Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), June 22, 2000
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I have followed the issue of narcotrafficking and other international crimes for years, particularly during my tenure as chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations, Narcotics and Terrorism. Although I have many concerns about this piece of legislation, I believe we have a chance here to provide support to a Colombian administration trying to address its largest problem--drug trafficking.

The line between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency is not at all clear in Colombia, but we cannot let this stop our extension of aid. Withholding aid is not an option. In doing so, we would send the message to Colombia, our important ally in the war on drugs, that when the going gets tough, they must go it alone. We must be very clear: the terrible human rights conditions in Colombia are inextricably tied to the narcoterrorists. That won't change overnight with our support of this assistance package, but it won't change at all without our help. And just as important as our support for this package will be our continuing oversight of its implementation. If human rights abuses continue, or if we begin to get embroiled in the counterinsurgency efforts, the Senate must remain vigilant, ending the program if necessary. But we cannot simply turn our backs and walk away.

Civil conflict in Colombia has worn on for half a century as the government has fought narcoterrorists for control of the country. Opposition groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] and the National Liberation Army has made a business of guerrilla warfare and continue to terrorize the civilian population. Paramilitary groups, formed in the 1980's as anti-guerrilla forces, have resorted to many of the same terror tactics. Opposition and paramilitary groups control much of the country and the vast majority of the drug producing areas. It is clear that drug money fuels the fighting. In the last decade, this conflict has claimed over 35,000 lives and has created a population of over a million and a half internally displaced persons.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana, in sharp contrast to his recent predecessor, is trying to improve human rights conditions and promote democracy, under extremely difficult conditions. Under Pastrana, the Colombian Government has begun the first peace talks ever with the FARC. Though the talks have been slow moving and have encountered setbacks, Pastrana has clearly made the peace process a top priority.

Plan Colombia was developed by President Pastrana as a comprehensive approach to strengthening the Colombian economy and promoting democracy, with heavy emphasis on fighting drug trafficking. In my view, any successful approach to Colombia's myriad of problems will require a strong counterdrug effort. The United States contribution to Plan Colombia, as proposed by the administration, does this.

Let us be clear, however, that the drug trade in Colombia is not simply a Colombian problem. The United States is the largest and most reliable market for the Colombian cocaine and heroin that is at the center of this conflict. We have approximately 5.8 million cocaine users and 1.4.

million heroin users. Based on the most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimates, fourteen million Americans are current drug users. Clearly we are making a large contribution to the problem and should therefore contribute to finding a solution.

The United States must seize the opportunity presented by President Pastrana's current efforts to fight drug trafficking and bring stability to Colombia. This legislation offers us a chance to play a constructive role in Colombia while simultaneously promoting American interests.

The Plan addresses the major components of the problem. `Push into Southern Colombia' is designated to affect the major growing and production areas in the South. It provides for the training of special dedicated narcotics battalions, and the purchase of helicopters for troop transport and interdiction. To complement this effort, interdiction tools will also be upgraded, including aircraft, airfields, early warning radar and intelligence gathering. The Plan also provides increased funding for eradication of coca and poppy, and the promotion of alternative crop development and employment. Perhaps most importantly, the Plan calls for and provides resources for increasing protection of human rights, expanding the rule of law, and promoting the peace process.

As I outlined earlier, Colombia's situation is bleak, and this may be its last chance to begin to dig its way out. If we fail to support aid to Colombia, we can only sit back and watch it deteriorate even further. This Plan presents a unique opportunity to support the Colombian Government's effort to address its problems while at the same time promoting U.S. interests. The Colombian Government, despite immense obstacles, has begun to address significant human rights concerns and is working to instill the rule of law and democratic institutions. Though the United States is not in the business of fighting insurgents, we are in the business of fighting drugs, and this is clearly an opportunity to work with a willing partner in doing so.

While I support a United States contribution to helping Colombia, I believe that if we are going to commit, we must do so in the context of an ongoing process under constant review to respond to changing needs.

My first concern is the fine line that exists between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, particularly since they are so intertwined in Colombia. It is impossible to attack drug trafficking in Colombia without seriously undercutting the insurgents' operations. We must acknowledge that the more involved in Colombia's counternarcotics efforts we become the more we will become involved in its counterinsurgency, regardless of our intentions to steer clear of it. But, because the drug trade is the most destabilizing factor in Colombia, our cooperation with the government will over the long run, advance the development and expansion of democracy, and will limit the insurgents' ability to terrorize the civilian population. But our military involvement in Colombia should go no further than this. Efforts to limit number of personnel are designed to address this.

I appreciate the concerns expressed by my colleagues that the United States contribution to Plan Colombia

is skewed in favor of the military, but we must keep in mind that our contribution is only a percentage of the total Plan. The total Plan Colombia price tag is approximately $7.5 billion. The Colombian Government has already committed $4 billion to the Plan, and has secured donations and loans from the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Andean Development Corporation, and the Latin American Reserve Fund. As part of our contribution, and to balance military aid, the United States must continue to support Colombian requests for additional funding from international financial institutions and other EU donors. We must also continue to implement stringent human rights vetting and end-use monitoring agreements, and make sure that our Colombia policy does not end with the extension of aid.

Second, I am concerned that even if the Plan is successful at destroying coca production and reducing the northward flow of drugs, large numbers of coca farmers will be displaced, worsening the current crisis of internally displaced people in Colombia. Colombia has the largest population of internally displaced persons in the world, estimated at over one and half million in November 1999. Seventy percent of those displaced are children, and the vast majority of them no longer attend school. There is every indication that as Plan Colombia is implemented, this population may grow. This problem underscores the importance of supporting the Colombians in their efforts to secure economic aid for alternative development. Unless we strongly support loans and additional donations, the danger remains that desperate farmers will simply move across the borders into Peru and Bolivia, and undo all the eradication progress that has been made in those areas.

My third major concern with respect to this aid package is that it does not adequately address Colombia's human rights problem. The Colombian Government has made a real effort to address human rights and to promote the rule of law. Pastrana has worked to root out members of the military who have committed gross violations of human rights, and has suspended a number of high-level officers. He has also attacked corruption in the legislature, and has come under heavy fire for doing so. Despite this progress, there is no question that recent events in Colombia have raised some cause for concern. The Colombian Government's unfortunate decision to send back to the legislature a bill to criminalize genocide and forced disappearance was a significant setback for the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. I would like to commend my colleagues on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for bolstering the human rights component of this legislation. In addition to requiring additional reporting from the Secretary of State on the human rights practices of the Colombian security forces, Senator Leahy's provisions for human rights programs in the Colombian police and judiciary, a witness protection program and additional human rights monitors in our embassy and Bogota, and Senator Harkin's provision to provide $5 million to Colombian NGOs to protect child soldiers, demonstrate our commitment to improving the human rights situation.

Despite my reservations, the potential benefits of this plan are too large to ignore. In light of the changes made by the committee, I believe the plan can help advance United States interests by reducing drug trafficking and thereby promoting stability and democracy in Colombia. We must now work

to ensure that our concerns do not become realities. Recognizing that we are not the sole contributors to this Plan, we must support Colombia's requests for additional aid from our allies, and work closely with them to ensure that additional aid complements our efforts in the areas of human rights and strengthening the rule of law. The committee report recognizes the importance of reducing the drug trade first to build confidence among the Colombian people that progress can be made in other important areas such as economic development and democracy.

Plan Colombia's counterdrug focus will also benefit the United States by reducing the flow of drugs to the United States. The United States is faced with a serious drug problem which must be attacked at both ends--supply and demand. Our consideration of counterdrug aid to Colombia should force us to look inward, reexamine our domestic counterdrug plan, and find ways strengthen it.

The United States has long been the cocaine traffickers' largest and most reliable market, fueling continued and expanded cultivation and production. Without addressing the problem here at home, we present no reason to expect that the growers and traffickers will not continue to shift their operations to maintain access to their best market.

Increasing funding and expanding drug treatment and prevention programs are absolutely imperative if we are to coordinate an effective counterdrug campaign, particularly if we are to expect any real improvement in the situation in Colombia. Levels of drug abuse in the United States have remained unacceptably high, despite stepped-up interdiction efforts and increased penalties for drug offenders.

Our criminal justice system is flooded with drug offenders. Three-quarters of all prisoners can be characterized as alcohol or drug involved offenders. An estimated 16 percent of convicted jail inmates committed their offense to get money for drugs, and approximately 70 percent of prisoners were actively involved with drugs prior to their incarceration.

America's drug problem is not limited to our hardened criminals. The 1997 National Household Survey revealed that 77 million, or 36 percent of Americans aged 12 and older reported some use of an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime. The statistics in U.S. high schools are even more disturbing. According to a 1998 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 54 percent of high school seniors reported that they had used an illicit drug at least once and 41.4 percent reported use of an illicit drug within the past year.

As we support Colombia's efforts to attack the sources of illegal drugs, we need to make sure we are addressing our own problems. According to recent estimates, approximately five million drug users needed immediate treatment in 1998 while only 2.1 million received it. It was also found that some populations--adolescents, women with small children, and racial and ethnic minorities--are badly underserved by treatment programs. Only 37 percent of substance-abusing mothers of minors received treatment in 1997. Drug offenders, when released from jail, are often not ready or equipped to deal with a return to social pressures and many return to their old habits if they are not provided with effective treatment while incarcerated and the social safety net they so desperately need upon release.

It is clear that drug treatment works, and there is no excuse for the high numbers of addicts who have been unable to receive treatment. As we increase funding for supply reduction programs in Colombia, we must increase funding for treatment to balance and complement it. Drug research has made significant strides in recent years, and there are a variety of treatment options now available to help even the most hardcore addicts. These treatments have been successful in the lab studies. Now we must allow these methods to be successful in helping the population for whom they were developed. Access to drug abuse treatment in the United States is abysmal when compared to the resources we have to provide it.

The administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy argues that a balanced approach that addresses both demand reduction and cutting off supply at the source is necessary to significantly reduce drug abuse in America. While Plan Colombia works to cut off the drug supply, we must balance that with increased funding for drug abuse prevention and better treatment programs that reach more of the population that so desperately needs it.

Plan Colombia is an opportunity to help an important ally attack the sources of illegal drug production reduce the flow of cocaine and heroin to the United States. The United States must stay engaged with the Pastrana government and support its critical efforts to combat drug trafficking. Instead of being limited by our reservations, we must use them to carefully craft a policy that addresses economic development, political stability, human rights and the rule of law. Drug trafficking is the major obstacle to the advancement of these goals, and it must be curbed if any progress is to be made in our drug war at home.

As of June 25, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S22JN0-125:
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