Dan Burton, Chairman of the
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee
Drug Policy, Criminal Justice, and Human Resources
August 6, 1999
"The Crisis in Colombia"
Thank you for allowing me to testify at this important hearing on the
terrible situation in Colombia. I'm joined at the witness table by my
good friend Chairman Gilman, who has been a partner of mine for many
years in trying to bring this situation to the attention of the
American people and an apathetic Clinton Administration.
Colombia is important because, should democracy fall there, and a
narco-state prevail, or a Marxist -led government run by the FARC
narco-terrorists succeed democracy, we are at severe risk here in the
United States. Colombia is the oldest democracy in Latin America. It
has vast oil reserves and plenty of untapped natural resources. The
strategic importance of Colombia to the United States is that it
controls access to the isthmus of Panama, which will control the
Panama Canal in a few months. The world's economies rely on access to
the Canal. Should Colombia's democracy fall, the result could be a
domino effect through all of Central America. Is all of this likely to
happen? Probably not, but could it? Absolutely.
The time for action has been upon us for some time. I am encouraged
that there is finally some concern by this administration. They are
finally recognizing the need for a source-country strategy in response
to the influx of hard drugs on American streets and schoolyards.
Chairman Gilman, Speaker Hastert and myself have been writing letters
and holding hearings for nearly three years trying to get someone in
the White House to pay attention. Instead of a source-country
strategy, we have gotten an unbalanced approach, heavy on domestic
treatment and prevention -- which statistics show has failed -- and
light on interdiction and eradication -- which is the preference of
law enforcement. It is unfortunate that it took the tragic deaths of
five US Army personnel in Colombia to enlightened this administration
that there is a problem there.
Colombian President Pastrana has underestimated the FARC's
capabilities. He has overestimated his own ability to hold together a
shaky democracy marred by four decades of civil strife and supported
by a false economy based in large part on money from
narco-trafficking. By capitulating to the FARC demands in the peace
negotiations, Pastrana, and Colombia's democracy, are in worse shape
now than when the peace process began.
Someone needs to ask, what does the FARC gain from peace? The answer
is -- nothing.
Currently, the FARC has an estimated income of $100 million per month
from facilitating narcotrafficking, kidnaping, and extortion. They
have a demilitarized zone the size of Indiana where guenilla-style
cowardly attacks are planned and launched, and where attackers can
vanish back into oblivion. They have the Pastrana government exactly
where they want it -- hunkered down absorbing repeated attacks, with
little ability to respond. Clearly, the FARC has no incentive to reach
peace, and Colombia has endured a year's worth of escalated violence
to prove it.
Absent a peace strategy of its own, the U.S. State Department has
blindly backed Pastrana's fledgling peace efforts. At Pastrana's
request, American diplomats negotiated with and legitimized FARC
leaders last December. This is the same FARC the State Department
placed on its own list of world terrorist organizations. Despite this,
one American diplomat continued contact with the FARC leaders even
after the murder of the three Americans in March.
The lack of counter-narcotics strategy by the Clinton Administration
has never been more evident than in Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's $1
billion aid package (this is less than one year's income for the
FARC). This money targets the Colombian Army rampant with allegations
of human rights abuses. In Colombia in 1997, General McCaffrey, said
he supported Black Hawk helicopters for the Colombian National Police.
The CNP are world-renowned as the best counter-narcotics police in the
world. However, days later in Washington, General McCaffrey opposed
counter-narcotics aid to Colombia, the world's top drug-producing
nation. He wrote that Black Hawks would "threaten to undermine the
objectives of the United States international counterdrug policy."
[Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter General McCaffrey's October,
1997, letters, into the record at this point.] How could Black Hawk
helicopters hurt our counterdrug effort? He then complained that
Chairman Gilman and myself were trying to "micro-manage" the War on
Simply put, there is no War on Drugs being waged by this
administration -- unless you count the nearly $200 million General
McCaffrey spends annually for ONDCP television ads and these frisbees
and key chains up front on the easel. This is more than we spent on
our counter, narcotics efforts in Colombia, the source of more than 80
percent of the cocaine and 75 percent of the heroin in the United
States. Counter-narcotics aid to Colombia has been abysmally low,
until this year when Chairman Gilman and I were successful at getting
Black Hawks funded for the Colombian National Police. General
McCaffrey should have been developing a heroin strategy, but the fact
of the matter is, there has been no heroin strategy from this
administration. The Republican Congress has been forced to do the
administration's job -- and then fight to get the necessary equipment
down there. [Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter several op-ed pieces
into the record to clearly establish that Congress recognized the
heroin problem several years ago, and has attempted to force a
reluctant Clinton Administration to even address the issue.]
General McCaffrey has just returned from Colombia, and surely he will
present you with his firsthand account of the situation. News reports
quote him as proposing a $1 billion course of action which will help
save Colombia from both the narco-traffickers and the FARC terrorists.
$1 billion is a lot of money, but it is less than the estimated $1.2
billion the FARC takes in every year from drugs, kidnaping and
General McCaffrey's proposal undoubtedly includes funds to stand-up a
Colombian Army capable of counter-narcotics operations, which sounds
good on the surface. But given the tainted human rights record of the
Colombian Army -- even in vetted units -- it is unlikely aid to them
would pass the Administration's litmus test of "the spirit of Leahy."
This, of course, is the law named after the Senator from Vermont,
prohibiting lethal assistance without cutting through a mountain of
bureaucratic red tape. This is the favorite first obstacle State
usually places in front of any assistance to Colombia. The Colombian
Army, while understandably a pet project for a former CINC SOUTHCOM,
is in tatters, and even the Pentagon estimates it would take a
Herculean effort and more than five years to vet, train, and equip, a
Colombian Army capable of handling this mission. Regrettably, Colombia
may not have five years of democracy left.
The good news is there is a group in Colombia who are already in
place, are well-trained, and are willing to do what needs to be done
to fight our war on drugs. They are the Colombian National Police
(CNP), headed by legendary General Jose Serrano. In a poll in last
week's Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, Serrano's popularity (71
percent) is second only to the Catholic Church (77 percent).
Colombians proudly say, "after my God ... my General Serrano." General
Serrano's men have a clean human rights record, and the desire to do
the job right. All they need is the equipment.
Mr. Chairman, actions speak louder than words. This administration has
promised Chairman Gilman and myself more than 40 new helicopters for
the Colombian National Police since 1996. As of this morning, only two
are on the flight line in Colombia. Why can't the State Department get
these helicopters to General Serrano?
Mr. Chairman, out of curiosity, I checked with the Indiana Army
National Guard. They have 32 Hueys and 7 Black Hawk helicopters.
Today, General, Serrano only has 23 operating helicopters to cover his
entire country, where 95 percent of his missions require helicopters,
the size of Texas and Kansas combined. Before Congress embraces or
considers General McCaffrey's $1 billion aid package shouldn't the
administration be forced to, make good on its commitments to General
Serrano and the Congress regarding helicopters for the Colombian
National Police? Congress has many questions. But General Serrano has
more than 4,000 questions, representing the lives of the men he has
lost fighting our war on drugs.
The State Department's record on delivery of assistance to the CNP is
abysmal at best. Even if we passed this proposal today, and worked
every day for the next year, General McCaffrey knows there is no way
that aid could reach Colombia next year, either due to incompetence,
or a lack of will at the State Department. Clearly, this is an effort
to say the Clinton Administration finally did something about drugs
before next year's election cycle. It is coming way too late.
This chart shows the string of unkept promises by this administration.
It could be much longer, but we chose only to highlight the helicopter
situation. [Mr. Chairman, I would like to insert this stack of unkept
State Department promises, including dozens of letters on everything
from ammunition, to weapons, to helicopters into the record at this
I will turn my attention to the State Department's insatiable desire
to mislead Congress on what is actually happening in Colombia. The
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement has a history of
incompetence and inability to deliver counter-narcotics assistance,
which is its job.
Every new Assistant Secretary who comes in, Secretary Beers included,
says they cannot be responsible for the actions of the previous
secretary. Secretary Beers, the buck stops here. You have told me and
my staff on a number of occasions that the first tranche of 35 new
Huey II helicopters would be in Colombia last fall, then in March,
then April, then June, then July. Now it's
August. When are they going to get there? I was told, by Ambassador
Robert Gelbard, in September of 1996, that ten of these were going to
be delivered. That was three years ago. There are only two on the
flight line this morning. There have been four Huey II's ready for
shipment from Alabama for a number of weeks now. Why haven't these
Huey II's been delivered?
Your department dropped the ball on this, and it isn't the first time.
In June of last year you sold Mr. Hastert, Mr. Callahan, and Mr.
Souder, on trading 3 Black Hawks for 6 Bell 212's and 10 Huey II
helicopters. Chairman Gilman and myself reluctantly accepted your
compromise because you gave us your word. Today, I am told by
Narcotics Affairs Section personnel in Colombia, 4 of these 6 Bell
212's are not flying. Secretary Beers, despite your testimony at the
International Relations Committee in March, they have never had more
than 4 in the air at the same time. Chairman Gilman, I'm sure,
remembers it very vividly as well. You told us, "Congressmen, I can
assure you these will not be hangar queens."
Look at these photos. Look at the condition these helicopters were in
when Secretary Beers gave them to the CNP. They have spent several
million dollars to repair these aging helicopters. Further, INL got
rid of these helicopters just before they are scheduled to go down
again for six more months for their mandatory five-year check-up. Will
these piles of metal ever be of use to General Serrano?
General McCaffrey would have to rely on this same State Department
crowd to get his $1 billion aid package delivered. By the time this
assistance would arrive. in Colombia, we would be trying to figure out
who is going to be in the last helicopter off the roof of the American
Embassy in Bogota.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I am glad Colombia is finally on the
radar screen of this administration. Maybe someone at the White House,
will finally hear my pleas to get General Serrano the helicopters and
equipment he needs. I just hope the 4,000 CNP officers have not died
in vain, and that democracy will prevail.