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February 22, 2000

U.S. Assistance Options for the Andes

The Honorable Senator Charles Grassley
Chairman
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Good morning and welcome. The hearing this morning is to look at US counter-drug policy for the Andean region. We have a lot of important ground to cover today, so I intend to keep my formal remarks short.

The proposed emergency assistance package that the Administration has submitted to Congress is one of the most significant foreign policy initiatives in recent years. It marks a major escalation in US counter-drug efforts in Colombia. It comes about as the result of a major expansion in drug production and trafficking from Colombia. The principal target for most of the drugs produced there is the United States. That expansion has occurred despite an already extensive US-supported effort in Colombia. And it has happened in large part because so-called Marxist guerrillas in that unfortunate country have aligned themselves with drug pushers, becoming drug thugs themselves. A high murder rate and endemic violence by narco-traffickers, guerrillas, and paramilitaries, mean that Colombia faces unprecedented challenges. The fate of democratic institutions and future of decent government are at risk. Clearly, it is in the US national interest to be concerned about not only what is happening in Colombia but what we can and must do about the situation there.

But it does make a difference how we engage and the purpose of our engagement is to make a difference. This hearing is to look at how the present proposals will accomplish important goals that will help Colombia and the United States.

Last year, Senators Coverdell, DeWine, and I introduced the Alianza Act. The purpose of that effort was to urge immediate and, let me stress this, thoughtful responses not just ad hoc, temporizing, piecemeal efforts. What we asked for in that legislation was for the Administration to submit a strategy for how to make a difference not a grab bag of goodies bundled together. There are serious issues involved that require serious consideration. Our goal was and is to see Colombia supported. The Alianza Act, indeed, tried to prime the pump, as it were. But we also sought to fund a coherent, comprehensive, intelligent strategy not a list of projects. Let me quote from the Act on what Congress wanted then and expects now. It isn’t complicated but it is necessary. What we need is to see a plan that

lays out priorities,

describes the actions needed to address those priorities

defines the respective roles of the US and Colombia

details how the plan will incorporate other, regional partners, and

delineates a time line for accomplishing the goals based on some understandable criteria.

At this point, we have yet to see such a detailed plan. What we have seen is various wish lists, and many of these have been vague. Even these wish lists appear uncoordinated and divergent. It is my hope that we can clarify the picture today. This Caucus tried to get that clarity in a similar hearing late last year. The Administration did not seem able to shed much light then. I hope we do better today.

Let me be clear. I believe that it is important to support Colombia. The situation there is serious and how it develops is of direct concern to us. We have an obligation to help. But it makes a difference how we go about providing that help. Poorly conceived and badly implemented programs will do more harm than doing nothing at all. We will have a lot of questions today on the issue of just what it is we are going to do, how, and with what result.

Let me conclude by introducing for the record a letter I have received from the GAO detailing some of its recent findings on problems with our efforts in Colombia. Members will find copies of that communication in their packages. I will read just one brief passage:

...the executive branch has proposed a $1.3 billion assistance package primarily designed to support Colombian military and law enforcement activities, interdiction efforts, economic and alternative development, and human rights and the rule of law. ... However, at the time of our review, an operational interagency strategy for Colombia had not been developed. An official with the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that it is considering developing such a strategy,, but there is currently no consensus among the interagency counternarcotics community whether r an integrated strategy should be developed. The official also stated that the Office of National Drug Control Policy may not have the legislative authority to make such a strategy work.

This suggests that we are in the process of considering a major support package without a clear idea of what it is we are proposing to do. That was clear last year. I am not too sure that things are better this year. That’s what I hope to hear more about today. We need an approach that will take the initiative away from the traffickers and their allies. If we don’t, all we will be doing is playing an expensive game of hopscotch all over the region, and that’s a formula for losing.