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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Thomas Pickering
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Press Briefing on President Clinton's Upcoming Trip to Colombia
Washington, DC, August 25, 2000

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MR. PICKERING: Thank you, Jeff, very much. It's a pleasure for me to be here this morning, and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address with you the president's upcoming trip.

Next Wednesday, as you all know, President Clinton will meet President Pastrana in Cartagena in Colombia. This will be President Clinton's first trip to Colombia. The president is traveling to Colombia to demonstrate in a concrete way his determination, his solidarity with the Colombian people, and his support for the work which President Pastrana has been doing.

Colombia, as we all know, is at a difficult crossroads. The United States has an interest not only in stopping the flow of narcotics from Colombia, but also in ensuring the stability of one of the hemisphere's oldest and most accomplished democracies.

The president's trip comes against the backdrop of increase activity in our Colombian policy, much of which you know about. For example, on the 13th of July, President Clinton signed a $1.3 billion aid package for Colombia. Though the United States contribution is a very significant one for Colombia, the plan itself will assume that Colombia will provide $4 billion of the $7.5 billion necessary for its carrying out over a multiple number of years. In addition to that, the remaining funds will come from the international financial community, from European and Japanese and other donors, and from states all around the world interested in assisting in helping in Colombia. And I'm pleased to report to you today that particularly with respect to the international financial institutions and some of the Europeans, there has been a commitment of a significant amount of additional funding for Plan Colombia.

With the president's signing of the aid package in July, the United States government moved from a planning stage to an actual implementation stage. Two weeks ago, I had the honor of leading an interagency American delegation to Cartagena to discuss with President Pastrana, and his very accomplished team, the details of how the plan can be best put into action.

Also, we had the opportunity to discuss with President Pastrana and his staff the certification requirements of the legislation for the aid package, a process which, as you know, the president completed two days ago. President Pastrana is well aware of our concerns about human rights and, indeed, has been a leader in his own country in seeking change and improvement in this particular area. And we were pleased that at least one of the certification requirements could be completed without a waiver. Last week we received a letter from President Pastrana committing the Colombian government to try all military personnel who are credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, in Colombia's civilian courts as opposed to its military courts. This significant step forward is a clear indication of President Pastrana's determination to make respect for human rights a critical component of his plans for Colombia.

Earlier this week, President Clinton signed the waiver, as I mentioned, of the certification requirements contained in the Colombia supplemental legislation for the other areas that have to be covered. He did certify that Colombia had already met the conditions I have just mentioned and waived the other six of the seven conditions set out in the legislation. Clearly, despite President Pastrana's commitment to improving human rights protections, more work needs to be done before the administration can verify the five remaining human rights conditions.

I'm happy also to report that when I met with President Pastrana, he clearly indicated that on two more of the human rights conditions -- one having to do with the rights of the military to suspend from their military office any who have been alleged to have committed major human rights violations and, secondly, creating a judge advocate general corps, a military prosecution arrangement similar to our own -- real progress is being made in Colombia, and we would hope that subsequent certifications will be able to include those two issues, among others, as already accomplished on the Colombian side.

The Colombian people, as a final word, have lived through many difficulties and probably face many more before there will be significant light at the end of the tunnel, but I believe President Clinton's trip will demonstrate clearly and openly that the United States is resolved to help Colombia overcome the difficulties it is now experiencing and to return to a state of stability and normality and to be part of the emerging democratic consensus in the hemisphere, as well as the already-successful efforts at drug elimination and eradication in the Andean region, including successful efforts that have helped to reduce very significantly cocaine production by figures more than 60 percent in both Peru and in Bolivia. And the United States continues to look at the Andean region as a whole as an area where it will concentrate its efforts in dealing with the narcotics problem as a major regional problem of concern to us in the States and the region.

And now, if I may, let me please turn to your questions.

Q: Ana Baron, from Clarin. You mentioned that there are other countries that are going to contribute -- (laughter) -- that are going to contribute to the Plan Colombia. I wanted to know how much, and how is the total figure at the end, and which other countries?

MR. PICKERING: Yes. At a recent meeting in Madrid organized by the Spanish government, a combination of the United Kingdom, Spain, Norway, Japan and a number of the international financial institutions pledged an additional over $800 million to Plan Colombia. In addition to that, the Inter-American Development Bank, the major international financial institutions here in Washington, the Bretton Woods institutions, have also made significant commitments well in excess of a billion dollars to meeting the needs and goals of Plan Colombia.

There will be, I believe, further meetings of European states and Japan, who have been interested in supporting the Colombians in this major effort. After all narcotics trafficking from Colombia is having an increasing impact on Europe these days, and recent seizures by France and Italy, I think, have demonstrated the importance of working together to deal with this particular problem. There will be future meetings at which we expect there will be further exchanges of information, further consultation and, I hope, further commitments of support for Colombia on a broader basis.

I'm also pleased to note that in our recent contacts throughout the hemisphere, there is a widely shared concern about what is happening in Colombia, both as a problem for the hemisphere as a whole and as a problem for the Andean region. And one of the things that the U.S. support efforts for Plan Colombia contains, the $1.3 billion, is almost $200 million in regional support funds which will be available in order to assure the fact that as we work closely with Colombia to assure success in its counternarcotics efforts, those are not pushed into other areas and other regions, to Ecuador, to Venezuela, to Brazil, back to Peru or to Bolivia and so on. This is important in our sense of this as a Colombian problem is very large, but also it is, of course, both a regional problem and a potentially larger regional problem if it is not dealt with carefully on a regional basis.

Q: Patrice De Beer, Le Monde. Don't you think that $1.3 billion could be just a drop of water in the sea, facing the huge problem that Colombia is facing, where it's only a few weeks' turnover from the drug trade? Another question. George W. Bush has more or less hinted that he was worried Colombia might become another Vietnam.

MR. PICKERING: I think, of course, that one needs to look at what works effectively in dealing with the narcotics trafficking aspects of the Colombia problem. And I would say here -- in an aside, but it is not an aside -- that the Colombia problem is a multifaceted, a multi-barreled problem, if we could phrase it that way. There are serious problems of human rights violations. There are serious problems of improving the governance of the country at local levels. There are serious problems that need to be contested with in improving democratic governments, in reforming the judiciary, in providing for social development and providing for alternative economic development in both drug-producing areas and non-drug-producing areas.

What is fascinating and interesting is that in Peru, where aerial interdiction, one of the major aspects of the work that the Colombians are undertaking to deal with the transport of narcotics from their areas, has been successful in reducing the price of cocaine and has been part of a successful plan in Peru of over 60 percent reduction in cocaine production. In Bolivia, similarly, alternative economic development, coupled with social development, coupled with manual eradication, hand eradication, in the field of cocaine production has also reached similar figures of effectiveness.

And the amounts of money that have been dedicated to those particular problems have been on a scale that is consistent with what the United States is prepared to dedicate in the recent legislation to the Colombia plan. The Colombians themselves, you have to remember, are also committed to providing more than 50 percent of the requirements over the long term of Plan Colombia of over $4 billion. So I think that is important.

I want to discuss the Vietnam question because it is, in my view, a serious canard that is running that needs to be addressed straightforwardly and in a clear and, I hope, succinct way. There is no plan, there is no proposal and there is no idea of committing American forces in Colombia to do anything but a limited amount governed by the legislation itself, which contains force limitation figures, to providing training, and that the military training will encompass the preparation of a brigade, one battalion of which has already been trained and two more need to be trained -- the training has been started -- plus some training on the effective operation and maintenance of helicopters.

And that is the bulk of the military effort, and it is dealing with a counter-narcotics effort to assist the Colombian military forces to deal with the guerrilla forces and the paramilitaries who, in effect, earn large amounts of income from protecting, taxing and actually sponsoring the cultivation and the laboratory processing and export of cocaine from significant areas, particularly of southern Colombia.

And so it is important for us to be able to provide the Colombian military forces who are willing to do the job with the training and the equipment, the skills, that is necessary to carry out their job. Colombia has had an enormously successful police-run counter-drug effort for a number of years. The police are no longer able to deal with the military force protecting the narcotics crop represented by the left-wing guerrillas, the FARC in particular, the F-A-R-C, and by the paramilitaries on the right. And so military force is required for that aspect of the problem.

And that's why it bears no resemblance to Vietnam, and why it is clear, particularly given the congressional strictures, it will not become -- turn into -- or look like a Vietnam. It would be against the law for the United States, our own law, to make that happen.

Q: Jesus Esquivel from the Mexican News Agency, NOTIMEX. Mr. Pickering, besides the commitment of European countries to help with Plan Colombia, in Latin America, Brazil is taking the leadership, asking other countries like Mexico -- the government of Brazil asked President-elect Fox not to participate in the Plan Colombia. Why is this power of leadership of Brazil against what the United States wants to do in Colombia?

MR. PICKERING: Well, first and foremost, I think the foreign minister of Brazil was misquoted, and wrote a letter to the New York Times confirming the misquote of his attitude toward what was happening in Colombia and the United States support for that. So I believe it is significant, and when I was in Brazil and talked to the Brazilians, I found a very deep sense of concern that the problem of narcotics in Colombia would spread to Brazil, to Ecuador, to Venezuela and to other countries in the region, and a deep sense of willingness to cooperate in avoiding that happening.

And one, of course, of the spear-points of the effort to avoid that happening is to reduce and eliminate, eventually, narcotics cultivation and production, narcotics processing laboratories in Colombia, which are the springboard for the spread to other countries in the region.

And so I believe that while some in Latin America have expressed skepticism about the effort which the Colombians themselves are making, and which have asked our help to make, it is through a misunderstanding of both the purpose of the effort and the need to undertake the effort on a regional basis to avoid precisely the set of concerns that have been expressed that if the effort is focused only on Colombia it will move to other areas. That's certainly not our view, it's not the Colombian view, and it's not, in my view, the appropriate view for the region. It must be dealt with, as I emphasized in my opening remarks, as well as a regional problem. And here we would welcome the support of all countries.

We are gratified from what we have heard from the Brazilians, both about their concerns and about their willingness to help fight the spread of this particular problem. We believe, in fact, that there is quite wide understanding in the hemisphere in this effort, and we believe that further consultation and further close working together can bring about a further and deepened understanding of the importance of the problem.

I would say finally, those who speak against it have not offered an alternative solutions but, in fact, to let the problem destroy Colombia in the hopes that it won't go anywhere else. Well, if anyone believes that that's to be the case, then they must certainly be believing in the Tooth Fairy.

Q: (Off mike) -- of Reuters. Colombia's neighbors are concerned that the military component of the U.S. aid will lead to a militarization of the drug war, that will lead to a flare-up with the guerrillas that will spill over to their countries. What can you say in response to that?

MR. PICKERING: I would say that the militarization of the drug conflict has already been started long since by the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, each of whom have actively used well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained individuals to protect the trade and, in fact, provide a military basis. And so it is in response to well-armed, well-equipped guerrillas and paramilitaries, who profit from the drug trade and increase their own military strength and their own military role as a result of the enormous profits derived from the drug trade, that the problem has been militarized.

It is in the effort to help the government of Colombia reestablish a way of protecting the police who carry out the elimination, and protecting the social and economic development workers who provide the alternatives to the campesinos who have been otherwise pressed into involving themselves in narcotics production and trafficking, that the change can come about. And it is through that effort, limited, as I described it, that the United States is prepared to make its contribution: a significant number of helicopters and the training, one of which has already been completed, of three battalions to work together in the most afflicted and affected areas of the guerrilla militarization and the paramilitary militarization of the conflict; that we could expect that that part will play its appropriate role in bringing about effective results in the end.

Q: A follow-up, if I may. The Peruvian government says it's busted a drug -- a gun-running ring that was smuggling arms from Jordan to the guerrillas. Does the United States have any information on that?

MR. PICKERING: Well, I have seen those reports. And my sense is, from the evidence that we have seen from people who have recently visited the FARC in the so-called "despeje" area, the demilitarized zone, that they have been reequipped, and that it is my understanding that the government has captured a significant number, several scores, of weapons which have been identified as being from stocks that originally were sold by an East European country in the communist days to the Jordanians, and which the Jordanians believe they were selling legitimately to a different Latin American country, Peru, which have in one way or another ended up in Colombia.

Q: Maria -- (name inaudible) -- from La Nacion from Argentina. You're talking about a regional effort. And I was wondering how you're going to go about, with the problems you have with Peru -- the aid has been taken off, because of the last Fujimori election, from the package, I understand -- and also the Venezuela factor and the fact that Chavez has not given the United States authorization to have the counternarcotics fight. So I was wondering how this political situation --

MR. PICKERING: I think that both of those questions are important. I believe that it is in Peru's long-term interest to continue the long and difficult struggle against narcotics trafficking. And to the extent that it is consistent with our own aid legislation, we will continue. We have not only the part of the United States assistance that was incorporated in the large supplemental for Colombia, but we have an ongoing cooperative program for Peru in narcotics elimination which is continuing.

Similarly, we believe that Venezuela is increasingly aware of the very serious problems that are provided for it by the growth of narcotics production and trafficking in Colombia. That it has been my impression from my conversations, which have been fairly extensive, with the Venezuelan leadership that they are widely aware of this; that, in fact, their cooperation with Colombia has increased quite dramatically over the recent year; and that this is an important and additionally significant sign of the fact that, one, it is widely understood that this has both potential and, now, actual aspects of becoming a regional problem, and that it is through regional cooperation that the problem must be solved, not by, in effect, one country trying to push the problem across the border into another.

Q: (Name inaudible) -- from El Tiempo of Colombia. Two questions, Ambassador Pickering. First of all, since the approval of Plan Colombia, and now that the president has announced his visit, the guerrillas have launched more and more attacks. They are threatening that there are going to be more attacks in rejection of Plan Colombia in the future. At the same time, they are telling President Pastrana if he backs off from Plan Colombia, they will be willing to negotiate a peace -- a cease-fire. Is there room in the United States for any modification of Plan Colombia in case that the peace process starts showing results? And the second question, how does the administration plan to make sure that Plan Colombia doesn't fade away when the new administration takes power?

MR. PICKERING: Right. All right, two -- first, Plan Colombia is a Colombian plan, not an American plan. What we are doing is providing support in critical areas for Plan Colombia. Secondly, Plan Colombia has been conceived of and, in fact, is based on the view that there is no military solution to the problem. There is a negotiated solution, there is a peace process.

Up until now, the FARC, for example, has seemingly been unwilling to negotiate and engage itself reasonablywithout Plan Colombia, and with Plan Colombia. So the historical experience has been not very good, that theabsence of Plan Colombia suddenly will turn around the view of the FARC with respect to a more positive, morecontributive and more effective role toward bringing peace through the negotiating process.

We believe the negotiations are important, that they ought to be continued, that the government of Colombia is certainly willing to do so. But we also believe, in fact, that the effective activities on the part of the Colombian government in dealing with the problem across the board is its strongest card in the peace process. It is its strongest hand in playing an effective role in bringing about peace. The government has recently, of course, introduced new negotiators to the field, has recently challenged the guerrillas to produce an effective cease-fire plan, and it has clearly introduced a number of ideas across the board -- many of them rejected, unfortunately, by the FARC -- to find a way to reduce the very negative impact of the military aspects of the conflict on the people of Colombia.

We would wish, of course, President Pastrana well in this process.

But we believe the successful execution of Plan Colombia, in our view, brings the process closer to solution. If President Pastrana, as the process comes closer to solution, wishes to find alternative methods to speed that process along, we, as supporters of Plan Colombia and supporters of the process, will certainly look clearly at finding ways to assist and help him, as long as, obviously, that contributes to the overall goals that have been undertaken by the Colombian government in producing its plan.

We'll take two more questions in English, and then the ambassador will be able to take questions in Spanish.

Q: Ambassador Pickering, my name is -- (inaudible) -- and I work for CMA TV in Colombia. The first question -- I would like to speak basically on eradication of the coca production agreed on the Plan Colombia. And the first question is, when we were talking about mycoherbicides, you have said that you have to comply with three things before going on with this plan, and these three things, the first one is that have a test in a Colombia surface. I want to know how is this test going, what the extensions for that test is, where's the place where it's going to be going on, and when and how is it going to be working -- that test.

The second one, you have said that you have to have an assessment on -- an investigation, basically, on issues of terrorism and mass destruction weapons to see if these eradication is on your national interest. I would like to know how is it going on, who is doing that investigation, when do we have to expect those assessments?

And the third one is that the Colombian government agrees to go on with this plan, I would like to ask you what the government of Colombia has said about it.

MR. PICKERING: Fine. I think I can try to wrap these all up in a few words. The question of mycoherbicides, that is a natural predator against cocaine plants in Colombia, has long been considered as a possible method of eradicating the plant. These are naturally occurring funguses which already attack plants in some areas, and which are peculiar, I understand it, scientifically, in the sense that they attack only the cocaine.

Before anything like that were to go ahead, one would want to have a full and complete scientific review to make sure in fact that the mycoherbicides cause no other damage, that they were consistent both with international and Colombia standards for safety and for good health. And that has been proposed now by the United Nations Drug Control Program, and it's a proposal that has been made to Colombia. It's a proposal which we would support.

The proposal is to sit down and agree upon all of the details that you have asked me -- where, when, how, for how long, and under what standards. And so that's all being worked out, and I'm sorry, until it is worked out, I can't give you the exact details. But that is a question between the Colombian government and the United Nations, and the Colombian government has said it is willing to talk to the United Nations about working all of the arrangements for such a test.

At the end of the day, we would, and I believe the Colombian government would, only support the use of mycoherbicides to attack cocaine plants if it was successful in meeting all of the standards, it caused no additional outside damage, it could be developed in a way that gave very high assurance that in fact it was a safe and effective method of dealing with cocaine plants. And so our support for such a program would depend very much on the scientific results of such a program. Such a program would take, what I understand, in terms of time,probably more than just months, probably a year, maybe more. But I'm not an expert in this, and I think one would need to talk further with scientifically qualified experts to understand that.

You had a second part of your question, and in my enthusiasm to answer the first part, I've forgotten it. So tell me what it is.

Q: It is that you were talking about an investigation you have to do on your own government to conclude that these plans of cocaine eradication would be --

MR. PICKERING: We would want to reserve our own right to decide whether we would support such a program, if our support was needed and desired, on the basis of the undertakings that Colombia and the United Nations were to carry out, and to review the results of those, to look at a test. It is not a question of sight unseen, the United States is in favor of X -- X being a use of mycoherbicides to attack cocaine plants.

This will be our final question.

Q: Right. Okay. David Halton, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Ambassador, could I ask you to revisit an old question one more time, and that is to expand on how the U.S. hopes to be involved in a stepped-up anti-drug war without becoming involved in the counter-insurgency effort in Colombia?

MR. PICKERING: I think it's very clear. There is -- if I can put it this way, there is enough to do in Colombia with respect to the activities that we have undertaken to support Colombia in the military area, to focus on the counter-drug aspects, which obviously mean helping the Colombian military protect the police who are eliminating the crops or who are attacking the laboratories, by defending them militarily against the guerrillas and the paramilitaries to -- put it this way -- to eat up all the assistance that we have provided for the foreseeable future, that the engagement of the United States in supporting and aiding Colombia in dealing with insurgencies beyond the drug part of the program doesn't arise.

There is no -- no such possibility.

And so, in effect, our focus for the counter-drug effort and the military aspects of the counter-drug effort, while directly affecting Colombia's ability to protect its counter-drug effort against the left guerrillas and the right paramilitary, has its own implications militarily for those guerrillas and those paramilitaries. It is clearly and solely dedicated at the counter-drug effort.

Does it affect the military force of the paramilitaries and the FARC? Of course it does. But it affects them insofar as they are engaged, have been, and are likely to continue to be, in using their military force to protect the cultivation and processing of these illicit drug crops inside Colombia.

So I hope that that's clear and understood.

Q: (Off mike.)

MR. PICKERING: The answer, of course, is, Would we shy away from providing any military support, whether it is directed against drugs or not? No. We are totally committed to providing military support directed against drugs.

We are not prepared to provide military support that is not directed against drugs. Can I phrase it any more clearly?

Q: If I could ask just a quick supplementary.


Q: Is it not reasonable to expect that the counterinsurgency effort might get -- could be stepped up, given the fact that in the short term, at least, as the FARC and other groups see their sources of revenue drying up, they're likely to accentuate the conflict? And I believe one of the leaders of the Colombian armed forces were quoted in the New York Times this morning as saying the war, in fact, will worse in the future.

MR. PICKERING: I don't know. It may. The gentleman who has left, from Colombia, posed a question of the FARC threats connected to U.S. support for Plan Colombia and the president's coming visit. We have also seen, however, on the day that U.S. support for Plan Colombia was announced, the FARC, instead of denouncing it, used its spokesman to commit itself more firmly to the peace process, some six months ago. So I leave it up to you to guess which spokesman speaks for which part of the FARC about which catastrophic consequence will happen.

What I do see quite clearly is that no action by Colombia and no international support will produce a certain, absolute result, which is the destruction of Colombian society, the further proliferation of drug trafficking, the increase in human rights violations -- (chuckles) -- the disastrous consequences to one of Latin America's strongest democracies, and certainly an expansion of the process to the territory of other states -- certainly all very undesirable consequences.

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