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February 28, 2001

Plan Colombia: An Initial Assessment

General Peter Pace
United States Marine Corps
Commander in Chief
U.S. Southern Command

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Caucus, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to discuss United States military support to President Pastrana’s Plan Colombia. I appreciate very much the efforts of the Congress in providing the necessary funding for this support in Public Law 106-246. I am here today to tell you what your military is doing with these funds and how we are supporting partner nations in their struggle against the illicit drug industry in the Andean Ridge. I will also describe for you the regional problems that we must overcome and make some recommendations for the way ahead. United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) is responsible for planning and executing the majority of Department of Defense (DoD) funding in the support package. As you know, the public law provides much more than just military funds. Various other U.S. Government departments and agencies received funding to support both military and non-military aspects of Plan Colombia.

During my first five months as Commander in Chief, USSOUTHCOM, I have visited nineteen countries and three territories, but more specifically, I have made repeated visits to the Andean Ridge countries that are struggling to overcome the violence and corruption caused by the illicit drug trade. I am favorably impressed with the civilian and military leaders I have met and encouraged by the strong cooperation between the U.S. and most nations in our Area of Responsibility (AOR). With the exception of Cuba, these nations are blessed with democratic governments, although some are struggling to mature fragile institutions that promote freedom and prosperity for their citizens. Drug trafficking is a serious threat to these democracies, particularly in the Andean Ridge.

Colombia is key to the region’s stability. With a 37-year old insurgency fueled today by the illicit drug industry, Colombia is at the epicenter of drug-related violence and social disorder. I have made seven trips to Colombia during my first five months in command. I have seen the vast potential of a good and decent people who are struggling to overcome poverty, violence, and fear in a country blessed with abundant natural resources and is one of the oldest democracies in the Western Hemisphere. I have come to know the civilian and military leaders of this struggling nation and I support their conviction that Plan Colombia, including the peace process, must succeed.

Nations throughout the region are painfully aware of the drug problem and understand their vulnerability to domestic consumption, trafficking, related crime, and the corruption that illicit drugs and drug money spawn. All the nations are concerned. In describing the drug war that now affects all of Latin America and the Caribbean, one prominent leader recently told me, "this is a war we did not start, that we do not want, that we cannot afford, but a war that we must win."

REGIONAL DRUG THREAT

An important component of USSOUTHCOM’s mission is to support security and regional stability throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The illicit drug industry threatens the stability of several nations in the Andean Ridge and erodes the very fabric of democracy by corrupting public institutions, promoting criminal activity, undermining legitimate economies, and disrupting social order. This threat is real, immediate, and growing. The violence and corruption associated with the illicit drug industry not only threatens our neighbors to the south, it poses a national security threat to the American homeland as evidenced by the following grim statistics for 2000 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP): Americans spent $62.4 billion on illegal drugs; the direct and indirect cost to the U.S. taxpayer was $110 billion; and nearly 17,000 Americans died from drug overdoses or drug related violence.

According to the most recent Interagency Assessment, drug traffickers attempted to move an estimated 645 metric tons (MT) of cocaine from the Source Zone during Calendar Year 2000. Multi-national CD efforts interdicted approximately 133 MT during this period, but up to an estimated 514 MT, with a street value of approximately $6.17 billion, may have been successfully delivered to consumer markets.

The Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) have shown considerable skill in adapting their manufacturing procedures, production locations, transport routes, and markets in response to eradication and interdiction efforts. In Colombia, DTOs have successfully formed symbiotic ties to the insurgent groups and illegal paramilitaries that provide protection for the traffickers in exchange for revenue. The insurgent and paramilitary self-defense groups use the drug money to finance weapons purchases, fund on-going operations, and sustain their forces. As the successful implementation of Plan Colombia threatens the war chest of the insurgents and paramilitaries, and disrupts the drug traffickers’ infrastructure through eradication and interdiction, we should anticipate a migration of the drug trade to points of least resistance.

IMPLEMENTATION OF U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND’S SUPPORT

USSOUTHCOM has two major responsibilities for implementing the DoD portion of the appropriated funding. First and foremost is to ensure that DoD funding is properly spent in accordance with the law. Funds allocated to DoD total approximately $301 million. Second is to ensure our effective support for the implementation of Department of State (DoS) programs which fund military related training, equipment, and sustainment. Our efforts support the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy to reduce the flow of drugs by 20 percent in the Transit Zone and 30 percent from the Source Zone by 2007. Accomplishment of these goals requires a cooperative regional effort from the Andean Ridge nations. The Public Law provides required funding for the U.S. inter-agency to help organize, train, and equip Partner Nation security forces to conduct effective air, riverine, maritime, and ground operations against drug traffickers. Although most of last year’s funding is specifically designated for Colombia, neighboring nations received $180 million from the U.S. assistance package to Plan Colombia.

COUNTERNARCOTICS (CN) BRIGADE

Congress appropriated $29.2 million ($22.2 million DoD and $7 million DoS) to equip and train the CN Brigade Headquarters and three subordinate battalions. Collectively, these units make up the Colombian Counternarcotics Brigade. The $7 million allocated to the DoS funds the purchase of weapons and ammunition. The Colombian Army (COLAR) received the bulk of this equipment in December 2000 and will receive the balance in March 2001. We completed the training for the second CN Battalion, senior commanders, and staff during December 2000. Training for the third battalion is underway and will be completed during May 2001. Congress provided an additional $10.4 million to DoS to sustain the CN Brigade ($6 million) and improve the COLAR logistics support system ($4.4 million). Public Law 106-246 designated $14 million (DoS - $9million; DoD - $5million) to improve organic intelligence collection capabilities of the CN Brigade. USSOUTHCOM assists the Colombian Military (COLMIL) in collecting, analyzing, and disseminating fused intelligence for the CN Brigade. This effort is accomplished in the Joint Task Force South Intelligence Center in Tres Esquinas where USSOUTHCOM provides three U.S. subject matter experts.

The Public Law also provided $4 million for force protection assessments and enhancements. These funds support U.S. personnel where they work, eat, sleep, and travel. Security upgrades are in progress at Tres Esquinas, Larandia, Apiay and Tolemaida.

HELICOPTERS

The Public Law provides $328 million to DoS to purchase, refurbish, and sustain UH-1Ns (Huey), UH-60Ls (Blackhawk), and UH-1H II (Huey II) helicopters for the COLMIL. The DoS Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (DoS/INL) is responsible for fielding equipment, training the aircrews, and sustaining 33 UH-1N helicopters that are now in Colombia. These aircraft provide the tactical mobility for the CN Brigade. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency is responsible for developing aircrew and maintenance personnel training plans for the UH-60 and Huey II helicopters. The UH-60 helicopters are scheduled to start arriving in Colombia in July 2001; all 14 of these aircraft should arrive by December 2001. DoS will provide funding for one year of Contract Logistics Support (CLS). DoS is also responsible for fielding equipment and sustaining the Huey II aircraft. The Department of Defense is assisting with the training of helicopter pilots. The number of Huey II aircraft to be fielded will be based on final configuration decisions. Approximately 20 plus aircraft will be available for delivery beginning in November 2001.

To provide adequate facilities for these helicopters, the legislation provides $13.2 million to improve COLMIL aviation infrastructure. Projects that are underway in Larandia, Tres Esquinas, and Tolemaida and are funded by Public Law 106-246 include access roads, parking ramps, fuel pads, billeting, and hangars. A runway extension is also underway at Tres Esquinas but was funded under a separate appropriation. Projects are on schedule at Tolemaida and Larandia with completion scheduled for June 2002. Projects at Tres Esquinas are temporarily halted due to low water levels of the Caqueta River that prevent the movement of construction materials. The hangar project that is intended to support Colombia’s organic intelligence capability and was originally scheduled for completion in October 2001, will be delayed approximately 90 days.

INTERDICTION

The Public Law provides $116.5 million for necessary operational and safety improvements for our Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) at Manta, Ecuador, and Aruba/Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. The legislation also provides funding for FOL design costs at Comalapa, El Salvador. Air operations from these locations are critical to providing effective support to host nation interdiction efforts. Construction at Aruba/Curacao is scheduled to begin in the summer 2001 with completion approximately 18 months later. Construction at Manta is ongoing with completion scheduled during the summer of 2002. The design contract for improvements at Comalapa, El Salvador was awarded in December 2000, and construction is scheduled for completion in September 2001. Funding has not yet been appropriated for construction requirements at Comalapa.

The Public Law also provides $17.4 million to assist the Colombian Air Force (COLAF) in upgrading its aircraft interdiction capabilities. One AC-47 gunship will be modified to include Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) and additional weapons and communications systems. Modifications will be completed by the end of March 2001. Two Colombian C-26 aircraft will be upgraded to an airborne tracker configuration by including FLIR and additional communications equipment. These modifications are ongoing and will be completed by September 2001.

The legislation also provides $18 million for Ground Based Radar upgrades. Of this, $13 million was used to procure and begin installation of a ground-based radar at Tres Esquinas with Initial Operating Capability (IOC) scheduled for October 2001. Full Operating Capability (FOC) will be achieved in February 2002. The remaining $5 million will be used to replace the COLMIL’s aging radar command and control system -- Peace Panorama. The new system is scheduled to achieve IOC in May 2002.

PUTUMAYO SITUATION UPDATE

The implementation of enhanced COLMIL capabilities began in mid-December 2000 with combined eradication spraying and ground interdiction operations in the southern departments of Caqueta and Putumayo. Throughout these operations, we have seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between the COLMIL and the Colombian National Police (CNP). The CN Brigade provides ground security for spray aircraft while also interdicting drug labs. By early February 2001, DoS/INL aircraft had sprayed approximately 25,000 hectares of industrial size coca fields and the CN Brigade had destroyed 48 drug labs.

REGIONAL STABILITY AND SPILLOVER

The production and transportation of illicit drugs is a regional problem that requires a cooperative regional solution. While the $1.3 billion U.S. aid package focused primarily on Colombia, it did provide $180 million for DoS programs to neighboring countries, primarily for drug interdiction and alternative development. With the successful implementation of Phase I of Plan Colombia (Push into Southern Colombia), the DTOs may be pressured to move their operations beyond Colombia’s borders. Ecuador and Panama have already reported that insurgents and illegal self-defense groups working with the DTOs have violated their sovereignty and physical borders. Ecuador and Panama have also reported displaced Colombian refugees inside their borders. Lacking the necessary security forces to secure all possible entry points, Panama and Ecuador remain especially vulnerable to incursions and the resulting social and political destabilization.

Bolivia. Bolivia’s "Dignity Plan" lists illegal coca eradication in the Chapare and Yungas regions as a top priority for President Banzer’s administration. Bolivia, with perhaps fewer resources than any other country in the region, has achieved remarkable results in eradicating illegal coca crops. President Banzer has maintained a consistent policy of eradicating all illegal coca cultivation and aggressively interdicting the DTOs’ operations in his country.

Bolivia has seen a sharp decline in the amount of potential cocaine production since 1997. In 1997, Bolivia could have produced 200 MT of finished cocaine from its indigenous crop. Today, we estimate that production is less than 50 MT, making the Dignity Plan’s goal to achieve total eradication of illegal coca leaf by 2002 very possible.

Although limited by insufficient resources, Bolivia has attacked the coca production problem with alternative crop development, manual eradication, and interdiction of precursor chemicals. Eradication meets less resistance from local farmers when synchronized with effective, alternative crop development programs. Once the eradication effort is complete, alternative crop development must be sustained. The long-term success of alternative crop development in Bolivia depends on the government’s ability to provide improved roads and ensure access to domestic and international markets.

Bolivia has also enjoyed success in interdicting the movement of precursor chemicals. Because of this success, Bolivian Cocaine Hydrochloride (HCl) and base quality have declined, causing the DTOs to concentrate their efforts on transporting base and HCl from other nations such as Peru. Effective interdiction and control of precursor chemicals must remain in effect even when the eradication campaign enters the maintenance phase, to prevent the conversion of Peruvian base to HCl in Bolivia.

Unfortunately, Bolivian borders remain porous. As DTO activity in Bolivia changes from production to processing and transshipment, effective interdiction becomes a top priority for security forces. Bolivia’s interdiction efforts have been successful in some areas but must be improved along Bolivia’s border with Peru and Brazil.

Brazil. Although not an Andean Ridge nation, Brazil shares borders with many of the countries that will likely be affected by Plan Colombia’s success. Because Brazil is already a transit country, anticipated shifts in DTO operations in response to Plan Colombia will have a direct impact on Brazil’s border region and airspace. In northern Brazil, DTOs move large quantities of precursor chemicals along the waterways. The DTOs also employ civil aviation that is difficult to detect at low altitudes with limited radar coverage. In the south, the traffickers move their products generally over land via the secondary road network.

The Brazilians state that drug trafficking is a regional problem that requires regional solutions. They believe a successful Plan Colombia will affect the security and economic conditions of every nation. The Brazilian military is particularly concerned about the Amazon, a region that is sparsely populated and difficult to monitor. Drug trafficking activity has prompted the Brazilian Army to reinforce its military garrisons along the border with Colombia and encouraged the government to field a more capable radar surveillance system.

Ecuador. Ecuador remains a major transshipment country for cocaine base and HCl from Colombia and Peru. A formidable challenge for Ecuador is to interdict the movement of precursor chemicals from the nation’s Pacific Coast to Colombia, plus base and cocaine HCl from Colombia to Ecuadorian ports. Peruvian cocaine base is transported by road and air to Colombia for processing into HCl and then returned to Ecuador for shipment to international markets by air and sea. Although Ecuadorian leaders have stated that a regional solution is needed for the escalating drug trafficking problem, they remain concerned that they will be drawn into the internal Colombian conflict.

DTOs routinely cross into Ecuador from Colombia to contract warehouses and personnel for the storage and transportation of cocaine HCl and precursor chemicals. Recent evidence indicates that DTO activity in northern Ecuador is likely supported by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Until now, DTO activity in Ecuador has been largely limited to precursor chemical and HCl transshipment with only limited amounts of coca cultivation. However, observers have recently detected nurseries in several remote areas that are growing coca and poppy seedlings.

The Ecuadorian military is preparing to respond to the anticipated spillover of Plan Colombia. However, available resources may significantly limit the military’s actions. The military needs substantial assistance to field effective land, maritime, and air interdiction assets. The lion’s share of counterdrug funding that the U.S. provided last year to Ecuador is targeted for non-military programs. Without substantial equipment upgrades, modernization, and counterdrug training, Ecuador’s armed forces will be unable to effectively contain the illicit drug industry’s spillover and potential violence from Plan Colombia.

Panama. Panama is a transit country threatened not only by the illicit drug spillover from Plan Colombia but also by the increasing presence of the FARC and paramilitary groups inside its southern border. The threat is most immediate in the Darien and San Blas Provinces where insurgents and paramilitary groups come to rest and resupply. Additionally, DTOs operate with impunity off Panama’s extended coastline. Panamanian leaders are concerned about HCl entering their ports from Colombia and the shipment of precursor chemicals and illegal arms through Panama to Colombia and other Andean Ridge nations. Of growing concern to the Panamanians is the lucrative money laundering that is a by-product of the illicit drug industry.

Currently, HCl is not produced in Panama. HCl enters the country via small boats or non-commercial aircraft. The sea shipments arrive along the two extended and virtually uncontrolled coastlines or are smuggled by containerized shipping through Colon’s free trade zone. Fixed and rotary wing aircraft enter Panamanian airspace undetected and land at remote, unmonitored airfields. The HCl then moves north along the Pan American highway through Central America and Mexico to the U.S.

Panama has become an attractive transshipment site for drugs and weapons due to its geographic location, developed infrastructure, and its ties to both the regional and global economy. DTOs and other criminal elements are increasingly using Panama City as a regional logistics and finance center for laundering money and coordinating the movement of contraband.

Peru. The Peruvian national counterdrug effort has been focused on first, interdicting the flow of HCl, cocaine base, and precursor chemicals; and second, continued manual eradication in the valleys. U.S. funding intended last year to support these efforts was diverted to other nations following Peru’s problem-plagued elections.

The Peruvian "Back to the Valley" campaign focuses manual eradication efforts primarily on the Upper Huallaga Valley. The Peruvian military and national police have allocated considerable resources to this campaign but like many nations in the Andean Ridge, they need additional resources to achieve long-term success. They have, however, simultaneously with eradication efforts, been successful in "cordoning off" designated areas and interdicting drug money and chemicals inbound to Peru and HCl outbound to other Andean nations.

Peru intends to complete its eradication of illicit coca cultivation by 2003. The government complements its eradication efforts and integrated interdiction activities with alternative development, prevention, and rehabilitation programs. Currently, eradication of Peru’s coca fields is in an operational pause. This lull in eradication, coupled with record-high coca leaf prices, could entice farmers to recover previously abandoned fields and plant new coca crops. In fact, Peru reported roughly 3,200 hectares of new coca fields in 2000, the largest number since 1995. Continued success will require strong political will of the new administration and substantial resources from Peru’s struggling economy.

Observers have reported that new poppy cultivation has been detected in Peru. While poppy is not yet a major issue, the discovery of poppy and heroin labs indicates that this drug could become a more substantial problem for Peru in the future.

Ineffective patrolling and lack of government control have become a problem in the border region. Peru has very limited presence along the Putumayo River that separates Peru and Colombia. Shipping of illicit drugs and other contraband along the river is common. Neither government, without strong evidence of a crime, may interfere with the free transit of the other country’s watercraft. Without joint or combined operations that include "shiprider" arrangements, patrolling the river will not be totally effective. A similar situation exists along Peru’s border with Brazil. Peru has expressed strong interest in securing from the United States airborne sensors for non-intrusive inspection of vehicles and boats.

Venezuela. Venezuela is a key node for the transportation of illicit drugs. DTOs move precursor chemicals to Colombia and HCl from Colombia through Venezuela to the United States and European markets. Cocaine HCl that moves through the northern portion of the country by air into the Caribbean is usually destined for the U.S. HCl that moves via container ships and river craft to Venezuela’s eastern Atlantic coast is destined for Europe. As in Panama, the DTO activity in Venezuela is also accompanied by significant money laundering operations, especially in tourist resort areas like Margarita Island.

Coca and opium poppy are cultivated in Venezuela on a small scale astride the Colombian border. While cultivation is currently not a serious problem, the Venezuelans want to establish alternative crop development programs in potential illegal drug growing areas. Currently, Venezuela’s domestic drug consumption does not pose an immediate threat to society but it is of growing concern to government and private agencies. However, as in the Caribbean and other transit areas, the DTOs are paying for services increasingly with cocaine products versus hard currency.

Many precursor chemicals are either produced in Venezuela or legally imported and subsequently diverted to Colombia. Corruption of low-level security officials in Venezuela has interfered with active government measures to curb the flow of precursor chemicals to Colombia. Successful control and interdiction of Venezuelan precursor chemicals could significantly impact the illicit drug industry in the Andean Ridge.

Information sharing and bilaterally coordinated border control are necessary to substantially affect the movement of HCl cocaine through Venezuela. The DTOs primarily use roads and non-commercial air to transport HCl through Venezuela. Although the public focus is on air movement of HCl from Venezuela through the Transit Zone, only about six percent moves by non-commercial air travel. Drug traffickers may use the large number of commercial containers departing from Venezuela’s northern ports to move bulk cocaine to consumer markets. Go-fast boats account for most of the remainder while traffickers smuggle numerous small loads on commercial aircraft.

REGIONAL SOLUTIONS TO REGIONAL PROBLEMS

Although national efforts by individual countries, notably Peru and Bolivia, have enjoyed local success, some elements of the drug trafficking operations in those countries have simply moved to other areas within the region. Any regional solution to the narcotrafficking problem must be jointly developed and implemented by our Partner Nations. Additionally, the solution must come from within the Andean Ridge region. While the United States can provide assistance, the best solution will be authored by those closest to the source.

I am concerned about the reported upsurge in coca cultivation in Colombia, but I am encouraged by the commitment of our partners and the political will they have demonstrated. I am also encouraged by the progress we have seen during Phase I of Plan Colombia. The unprecedented level of cooperation between Colombia’s armed forces and National Police reinforces my confidence.

My counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean recognize the illegal drug trade not only as a cancer on their societies but also as an imminent danger to their internal security and democratic form of government. They understand that they must develop cooperation between neighbors, political will among national leaders, alternatives for their people, and improved capabilities for their security forces. In every nation that I have visited, I have seen a commitment and an unmistakable resolve to reverse the destruction and destabilizing effects of the illicit drug industry.

Plan Colombia will not totally erase the scourge of illegal drugs in the Andean Ridge. It will not solve all of the problems that affect the Colombian society, nor will it prevent spillover to Colombia’s neighbors. However, a fully coordinated plan of assistance – one that provides appropriate support to Plan Colombia, effectively resources Colombia’s neighbors, adheres to a regional strategy, and ensures cooperation among Partners – can help stem the flow of drugs and possibly reinforce regional stability.

Thanks to the hard work of this Caucus and the bipartisan support of the Congress, we are making progress against the illicit drug industry. The dollars we spend in Colombia and other Andean Ridge nations are for a noble effort. Our progress in Colombia and in other nations of the Andean Ridge will be measured not only in tons of cocaine or kilos of opium seized, but also in the lives we save in our own country from the scourge of illegal drugs. The struggle against the narcotraffickers does not belong solely to Colombia. It is not unique to the Andean Ridge. This struggle, the fight against despicable drug traffickers insensitive to the destruction they sow, belongs to every nation in this hemisphere. As partners working together, we can and will make a difference.

Thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Caucus.