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Last Updated:10/14/00
Statement of Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), October 12, 2000
Statement of Chairman Dan Burton
Drug Policy Subcommittee

October 12, 2000

First, I think we should put the situation in Colombia into perspective. All of us in this room are closer to Bogota than we are to the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite what many Americans may think, Colombia is not on the other side of the world, it is right in our own backyard. According to the DEA, Colombia is the source of more than 70% of the heroin and 80% of the cocaine on American streets and schoolyards. Tragically the latest numbers show that drug-induced deaths in 1998 surpassed murders for the very first time in the history of this nation. This is a national crisis, make no mistake about it.

Colombia's fate is a national security threat to the United States. Let me explain why. In addition to its proximity to the U.S., Colombia borders Venezuela. Venezuela is the largest petroleum exporter to the U.S. Colombia also borders Panama, a country without a military and whose police force is ill-equipped to defend itself against the heavily-aimed FARC narco-terrorists. Much of the world's economy passes through the now-defenseless Panama Canal at one point or another. The potential influx of refugees or narco-traffickers into any of Colombia's bordering countries has the potential to destablize the entire region.

According to the DEA, there are more than 42,000 addicts who spend more than $1 million per day on heroin in Baltimore. A city councilwoman there says I in 8 citizens in her city is a drug addict --just 40 miles from this room!

Over 1 7,000 Americans die each year from drug overdoses, and it goes virtually unreported by the media. Yet around 1 00 deaths have kept Firestone Tires in the headlines for three months. Both are legitimate concerns, but where is the outrage at the devastation caused by drugs on our society? Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey says this costs America $100 billion in damages per year.

The Administration has continually shown a preference to increase funding for treatment, prevention and education, while reducing source-country funding. Drug-induced deaths are on the rise and it is more apparent than ever that the Administration's approach and expensive media campaign have failed. By short-changing source-country efforts, the Administration has chosen to fight the war by treating the wounded and perpetuating the problem. I do support treatment and education funding, but there needs to be a more- balanced approach.

Can you imagine responding to the Firestone Tire situation by treating the victims of auto accidents while ignoring Firestone's production plants? This seems absurd, but this is how the Clinton-Gore Administration has chosen to tight the war on drugs until it became a potential political liability earlier this year.

For years, Chairman Gilman and I have been pleading with the Administration to pay attention to Colombia, Our pleas fell on deaf ears. Each of our attempts to get aid to our proven allies in the Colombian National Police have met stiff resistance from an indifferent Administration. They preferred to focus on other "priorities," such as East Timor, Bosnia and Kosovo.

In February of 1998, at an International Relations Committee hearing, Secretary Albright said, ".1 think there is some dispute as to whether those helicopters are needed or not. General McCaffrey, with whom I spoke.. discussed this issue and he believes that they are not necessary." She was referring to three Black Hawks proposed by Speaker Hastert, Chairman Gilman and me, in 1997 for the Colombian National Police so they could reach the opium poppy in the high Andes.

Ironically two years later, in January of an election year, the Administration's 'Plan Colombia' called for 30 Black Hawks tbr the Colombian Army, which has a history of human rights abuse.

One of the things that has bothered me for a long time that it's so hard to get accurate information form this State Department. Three weeks ago, Assistant Secretary Beers told us that it would be 2002 before the Black Hawk helicopters they say are now necessary would start arriving. Last week, Secretary Beers told my staff they could start arriving next July. What's changed? Make no mistake about it, the sooner we get those helicopters up and flying in Colombia, the better. That's why I've been fighting for several years to get helicopters to Colombia. Given this State Department's terrible track record, I have no idea what to believe. It seems hard to believe that there will be 13 Black Hawks, a sufficient number of trained Colombian Army pilots and mechanics, and an infrastructure in place in Colombia in 8 months.

Maybe if some of these helicopters are available in the near future, they should go to our allies in the CNP. The Colombian Army is nowhere near ready to put them into use -- they have no infrastructure in place and they aren't even meeting the basic needs of their soldiers -- like boots, ponchos and adequate housing. But the CNP could use them now to produce results.

Given the Administration's abysmal track record in Colombia, we should not be surprised that 'Plan Colombia' has been devastated by the State Department's many inadequacies. The State Department came to the Hill and gave the appropriators incorrect figures regarding the cost of these helicopters and accompanying equipment. As a result, Mr. Beers is now saying they will have to reduce the number ol helicopters in order to provide what in my view are inadequate defensive weapons and armoring for the helicopters. Why wasn't this figured out before a funding request was presented to Congress? It should be common sense that there is a need for defensive measures on these helicopters.

Furthering its string of current and likely future blunders, the State Department plans to build the helicopter base and landing pads for these choppers below a dam and in the flood plain. What will happen during the rainy season? Where will all of these helicopters go? Will there be Colombian pilots ready to fly them before they are submerged? Mr Chairman, to put it bluntly, 'Plan Colombia,' without some serious over-hauling, is doomed to fail miserably.

However, Congressionally-led efforts over the last few years continue to produce substantial results. The State Department vigorously opposed Congressional efforts to get our allies in the CNP six Black Hawk utility helicopters. Congress prevailed, and the result has been the CNP has eradicated nearly five times as many hectares of opium poppy as it did in 1998, and nearly as much as it did last year-- in only 6 months. Most importantly, not one CNP officer has lost his life in an opium eradication operation this year. Congress was right to provide these helicopters with the right equipment to our allies in the CNP. The proof is in the results --higher prices and lower purity which means fewer overdoses. Notably, the CNP has achieved all of these successes without a human rights problem.

Our partners in the CNP have been virtually ignored by 'Plan Colombia.' Despite their successes, they were not rewarded. As of this morning, the CNP's air wing has 3 main transport aircraft, all DC-3s which are 50- year-old air frames, and two of them are grounded. One has been down for more than a year. A second one has been down for more than five months. The State Department has failed to provide adequate support for these planes, the workhorse of the CNP air wing. The CNP desperately needs transport aircraft which work, and Chairman Gilman and I have requested that Speaker Hastert intervene to provide this and other CNP priorities which were overlooked by the State Department in 'Plan Colombia.'

The CNP have lost over 4,000 men in the last decade fighting our War on Drugs and they deserve our support. It is fine to provide the Colombian Army with equipment, they obviously need it, hut not at the expense of our proven and trusted allies in the Colombian Police. We should not rob Peter to pay Paul.

Finally, I would like to close today by talking about the Americans who are being held hostage in Colombia. Just yesterday the Colombian National Police rescued a 5-year-old American, Lucas Wasson, who had been held for more than 3 months. I want to publicly thank the CNP and its fine officers for saving this American child. The CNP arrested 7 people responsible for the kidnapping. I would hope the State Department and FBI will seek to extradite these criminals and bring them to justice in the United States.

Unfortunately there are still Americans being held hostage in Colombia, including three missionaries. They are Rick Tenenoff, David Mankins, and Mark Rich. They were taken on January 27, 1993, and they are the longest-held American hostages anywhere in the world. My staff recently asked the new American Ambassador, Ann Patterson, to request the International Red Cross to do a "proof-of-life" for these men. It has been seven years and the families deserve to know their fate. Many of the benefits which are clue to these families cannot be provided until there is finality to the situation. These families now have children ready for college, and have endured over 7 years on single incomes. They deserve to know. I hope the State Department will follow through with the "proof-of-life" very soon.

I again call on the NGO human rights organizations to condemn the FARC and ELN for their brutality and kidnapping practices and ask them to call on the FARC and ELN to release the more than 250 non-combatant Colombian National Police and remaining American hostages. Don't police officers deserve the same human rights as everyone else? The credibility of the NGO organizations is suspect when they fail to condemn this sort of activity.

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