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Peace and Security in Colombia

Opening Remarks By Lino Gutierrez
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Woodrow Wilson International Center
International Crisis Group
U.S. Institute of Peace

June 20, 2002

 

Thank you for that generous introduction, and for inviting me to participate in this conference, which comes at a particularly significant point in U.S.-Colombia relations.

I understand that the purpose of this meeting is to explore the security, economic and political dimensions of conflict resolution in Colombia. Building on the progress made under President Pastrana, the incoming Uribe administration faces tremendous challenges. It must provide for increased security, strengthen democratic institutions, promote economic recovery and improve the observance of human rights. It must also find the increased resources that will be needed to do this.

This conference contributes to those goals by providing an opportunity to exchange views on how we can best help Colombia and the incoming administration of President-elect Uribe to address the tremendous challenges that he and his country face. To explore these issues, I want to describe what the Administration is doing and hopes to do in order to support progress towards their resolution.

Note that I said "progress toward their resolution," and we intend to work with the Colombian government for this, but with the realistic recognition that there are no easy or quick solutions.

The first thing that needs to be recognized is that no single explanation fully addresses the deep roots of Colombia's present-day troubles, but they include limited government presence in large areas of the interior, the expansion of illicit drug cultivation, endemic violence and social inequities.

The United States policy towards Colombia seeks to help Colombia establish control over its national territory in order to develop a prosperous democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law and is free from narcotics production and trafficking and terrorism.

With strong support from the United States, the administration of Andres Pastrana embarked on its "Plan Colombia" in 1999 to address these multiple ills. Although widely described as a counternarcotics program, "Plan Colombia" was a comprehensive effort by Colombia to deal in a holistic way with the country's longstanding, mutually reinforcing problems. The primary objectives of "Plan Colombia" were to promote peace, combat the narcotics industry, revive the Colombian economy, improve respect for human rights and strengthen the democratic and social institutions of the country. The Pastrana administration deserves credit for its articulation of these goals and its programs to implement them; these programs were generally accepted by all the candidates in the recent elections as the basis for many of their own proposals.

Having said that, it is also important to note that Alvaro Uribe won election without a runoff -- a first in recent Colombian history – by campaigning on a platform that promised a more vigorous program to combat narcotics trafficking and terrorism. His message quite clearly resonated with the Colombian electorate. By the end of the peace process with the FARC in February, it had become clear to all that the FARC had no interest in a real peace or serious negotiations.

Our meeting here today comes as a number of developments are taking place. The Administration continues to urge early adoption by the Congress of renewed Andean trade preferences and is optimistic of its passage.

More immediately, President-elect Uribe is completing a week in the United States where he will have met in New York with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and here in Washington with President Bush, National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and ONDCP Director Walters, Assistant Secretary Reich, as well as congressional leaders. This has given us an opportunity to learn more of his plans and to discuss the role of future U.S. support.  Before talking about that role, let me review what has been accomplished with Colombia so far:

The United States has trained and equipped the Colombian Army's counternarcotics brigade, which has destroyed over 800 coca base laboratories and 21 HCL (hydrochloride) laboratories and provided security for aerial eradication operations in southern Colombia. UIT Colombia, we sprayed a record 84,000 hectares of coca cultivation in 2001 and have set a goal of 150,000 hectares in 2002.

In 2001, the Colombian government extradited for trial in the United States 23 Colombian nationals here on serious narcotics charges.

Through Colombia's Ministry of Interior, we have funded a program that has provided protection to nearly 1700 Colombians whose lives were threatened, including human rights workers, labor activists and journalists.

The U.S. government-funded Early Warning System alerts Colombian authorities to threats of potential massacres or other human rights abuses. While still incomplete and not perfect, it has made a difference.

Working with non-governmental organizations and international agencies, the U.S. has provided assistance to 330,000 Colombians displaced by violence since mid-2001.

Our program to demobilize child soldiers has helped 272 children to re-integrate into society; this is a small beginning but one that we hope will grow. One of the most egregious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law is the forced recruitment of children, especially by the FARC.  

We have helped the Colombian government implement programs to reform its administration of justice and strengthen local government.   We have opened 20 "Casas de Justicia" to provide cost-effective legal services in poor neighborhoods.

And we are helping the Prosecutor General's Office set up human rights units throughout the country to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses.

We also remain committed to alternative development as a key component of our overall effort in Colombia. Promoting alternative development has not been easy. The security situation is a major obstacle and in most cases there is no alternative agricultural production that can match the income derived from coca production. Because the results we had hoped for were not being achieved, we are now making adjustments to our program. This includes working more closely with individual

communities to tailor programs to help with needs they identify or to fund activities which improve the economic potential of isolated regions, such as Putumayo, and boost the temporary employment and income of rural residents.

As we move forward on these refocused programs, we will need to keep in mind the recent GAO report on alternative development in Colombia, which noted: "without interdiction and eradication as disincentives, growers are unlikely to abandon more lucrative and easily cultivated coca crops in favor of less profitable and harder-to-grow licit corps or to pursue legal employment."

U.S. support has been a key component of Colombian efforts. Since July 2000, the United States has provided Colombia with $1.7 billion to combat narcotics trafficking and terrorism, strengthen democratic institutions and human rights, foster socio-economic development and mitigate the impact of the violence on Colombian civilians. This includes $380.5 million approved by Congress in the FY-02 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act to continue these programs.

The Department of State has asked for $439 million in its FY-03 budget request, again for these and similar programs. Also, in the FY-02 emergency supplemental, the Department of State has requested $35 million for three initiatives in Colombia: $4 million to support re-establishment of a Colombian National Police presence in areas it had been forced to abandon; $25 million in anti-terrorism and anti-kidnapping program funding and $6 million to jump-start training for Colombian army units designated to protect a vital oil pipeline. The House and the Senate are shortly to meet in a conference committee to reconcile differences in the emergency supplemental legislation each has passed.

In addition to the $439 million for FY-03 I mentioned just a moment ago, we are also asking Congress for $98 million to train and equip Colombian military and police units protecting the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline. This proposal, which goes beyond our already established programs in Colombia, is intended to help the Colombian government defend a vital economic asset threatened by terrorist attacks and whose closure for over 240 days during 2001 resulted in nearly $500

million in foregone revenues and royalties lost, funds that otherwise would have contributed to the country's legitimate economy and to social and economic development programs. Often overlooked, oil spills as a result of attacks on the pipeline have caused serious environmental damage.

The proposed change that has caused the most commentary is the Administration's March 21 request to the Congress for new legal authorities to address the intertwined terrorist and narcotics problems, the relation being something that perhaps we had not previously appreciated adequately.

As you know, Colombia's 40-million-plus citizens and its democracy are under sustained assault by three narco-terrorist groups: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); the National Liberation Army (ELN); and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces (AUC). These three groups in varying degrees regularly engage in massacres, kidnappings and attacks on key infrastructure. To support their terrorist activities they -- and the FARC and AUC especially – are intimately involved in every facet of narcotics trafficking, including cultivation, processing and transportation.

President Bush recognized this link when he stated on April 18, after meeting with President Pastrana, that "we've put the FARC, AUC on our terrorist list. We've called them for what they are. These are killers, who use killing and intimidation to foster political means ... by fighting narco-trafficking we're fighting the funding sources for these political terrorists."

Along these lines, I would note that yesterday the State Department expressed its appreciation to the Government of Suriname for having expelled into the custody of the United States a Colombian narcotics trafficker and member of the FARC 16th Front who had been indicted in March 2002 for being engaged in cocaine trafficking into the United States.

Polls in Colombia have consistently shown that these groups have only minimal public support. As in Africa, where the proceeds from illicit diamond sales have been used to fund violence and intimidation, in Colombia it is narcotics that provides the fuel. This is why a unified approach, one that recognizes the cross-cutting relation between narcotics trafficking and terrorism, is needed.  The new authorities the Administration is asking of Congress would allow us to:

address the problem of terrorism in Colombia as vigorously as we currently address narcotics; and

help the Colombian government confront the heightened terrorist risk that has resulted from the end of the FARC demilitarized zone.

The primary difference between what we do now and what we hope to do is that we are asking Congress to authorize the use of equipment previously made available to Colombia for counternarcotics purposes - and in particular, helicopters and the battalion the U.S. has trained and supported - for counterterrorism operations.

Expanding the authorities for the use of aircraft and other assets to cover terrorist and other threats to Colombia's democracy does not promise a short-term solution. It is not a silver bullet. However, if approved, this will give us the flexibility we need to help the Colombian government respond to this threat more efficiently and more effectively in the shortest possible time, with resources already in Colombia.  This new initiative does not mean a retreat from our concern about human rights, nor does it mean an open-ended U.S. commitment in Colombia. Specifically:

We will not stop the human rights vetting of all Colombian military units receiving U.S. assistance;

We will not exceed the 400-person cap on U.S. military personnel providing support to Plan Colombia nor the 400-person cap on U.S. civilian contractors;

We will not send U.S. combat troops to Colombia. President Bush has made this crystal-clear.

Human rights concerns have been and will remain a central element in U.S. policy toward Colombia. In meetings in Colombia with senior civilian and military officials, including with President-elect Uribe, U.S. officials, including Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner, and Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich have regularly stressed the need for Colombia to improve its human rights performance and sever remaining military-paramilitary ties.  We believe our human rights message is making a difference:

The counternarcotics brigade that we trained and equipped has compiled an unblemished human rights record to date.

President Pastrana and Armed Forces Commander Tapias have repeatedly denounced collusion between elements of the Colombian military and the paramilitary terrorists.

The Colombian military captured 590 paramilitaries and killed 92 in combat last year, three times more than the previous year.

Still, too many Colombians continue to suffer abuses by state security forces or by terrorist groups acting in collusion with them. Tose responsible for such actions must be brought to justice. The establishment of the rule of law and personal security for all Colombians will not be created through human rights abuses or impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes.

Under Section 567 of the FY-02 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, the Secretary of State is required to certify as to the Government of Colombia's progress in meeting three human rights-related conditions:

that Colombian Armed Forces members who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights or to have aided or abetted paramilitary groups are being suspended;

that the Colombian Armed Forces are cooperating with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities in prosecuting and punishing in civilian courts those members of the Colombian Armed Forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights or to have aided or abetted paramilitary groups; and

that the Colombian Armed Forces are taking effective measures to sever links with paramilitary groups, and to execute outstanding orders for capture for members of such groups.

The Secretary takes very seriously his responsibilities under the Act and carefully weighed all the facts before certifying on May 1, thereby releasing 60 percent of the funds appropriated in the FY-02 Foreign Operations Act for the Colombian military. A second certification is required before the remaining 40 percent can be released, and it too will be carefully considered.

The United States believes Colombia needs to continue a strong counternarcotics program, including interdiction, spraying, alternative development and extradition. Colombia must also make solid advances on human rights and ending ties to paramilitary groups, increase GOC revenues to meet increased needs and undertake to increase security spending, but not at the expense of socio-economic development programs.

The commitment we have made to Colombia - to sustain our counternarcotics programs, step up our counterterrorism assistance, strengthen programs to protect human rights, and help to foment alternative development, among other areas -  cannot succeed absent a sustained commitment of even greater magnitude by the Government of Colombia.

President-elect Uribe received a solid electoral mandate for his pledge to establish government authority throughout Colombia and has said he intends to increase defense spending, add soldiers and police and create a civilian defense force for intelligence collection. He has also said he would call on the United Nations to provide assistance in peace negotiations.

The devil is always in the details, but this strikes us as a good beginning.  As you look at the issues to be posed by the three scheduled panels - Economic Foundations for Peace; Military and Security Foundations for Peace; and the Basis for Negotiating Peace - I hope you will find that the programs and policies I have outlined contribute to these goals.

The Colombian people have fought long and hard for peace. I remember when I lived in Colombia as a child, reading in the newspaper about atrocities committed in the countryside, in what was then described as "La Violencia." Some of these guerrillas may have had ideological motivations at that time. But in today's world, there is no justification for a movement that kills, kidnaps, terrorizes or relies

on narcotics trafficking to fund their goals. The Colombian nation state, Colombian democracy, has to win this war for the good of the country and the region. And the United States is committed to helping our Colombian friends.

Thank you very much.

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