Briefing by Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, November 27, 2000
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release November 29, 2000
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING
HIS RECENT TRIP TO COLOMBIA
November 27, 2000
MR. REEKER: Good
afternoon, everybody. Welcome back to the State Department briefing room
on this fine Monday afternoon. As advertised, we have with us this afternoon
Under Secretary of State Ambassador Thomas Pickering, our Under Secretary
for Political Affairs, who was last week in Colombia. He is here to give
you a readout and a briefing of his trip to Colombia and discuss our continued
support for Plan Colombia. So the Under Secretary has some brief remarks
and then we will turn it over to questions. And without any further ado,
PICKERING: Thank you, Phil, very much. Pleased to be with all of you today,
and I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet with you closer to my own return from
Colombia last week.
As many of you know, Director McCaffrey and I led a delegation to Colombia
in the middle of last week. This was my fourth trip to Colombia in the
last 16 months. Colombia commands a significant portion of my time because
the Colombians are trying to achieve something that is extremely difficult:
They are trying to bring peace to their own troubled country; implement
a comprehensive strategy to stem the production and trafficking in narcotics;
strengthen the institutions of government in a part of the country where
these institutions have long been weak; and quicken the pace of economic
If Colombia succeeds, Americans will certainly benefit by seeing a reduction
in the flow of drugs, both heroin and cocaine, to our shores and by strengthening
of the oldest democracy in Latin America.
For the first time, Colombia has the resources and the will to attack
these inter-related problems. And I would add an important point for all
of you: All of this is being done while placing respect for human rights
at the center of all of the US support for Plan Colombia-related activities
in the country.
When I was in Colombia, we held meetings with President Pastrana and a
number of his senior officials who brought us up to date about the progress
they're making in implementing Plan Colombia. I believe the Colombian
Government is making steady progress, fine-tuning its planning, raising
the funds needed, and carrying out the first stages of their plan. But
there is still a very tough road ahead.
Our focus currently is on Southern Colombia. There, through increased
security, alternative development, manual eradication, the government
has worked with towns and with organizations and set forward a new and
very important cooperative program, the purpose of which is to increase
the amount of eradication while providing individuals with serious possibilities
for alternative economic activity.
Similarly, a regular program of aerial spraying is ongoing in Colombia.
We do not discuss the operational details of these programs for obvious
operational security reasons.
Extraditions to the United States from Colombia continue, and have this
year nearly reached double digits in terms of the numbers of people sent
to the United States in that program. And, in fact, the leader of the
Norte de Valle Cartel, a successor to the Cali Cartel, long-sought for
cocaine trafficking as well as for sponsoring several infamous paramilitary
massacres, was captured in the few days since our trip. We follow the
peace process in Colombia very closely, and we are concerned that the
FARC -- the F-A-R-C -- has broken off talks.
Finally, I want
to emphasize that one of the important subjects in our talks was to talk
about the region with the Colombians. It is clear that as we increase
our efforts in Colombia, there will be a tendency to find new areas, either
in Colombia or outside of Colombia, in which to move the cultivation and
production of cocaine and heroin, wherever it is appropriate. And so we
are now thinking very clearly of a regional program to match the regional
aspect of our support for Plan Colombia incorporated in this year's supplemental
as a centerpiece of next year's effort to support the Andean region in
its efforts to deal with cocaine, heroin and the associated multiferous
problems in the region.
When I spoke to
all of you earlier this year, I said that this was not going to be a quick
process. I still believe that turning the situation around in Colombia
will take time, probably at least three to five years. But I also believe
that the Colombian Government is clearly, as a result of our discussions
with them during the trip, moving in the right direction. The US remains
firmly committed to supporting Colombia's efforts. This is a bipartisan
commitment that will not weaken with the change of the administration,
as the broad congressional support for this program has shown.
And now I would
be glad to try to address your questions.
Q Two questions,
Mr. Secretary. You used to say "two to five years" and now you're
saying "three to five years", suggesting progress slower than
anticipated. Also, could you bring us up to date on this --
PICKERING: I will say two to five years or three to five years, and I
don't think parsing the detail in this is really worth it. It's a very
tough issue, and one that obviously is going to take some time.
Q Well, could you
talk about the certification process? I understand the next round of certifications
or waivers is in December. Is that correct?
PICKERING: The next round will be when we need to release funds that have
currently been appropriated for the next stage of Plan Colombia. I won't
estimate exactly when that will be, but probably near the beginning of
the calendar year is an appropriate time to think about that.
One of the issues
we discussed with the Colombians is improving their performance on a number
of areas where certification is to take place, and they gave us a commitment
that they would do their best in each of the areas. I believe it is extremely
important, as we go to the Hill and bring certifications, that on each
occasion that we go up we attempt to increase the number of issues in
which we are able to certify and reduce the number on which we have to
Q Thank you.
Q Could you comment
on Congressman Gilman's concerns that aid to the Colombian Armed Forces
is a bad idea because they are essentially discredited and incapable of
mustering the necessary political support?
PICKERING: First, you can take it that I don't agree with his judgments
about the Colombian military forces. Secondly, as we have explained many
times, there is continued very strong support for the Colombian National
Police as the primary organization responsible for the elimination, destruction,
interdiction of narcotics trafficking.
What is new about
the present situation is that the areas where particularly the greatest
cocaine growing is now going on are in southern Colombia and areas that
are protected by significant numbers of armed guerillas and paramilitary.
It is our considered view that the Colombian police cannot perform their
mission without the additional security protection of the military to
protect them and provide for their security as they go about destruction
of laboratories, manual and aerial spraying eradication of crops, and
interdiction of the movement of crops.
It is also clear to us that, for example, in the areas of aerial interdiction
and riverine interdiction, the specialized groups is the Colombian Armed
Forces -- the Colombian Air Force and the Colombian Marine Corps and Navy
-- play an unusual, competent, and very important role. And so our programs
have been designed to focus heavily and increase the capacities of the
Colombia National Police. But given the military threat that exists on
the ground to their operations, also to find ways to increase the capacities
of the Colombian Armed Forces. Three battalions will be trained of counter-narcotics
special groups of the Colombian ground forces who will be supported by
helicopters to ensure that they can move and be protected from the air,
aerial interdiction forces, riverine interdiction forces and so on.
And so we believe that this is a cooperative effort. We don't lack confidence
in the Colombian military's ability to carry forward this task. We have
every confidence from the meetings that I have had on all of my trips
down there that the Colombian military and Colombian police are cooperating
very well together. For law enforcement purposes alone, counter-narcotics
forces of the army must be accompanied by police and prosecutors in order
to ensure that the operations they undertake can be fully carried forward
in the courts of law when individuals are caught and have to be prosecuted.
So this is a cooperative effort. We believe it will go ahead. And I'm
sorry that Chairman Gilman sought to emphasize what I believe is clearly
a misperception of the problem, and I hope that my explanation can make
clear how important it is that this be a cooperative, broad-based, and
carefully thought-through and carefully coordinated effort.
Q There was a report last week in the press that said it had interviews
with a variety of farmers in Colombia, especially in the Southwestern
portion, in which they said maybe they would give up coca for a brief
period of time, but their concern is that the government in the past hasn't
anted up when it said it would, and that perhaps they might also continue
to cultivate coca on the side.
Are you concerned
at all that it will be difficult to, short of spraying, to get rid of
all the coca plants?
PICKERING: What, of course, is part of the strategy is a two-pronged effort
in the South: one, to have aerial spraying take place in large areas with
low density of population, the so-called industrial cocaine-producing
areas, large fields; the second is the program that I emphasized in my
prepared remarks, the notion that with a combination of security, alternative
economic development across the board -- that is, alternative crops, schools,
housing if necessary, infrastructure for local governments, roads and
so on -- as well as a commitment manually to eradicate their fields, checked
of course by the government, it would be a real opportunity to take the
people who have expressed concern about the commitment of the government
and their ability to see this through to work with them to achieve that
If that doesn't
work, of course it has been made clear that after a period of time the
government still has the opportunity to resort to aerial spraying if that's
necessary to eradicate the crop. But because these people have come forward
and begun to discuss with the government commitments and formal agreements
to carry out these kinds of activities, we think it's far better to work
with those people, keep them on the land, get them involved in producing
crops that can be marketable on a long-term basis.
And the fascinating
thing is that most of those people have made it very clear, when you ask
them, "Do you want your kids to be involved in this business?"
And they say no, they would like out.
Q Very quickly,
one follow-up and then one other question. Is there a time table for the
Pastrana plan to give alternative aid?
PICKERING: Yes. There are in a sense now going forward, as we speak, efforts
to develop a series and the first stage of pilot projects in the South.
The hope is that if they go forward and can be protected by the same military
that the previous question objected -- or made clear people had objections
to over in the Congress, then of course it will be able to be expanded.
But the initial efforts are always the tough ones. It's not possible to
set arbitrary time deadlines, but the first phase at least is thinking
of doing as much of this as possible in the next year.
Q The Blackhawk
that went down last week --
PICKERING: Maybe somebody else would like a chance? We'll come back. I
won't leave without your last question being asked.
Q On the human rights
certification question, in August State Department officials told us that
the Colombians were very, very close to making constitutional changes.
What is different this time, as you say, that they're fairly close to
addressing human rights concerns? And maybe you can kind of tick off any
progress that has been made in terms of this.
PICKERING: Well, I believe, for example, that one of the conditions is
that they set up a judge advocate general-like corps inside their military
and deploy the people, and they have gone ahead with that. As you know,
earlier they passed a decree which would permit the military to be sent
to civilian courts. They are also clearly moving ahead on the issue of
being able to dismiss, or at least put on some kind of hold, a military
where there are viable accusations of involvement in gross human rights
Farther on down
the road are questions that come up in the certification of cooperation.
First, you have to establish obviously the pattern that they are to follow,
and then you can be able to establish the fact that there is continued
cooperation in these efforts. Separating the military from paramilitaries
is a very important effort that we're working with the Colombians on,
and they have made it clear to us at the highest levels that that's what
they wish to do.
Q Under Secretary,
as I understand the problem on -- one of the key problems on the Hill
is the issue of the inseparability of the military struggle and the counter-narcotics
struggle. There is a feeling that the US cannot get involved in the counter-narcotics
struggle without getting involved in the whole military struggle, and
sort of drawn in. And I wondered if you could comment on that.
And as the second
part, you mentioned neighboring countries and increasing US efforts in
neighboring countries. And I'm wondering if that stems from a concern
that the problems going on in the Hinterland of Colombia are spilling
over borders and that there needs to be some efforts in these neighboring
countries to contain the whole situation.
PICKERING: First, on the question that I think you're addressing, this
has to do with a traditional American policy in Colombia of not supporting
the military in a pure, counter-insurgency role but, in fact, working
with the military whenever they are engaged in a counter-narcotics activity.
Our support for
Plan Colombia has been focused on and planned so that our support for
the military is exclusively in both areas and in operations that are counter-narcotics.
And unfortunately, we have so much to do in Colombia with the Colombians
in that area that the danger of slopping over into something that is purely
counter-insurgency is minimal for the next several years -- happily on
the basis of our policy, unhappily on the basis of the size of the problem
the Colombians have to deal with.
But we monitor this.
We are very close with the Colombians on this particular activity, and
we don't see a danger, if I could put it that way, given the enormity
of the task in terms of the security role of the military with respect
to counter-narcotics operations that they could in any way be confused
with purely counter-insurgency operations. Obviously if the guerillas
are armed and protecting the drug trafficking, they are part of a counter-narcotics
Secondly, in the
region the issue of spillover is real. On a number of occasions here and
elsewhere, from public platforms I have talked of the balloon effect,
and others have; that is, if you push in on one end, it is bound to bulge
out on others. And, in fact, I think that there is at least one respectable
analysis that part of the reason for the growth in narcotics production
and trafficking in Colombia is because we have had such success in Bolivia
and in Peru, areas where through manual eradication and through aerial
interdiction we have achieved 66 to 73 percent eradication of cocaine,
for example, in those two countries.
So, in fact, there
is already a balloon effect, and it is having its impact in Colombia.
It is not our purpose and not our intention in the funding and the support
that we have given for Colombia to attempt just to push that process,
or those particular activities, to Venezuela, Brazil, back to Peru, into
Ecuador or to Panama. It is our effort -- and that's why we included $180
million in the support for Plan Colombia supplemental package -- to find
ways to strengthen already countries that either might be or are likely
to be, or are already engaged in some way, in narcotics trafficking in
the Andean region.
And I think that
this is evolving now to not just a pure Colombia issue, but an Andean
regional issue, something it has always been. But Colombia was in such
startling difficulty in this particular area that our priority was to
focus attention last year in the supplemental on Colombia. I think in
future years there will be a broader regional aspect to this as we plan
and propose to the Congress new budgets for this kind of activity.
Q (Inaudible) -- what I wanted to ask, which is getting back to this issue
of Gilman now backing away from his support, and what John was talking
about as well. What kind of assurances do you have, especially given the
length of time it is going to take for the helicopters and other equipment
to actually arrive there, that Congress is not going to back away from
its funding? Which Republicans are your main supporters? Lott has not
been a strong supporter of this. Whoever the new Chairman of the House
Intelligence Committee may be. Who are you working with? Who do you think
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, leaving any comments that I might make
in any way to have any domestic political implications aside, because
I want to avoid that pitfall immediately, I do think that it is important
to note that the Speaker, a large number of members of the International
Relations Committee in the House, as well as some of the more senior and
significant appropriators on both sides have been supporters of this particular
because we have explained clearly to them how long it takes to prepare,
ship and train people to operate complicated machines like Huey IIs and
Blackhawk helicopters. They have a clear idea of the timetable. They know
because we have frequently briefed them and their staffs, what are the
next steps, how long they will take, and what we expect to achieve by
a particular period in time. We are on track on those particular issues.
Those are not sliding. We all knew when the helicopters were ordered that
they would take months to arrive, not weeks or minutes.
So I don't believe, in fact, that it would be correct to read in where
we are a slackening of interest or a decline in interest in this particular
issue merely because of one letter, admittedly from a very senior member,
but nevertheless one letter with a particular optic that has been an optic
of his for some time. It is not the first letter on this subject.
Q Just to clarify two things. One, what did you do after that letter got
so much play in The New York Times to go back and shore up your support
in Congress? What did you do in terms of meetings and whatnot? And also
PICKERING: Well, I think that we continue to have a regular and steady
briefing program to the Congress. And as I said, what I just had to say
to you is the essence of our message. Nothing has significantly in our
view changed in the current situation. It is true that in the South, before
anything began, the FARC organized a militarily enforced general strike
among the people in the South. This, in some ways, of course has done
two things, probably not in the interest of the FARC. It has, one, alienated
a large number of people who have told us they are increasingly interested
now in alternative development and manual eradication; and, secondly,
without transportation -- that is, a strike against people moving -- you
don't do very well in picking, processing, shipping and moving coca.
Q Could you just
clarify -- this is just clarification, Phil, of what he said earlier.
You said months for the helicopters. We've been hearing that it could
take more than a year. What is your understanding of when those helicopters
will be delivered?
PICKERING: I can ask my colleagues here, who have -- do we have anybody,
Bill, who's got this on their fingertips?
OFFICIAL: It's INL's call, but the Blackhawks are supposed to come on,
Mr. Secretary, between June and December of this year.
PICKERING: June and December of 2001. That is months. It used to be years,
but now it's months.
Q In the many months
since the various targets and goals of this program were laid out, the
situation on the ground, particularly in Southern Colombia, has changed
substantially. There are, according to US officials as well as Colombian
officials, many more FARC and AUC members there with heavier armament.
At the same time, the program -- the alternative development program --
has been shrunk by the Colombian Government from what they originally
envisioned its first stages to be. And other than a few very isolated
places, there aren't contracts signed and there have not been actual facts
on the ground to speak of.
PICKERING: No, all of that is true. The real elements of this that are
important to keep in mind is that, as a result of the increased presence
of both the AUC and the FARC, both of whom happen to be fighting with
each other, the government has increased its presence very significantly
on the ground. There is no question at all that pilot programs were envisaged
to be beginning about now, late November/early December. That has not
But the presence
of the armed units of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries is going to
make it more difficult to start more than a few pilot projects. The government
was enthusiastic that there would be no armed opposition. We, in our own
judgments in the United States, were less convinced, unfortunately. I
say unfortunately because it doesn't help that we turn out to be right
and they have turned out to be wrong. But it was all comprehended in the
planning process that this particular alternative would be one that we
would have to face, and we are now facing it.
Q At the same time
PICKERING: I thought that was a good question.
Q At the same time,
because of the changes in the configuration of the helicopters, the pilot
training time has changed, the number of forward operating locations has
changed somewhat, in addition to whatever difficulties remain or don't
remain with the delivery dates.
How important is
it to continued support here in the next Congress that you are able to
show some results on the ground? And how concerned are you that with funding
-- current funding now running out at the end of September, how concerned
are you that you're not going to be able to show as many results as you
originally had hoped?
PICKERING: Let me say this: There are a lot of assumptions in that question
which, if I went over and quibbled with each one, we would never finish.
So let me just say this: that I believe that many of the difficulties
that are in your questions, both before I answered it and after I answered
it, were foreseen. We are within the range of possibilities that we knew
had to be contended with. The use of military force against the programs
and the activities in the South was expected on our side, and it will
have to be dealt with. But I don't believe, as I said in response to an
earlier question, that it has offset the general long-term time scale
that we believed is necessary for dealing with the problems of Colombia.
Some of you can
remember that the Congress itself has attempted to impose a time scale
on this particular set of activities -- eradication 100 percent in a particularly
short period of time. We don't agree with that. We believe that there
needs to be a further extension of that time scale. We believe you need
to be realistic and serious about a program of this magnitude. And so
artificially stepping up the process by introducing time scales that are
not realistic, I think does no service either to the people of Colombia,
to the Congress, or to the Administration in its efforts to deal over
the long term with what is still a very serious problem.
Q At the very beginning
of your report, you said something about there is a concern about the
peace process in Colombia. My question is: What is your comment about
the way the Colombian Government is dealing with the guerrilla, mainly
having in mind that they have given territory to the FARC and ELN, particularly
in the Southern part of Colombia? And I would appreciate if you can give
me your answer in Spanish, if you don't mind.
PICKERING: Si, por favor.
Q Thank you.
PICKERING: (In Spanish - informal English translation)
Just a little bit
in Spanish. My impression at this moment is that there is no great progress
in the peace process, particularly because the FARC has stopped the continuation
of the conversations in the demilitarized zone. My impression also is
that the demilitarized zone was created in order to negotiate, not to
play, and it is for the government to decide on December 7th what will
happen regarding the future of the demilitarized zone and the future of
the negotiations. I hope the conversations will begin again but I do not
have great confidence after my trip to Colombia that this is going to
happen quickly. One needs, like in everything with respect to Colombia,
diligence and persistence in the process and I have great confidence that
President Pastrana is going to show clearly his interest, his work, his
labor, towards peace in Colombia in spite of the fact that it does not
look optimistic at this moment.
Q: Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thank you.
Q: Going back to the question, what do you think should the government
of President Pastrana do to make sure that a peace process will go on?
Can you please answer in Spanish?
PICKERING: In Spanish again. It seems to me that the government of Colombia
must directly continue its principled approach to the peace process in
Colombia where it is possible to make progress on both sides because that
is the obligation, it is not something of one side only, and the government
must strengthen its efforts where it is not possible to make progress
for reasons that the other side, the FARC, has stopped its participation.
They (the Colombian government) have to wait, continuing their programs
in all the regions of Colombia, until it is possible to restart the conversations.
The Colombian government must arrange mutual commitments in order to make
Q: But the Colombian government¼ What type of demands do you think
the Colombian government must definitively make of the FARC so that the
FARC doesn't continue criminal activity in the demilitarized zone and
the process could go on?
PICKERING: That depends on the decisions of the President of Colombia
on the continuation of the demilitarized zone and other requirements,
but that is something that the Colombians have created to facilitate negotiations.
When there are no negotiations it is not possible to clearly defend the
existence of the demilitarized zone without other reasons, that are not
apparent at this moment.
Q: That is to say,
you believe that if the FARC does not return to the
table, the demilitarized zone should not be continued?
PICKERING: That is a decision for President Pastrana. He has said more
or less what you have said to me.
Q Muchas gracias.
MR. REEKER: Now
that the transcribers hate me. (Laughter.)
Q Can you talk just
a little bit about the spillover in the region? When we ask the questions,
you always say that you have the support of the countries like Brazil,
Venezuela. And officials from those countries, when they are in Washington,
they talk about support of Plan Colombia. But as soon as they get back
to their countries, they are talking against Plan Colombia.
My question is to
you: Do you see a double standard in the Government of Brazil or Venezuela
and the other countries? And what can this Administration do in the last
two days to get more support for those countries? Bolivia, recently here
in Washington, announced that they are asking to this country $150 million
for their only to deal with the people who are crossing the border.
PICKERING: Well, first and foremost, in the question of Bolivia, a very
significant amount of money, $100 million, was included in the Plan Colombia
support package for last year.
Secondly, all of
those governments have made it clear to us, both privately and publicly,
their strong concern that they do not want to be part of a spreading narcotics
problem in the hemisphere, and have indicated to us specific actions they
intend to take in order to support multilateral efforts in the hemisphere
in which we and they could also strongly participate to do all they can
to make sure that it doesn't happen. This includes the reinforcement of
frontiers; it includes further introduction of radar surveillance, among
other things, and strong efforts on their part to support what is going
on in Colombia.
I was very pleased, in the meeting in Madrid in July, that many hemispheric
countries were represented, and provided significant support. Many of
them are already recipients of US assistance, and so the support quite
understandably cannot be monetary. But it is in cooperation; it is in
sharing information; and it is in their own efforts to beef up their own
defenses in regions where they have been weakened and where narcotics
production and trafficking can or has already begun to take hold.
Q Going back to the question, what do you think should the government
of President Pastrana do to make sure that a peace process will go on?
Can you please answer in Spanish?
PICKERING: En Espanol otra vez. (In Spanish.)
Q (In Spanish.)
PICKERING: (In Spanish.)
Q (In Spanish.)
PICKERING: (In Spanish.)
Q Yes, thank you.
Panama is one of those neighboring countries, and it feels very vulnerable.
And its tranche of those $180 million was only $5 million. And in Panama
the feeling is that that is not enough and the balloon effect will hit
Panama particularly for being the most vulnerable country.
Last week, Latin
American heads of states were meeting in Panama and President Moscoso
called for a meeting of the neighboring states to discuss their response
to Plan Colombia. Have you been following that, and will you participate
in that meeting?
PICKERING: We have followed very closely -- I don't know whether we will
participate or not. Meetings about Colombia without Colombian participation
have caused a certain aggravation in the hemisphere, and obviously that
is not, I think, either correct or effective. But we understand and certainly
sympathize with the conditions that exist for Panama in the region, particularly
as a result of difficulties in Colombia, and want to continue to be able
to help. And this is very much in our mind as we go into budgetary proposals
and programs for follow-on years.
Q The tensions between
Colombia and Venezuela are getting very ugly lately. In the last few days,
there have been growing tensions and moving diplomats or whatever all
around, trying to get this in nice terms between the two governments before
something else happened bigger.
Most of the blame
is to the implementation of Plan Colombia. Do you have any reaction, specifically
between those tensions between Venezuela and Colombia?
PICKERING: No, that last time I had -- which was some months ago -- to
consult with senior Venezuelan figures, they told me that they were interested
in a good and new relationship with Colombia, and in pursuing a cooperative
effort to deal with many of the problems that afflicted both countries
across their frontier.
I hoped that that
will continue. I'm sorry to hear the news that you relay, which I have
also heard from other quarters. We hope that that will not be a permanent
relationship in the region, because obviously it takes a strong amount
of international cooperation between all the countries in the region to
deal with these particularly difficult problems.
Q I'd like to ask you a question about AUC paramilitary leader Carlos
Castano. There were two incidents that occurred this year involving US
officials that perhaps you could clarify.
One, earlier this
year, two DEA special agents in Miami were suspended from active duty
over allegations, including that they allegedly met with Carlos Castano,
and both the DEA informant as well as Castano both claim that the DEA
agents are trying to enlist his support in order to negotiate plea bargain
agreements with Colombian traffickers.
Also, in October
of this year, State Department official Phil Chicola made remarks in Bogotá
that were different in tone and substance of remarks previously made by
Secretary Harold Koh vis-à-vis Castano when Chicola said that the
United States supported the Castano demand for the president of Colombia
to include Castano in peace talks with his administration.
Could you please
clarify US policy vis-à-vis Castano, and tell us whether or not
US officials have had contact with him and, if so, whether that contact
was approved by Washington?
PICKERING: Policy is no contact, no dealing. The report I know about of
the DEA agents -- I don't know whether they actually met. I can't confirm
it. If they had met -- and I can't confirm it -- it would be totally contrary
to our policy. I believe Mr. Chicola was seriously misinterpreted. Mr.
Koh is here if he wants to explain the policy. I believe I have explained
If you want to add
anything, feel free, Harold.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I feel affirmed. (Laughter.)
Q Does the United States support Castano's demand to be included in peace
talks with the president?
Q Yeah, ballooning
effect in Ecuador. What about the reports that FARC has bought or acquired
by other means land over the border in Ecuador?
PICKERING: We're very concerned. And the Ecuadorian Government tells us
it is very concerned, and we would like to work with the Ecuadorian Government
to make sure that no such narcotics activities take place in Ecuador.
Q So that is a confirmation
that the FARC is -- that to your knowledge --
PICKERING: No, I can't confirm it. I don't watch land sales in Ecuador.
I don't know. I'm not confirming that particular point but I say, if it
were to happen, I believe it would be contrary to what both Ecuador and
the United States want.
Q I had a second
question on -- I know that you had mentioned that some of the pilot programs
have been delayed in implementation. Can you give us any kind of a status
report on the US portion of Plan Colombia? We know that the helicopters
are coming, but have the contracts been signed for both the Blackhawks
and the other Hueys? What about the battalions? When are the Colombian
US-trained battalions going to be deployed? Can you give us any kind of
update on that?
PICKERING: Yes. Let me ask Bill Brownfield on the contracts, but first
say that Second Battalion is almost completing its training, and the Third
Battalion will begin shortly.
Bill, do you want
to talk about -- do you know anything about the contracts?
In very general terms, because you all don't want specific detail anyway,
I assume, all of the helicopter contracts have in fact been signed. That
involves the Huey IIs, which is a process by which old Hueys are converted
into new helicopters, as well as the Blackhawks.
Now, a signature
is obviously necessary to start a production line process in the case
of the Blackhawks, and to start scheduling in the case of the Huey IIs.
The entire amount of money that the United States Congress appropriated
for the purpose of supporting Plan Colombia in the Plan Colombia supplemental
of last July for Colombia specifics was, in fact, obligated in the month
of September. However, the sub-obligations, which is to say the contracts,
obviously have not all been signed.
The $230 million,
which is what we are providing, if you will, for economic, social and
alternative development as part of that supplemental, at this point, USAID
estimates that slightly more than 50 percent of those contracts have been
signed, although all of the money has been obligated in terms of an obligating
document between the United States and Colombian Governments.
PICKERING: Thank you, Bill.
Q I'm a bit confused,
Ambassador, about what you envision for a regional approach to this problem,
and what is on the table at this time. In my experience, speaking with
officials from these countries, as Jesus pointed out, there is a broad
skepticism that we are hearing, and I'm wondering if you are hearing a
different message. And what specifically are you talking about here? Are
we talking about some kind of a regional military alliance? What are we
looking at here in terms of the broader strategy?
PICKERING: I think that you must first take a look at the fact that the
regional effort, the $180 million, is primarily focused on counter-narcotics
activities. Over $100 million in Bolivia, I think 32 million to Peru,
18 million to a group of other countries, including Panama and Ecuador
and others. And the idea obviously is in each country to develop a series
If alternative development
and manual eradiation will do the job, fine. If interdiction is required
to stop the trafficking, to drive down the production and the process
and the price eventually, we can use that. So these programs will be scaled
and tuned to the needs and the potential needs of each of these countries.
And I believe, as we go through these, we will be in a position to announce
and give you more details on each of them.
In Peru and Bolivia, we have had traditional programs for a long period
of time, and you can assume the additional funds will be used in general
to support those traditional programs.
Q But this is a bilateral approach that's --
PICKERING: It's correctly --
Q -- through the United States, not regional.
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: It's a bilateral approach with the United States
with each of the countries, not the creation of a large, multilateral
consortium. And as far as I know now, there will be not the same emphasis
on military as there is in Colombia because the problem is not the same
yet as it is in Colombia.
Q I have two questions.
Last week, I believe, there was a report that a Blackhawk helicopter had
gone down in Colombia. Initial reports were that it was not shot down.
I'm just wondering what information you have?
PICKERING: The only one I know about was a couple of weeks ago in an ambush
in Northern Colombia, where a Blackhawk was lost. It may not have been
shot down, but it was sure shot up when it got down. And I think all of
that is covered in the open press, Andrea. I can't give you a better explanation.
Q Just to follow
up on the third question. You said in your opening remarks that there
had been a lot of thinking going on, as far as making the regional program
the centerpiece of next year's effort, and I wasn't clear from your response
whether you're intending some kind of different effort from the one you
just outlined in terms of what is already in the supplemental.
PICKERING: I think that, as we look at it, we understand that with the
increased effort in Colombia, the potential for the balloon effect increases.
And therefore the need in the surrounding and nearby areas is going to
increase, and therefore enlargement of the programs through increased
funding in a regional effort, but focused bilaterally in each country,
is probably going to be necessary. And that is what informs our thinking
in current budget planning.
Q So you don't envision
any new strategy, just more resources --
PICKERING: I think the strategy that we are relying on is a strategy that
has worked principally in Bolivia and Peru, and therefore we are going
to stick with the strategy which we believe has shown success -- as I
said, 66 to 73 percent success in eliminating coca in Bolivia and Peru.
Q Sir, it's in relation
with Mexico and Colombia. President-elect of Mexico Fox, in an interview
with an American news agency, mentioned that the United States has to
concentrate most in combating corruption inside of the United States,
because there are obviously people who move the drugs inside of this country
to get the markets and the customers. My question is: What can you respond
to President Fox in that issue?
PICKERING: Well, I think he also spoke, as I recall it, about demand reduction
in the United States. And I think it is important to note that the United
States has been concentrating a very large share of its $18 billion overall
counter-narcotics budget -- this year it will be $6 billion -- on demand
The good news is
that, among youth, we have seen a 13 percent falloff on drug usages in
one year as a result of last year's program of $5.4 billion, a 45 percent
reduction in all ages in use of inhalants and 20 percent reduction in
use of cocaine. So we believe we are having a significant effect. Obviously
it's not good enough, and we will continue on.
Corruption is a problem in all countries. We will continue to work extremely
hard on any evidence of corruption in the United States; it's axiomatic;
it's contrary to the law; it's something that our law enforcement agencies
are pledged to deal with. The counter-narcotics budget is particularly,
however, focused on wide programs of demand reduction and wide programs
of dealing with border control, an additional large amount of money, as
well as the money that goes into the reduction of supply in countries
overseas. The bulk of our funding goes to work in our own country.
MR. REEKER: That's a perfect way to end. Thank you very much. And thank
(The briefing was
concluded at 3:50 P.M.)