U.S. Assistance to Colombia and the Andean RegionOtto J. Reich, Assistant Secretary or Western Hemisphere Affairs
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
April 11, 2002
I would like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to testify today on our policy toward Colombia. It is an honor to appear before the members of this sub-committee. In addition to Colombia, I also will touch briefly on our policies toward the rest of the Andean region as they affect what we seek to accomplish in Colombia. Some of you, including the distinguished chairman, were in Colombia and Bolivia just last week. I look forward to exchanging views with all of you on the challenges that we face in the region.
President Bush’s vision for the hemisphere is one of free markets and free people. With the exception of a single country, there is a remarkable hemispheric consensus in favor of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and open markets. Despite this consensus, democratic institutions face a wide variety of challenges in the hemisphere. In Colombia, the challenges are especially grave, including the outright assault by illegal armed terrorists on Colombia’s government, society, and people.
Colombia’s 40 million inhabitants and its democracy are under assault by three terrorist groups –the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The three groups have a combined force of over 25,000 combatants, and engage regularly in massacres, kidnappings, and attacks on infrastructure and public utilities. The FARC and AUC are involved in all facets of narcotics trafficking, including cultivation, processing, and transportation. The income they derive – estimated at over $300 million a year - has been key to their expansion over the last ten years.
U.S. Interests in Colombia
Colombia is the source of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States and is a significant supplier of heroin to the U.S. market. The FARC and the AUC are intimately involved in this trade, and in creating the lawless conditions under which this trade thrives. Both the FARC and the ELN have kidnapped and killed U.S. citizens, and regularly attack U.S. investments in Colombia. Since 1992, the FARC and ELN have kidnapped 51 U.S. citizens and murdered ten.
The FARC, ELN and AUC also threaten regional stability. The FARC regularly uses border regions in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela for rest and recreation, arms and narcotics trafficking, and resupply operations. For some time, conflicts between the FARC and AUC in northwest Colombia have led to the limited movement of displaced Colombians into Panama’s Darien region. Venezuela and Ecuador have experienced similar problems with displaced persons at various times.
The ongoing attacks on Colombia’s democracy -- one of the hemisphere’s oldest -- also have had a tremendous cost within Colombia itself. The AUC has killed two Colombian legislators over the past twelve months, while the FARC has kidnapped six, including Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The three terrorist groups assassinated 12 mayors during the last year alone. 3,000 Colombians were killed by terrorist violence in 2001; nearly as many were kidnapped.
The U.S. Response to Colombia
Since July 2000, the U.S has provided Colombia with $1.7 billion to combat narcotics trafficking and terrorism, strengthen democratic institutions and human rights, foster socio-economic development, and mitigate the impact of the violence on Colombian civilians. We also during most of this time have provided Colombia and our other Andean partners with trade benefits under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) to encourage economic development outside of the narcotics trade. Our assistance to Colombia using Plan Colombia funds is limited to support of counternarcotics activities.
The early results of Plan Colombia have been significant, but far from sufficient.
Our counternarcotics efforts under Plan Colombia have made great strides. The Government of Colombia extradited 23 Colombian nationals to the U.S. in 2001, an unprecedented level of cooperation. We trained, equipped and deployed the Colombian Army’s counternarcotics brigade, which destroyed 818 base laboratories and 21 HCL laboratories, and provided security for our aerial eradication operations in Southern Colombia. A record 84,000 hectares of coca cultivation in Colombia were sprayed last year, up from 58,000 in 2000.
Our efforts to ameliorate the effect of violence on civilians have had a major impact. Through Colombia’s Ministry of Interior, we have funded a program that has provided protection to 1,676 Colombians whose lives were threatened, including human rights workers, labor activists, and journalists, since May 2001. Separately, the U.S. Government-funded Early Warning System helps to alert Colombian authorities to threats of potential massacres or other human rights abuses, enabling them to act to avert such incidents. To date, the EWS has issued 106 alerts. Lastly, the U.S. – working with non-governmental organizations and international agencies - has provided substantial assistance in Colombia to persons displaced by violence since mid-2001.
Our programs to help the Government of Colombia reform its administration of justice and strengthen local government have also advanced. We have opened 18 Casas de Justicia to provide cost-effective legal services to Colombians who have not previously enjoyed real access to the country’s judicial system. We are working to set up a Casa de Justicia in San Vicente de Caguan, the main urban area in the former demilitarized zone. Similarly, our program to help municipalities improve their financial management, fight corruption, and boost community participation has completed six Social Investment Fund projects in Southern Colombia.
We have worked to increase the capabilities of the criminal justice system. Our work has included developing specialized units or task forces to pursue the investigation and prosecution of human rights, money laundering/asset forfeiture, narcotics, and corruption cases. In addition, we have provided training, particularly in oral trials, to prosecutors and police across the country. We have assisted in the development of maritime enforcement, port security and prison security; undertaken projects to develop and equip witness and judicial personnel security corps, and continued a vigorous program of bilateral criminal investigations against the highest-level traffickers and money launderers.
Implementation of alternative development programs in Southern Colombia has also progressed despite the region’s limited economic prospects, weak community cohesion, and, especially, the lack of security there. The limited institutional capacity of the Colombian Government agency charged with implementing the programs has also been a problem. As you know, in light of these difficulties we are adjusting our alternative development programs in Southern Colombia to focus on job-creating projects to improve the infrastructure there. Other alternative development projects will be shifted to near-by areas of Colombia that offer better economic prospects and security.
Human rights concerns have been a central element in U.S. policy toward Colombia. In meetings in Colombia with senior civilian and military officials, U.S. officials, including Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner, and I have regularly stressed the need for Colombia to improve its human rights performance and sever remaining military-paramilitary ties. Most recently, Curt Struble, our Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America, and Scott Carpenter, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, traveled to Bogota late last month to underscore the importance we attach to human rights. This was but the latest in a series of such efforts both here and in Colombia.
Our human rights message is making a difference. The counternarcotics brigade that we trained and equipped has compiled an excellent human rights record to date. President Pastrana and Armed Forces Commander Tapias have repeatedly denounced collusion between elements of the Colombian military and the paramilitary terrorists. The Colombian military captured 590 paramilitaries and killed 92 in combat last year. Six military personnel, including two colonels and a lieutenant colonel, were charged with collaborating with paramilitaries or with having committed gross human rights violations in 2001. A senior Colombian naval official’s career was recently ended because of allegations that he collaborated with paramilitaries.
Under Section 567 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2002, the Secretary of State is required to certify as to the Government of Colombia’s progress in meeting the following human rights-related conditions:
The Secretary takes very seriously his responsibilities under the Act, as do I. We have been queried as to why the certification has not yet been made. The simple answer is that we are examining carefully each of the conditions in light of events on the ground in Colombia, as part of preparing our recommendation to the Secretary. We also have been consulting with, and gathering information from, all interested parties including the Colombian Government and Armed Forces, and non-governmental organizations both here and in Colombia.
I of course cannot presage what the Secretary’s decision will be, nor when he will make it. In the meantime, we will continue to adhere to the provisions of the law.
The Need for New Authorities
Since February 20, the Colombian military has reoccupied the main urban areas in the former zone, while the FARC has continued its terrorist violence. President Pastrana has announced a hike in Colombia’s defense budget to cover the cost of heightened military operations, and has announced plans to add 10,000 professional soldiers to the army. He also requested help from the U.S., including approval to use military assets provided for counternarcotics purposes to help cope with the increased terrorist threat.
Just as we supported President Pastrana’s management of the peace process with the FARC, we believe it is critical that the U.S. help Colombia deal with the surge in violence that has followed the end of the demilitarized zone. We answered Pastrana’s immediate request for help by providing increased intelligence support on terrorist actions, expediting the delivery of helicopter spare parts already paid for by the Government of Colombia, and assisting the Colombians with eradication activities in the former zone.
We are also acting to address the Colombian people’s broader needs as they defend their democracy from terrorist violence. In the counterterrorism supplemental submitted on March 21, we are seeking new, explicit, legal authorities that would allow our assistance to Colombia, including assistance previously provided, to be used "to support a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking, terrorist activities, and other threats to its national security." These new authorities recognize that the terrorist and narcotics problems in Colombia are inextricably intertwined. If enacted, they will give us greater flexibility to help the Government of Colombia attack this hydra-headed threat.
I would stress that our request for new authorities does not signify a retreat from our concern about human rights nor an open-ended U.S. commitment in Colombia. Our proposal expressly recognizes that we intend to use the new authorities consistent with the human rights conditions relevant to our assistance to Colombia’s armed forces and the 400 person cap on U.S. military personnel providing training in Colombia in support of Plan Colombia.
The Need for New Assistance
We have also requested $292 million in FY-03 Andean Counterdrug Initiative funds, along with $44 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), to support programs in Colombia’s neighboring countries. At the same time that we assist the Government of Colombia to confront its narcoterrorist threat, it is important that we not neglect the serious challenges faced by Colombia’s neighbors. There would be little benefit to reducing coca cultivation in Colombia if it were accompanied by a resurgence in coca cultivation in countries such as Peru and Bolivia. Similarly, an effective strategy to reduce coca cultivation and narcotics trafficking in Colombia requires not only action in Colombia, but also effective steps by Colombia’s neighbors likewise to improve controls over their borders, and the people and goods that cross back and forth.
We are also seeking $35 million in the FY-02 counterterrorism supplemental to help the Colombian Government protect its citizens from kidnapping, infrastructure attacks and other terrorist actions. Our $35 million request includes:
We have also requested $3 million in the FY-02 counterterrorism supplemental in FMF funding for Ecuador, principally for the purchase of spare parts and equipment to improve the air mobility of Ecuador’s military. This is a particularly critical need to address if we are to assist the Government of Ecuador in strengthening its controls over provinces bordering Colombia.
Colombia at the Crossroads
Over the past several months, the Colombian people have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to democracy, and an exceptional repudiation of the violence and terrorism of the FARC and other terrorist organizations. Colombia is in the midst of a cycle of national elections to choose a new national Congress and the successor to President Pastrana. The first round of elections, to choose the new Congress, was carried out successfully in the face of FARC threats and attacks in the wake of President Pastrana’s decision to end the demilitarized zone. The people of Colombia deserve to be congratulated for their commitment to democracy. We are pleased that the Organization of American States, at the request of Colombia, stepped forward with a small observer mission for the Congressional elections and has committed to sending a robust observer delegation for the presidential balloting.
The commitment we have made to Colombia--to sustain our counternarcotics programs, step up our counterterrorism assistance, strengthen programs to protect human rights, and help to foment alternative development, among other areas—-cannot succeed absent a sustained commitment of even greater magnitude by the Government of Colombia. In our Bogota embassy and in Washington, we have met with the leading contenders in the upcoming presidential election to discuss their respective visions for the future of Colombia and their strategies for how to get there. Once the elections are complete and the Colombian people have chosen their next president, we will engage with the president-elect and his or her team to delineate the commitments they are prepared to make.
Released on April 11, 2002