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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks > 2002 Under Secretary for Political Affairs Remarks

Joining Efforts for Colombia

Marc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Remarks at Georgetown University
Washington, DC
June 24, 2002

As Prepared

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning and to open a discussion on one of the most important challenges facing our Hemisphere: helping Colombians defend their democracy and bring peace and security to their country.

We thank Miguel Ceballos for putting together this conference. I am honored to be participating along with such a distinguished group of experts and friends, and in particular, Colombia’s Vice President-elect Francisco Santos.

Let me begin by congratulating the Colombian people for turning out to vote in a fair and free election on May 26 despite the threats and acts of violence and terror from the FARC, AUC and ELN. The Colombian people chose the leaders of their country for the next four years. President-elect Uribe campaigned on a platform that promised vigorous efforts to combat terrorism and narcotics trafficking and to defend democracy and human rights.

President-elect Uribe is off to a quick start. He has assembled his Cabinet and was in the United States last week to meet President Bush, National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and ONDCP Director Walters, as well as members of Congress. He also paid an important call on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan where he dicussed the possibility of a UN role in the peace process. His visit provided us the opportunity to learn more about his vision for Colombia and to discuss the future of the relationship with the United States. He impressed those he met and we look forward to working with him.

This conference is an opportunity to exchange views on how we can best help achieve the goal we all seek – a democratic Colombia at peace, free from terror and the scourge of drugs.

I hope today to outline for you what the Administration is doing, what we believe Colombia needs to do for itself, and what others Europe and international community can do to realize these common goals.

Colombia Matters

You are experts on Colombia. I am not. But it is worth reminding ourselves of these first principles: Colombia matters to the United States.

  • Colombia is the oldest democracy in South America; a democracy today under siege.
  • It has 40 million people and is four times the size of California.
  • It is the 9th largest supplier of oil to the United States.

Colombia matters to the Hemisphere.

As the 34 democratically- elected leaders of the Hemisphere agreed at the Quebec Summit of the Americas in April 2001, the common goal is to promote democracy, security and prosperity. What good will these goals be if they are trampled in Colombia?

What happens in Colombia affects the stability of the region. During a visit to Argentina earlier this spring, I was struck that the foremost concern beside what was happening to their own country, was Colombia. What happens in Colombia will affect the Hemisphere for the next decade.

Accomplishments under Plan Colombia

We salute President Pastrana as he nears the end of his term. He led Colombia during a turbulent time.

We admired President Pastrana’s determination to go the extra mile for peace. Just as we admired President Pastrana's decision to say no more to the FARC, on February 20.

I had the honor and privilege to get to know President Pastrana. He, together with Colombia’s able Ambassador in Washington - Luis Alberto Moreno, made our nations partners in the defense of Colombia's democracy and through U.S. support for Plan Colombia.

Here’s a question I get: has Plan Colombia accomplished anything? Let me review for you some of the accomplishments of President Pastrana’s Plan Colombia:

  • In July 2000, with bipartisan congressional support, the United States approved $1.3 billion in support for Plan Colombia as part of a larger Colombian effort to combat drug production and trafficking, strengthen democratic institutions and human rights, foster socio-economic development, and mitigate the impact of the violence on Colombian civilians.
  • In December 2001, President Bush received bipartisan Congressional support for his Andean Regional Initiative, investing an additional $625 million for Colombia and its neighbors.
  • The United States has trained and equipped the Colombian Army’s Counternarcotics brigade. This brigade, vetted to exclude any officer or soldier with a record of human rights violations, has destroyed 818 base laboratories and 21 drug laboratories and provided security for aerial eradication operations in southern Colombia. It is known as the best unit in the Colombian military.
  • We sprayed a record 84,000 hectares of coca cultivation in 2001 and are on pace to eradicate even more hectares of coca in 2002.
  • In 2001 the Colombian government extradited for trial in the United States 23 Colombian nationals on serious narcotics charges. An impressive record we will seek to continue under the Uribe Administration.
  • Through Colombia’s Ministry of Interior we have funded a program that has provided protection to nearly 1700 Colombians whose lives were threatened, including human rights workers, labor activists, and journalists.
  • The U.S. government-funded early warning systems alerts Colombian authorities to threat of potential massacres or other human rights abuses. So far, the early warning system has issued 106 alerts.
  • Working with non-governmental organizations and international agencies, the U.S. has provided assistance to 330,000 Colombians displaced by violence since mid-2001.
  • Our program to demobilize child soldiers has helped 272 children to re-integrate into society; this is a small beginning but one that we hope will grow. One of the most egregious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law is the forced recruitment of children, especially by the FARC.
  • We have implemented programs to help the Government of Colombia reform its administration of justice and strengthen local government. We have opened 18 Casas de Justicia, which provide cost-effective legal services to Colombians who have not previously enjoyed access to the country's judicial system.
  • We are helping the Prosecutor General’s office set up human rights units throughout the country to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of human rights abusers.

These are but a few examples of our contributions, and, our assistance will continue.

New Authorities Necessary to Defend Colombian Democracy

As we said before the May 26 presidential election, the United States stands prepared to work with the next government of Colombia to help Colombia counter the twin threats of drugs and terrorism and to bring peace and prosperity while promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In order to best advance these objectives, the Administration requested new legal authorities from Congress as part of its FY02 budget supplemental request. These authorities would enable us to address the problem of terrorism in Colombia as vigorously as we currently address narcotics by allowing Colombia to use U.S.-provided helicopters and the counter-drug brigade from Plan Colombia to fight terrorist as needed. The House and Senate have each passed legislation making revisions to the authorities and are soon to meet to finalize the FY02 emergency supplemental legislation.

Let me be clear: our request for new authorities is not a retreat from our concern about human rights nor does it signal an open-ended U.S. commitment in Colombia. Our proposal expressly states that we will continue to do human rights vetting of all Colombian military units receiving U.S. training or equipment and will maintain the 800 person cap on U.S. military personnel and contractors providing training and other services in Colombia.

In the supplemental, we also requested an additional $35 million for three programs in Colombia: $4 million to support re-establishment of a Colombian National Police presence in areas it had been forced to abandon; $25 million in anti-terrorism funding and $6 million to jump-start training for Colombian army units designated to protect a vital oil pipeline.

In our FY03 budget request we are asking Congress for $439 million for Colombia and an additional $98 million to train and equip Colombian military and police units protecting the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline.

Why pipeline protection? We want to help the Colombian government defend a vital economic asset threatened by terrorist attacks and whose closure for over 240 days during 2001 resulted in nearly $500 million in foregone revenues and royalties lost to Colombia, funds that otherwise would have contributed to the country’s legitimate economy and to social and economic development programs. Oil spills as a result of attacks on the pipeline have caused serious environmental damage also – in fact they have been the equivalent of 10 spills the size of the Exxon Valdez.

Colombia’s 40 million plus citizens and its democracy are under sustained assault by three narcoterrorist groups: the FARC; the ELN; and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces. We believe the United States and the international community must do more to help Colombia.

The FARC is a narco-terrorist organization. We appreciate that the EU, like the United States, recently designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We put the AUC in the same category as the FARC. We put it on the FTO list last September 10. And that while the ELN is perhaps not as deeply involved in the drug trade, its record of kidnappings, attacks on civilian infrastructure and extortion have also earned it a spot on our Foreign Terrorist List. These three groups – with a combined force of over 25,000 combatants – regularly engage in massacres, kidnappings, attacks on key infrastructure and are involved in every facet of narcotics trafficking, including cultivation, processing and transportation. The income they derive from narcotics, estimated at over $300 million a year, has been key to their expansion – both in numbers and armaments – over the past ten years.

These criminal organizations must understand that the international community will not tolerate their violations of human rights and terrorist acts.

Human Rights

Human rights are a central element in our Colombia policy. Sustained U.S. engagement in Colombia depends on Colombia improving its human rights record, and on the Colombian Armed Forces severing any links between military personnel and paramilitary forces.

The best way to ensure that Colombia continues to make progress on human rights is through continued U.S. engagement. In fact, when I visited Colombia in February, representatives from civil society and human rights groups said that what Colombia needed most was professional, accountable and strong military that can provide security against the terrorist actions of the FARC, ELN, and AUC. They said strong United States involvement was needed to make this to happen.

Too many Colombians continue to suffer abuses by state security forces or by terrorist groups acting in collusion with state security units. The establishment of the rule of law and personal security for all Colombians cannot happen if human rights abuses and impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes continue to occur. We delivered this human rights message to President-elect Uribe and he understands what needs to be done.

Colombia Must do its Part

The U.S. is committed to helping Colombia in its fight against terrorism’s assault on its democracy, prosperity, and security, but Colombians must take the lead in this struggle. As we continue this U.S.-Colombian partnership, it is essential that Colombia do its part.

Colombia needs to:

  • Develop a national political-military strategy, to include a fair and functioning peace process,
  • boost the resources devoted to security, and;
  • continue a strong counternarcotics program, including interdiction, spraying, alternative development and extradition.

Colombia must also make solid advances on human rights and ending ties to paramilitary groups.

Europe and the International Community Can Help

Colombia should matter to Europeans. Over 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into Europe comes from Colombia, that is about 160 metric tons.

The large European participation at this conference, in particular the co-sponsorship of two world class institutes -- the Ecole de la Paix and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung – reflect the important role Europe and the international community does and can play in helping Colombia achieve peace and security.

In fact, one of my first official acts upon taking my current job 15 months ago was to go to Brussels for a donors conference. At that conference, the EU and others pledged between $550-600 million. I understand only about half that amount has been committed.

Colombia needs assistance to fund socio-economic, drug prevention, and rule of law programs. There are worthy alternative development projects that are under funded and more can be done to promote reinsertion of ex-combatants into society.

Colombia also needs help to train and properly equip the police and its military for counter-terrorism and anti-kidnapping. Europeans and others have much expertise in these areas.


Colombia’s future can, and should, be bright. Colombia, however, cannot be left to confront terrorism and drugs alone. Colombia needs pragmatic recommendations and genuine support, both political and financial.

I look forward to hearing the conclusions of the many experts convened at this conference.

Released on June 27, 2002

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