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Last Updated:11/21/00
Speech in Colombia by Barry McCaffrey, director, White House Office of National Drug Control policy, November 20, 2000
Remarks of Barry R. McCaffrey
Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy
to the Academia Diplomática de Colombia
November 20, 2000

Regional Implications of Plan Colombia

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure for me to be here with you. Thank you for the opportunity to share the views of the United States regarding Plan Colombia and our support for Colombia's democracy and counterdrug efforts. We continue to believe strongly that drug production, trafficking and abuse are problems that affect every nation in the hemisphere, and indeed, nearly every country in the world. For that reason, we must all work together to make our societies safe and our nations strong.

In the last two decades, the countries of Latin America have successfully surmounted a wide range of difficult challenges, from political turmoil and economic recessions to population shifts and natural disasters. During that time period, longstanding internal conflicts and border disputes were resolved, economic transformations were initiated, and democracy spread to encompass 34 of the region's 35 countries. While these accomplishments have created a framework for continued advances in upcoming years, several potential obstacles remain active within Latin America. Severe income distribution inequalities persist, and poverty remains a way of life for roughly one-third of the region's populace. Corruption blocks socio-economic progress and undermines public faith in government institutions and authorities. Violence and crime exact staggering tolls upon society, in terms of both human costs and government resource allocation requirements. These tenacious problems critically challenge the institutional capabilities of Latin America's many democracies, both nascent and long-standing.

While there may be several conditions that have conspired to perpetuate these difficulties, perhaps none has been more detrimental than the unique threat of the growing illicit drug trade. The easing of political and trade barriers and the globalization of international commerce, finance, and information technologies have made every country in the region vulnerable to becoming a transit or market country for illicit drugs. This increased vulnerability to the illicit drug trade also heightens the risk of corruptive influences, amplified criminality, and extended health and social problems that can pressure and potentially undermine democratic foundations. As the Government of Colombia endeavors to resolve the threat to its national security and well-being, it has assistance from the U.S., many European nations, and Japan, as well as the stated support of its regional neighbors. At the same time, Colombia's neighbors are concerned about the possibility of increased violence, refugee flows, and drug production as a result of Colombian action against drug traffickers and the illegal armed groups associated with drug trafficking. President Clinton has said that the U.S. is prepared to assist Colombia's neighbors as they confront the regional threat posed by drug trafficking and illegal armed groups.

The National Security Strategy of the United States recognizes transnational threats, such as those posed by drug trafficking and international crime, as serious threats to the security of the United States. It also identifies the threat of failed states and environmental destruction as growing challenges to U.S. interests. Drug trafficking increases a state's risk of entering into failed state status and the ruin of its environment. Drug trafficking undermines the democratic institutions of a country, distorts its economy, increases corruption and fosters a complete disregard for human rights. It is in the U.S. interest to ensure that these dire effects do not emerge within Colombia's neighbors as Plan Colombia takes effect. A long-term commitment is required to support efforts in countries throughout the region to strengthen democratic institutions, stimulate economic development, promote the rule of law and eliminate illicit drug production and trafficking.

U.S. Assistance for Colombia and the Region

The U.S. role in Colombia is limited but important. In February, 2000, President Clinton presented an urgently-needed, two-year funding package to Congress to assist Colombia in vital counter-drug efforts aimed at keeping illegal drugs off U.S. streets and to help Colombia promote peace, prosperity, and the continued growth of democracy. President Clinton signed the supplemental package on July 13, 2000. It stands as one of the largest and most comprehensive efforts ever by the United States to assist an ally in Latin America with a national emergency. And make no mistake -- this was a grave national emergency for Colombia, as evidenced by the drug-fueled deaths of 22,957 Colombian citizens in 1999.

Colombia's drug elimination plan has a high potential for success in the first phase because drug production is concentrated in the south and vulnerable to eradication. In the long term, Plan Colombia will succeed because it works at the village and farm cooperative level to introduce programs to support the evolution away from a drug economy. These programs include infrastructure development for marketing legitimate crops and technical assistance for the grass-roots organizations that contract for a program of verified voluntary coca reduction. This approach was successful in Peru and Bolivia once those countries could provide basic security for the civilian programs and there was a reasonable threat of eradication without compensation for organizations that fail to keep their promises to eliminate drug crops.

Security is one of Colombia's greatest challenges, especially considering the profits to be made by the illegal armed groups that control the drug producing areas. It is the main reason why U.S. assistance has a strong military component. The current fighting between guerrillas and AUC in the south has brought a halt to counterdrug operations in the region, including the vital alternative economic development programs. Assisting the Colombian government with training and equipment to regain lawful control of the drug producing regions will enable it to protect and serve its citizens as well as reduce illegal drug production.

A viable peace process will ultimately be Colombia's best hope to achieve peace and stop the bloodshed that has marked the country for forty years. We firmly believe that our assistance package supports such a process and makes it possible to achieve a just peace in Colombia. An end to the instability in Colombia would, in and of itself, be a great boon to the neighboring countries, which all suffer to one degree or another, from the instability and violence on their borders.

Regional Implications

The effects of a de facto unification of drug traffickers and illegal armed groups that control vast territory for drug cultivation and production reach far beyond the boundaries of Colombia. The drug money that fuels Colombia's internal conflict is also causing instability throughout the Andean Region. For example, the violence associated with this ongoing conflict has contributed to Colombian nationals crossing temporarily into neighboring countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. In the United States, illegal drugs cost the U.S. 52,000 lives and $110 billion in accidents, lost productivity, and property damage each year. Approximately 90 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States originates in or passes through Colombia, and two-thirds of the heroin seized in the United States comes from Colombia as well. By assisting Colombia with its response to its emergency situation, the United States aids its own domestic circumstance; by extending support throughout the affected region, we seek to bolster our own opportunities for continued success and security.

The primary focus of this supplemental effort is to provide support for Colombia's intensifying counterdrug effort. As a matter of Administration policy, the United States will not support Colombian counterinsurgency efforts. The United States will, however, provide support to the Government of Colombia for force protection and for security directly related to counterdrug efforts, regardless of the source of the threat. Overall, U.S. support to Plan Colombia reflects both Colombian and regional concerns, and is based on linked initiatives to: (1) provide counterdrug assistance to help the Colombian police and military combat drug production and trafficking in the extensive coca growing regions in southern Colombia; (2) supplement major increases in Colombian alternative economic development programs; (3) strengthen governing capacity and develop better programs to enhance the rule of law and to support respect for human rights; (4) support Colombia's economic recovery; (5) promote progress in Colombia's peace process; (6) enhance regional capacity for the interdiction of illicit drugs and related precursor chemicals; and (7) support alternative development programs that build on successful efforts in Peru and Bolivia while initiating programs in Ecuador."

Complementary Regional Support

The United States recognizes that the massive effort to restore the rule of law in Colombia will have implications throughout the region. In fact, the language of the act of law containing the assistance package highlights this need by noting that "this effort requires a greater regional emphasis so that the problems associated with the cultivation, processing and trafficking of illegal narcotics are not simply relocated elsewhere in the region." The assistance package, though focused on Colombia, contains $180 million to support counterdrug efforts in other countries in the region and to counter any attempts by the traffickers to relocate their illicit enterprises.

The United States and its allies in the region have a unique opportunity to make a long-term impact on drug cultivation and trafficking in Latin America now that the majority of coca cultivation and cocaine production is centralized in one country. To accomplish this goal, however, our collective planning must reflect the surest lesson of the many years of counterdrug efforts -- the illicit drug traffickers will try to adapt to changes in their environment, such as those projected in Plan Colombia. If the price of coca continues to climb, Peru and Bolivia could backslide into increased coca growth in recently eradicated regions; as the processing infrastructure in Colombia is disassembled, similar capabilities could emerge in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. It is therefore imperative that the United States and its allies prepare policies and programs to address the related threats that may emerge or expand throughout the region.

The illegal drug producers already appear to be shifting their operations within Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) are fighting each other over the existing coca plantations in the Putumayo department. This interaction is displacing individuals from that region to other parts of Colombia and causing refugees to seek temporary safety in Ecuador. Illicit drug producers are also moving both north and further east within Colombia and may be planning for possible relocations to Venezuela and Brazil, although the easiest moves would be to go elsewhere in Colombia.

In Peru, traffickers have adjusted routes and methods to reduce the effectiveness of law enforcement and interdiction operations. Peruvian coca prices have been rising since March 1998, making alternative development and eradication more difficult. Farmers are returning to abandoned fields and the central growing areas are being rejuvenated. Clearly, rebounding cultivation in Peru would be a setback to regional counterdrug efforts. Moreover, the current political instability may hinder continued eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley and expanded alternative crop development.

In Bolivia, the Banzer administration continues to achieve dramatic reductions in illicit coca cultivation, but there is cause for long-term concern. The infrastructure of the cocaine industry is largely still intact and prices are climbing. Tragically, desperate coca farmers have instigated many acts of violence (as recently as last month) resulting in the deaths of several Bolivian citizens. In addition, the demand for alternative development assistance in Bolivia now substantially outstrips supply. Progress continues to depend upon the will of the Banzer Administration to incur considerable political risk as it attempts to reduce coca cultivation while increasing licit income alternatives. Increased support to address the alternative development issue and to facilitate justice sector and institutional reform will be necessary to ensure that the gains are not reversed.

In addition to its increasing significance as a transshipment site for the cocaine industry, Ecuador's proximity and terrain could make it an ideal relocation option for narcotraffickers in southern Colombia. In the past, Ecuador has been able to deter coca cultivators from establishing a foothold there by maintaining a credible government presence in the region. Ecuador's will to continue that strong deterrence is unquestionable. Nonetheless the challenge is made more difficult because it comes at a time when Ecuador is being stressed by a variety of factors. The U.S. and its allies need to seek the means to increase support to create a significant positive impact in the areas of justice sector and institutional reform, interdiction capabilities, alternative development, and environmental programs in Ecuador.

Panama is already being tested by violent incursions into the Darien and San Blas regions by Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries, where Panama's inadequately trained and equipped police forces are no match for the insurgents. The country's overall counterdrug effort is further complicated by expansive money laundering in its off-shore banking system and the inability of their law enforcement institutions to properly detect and prosecute these violations. As the Government of Colombia increases the pressure on the guerrillas and paramilitaries, these groups can be expected to increase the frequency of their incursions into Panama.

Venezuela is a significant transit route for illegal drugs destined for the U.S. and Europe, with over 100 metric tons of cocaine transiting Venezuela annually by some estimates. Air and maritime smuggling are both conducted through Venezuela, due to a transit volume that greatly surpasses the capabilities of their interdiction forces. Furthermore, some processing operations have recently relocated from Colombia, making Venezuela a secondary source country, with the potential for additional growth as Colombian traffickers seek to shift their production base. Recent counter-drug successes in Venezuela, such as the 8.8 metric tons of cocaine seized in August 2000 by the international law enforcement operation "Orinoco," indicate that at the operational level there are opportunities to make an impact through cooperative efforts.

Due to its proximity to Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela, Brazil is becoming a major transit country for illegal drugs destined for Europe. Until now, Brazil's remote and sparsely populated border has experienced limited spillover from the Colombia conflict. Due to concerns over recent confrontations between Colombian security forces and the FARC in the border region, Brazil has taken additional steps to defend its sovereignty. Brazil will soon install a nation-wide air traffic surveillance network that could help in the struggle against narco-traffickers, but most illegal drugs transiting Brazil today are believed to be travelling via land or river systems. The Amazon Basin is another logical area for the illicit drug traffickers to target for infrastructure development as they search for additional territories that pose difficulties for effective law enforcement.

Regionally, the United States is also committed to initiatives that increase cooperation between countries and supplement our ability to provide direct support to the counterdrug efforts of our partner nations. We will continue the development of the U.S. Forward Operating Location (FOL) infrastructure, enabling more effective regional counterdrug operations in both source and transit countries. We will also expand our programs for regional justice sector training, demand reduction, alternative development, and humanitarian assistance for refugees. Non-programmatic efforts to support the Colombian peace process, to share information regarding the intent and impact of Plan Colombia (particularly with non-governmental organizations), and to encourage greater cooperation on regional border security and law enforcement issues will also be important factors in the overall success of our regional programs.

The crisis in the Andean Region has precipitated a need for a major U.S. effort to protect its national interests in stemming the flow of illegal drugs, supporting democracy and human rights, and encouraging free economic development by supporting the counterdrug efforts of our regional allies. There is strong political will in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to attack the drug trade, root out corruption, end violence, and establish peace and security within the framework of democracy and respect for human rights. There is also strong will in the governments of Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, and Brazil to counter the negative impact of the illicit drug trade in their own territories. While there will undoubtedly be some impact to neighboring countries as the Government of Colombia moves in to restore the rule of law in its drug producing regions, the impact of increased criminal activity, internal conflict, and instability would have far greater consequences for all of us. We will continue to work with all the nations in the region to ameliorate any negative consequences that may occur as a result of increased counterdrug efforts in Colombia.

President Pastrana is on the right track. With international solidarity and support for Colombia's broad-based long-term strategy, drug traffickers and terrorist groups can be deprived of their income, drug production will be crippled, and Colombia's long-suffering people might secure their basic right to earn a legitimate income without fearing for their lives. Plan Colombia will work. It will not be a quick or easy process, but it is a process that will lead to economic recovery, internal security and respect for human rights, a stronger commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and increased stability in the region. We will all be benefit from Plan Colombia's success.

As of November 21, 2000, this document was also available online at

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