September 21, 1999
Senator Charles Grassley
For Immediate Release
Washington, DC — Sen. Chuck Grassley convened a hearing this morning to examine U.S. policy on Colombia and how a strengthened insurgency movement has undermined counter-narcotics efforts supported by the United States and carried out by the Colombian military.
Grassley used the forum to call attention to "a U.S. policy in disarray at a time when Colombia is in the midst of a major crisis." He cited drug smuggling through the U.S. embassy in Bogota and the increased drug cultivation despite years of eradication as examples. "Colombia today is producing more cocaine than at any time since we began efforts there," Grassley said.
As a result, Grassley said that he will introduce legislation this week to require the administration to submit to Congress within six months a detailed strategy for a comprehensive U.S. counterdrug effort in Colombia. A supplemental funding request for $1 billion, mostly to be used for efforts in Colombia, has been made by the U.S. drug czar. "A plan to maximize the benefit of spending that kind of additional money needs to be made before another billion dollars is committed," Grassley said.
During the morning hearing, U.S. government officials from the defense and state departments discussed counterdrug activities and their effect on national security interests. "The drug trafficking threat from Colombia has changes significantly from the early 1990s to today," said Brian Sheridan, Department of Defense Coordinator for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support. He said that the threat in Colombia has been amplified by the success of the U.S. air interdiction program in Peru — where more than 60 percent of the world's coca was produced in 1993 — and the growing relationship between the narcotraffickers and guerilla/para-military units in Colombia itself.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control also heard testimony from an academic specializing in Latin America, as well as a leader in international business. "Our interests and goals in Latin America's third largest country deserve serious discussion. The United States does not have the luxury of remaining indifferent to Colombia, or disengaging from the country," said Michael Shifter, Senior Fellow, Inter-American Dialogue.
Today’s hearing concerns one of the most important foreign policy issues that we currently face. It is one that directly affects US interests and the lives of US citizens daily. It is not remote. It is not abstract. It is not obscure. Yet, we seem to find ourselves in the midst of a muddle. Our policy appears to be adrift and our focus blurred.
We are today going to focus on the current situation in Colombia and the nature of our efforts to stop drug production and transiting I must confess to some disappointment. On this, one of the most critical items our national agenda--what to do about the drug threat--there does not appear to be a coherent strategy or a consistent policy. If there are, then there has been a distinct failure to explain these to Congress or the public. This is particularly true when it comes to Colombia. There has been a lot of talk about Colombia recently but talk is not strategy.
I am, frankly, disappointed in the Administration’s failure to engage in a serious discussion with Congress or the public to explain its policy. What we see is piecemeal engagement in a situation that is not adequately understood. We seem to be bent on asking what color to paint the helicopters before we ask ourselves what it is we are doing. Or whether we should be doing it. Or if we should, what is needed and what responsibilities the Government of Colombia has. There are a host of basic questions elemental to a sound strategy that are going begging.
I do not question the sense of purpose or the dedication of the many men and women, Americans and Colombians, who daily put their lives at risk to stop illegal drugs. But their actions need to add up to more than the sum of the parts if we are going to make a difference. Actions need a center, a focus. They need direction and coherence. Above all these actions need to be linked in a sensibly way to resources. And all of these things need to be linked to outcomes that purchase a difference. I am concerned that we lack these vital connective tissues.
Reporting from Bogota strongly suggests that our whole policy is in disarray at a time when Colombia is in the midst of a major crisis. There has been drug smuggling from the US Embassy. Despite years of focus on eradication, drug cultivation continues to increase. If preliminary analysis is to be believed, it has almost doubled. Further, our estimates of cocaine production are also seriously flawed, perhaps underestimating production by as much as 100 percent. Colombia today is producing more cocaine that at any time since we began efforts there.
The insurgents, while not in a position to seize power, are growing in strength and profiting from drug smuggling. In some cases, they are better armed and better trained than the military. The military, conversely, suffers from a variety of systemic and institutional problems of long standing. It lacks equipment, training, resources, and appropriate manpower. Paramilitary groups, with possible links to the military, are waging their own war against the state. The peace process appears stalled. Violence is escalating. The judiciary system appears unable to cope. Colombia is in the midst of a major financial recession.
Yet, the US Administration seems incapable of thinking about the situation with any clarity or articulating a strategy with any transparency. It seems unwilling to explain its policy or its lack of one. It seems confused as to what is actually happening. To cite just one example, it would appear that the present tendency in US policy would have us more deeply involved in Colombia’s insurgency. Reports show that the guerrillas are now engaged in a major way in protecting and profiting from the drug trade. If so and we plan to expand efforts to go after that trade, then stepped efforts to deal with increased drug production involves us in confronting the guerrillas. This raises a host of questions that have yet to be adequately addressed by the Administration. It certainly has not explained its policy to Congress or the public. We are left with the appearance of a policy of drift and dissembling.
The Drug Czar, having opposed supplemental drug funding last year, is now asking other Cabinet members to support a $1 billion proposal of his own, much of which is to go to Colombia. I hope that before any such request comes before Congress, if it should, that the proposal has more in it than a wish list. The President has written to Senator Lott and Speaker Hastert about the need to work cooperatively to aid Colombia. I agree. But we need to know more than this. We need something to work with. This does not mean another long list of goodies without thought as to purpose and results.
The situation, as I see it, has passed the point when the sort of ad hoc, Chicken Little strategies that have characterized recent foreign policy will do. It is embarrassing that we have so little before the Congress or the American public by way of serious policy or honest discussion on what we are to do. Yet, we have billion dollar proposals being floated and emergency aid requests submitted. I hope the hearing today can help us get closer to both an understanding that meets the circumstances. If our witnesses today cannot get us closer to where we need to be, I will look at another hearing where we can hear from witnesses who can tell us more.
I hope, however, we will hear today more about what a proper strategy should look like. I will be offering legislation later this week specifically requiring the Administration to deliver to Congress a detailed strategy for Colombia within the next six months. The Administration should have one already on the shelf, so this request should not be too burdensome. I hope that we will hear much more today about that policy.