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USIS Washington File

06 October 1999

Text: Pickering Says U.S. Backs Pastrana Plan For Colombia

(Undersecretary testifies on policy toward Colombia)  (3410)
The United States supports a plan by Colombian President Andres
Pastrana intended to help his country out of its current difficulties,
says Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering.
Testifying October 6 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
Pickering said the $7,500 million "Plan Colombia" is a "major step in
the right direction."
The plan, Pickering said, is an "ambitious, but realistic, package of
mutually reinforcing policies" to revive Colombia's battered economy,
strengthen the democratic pillars of its society, promote the peace
process, and eliminate sanctuaries for narcotics producers and
Pickering said the United States consulted closely with Colombian
leaders on the "building blocks" of the plan. But he stressed that it
was formulated, drafted and approved in Colombia by the Pastrana
"Without its Colombian origins and its Colombian stamp, it would not
have the support and commitment of Colombia," Pickering said.
Pickering said Colombia will fund the bulk of the plan, but added that
it seeks "supplementary support" of up to $3,500 million from the
international community.
As for a U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia, Pickering said the United
States is currently reviewing the plan "in order to determine whether
and in what additional ways U.S. support is justified. We are
discussing how we can use existing authorities and funds to support
counter-narcotics operations. We are ready to work with the Colombians
to assess their strategy and the optimum ways in which the United
States can assist in Colombia's efforts to resolve its systemic
national problems," many of which adversely affect U.S. citizens and
businesses. "We are also considering how to engage international
financial institutions, the European Union, and other potential
donors," he added.
Following is the text of Pickering's prepared testimony:
(begin text)
Testimony of
Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering,
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs,
before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
October 6, 1999
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity
today to discuss U.S. Government policy toward Colombia.
The U.S. Government is delighted to be working with President
Pastrana. We have greatly improved and strengthened bilateral
relations since he took office in August 1998. Difficult issues still
exist in our bilateral relations, but with a reliable and committed
partner like President Pastrana, the U.S. government has greatly
enhanced its cooperation and engagement to address these issues.
Colombia is of vital interest to the United States. Although
counternarcotics issues remain key in our policy towards Colombia, it
is in our interest to support the Pastrana Administration and the
peace process. Colombia is an important economic partner of the U.S.,
and is in fact our 5th largest export market in Latin America. Peace
in Colombia would benefit not only Colombia, but would also enhance
the stability of the region.
Our mutual interests are directly at stake in Colombia. Drug
trafficking and abuse cause enormous social, health, and financial
damage in the United States. The problems confronting Colombia
directly affect communities not only within that nation, but in the
workplaces, schoolyards, and city streets of communities throughout
the United States. Over 80 percent of the world's supply of cocaine is
grown, processed, or transported through Colombia. The U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency estimates that up to 75 percent of the heroin
consumed on the East Coast of the United States comes from Colombia --
although Colombia produces less than 3 percent of the world's heroin.
The U.S., therefore, has a vital interest in supporting the Colombian
government's comprehensive strategy to halt the spread
of illegal drugs, promote human rights, advance the peace process, and
increase trade and investment.
Colombia's national sovereignty is increasingly threatened by
well-armed and ruthless guerrillas, paramilitaries and the
narcotrafficking interests which are inextricably linked. Although the
Government is not directly at risk, these threats are slowly eroding
the authority of the central government and depriving it of the
ability to govern in outlying areas. It is in these lawless areas,
where the guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and narcotics traffickers
flourish, that the narcotics industry is finding refuge. As a result,
large swathes of Colombia are in danger of being narco-districts for
the production, transportation, processing and marketing of these
These links between narcotics trafficking and the guerrilla and
paramilitary movements are well documented. Profits from illegal
activities, combined with a weakened economy and high unemployment,
have enabled the FARC, in particular, to grow rapidly in terms of
manpower. We estimate that the FARC now has 10,000-15,000 active
members, the ELN around 5,000, and that there are an estimated 3-
5,000 paramilitary members. They all participate in this narcotics
connection. Much of the recruiting success occurs in marginalized
rural areas where the groups can offer salaries much higher than those
paid by legitimate employers. Estimates of guerrilla income from
narcotics trafficking and other illicit activities, such as kidnapping
and extortion, are unreliable, but clearly exceed $100 million a year,
and could be far greater. Of this, we estimate some 30-40% comes
directly from the drug trade. Paramilitary groups also have clear ties
to important narcotics traffickers, and paramilitary leaders have even
publicly admitted their participation in the drug trade.
President Clinton and Secretary Albright have recently reiterated the
high priority we place on helping Colombia's democracy, as it faces
these interrelated challenges of narcotics, guerrillas,
paramilitaries, and poverty. The U.S. is working closely with the
Pastrana Administration to support his efforts to initiate a peace
process, to broaden counternarcotics activities, to foster economic
growth and development, and to protect internally displaced persons.
We have expanded our assistance to Colombia to over $300 million in
FY99, making Colombia the largest recipient of U.S. counternarcotics
aid in the world.
The Government of Colombia (GOC) has developed a strategic approach to
its national challenges. The "Plan Colombia - Plan for Peace,
Prosperity, and Strengthening of the State" is a major step in the
right direction. The Plan is an ambitious, but realistic, package of
mutually reinforcing policies to revive Colombia's battered economy,
to strengthen the democratic pillars of the society, to promote the
peace process and to eliminate "sanctuaries" for narcotics producers
and traffickers. The strategy combines existing GOC policies with new
initiatives to forge an integrated approach to resolving Colombia's
most pressing national challenges.
We consulted closely on the "building blocks," which make up the plan,
with Colombian leaders and senior officials. But the plan was
formulated, drafted and approved in Colombia by President Pastrana and
his team. Without its Colombian origins and its Colombian stamp, it
would not have the support and commitment of Colombia behind it needed
for it to have a serious chance of success.
The USG shares the GOC's assessment that an integrated, comprehensive
approach to Colombia's interlocking challenges holds the best promise
of success. For example, counternarcotics efforts will be most
effective when combined with rigorous GOC law enforcement/military
cooperation, complementary alternative development programs and
measures to assure human rights accountability. Similarly, promoting
respect for the rule of law is just as essential for attracting
foreign investors as it is for securing a durable peace agreement.
Plan Colombia covers five critical themes: economic policy; the
judicial system; counternarcotics; democratization, human rights, and
social development; and the peace process.
The Colombian economy, historically a strong performer, is in the
midst of its worst recession since 1931 due to the emerging markets
fallout, longstanding fiscal problems, and now mounting losses in the
country's financial sector. The economy contracted 5.8 percent in the
first quarter of 1999 and GDP is forecast to drop by 3-4 percent this
year. Unemployment is currently at almost 20 percent. To deal with
this downturn, the GOC is proposing reforms that will stabilize the
banking sector and correct fiscal imbalances, promote trade and
foreign investment, renew preferential trade agreements with the U.S.,
and target government assistance to those most hurt by the
stabilization measures.
The Colombian Government has been working closely with the
International Monetary Fund on an agreement to obtain resources needed
to support the Government's tough economic adjustment. Over the next
three years the IMF will provide $2.7 billion for balance of payments
support, and other IFIs will provide $4.2 billion to Colombia. In a
recent step, the Colombian Government announced it would abandon its
exchange rate band, a step many economists had recommended, and float
its currency.
Colombia's weak and unresponsive judicial system has all too often
prompted many Colombians to take the law into their own hands, with
tragic results. The GOC proposes reforming the judicial sector to make
it fair, accessible, independent and effective. Working with the
Colombian legislative and judicial branches, the GOC proposes to
strengthen the GOC's investigatory/prosecutorial capabilities, to
undertake vigorous enforcement against corruption, and to increase
training in human rights issues, thereby reducing levels of violence
and strengthening the rule of law. Adoption of an accusatorial process
in place of an interrogatory trial process will help in the reform of
the Colombian judiciary and in ensuring more effective capabilities in
Colombia in this critical area.
To deal with counternarcotics issues, the GOC's strategy seeks to
prosecute and incarcerate individuals and organizations associated
with the drug trade, to dismantle trafficking organizations, to
neutralize the drug trade's financial system, to introduce an
effective air interdiction system, and to create a strong disincentive
for drug crop production through eradication and law enforcement. In
all of these objectives, the GOC intends to mesh its national
initiatives with international efforts. The GOC envisions closer
counternarcotics collaboration between its national police and select
carefully vetted units of the Colombian military against heavily armed
guerrillas and paramilitaries. The GOC also believes that breaking the
nexus between Colombia's guerrilla groups and narcotraffickers,
particularly in southern Colombia, is key to significant progress in
its efforts to bring peace to the country, reduce narcotrafficking,
and deny a major source of funding to guerrillas and paramilitaries.
The USG is involved with the government of Colombia on a wide range of
programs in support of our counternarcotics strategy. The U.S. policy
of aiding aggressive Colombian eradication efforts has largely
controlled the coca crop in the Guaviare region and is beginning to
make inroads in Caqueta. The gains made, however, have been more than
offset by the explosive growth in the coca crop in Putumayo, and in
Norte de Santander. Putumayo is an area that remains beyond the reach
of the government's coca eradication operations. Strong guerrilla
presence and weak state authority have contributed to the dire
situation in the Putumayo. The Government of Colombia plans to launch
a comprehensive step-by-step effort there to counter the coca
explosion, including eradication, interdiction, and alternative
development over the next several years.
In the Pastrana Administration, the U.S. has a full and committed
partner that shares our counternarcotics goals in Colombia and is
dedicated to complete cooperation on the full range of
counternarcotics efforts. The Colombian Army has greatly expanded
cooperation with and support for the Colombian National Police, and
has formed a brand new, fully vetted counternarcotics battalion,
specifically designed to work directly with CNP on counternarcotics
missions. The Colombian Air Force has increased air interdiction,
combat air support and intelligence support to the counter-drug
effort. We also believe the Colombian Marine Corps' riverine
interdiction contribution, which has led to seizures along Colombia's
extensive river system, merits positive attention. Cooperation with
the Colombian military on counternarcotics operations has never been
The GOC has a large inventory of seized narco-trafficker farms and
ranches which could be used to resettle coca farmers from remote areas
where alternative crops would not be feasible due to land conditions.
Legal and security issues have inhibited this. However, the GOC is
reviewing the possibility of establishing a pilot program of
transferring the land to coca growers with appropriate safeguards.
We have also strongly supported the efforts of the Pastrana
Administration to advance the protection of human rights and to
prosecute those who abuse them. Complicity by elements of Colombia's
security forces with the right wing militia groups remains a serious
problem, although the GOC has taken important steps in holding senior
military and police officials accountable for participation in human
rights violations. Since assuming office in August of 1998, President
Pastrana has demonstrated his Government's commitment to protecting
human rights by cashiering a number of senior and mid-level officers
for complicity with paramilitary groups. Three generals have been
dismissed; most recently Brigadier General Bravo for his failure to
take measures to prevent right wing militia massacres that occurred in
La Gabarra and Tibu in late August of 1999.
The GOC has also made reforms in its military courts. In 1997, the
Constitutional Court directed the military judicial system to
relinquish to the civilian judiciary the investigation and prosecution
of grave human rights violations and other alleged crimes not directly
related to acts of service. In the last two years, civilian courts
have convicted 240 members of the armed forces and police of human
rights violations.
The Pastrana Government has also begun a program to ensure the
physical safety of human rights defenders. Much more remains to be
done, but we believe the Pastrana Administration is sincere in its
commitment to improving the human rights situation in Colombia.
U.S. assistance to Colombian military and police forces is provided
strictly in accordance with Section 568 of the FY99 Foreign Operations
Appropriations Act (the so-called Leahy Amendment) and Section 8130 of
the FY99 Defense Appropriations Act. All military units of the
Colombian security forces which receive counternarcotics assistance
are carefully vetted by the Embassy and the Department of State. No
USG assistance is provided to those military units for whom we have
credible evidence of the commission of gross human rights violations,
unless the GOC has taken adequate steps to bring those responsible to
justice. There are strict procedures in place to verify that
individuals and units proposed for USG assistance and training have
not been involved in human rights abuses.
The GOC recognizes that it can regain the confidence of its citizens
only by strengthening its democratic and social institutions,
particularly those that assist Colombian victims of the country's
violence and drug trade. Accordingly, the GOC is proposing measures to
promote respect for human rights, to assist those displaced by civil
strife, to implement alternative development programs, to combat
corruption, to strengthen local governments and the role of civil
society, and to provide sustainable development assistance to areas
torn by conflict. The Government acknowledges the urgent need to
improve physical security and protection for human rights workers and
the NGOs to which they belong. Currently, the GOC has dedicated $5.6
million to provide physical protection to approximately 80 human
rights activists and their offices. The Plan outlines measures to
strengthen the Human Rights Ombudsman's office, as well as to
establish a Permanent National Commission on Human Rights and
International Humanitarian Law.
One of the most serious problems in Colombia, which perhaps does not
receive adequate attention, is the plight of its internally displaced
persons (IDPs). The scope of the problem is enormous. The vicious
conflict between paramilitaries and guerrillas is largely responsible
for the forced displacement of Colombians. As many as 300,000 persons,
mostly women and children, were driven from their homes in 1998 by
rural violence. NGOs report that Colombia has the fourth largest
population of displaced persons in the world. The USG has provided $2
million in assistance to the internally displaced through the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Colombia's internal conflict, the longest running in the hemisphere,
has its roots in the civil strife of the 1950s, and has developed over
a nearly 40 year period. The conflict continues to claim the lives of
thousands every year and complicates efforts to stem drug trafficking.
Resolving this conflict will take time, commitment, and persistence
not only by the Government of Colombia and the Colombian people, but
by members of the international community committed to helping
Colombians bring peace and national reconciliation to Colombia.
President Pastrana has made bringing an end to Colombia's civil strife
through a peace agreement with the various insurgent groups a central
goal of his Administration. Pastrana believes, and the United States
Government agrees, that ending the civil conflict and eliminating all
of that conflict's harmful side effects is central to solving
Colombia's multifaceted problems. A peace agreement would stabilize
the nation, help Colombia's economy to recover and allow for further
improvement in the protection of human rights. A successful peace
process would also restore Colombian government authority and control
in the coca-growing region.
"Peace at any price" is fool's gold. We applaud the Colombian
Government's determination to press the guerrillas to cease their
practices of kidnapping, forced recruitment of children, and attacks
against the civilian population. We have made clear to all parties
that the peace process must support and not interfere with
counternarcotics cooperation, and that any agreement must permit
continued expansion of all aspects of this cooperation.
The return of David Mankins, Mark Rich and Richard Tenenoff,
missionaries from the New Tribes Mission (NTM) organization, who were
kidnapped on January 31, 1993, remains a high priority for the U.S.
Government. We hold the FARC responsible for this kidnapping and we
call again on the FARC to provide a full accounting of the whereabouts
and the status of these missionaries.
We repeat our demand that the FARC turn over to the proper authorities
those responsible for the brutal and senseless March 4 murder of three
U.S. citizen indigenous rights activists. We have demanded a complete
investigation by legitimate law enforcement entities. In particular,
the investigation needs to identify all those responsible for the
murder of the three U.S. activists. We have insisted that the
Government of Venezuela and the Government of Colombia identify and
prosecute those individuals responsible for this heinous crime. Both
governments have been receptive to our requests and are pursuing
efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
Regarding State Department contacts with the FARC, let me remind you
that we initiated those contacts at the request of the Pastrana
government in order to promote a peace process we all support, and to
press directly the FARC for an accounting of three NTM missionaries.
After the tragic killings of the three Americans we immediately
suspended those contacts, and they remain suspended today.
During my recent trip to Colombia, President Pastrana requested USG
collaboration in Colombia's effort to further refine a comprehensive
strategy to address the inter-related problems that confront Colombia.
In response to that request, we worked closely with the GOC as it
formulated its comprehensive strategy. The GOC graciously shared a
draft of their strategy, which we reviewed to ascertain how the USG
can best help President Pastrana and the Colombian people implement
the strategy.
The GOC will fund the bulk of the $7.5 billion strategy, but seeks
supplementary support of up to $3.5 billion from the international
community. The U.S. Government has already been helpful in addressing
Colombia's needs. We are reviewing within the Administration
Colombia's plan now in order to determine whether and in what
additional ways U.S. support is justified. We are discussing how we
can use existing authorities and funds to support counternarcotics
operations. We are ready to work with the Colombians to assess their
strategy and the optimum ways in which the U.S. can assist in the
GOC's efforts to resolve its systemic national problems, many of which
adversely impact upon U.S. citizens and businesses. We are also
considering how to engage the IFIs, the European Union and other
potential donors.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members, the Administration has been
pleased by the bipartisan support from both houses that share our
concern for Colombia's future and our recognition that this is a key
moment in which to contribute to a positive course of events. Recent
letters from the Administration to the leadership and other key
congressmen have ratified that sense of bipartisan commitment so badly
needed if we are to deal with the problems, which Colombia poses for
us and our people. Concerted action now could help over time to stem
the illicit narcotics flow to the United States. Action now can
contribute to a peaceful resolution of a half-century of conflict.
Action now could return Colombia to its rightful historical place as
one of the hemisphere's strongest democracies.
(end text)

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