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February 28, 2001

Plan Colombia: An Initial Assessment

The Honorable Senator Joseph Biden, Jr.
Co-Chairman
Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today to focus on Plan Colombia -- not only on the implementation of the Plan, but on the challenges that lie ahead.

Last summer, Congress committed roughly $1 billion in support of Plan Colombia -- to combat drug trafficking, to assist Colombia build alternative economic opportunities, to support the protection of human rights, and to help Colombia build a justice system that works.

The programs approved by Congress are just getting off the ground, but now is a good time to review the status of the programs. Already, the push into Southern Colombia is yielding important results in Putumayo province, where over 20,000 hectares of coca fields have been fumigated.

I visited Colombia twice last year. I came away from my visits convinced that Plan Colombia offers a real chance to make a significant difference in reducing the drug trade in that country.

Plan Colombia comes at a unique moment when both drug cultivation and production are occurring in the same place. Time was when most coca was grown in Bolivia and Peru, processed into cocaine in Colombia, and transported to the United States by major Colombian cartels. And most heroin came from either Mexico or Southeast Asia, but certainly not from Colombia.

Today, nearly 70 percent of the world’s coca leaf is grown and processed in Colombia. Some 65 percent of the heroin sold in the United States – and nearly all of the extremely pure white powder heroin sold on the East Coast – comes from Colombia.

But Colombia is more than a significant source of narcotics sold in this country. It is a proud nation of 40 million people, and it is the second-oldest democracy in this hemisphere. The concentration of the drug trade there has led to an assault on Colombia’s democracy, not only by drug traffickers, but also by left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitaries who are financed by drug money.

I hope that in reviewing Plan Colombia today, we focus not only at the narrow question of how well our programs are working, but also at the broader question of the next steps in our Colombia policy.

We are fortunate to have such a strong ally in President Pastrana. I have met with him on a number of occasions, most recently for dinner the other night. I think I know him pretty well by now and I believe that he is truly committed to combating the drug trade and building a new Colombia.

The obstacles he faces are enormous. No one can question his commitment or his courage. President Pastrana has roughly 18 months left in office and we must continue to work with him closely.

I recognize that the Bush Administration is still getting its feet on the ground, and is only beginning to assess the direction of American foreign policy in many areas, including our policy toward Colombia. I urge the Administration to consider the following guiding principles as it reviews this issue.

First, the United States must continue to stay engaged with Colombia. If we walk away, we can be sure of one thing: the human rights situation will further deteriorate and drug production will flourish.

Second, the United States must stay focused not only on Colombia, but the Andean region as a whole.

The danger is great that narcotics production will re-emerge in Bolivia and Peru -- or shift elsewhere in the region. Already there is anecdotal evidence that some coca production is shifting back to Peru. Congress was right to increase the regional emphasis of the plan last year, and the new Administration should follow this approach.

Third, the United States must continue to press Colombia for improvements in human rights. The Colombian military has reduced considerably its direct involvement in human rights violations, but evidence of collusion with paramilitaries remains strong. If the military continues to turn a blind eye to paramilitary violence, support for the Plan will inevitably erode in this country.

Fourth, the United States should offer assistance and diplomatic support for the Colombian peace process.

Ultimately, peace must be made by Colombians, but working with other nations from this hemisphere and from Europe, we can provide assistance to the negotiating process.

Fifth, Congress and the Administration should work together to extend and expand trade opportunities for Colombia and the other Andean countries. The Andean Trade Preference Act, which was enacted in the last Bush Administration, expires this year. I hope the Executive Branch and Congress can cooperate on a meaningful extension of the Act in order to strengthen the legal economic sectors in Colombia.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses and having a frank discussion with them about the progress we are making and the road ahead.