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June 3, 2003

Regarding U.S. Narcotics Policy in Colombia


The Honorable Joseph Biden
Co-Chairman
Caucus on International Narcotics Control

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today to examine U.S. policy in Colombia.

We are honored to be joined by Vice President Francisco Santos. The Vice President knows all too well the price that Colombia has paid in its three-front war against drug traffickers, left-wing guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitaries. He was held hostage for nearly eight months by the Medillín cartel in 1990 -- and he has received numerous death threats from the FARC.

The people of Colombia live with a level of violence that Americans cannot comprehend; the bravery that Vice President Santos and his colleagues in government have demonstrated in the face of that danger is inspiring.

Three years ago, we renewed our commitment to the Andean region, providing funding for Plan Colombia, as well as for counter-narcotics programs in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. Since then, we have provided over two billion dollars in assistance to Colombia to combat the drug trade and restore the rule of law.

We have a duty to help in this effort because it is America's seemingly insatiable demand for narcotics that has helped fuel the drug trade.

We are beginning to see some results. Last year, there was a 15 percent decrease in coca cultivation and a 25 percent decrease in opium poppy cultivation. This reduced supply has led to a modest decrease in purity of both cocaine and heroin on the streets of the United States. There is still a long way to go, but this progress is encouraging.

Unfortunately, we had a setback elsewhere in the Andean region, with coca cultivation increasing by 8 percent in Peru and 23 percent in Bolivia in 2002. We must do more to help Colombia's neighbors guard against the so-called "balloon effect". And to successfully counter the drug trade in the entire region, we must have a three-pronged strategy: eradication, interdiction, and alternative economic opportunities.

Several other elements of our policy in Colombia bear emphasis. First, human rights. According to the most recent State Department report, in 2002:

"The [Colombian] Government's human rights record remained poor...A small percentage of total human rights abuses reported were attributed to state security forces; however, some members of the government security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including unlawful and extrajudicial killings. Some members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed serious abuses. Impunity remained at the core of the country's human rights problems."

I know that the Vice President and President Uribe are committed to improving human rights. But the message is still not getting through to all levels of the military. We need to see more improvements.

Second, last year Congress changed the law to allow Colombia to use equipment we have provided for other than counter-narcotics purposes. This recognizes the reality that Colombia's illegal groups are all involved in the drug trade. But we must be sure that this change in authority does result in a major change in focus: our priority must continue to be fighting the drug trade.

Finally, we must make sure that our other commitments abroad do not distract us from our promise to help Colombia and its neighbors. There's a lot on the foreign policy agenda. But we have a lot at stake in the Andes, and we owe it our neighbors to help.

The Administration has done a good job in Colombia, but the Secretary of State cannot be focused on every world problem simultaneously. He needs some lieutenants. Unfortunately, the Narcotics Bureau at the State Department has not had a confirmed Assistant Secretary since August, and as yet no successor has been nominated. I urge the Administration to send us a nominee as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from our distinguished witnesses this morning, and having a frank discussion with them about the progress we are making and the road ahead.