About Caucus







June 3, 2003

Regarding U.S. Narcotics Policy in Colombia

The Honorable Curt Struble
Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
U.S. Department of State

Good morning. Mr. Chairman, Senator Biden, members of the Caucus, allow me to first express our appreciation for your ongoing interest in and support for our policy towards Colombia. Your consistent availability to visiting Colombian government officials, such as Vice President Santos this morning, and your Congressional delegations to Colombia help sustain crucial support for our Colombia strategy.

My colleague Paul Simons has addressed in detail our counternarcotics policy in Colombia, I would like to offer an update on the current status of U.S.-Colombian relations, and our efforts to bolster regional and international support for President Uribe's goals of attaining peace and strengthening democracy.

Colombia is central to our regional counternarcotics and counterterrorism goals. We are committed to helping President Alvaro Uribe address Colombia's security, economic and narcotics issues, not only because it is in our national interest to do so, but because we recognize the unique, reliable partner we have in President Uribe. He has our full political support. U.S.-Colombian cooperation has never been better. Colombia is producing tangible results and deserves the full support of the region.

The focused high-level interest in Colombia, supported by the large number of two-way visits, including your Congressional delegations, is a positive contribution to our relationship.

President Uribe has been to Washington three times: once as President-elect (June 2002); then in September 2002; and most recently in early May.

Vice President Santos, Foreign Minister Barco, Defense Minister Ramírez, Peace Commissioner Restrepo, Minister of Commerce Botero, and others have made individual trips to solidify this relationship.

Our Cabinet level visits:

· Secretary Powell traveled to Colombia in December 2002.
· Secretary Snow visited in April 2003.
· USTR Representative Zoellick is planning a trip for July.

President Uribe's first year in office continues to be marked by unprecedented cooperation between Colombia and the United States. Last week (May 28th), Colombia extradited the first FARC terrorist to the U.S. for the kidnapping and murder of three U.S. indigenous rights workers in February/March 1999, bringing the total number of extraditions under Uribe to 44. This is in addition to the 64 extraditions former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana ordered during his presidency. Uribe has sent a clear message to the FARC and other illegal groups that reinforces the rule of law in Colombia: They will be held accountable for their actions.

President Uribe remains a stalwart supporter on Iraq. Even before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, Colombia was key in lining up support before rotating off the UN Security Council last December. As UNSC President, Colombia decided to distribute the Iraqi Declaration to UNSC members with the expertise to assess risks of proliferation first, despite objections by Syria. Three months later, President Uribe expressed solidarity with the U.S. on Iraq at a high political cost because he believes the world must stand up to terrorists.

On May 5 the Colombian Army mounted an unsuccessful hostage rescue operation and the FARC responded by murdering 11 of its hostages, among them Antioquia's Governor Guillermo Gavíria and former defense minister and peace adviser Gilberto Echeverri. This brutality reminded Colombians and the international community of the ruthlessness with which the illegal armed groups rob Colombians of peace and security. Instead of cowering, the Colombian people maintained their support of President Uribe's aggressive stance against the FARC. His current approval rate is steady at 71 percent. No other Latin American leader comes close to this level of support.

The Uribe administration's concerted effort to extend "democratic security" throughout Colombia is still in its early stages, but President Uribe has underscored the importance of human rights as an integral component of his strategy. On May 16, he told graduating Colombian Police cadets, to act with "aggressiveness to defeat terrorism, determination to defend human rights, respect and tolerance for critics, respect and tolerance for NGOs, whether or not we share their points of view." He further said that respect for human rights and tolerance of critics is "fundamental for the respectability of our use of force, so that we can speak forcefully" on terrorism both in Colombia and abroad.

Building International and Regional Support

We are committed to bolstering more support for President Uribe both regionally and internationally. Many of Colombia's challenges do not stop at Colombia's borders and require a regional solution. After February's bombing of the El Nogal social club in Bogotá, we supported Colombian efforts to secure a UN Security Council resolution and an OAS resolution condemning this bombing and calling on member states to stop providing refuge to terrorist groups while cracking down on terrorists manipulating their financial institutions. In March, the Colombians organized a Defense and Security ministerial with representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, to strengthen regional cooperation in pursuing, capturing, and punishing the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorist acts.

In July, Colombia's Foreign Minister Carolina Barco will have the opportunity to outline the Colombian government's priorities to donors in order to increase international consensus for Uribe's policies and to build better coordination of the various donor, NGO, and GOC programs. We will be there to lend our support. We have been working with the Europeans, the UN, the IDB, and the GOC to make this conference happen. It should gain additional EU support for Colombia, confirm for the international community the link between terrorism and narcotics, and help to better coordinate international assistance to Colombia.

Thank you again for your interest, and for your commitment to help us help Colombia confront the daunting challenges it still faces. This concludes my formal statement, but I am ready and eager to answer your questions.