee will once again examine the U.S. response to the growing crisis in Colombia. In July, the Congress passed a $1.3 billion Supplemental aid package to support PLAN COLOMBIA. I voted for the aid because U.S. assistance is critical to combating drug trafficking and maintaining Colombia’s democratic way of life. But, I am very concerned that the Colombian people may not see real help for months, even years to come. My concern stems from this Administration’s poor track record of delivering previously authorized counterdrug aid and equipment. At this Subcommittee’s request, the General Accounting Office (GAO) examined the Administration’s efforts to date (namely those of the Department of State and Department of Defense). What they found is not encouraging. As noted in the title of their draft report, "U.S. Assistance to Colombia Will Take Years to Produce Results," the prognosis for future aid delivery is not good.

As we enter the 21st century, our hemisphere is facing one the greatest challenges to our national security as the situation in Colombia continues to deteriorate. Left unchecked, the nacro-terrorist threat in Colombia has continued to spiral out of control and now threatens Latin America’s oldest democracy as well as stability in the region. As the illegal drug trade continues to grow, it fuels narco-terrorism; undermines legitimate government institutions and leads to increasing violence in the region. The impact of further destabilization of the region will have a devastating impact on our vital national security interests in the area.

After years of pleading and pressure by House members, the Administration finally submitted a Colombian aid proposal to Congress in February of this year. It arrived seven months after General McCaffrey sounded the alarm calling the situation in Colombia an "emergency" and four months after the Pastrana government submitted PLAN COLOMBIA officially asking for U.S. assistance.

Because the U.S. response has been slow to materialize, Colombia now supplies 80% of the world’s cocaine and the vast majority of the heroin seized in the United States. Furthermore, over the last several years, there has been an explosion in coca cultivation in Colombia. The recent explosion in opium poppy cultivation in Colombia is equally disturbing. Through the DEA’s Heroin Signature Program, we now know that Colombia (not the Far East) accounts for nearly 70% of the heroin seized on U.S. streets. All of these facts point to Colombia as the "center of gravity" of the drug supply line for the United States.

But, despite years of Congressional pleas for counterdrug assistance to Colombia, countless hearings, and intense congressional pressure, resources approved by Congress have failed to be provided to Colombia in a timely and effective manner.

First, information sharing was denied in 1994, turning the situation into "chaos" as my colleague from California Steve Horn so aptly described: ("As you recall, as of May 1, 1994, the Department of Defense decided unilaterally to stop sharing real-time intelligence regarding aerial traffic in drugs with Colombia and Peru. Now as I understand it, that decision, which hasn’t been completely resolved, has thrown diplomatic relations with the host countries into chaos." - Congressman Steve Horn, August 2, 1994)

In 1996 and 1997, when this Administration decertified Colombia without a National Interest waiver, it severely undermined the legitimate drug fighting efforts of General Serrano and the Colombian National Police (CNP), cutting off International Military Educational Training (IMET) and critical equipment.

Even worse, today, with the absence of U.S. intelligence sharing, due in part to the reduced air coverage after the forced closure of Howard Air Force Base in Panama our counterdrug efforts in the region has been further crippled. Without an adequate contingency plan, there now exists a gap in coverage as the new Forward Operating Locations (FOL’s) come on line. The Commander-in-Chief for the U.S. Southern Command testified at one of our hearings this year that the Department of Defense can only cover 15% of key trafficking routes only 15% of the time. It may be after the year 2002 before our anti-surveillance capability is restored.

The Congress passed a supplemental aid package in July to increase the funding for counternarcotics work in Colombia. This wasn’t the first time we pumped money into counterdrug efforts in Colombia. Colombia received almost $300 million funding under the Fiscal Year 1999 Supplemental Spending Bill passed when Dennis Hastert (now our Speaker) was Chairman of this Subcommittee. Sadly, less than half of the equipment Congress funded in that bill has been delivered or is operational. This Administration’s poor track record was the subject of the GAO investigation [hold up the report].

The report concluded that the United States "has encountered long-standing problems in providing counternarcotics assistance to Colombian law enforcement and military agencies involved in counternarcotics activities." The report went on to say, "these problems continue." The report cites that the Department of State "has not provided enough financial or logistical support" to the Colombian National Police helicopter program.

This Administration has resisted congressional efforts to ensure that needed drug-fighting equipment makes it to Colombia in a timely manner. The Administration has fought the Congress for years on Blackhawk utility helicopters for the Colombian National Police and has a pathetic track record of delivering this type of assistance. In fact, even 3 helicopters, which account for the bulk of aid dollars in fiscal year 1999, when finally delivered to the Colombian National Police sat idle for lack of proper floor armoring and ammunition.

Despite this poor track record, this Administration once again requested helicopters (this time for the Colombian Armed Forces) as the bulk of the aid proposal submitted this past February. Given the high cost of these assets and the poor delivery track record of the State Department (INL), I am deeply concerned about committing hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to a program that has not worked well in the past. As Chairman of this Subcommittee, I want to pursue programs that have a proven track record of success.

Complicating the equation is the increased activity by Colombian rebels, namely the 17,000 member narco-terrorist army known as the FARC and the 5,000 member ELN. This army of insurgents now controls nearly 40% of Colombian countryside. The FARC army has gone largely unchecked and is now expanding beyond Colombia’s borders. I am deeply concerned about reports of FARC incursions into neighboring countries. The rebels are heavily financed by the illegal drug trade and earned an estimated $600 million per year from illicit drug activity.

The basic tenet of the Administrations aid package is to use the Colombian military and the Colombian National Police to push into Southern Colombia. I know it, you know it, and the rebels know it. We have been advertising this fact for over a year now. As a result the rebels have done two things, they have fortified their defenses in the area in anticipation of the Colombian troops and they are exploring other areas of cultivation in and outside Colombia. When I asked about defensive countermeasure capability to ensure the safety of the Colombian security forces and protect our investment, State Department said they don’t have "definite proof" of a Surface to Air missile (SAM) threat in Southern Colombia. I can tell you that any organization that can build a submarine a few miles from Bogota capable of carrying an astonishing 200 tons of cocaine, can buy Surface to Air missiles.

One of the points that needs to continually be reemphasized to the American public is that Colombia matters: economically and strategically.

With 20% of the U. S. daily supply of crude and refined oil imports coming from that area and with the vitally important Panama Canal located just 150 miles to the north, -- the national security and economic implications of Colombian rebel activity spilling over into neighboring countries are enormous. For all of these reasons, the United States can ill afford further instability in the region.

Effective delivery of promised U.S. aid will likely make the difference between success and failure of PLAN COLOMBIA. And that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the Executive Branch and the Department of State and Department of Defense in particular. This Subcommittee will continue to play a key role in ensuring that United States counterdrug aid to Colombia is sufficient, appropriate and delivered in a timely manner.

As we face this serious and growing challenge in Colombia, our vital national interests are undeniably at stake. Drug related deaths now exceed homicides in the United States. The flow of deadly high purity heroin and cocaine now flood our streets. The average beginning age of a heroin addict under the Clinton Administration has dropped from age 25 to 17. I believe that the influx of illegal drugs to the United States is our greatest social challenge and most insidious national security threat. I know that many of my colleagues share this concern.

The situation in Colombia requires immediate attention, but the execution of U.S. aid for PLAN COLOMBIA needs to be carefully considered, especially in light of this Administration’s past track record. This hearing will shed light on their past record, as we look for ways to ensure more timely and effective delivery of future aid. The lives of hundreds of brave men of the Colombian Security Forces and the lives of countless American children here at home depend on us.

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