R. Rand Beers Acting Assistant Secretary of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Statement before the House International Relations Committee
March 31, 1998, Washington, DC
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity this hearing provides to give you an update on the Administration's comprehensive counternarcotics program in Colombia. Much has happened in the 8 months since Ambassador Jane Becker testified before the Subcommittee on National Security and Criminal Justice of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight in July, 1997. We have reached a point in our Andean programs where it appears possible, for the first time, to have a serious impact on the supply of illegal drugs to the United States. Success in decreasing coca cultivation in Bolivia and Peru, coupled with the willingness of the Colombian National Police (CNP) to aggressively attack narcotics trafficking in all its forms, gives us an unprecedented opportunity that we must take advantage of. At the same time we face a ruthless, violent enemy in the various drug trafficking organizations who are willing to break any law, violate any nation's sovereignty, and employ any means to make a profit at the expense of millions of innocent people, many of them children.
We are nearing completion of a new, ambitious strategy to attack narcotics trafficking in Colombia on all fronts. This strategy will coordinate efforts by various members of the interagency group and our Colombian partners into a cohesive effort across the broad spectrum of counternarcotics activities. To implement it, we will need the active cooperation of the Colombian Government, both for the remainder of the Samper Administration and after the inauguration of a new president in August. The need for this improved cooperation prompted our decision to certify Colombia on the basis of vital national interests in 1998. We believe the additional flexibility that a vital national interests certification gives us in providing assistance to and working with the Colombian Government is essential as we embark on an ambitious program.
This new program will, of course, require an increase in U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Colombia. We must have maximum flexibility in the INL budget to finance the program. I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, as well as other distinguished members of the committee, for the strong support you have always provided for our counternarcotics programs. I am sure we can continue to count on that support in the future, and believe that it will be even more necessary as we launch our new strategy.
On March 1, the President decided to certify Colombia's counternarcotics performance for the past year on the basis of vital U.S. national interests. Although the Government of Colombia made important progress in some areas in 1997, the U.S. Government could not certify Colombia as fully cooperating with the United States on drug control, or as having taken adequate steps on its own to meet the goals and objectives of the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Failure to enact a law on extradition which included retroactivity could forever shield some major narcotics traffickers from justice in the U.S. Lack of a concentrated effort to combat official narcotics-related corruption and lagging enforcement of strong counternarcotics laws also argued against certification.
However, the vital national interests of the United States require U.S. assistance to Colombia's counternarcotics programs. The continuing dominance of Colombian cartels in the cocaine industry, their growing role in the heroin trade, and the growing role of the guerrillas and paramilitary groups in illicit drug production make the challenges in Colombia greater than ever before. To meet these challenges, we need to work even more closely with the Government of Colombia to expand joint eradication efforts in new coca-growing areas in southern Colombia and in opium cultivation zones, to enhance interdiction, and to strengthen the criminal justice system. We have a unique opportunity with significant U.S.-supplied assets deployed and the commitment of the CNP and elements of the armed forces to strong efforts in these areas. However, they will need increased resources and training to perform these tasks adequately. Strong leadership must come from the Colombian Government to reform and defend essential democratic institutions, such as the country's judiciary.
In making the decision to provide a vital national interests certification to Colombia this year, we were mindful of the deteriorating security and human rights environment in Colombia, the threat to that country's democracy, and the threat this instability and violence pose to Colombia's neighbors and to regional stability. These dangers require that we be in a position to fully support Colombia's counternarcotics efforts. Vital national interests certification is necessary so that the U.S. can broaden and deepen its engagement with this and the next Colombian Government in an effort to effectively confront and eliminate narcotrafficking.
Colombia has become the single largest recipient of U.S. counternarcotics aid, over $53 million in INL funds alone in FY 1997, and more than $95 million in total assistance.
We believe we are receiving an excellent return on our investment. The additional equipment and operating funds provided by the U.S. enabled the Colombian National Police to achieve impressive results. In 1997, the CNP, with U.S. Government assistance, eradicated more coca and opium poppy than any country in the world, ever. Simultaneously, it registered significant increases in the amount of cocaine seized, and made several important arrests of major traffickers. The superb cooperation provided by the CNP, selected units of the Colombian military and some members of the Colombian Government across the whole range of counternarcotics programs gives us reason to believe that our programs can be productively expanded in Colombia.
Recent events and trends in narcotrafficking in South America coupled with program successes by the U.S. and regional states offer the U.S. and our allies the challenge and opportunity to deliver a major and unprecedented blow to the cartels in 1998 and beyond. These factors include:
Into the Future--A New Strategy
We now have an extraordinary window of opportunity to capitalize on positive developments.
Outside Colombia, we would continue the highly successful air interdiction effort in Peru, while supporting alternative development programs. This element consolidates the major success in reducing coca cultivation in Peru and seeks further reduction. We would also expand eradication operations in Bolivia, capitalizing on recent successes and the intention of President Banzer's Government to eliminate coca cultivation.
Within Colombia, we would greatly expand air and surface interdiction, and eradication of coca and opium poppy. This would allow us to close the northern end of the air bridge, go after new coca cultivation, reduce the opium poppy crop, and attack trafficking across the board. Beginning with an enhanced intelligence capability, our effort will result in better support of eradication and interdiction operations and in the identification and dismantling of key trafficking organizations operating within the Colombian source zone.
Finally, we would strengthen law enforcement efforts, legislation to control narcotics trafficking, and administration of justice in Colombia.
These elements are mutually reinforcing and taken together represent the opportunity to present the traffickers with a relentless, multi-pronged assault on their command and control structure, cultivation, manufacturing and transportation infrastructure, assets and distribution networks.
Finally, this counternarcotics strategy will remain a part of our broader bilateral agenda to help Colombia in its efforts to create a viable peace process and end the civil violence which provides cover for the narcotics traffickers to operate.
Funding--The Bottom Line
This ambitious new strategy will require additional, flexible funding beyond the $30 million we had designated for Colombia in our January notification to Congress. We estimate these program increases at $21 million, and that is a conservative estimate. In that regard, INL would be hamstrung by the $36 million directed in report language accompanying the FY 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill to be spent on 3 Black Hawk helicopters for the Colombian National Police.
We hope that we can count on the support of the Committee in this endeavor, which we believe offers us the best hope of making a serious impact on the supply of illegal narcotics to the United States market.
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