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Department Seal Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Remarks on Colombia at a Dinner in honor of the
30th Anniversary of the Andean Development Corporation,
Washington, DC, September 8, 2000

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As prepared

Thank you for inviting me to address you. This evening I would like to focus my remarks on Colombia. Those of us who closely follow events in the Americas can't help but notice how much Colombia has been in the news lately. It seems that almost every day stories about Colombia appear on the front pages of major newspapers, not just in the United States but throughout the hemisphere. Unfortunately the news from Colombia is not always good, and I don't imagine that Colombia as a story will disappear anytime soon.

What I would like to do this evening is to give you some context as concerns the situation in Colombia and to shed light on what the U.S. Government is doing to help the Colombian Government solve the many complex problems it faces.

Before I get too far, I'd like to clear up a misperception about the term "Plan Colombia." Many of us, including many within the U.S. Government, have taken to using the name "Plan Colombia" to describe the $1.3 billion support package for Colombia that President Clinton signed into law this past July. That is really a misnomer. "Plan Colombia" is the $7.5 billion comprehensive package put together last year by the Colombian Government. Of this $7.5 billion about 25% will be devoted to counter-narcotics efforts. The other 75% will go toward other programs, about which I will speak later.

The United States' $1.3 billion contribution to Plan Colombia is significant, but equally if not more significant is the fact that the Colombians themselves have committed to spending $4.5 billion of their own funds to see the plan through to a successful conclusion. $4.5 billion dollars is a serious contribution for a country that has been experiencing a recession so severe that last year its economy shrank by 5% and unemployment reached 20%.

Beyond the United States' and Colombia's own contributions to the Plan, international financial institutions have also pledged more than $1 billion dollars and more is expected. Similarly, a number of European states and Japan have made important contributions.

The reality here is that far from being a purely military plan, only 12% of the total is currently calculated to relate to military and police support, while 88 % is dedicated to non-military program and activities. Another way of saying this is that 25% of the funding is related to counter-drug activities, while 75% is focused on building and strengthening civil society, including human rights issues.

The overall situation in Colombia is difficult. Imagine working in an environment where journalists, human rights workers, local businessmen, and foreign investors are all constant targets. Imagine living in Washington and being unable to drive to the Maryland shore for fear of being kidnapped by criminals or guerrillas, and imagine a 40-year insurgency taking place not far from the nation's capital that is led by groups that have virtually no support among the country's people and are financed by drug trafficking. Last year's recession -- a 4.5% drop in GDP -- was Colombia's worst in a century.

This is the reality in today's Colombia. Moreover, all of these problems create a vicious cycle. The poor economy leads to high unemployment and creates a ready pool of discontented individuals for guerrillas, drug lords, and paramilitaries to recruit from, while the violence associated with insurgents and paramilitaries -- essentially, the absence of peace -- decreases investor confidence, worsening the economy. Narcotics trafficking feeds the coffers of the guerrillas and paramilitaries, strengthening them in their assault on democratic institutions.

In this regard I note the good news as well. Yesterday, in its first review of Colombian economic performance since agreeing to a $2.7 billion credit facility last December, the International Monetary Fund said that President Pastrana's Government was set to meet its fiscal targets for this year.

This is indeed good news, but the only permanent solution is a permanent peace. The U.S. Government fully supports the peace process. We agree with President Pastrana's assessment that a solution to the country's civil conflict is essential to the solution of all the other problems facing Colombia.

I note that in the past few days the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC, have agreed to begin discussion of a September 22 cease-fire and suspension of hostilities. This is a welcome development that could help Colombia move toward peace and national reconciliation.

The U.S. Government has made an extraordinary commitment to help Colombia in this time of crisis. Our support package is comprehensive in scope. Not only does it help Colombia deal with the threat of narcotics trafficking, and the armed guerrillas and paramilitaries who protect and profit from the trafficking, but it also includes substantial funding for alternative development assistance and voluntary eradication of illicit crops. And there is a great deal more. The USG also intends to provide significant assistance for internally displaced persons and for environmental protection programs, resources for local governance and improvement of governing capacity, and programs to help improve the administration of justice and, very importantly, to protect human rights. This is a significant contribution toward the 75% of Plan Colombia that I mentioned earlier is not focused on counter-narcotics activities.

Respect for human rights is as vitally important to the people of Colombia as it is for the people of the United States. Some have raised concern about the President's waiver of five of the human rights conditions contained in the support package. Another condition was "certifiable" after just a few months; good progress has been made on two others which we expect to be ready soon. However, in order to reach the point where the President can certify that Colombia has met these conditions, the USG and the Government of Colombia must move forward now to address the underlying causes of those problems. Other conditions involve certifying progress which could not be done until a baseline was established; that baseline is now in place. Certification is helping the United States and Colombia to make progress by focusing attention on the issues highlighted in the appropriations legislation.

Colombia, under President Pastrana, has made important strides to improve human rights conditions, but more remains to be done. There can be no tolerance for those who violate human rights or who collaborate in or condone such violations. The Pastrana Administration has taken a number of important measures to improve the human rights situation and is working to move the peace process forward, which offers the greatest hope of eliminating human rights violations for good.

I would also emphasize that all U.S. assistance to Colombian military and police forces is provided strictly in accordance with Section 564 of the FY 2000 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act -- the so-called Leahy Amendment. No assistance is provided to any unit of the security forces for which we have credible evidence of the commission of gross violations of human rights. The USG is firmly committed to the Leahy Amendment and has a rigorous process in place to screen those units being considered for assistance.

One of the major reasons we have focused so much attention on Colombia recently is our awareness of the potential threat Colombia's problems pose throughout the region. Our success in lowering cocaine production in Peru and Bolivia by 60% has its lessons for Colombia. The first lesson is that these programs can work. The second is that success elsewhere tends to shift the focus to other countries, just as success in Colombia, if not dealt with, will shift the focus of production deeper into the jungle in Colombia and to countries beyond its borders. Another reality is that, left unchecked, there is no guarantee that lucrative narcotics production will not spread elsewhere as a result of its regular growth. We have already seen that happen in Colombia.

Colombia's conflict also significantly threatens violence and instability in the border regions of its immediate neighbors such as the Darien region of Panama, northern Ecuador, and western Venezuela. Moreover, the recent increase of narcotics cultivation and trafficking in Colombia, related to guerrilla control of southern Colombia, is a far greater threat to the entire region than that Colombian violence, opposed or unopposed, would spill over the border.

The truth is, if the Colombians don't deal with their narcotics problem, it's certain to become worse and spill over the border. If Colombia does deal with it, we can get a leg up on stopping the regionalization of drug abuse and trafficking. The contamination of drug abuse and narcotics trafficking brings with it violence and corruption, a real threat to virtually every nation in the region from Mexico to Argentina and throughout the Caribbean. For this reason, the USG has included significant funds in our support package for Plan Colombia to help Colombia's neighbors as we seek to stem cultivation and trafficking throughout the region. This Administration looks to the next year for larger regional support by the United States. If the year 2000 had a Plan Colombia focus, 2001 will have an Andean regional focus.

Additionally, the USG regularly consults at every level with its hemispheric neighbors on counternarcotics and security matters related to the situation in Colombia and has sought their support for President Pastrana's peace process. I note that in addition to President Clinton's trip to Colombia last week, Secretary Albright visited five countries in the region just three weeks ago. I, myself, have been to South America four times in the last year. Increasingly, our regional partners recognize that the crisis in Colombia represents a hemispheric problem in which they have a direct and immediate stake. They said so clearly in their statement issued in Brazil last week at the end of the South American Presidents' summit.

Let me emphasize that the United States does not provide counterinsurgency support to the Government of Colombia. This is not another Vietnam. The number of U.S. military personnel in Colombia on any given day rarely exceeds 300. Congress has capped the number of military personnel allowed in the country at any time at 500 and the Secretary of Defense has issued orders prohibiting our personnel from participating in any combat operation. Colombia will provide all of the men and most of the wherewithal for the fight; our role is training, equipping, and providing intelligence support.

Unfortunately, the print and electronic media in this and other countries of the hemisphere have been carrying numerous stories and opinion pieces that portray American troops in the most ominous terms while often predicting that they are the vanguard of a massive military presence to come.

In reality, what we are really seeing is more of the same. U.S. military personnel have engaged in training operations with their Colombian counterparts for years, certainly before anyone ever heard of Plan Colombia.

As President Clinton stated last week in his televised speech to the Colombian people. "Please do not misunderstand our purpose. We have no military objective. We do not believe your conflict has a military solution. We support the peace process. Our approach is both pro-peace and anti-drug."

In conclusion, let me respond to those critics who say the United States should stay out of Colombia. Doing nothing is always a choice, but in this case it is not an option. Doing nothing would not address Colombia's sharp increase in coca production, it would allow paramilitary and guerrilla groups to continue their mayhem unhindered, and it would not be a guarantee or firewall against regional spread.

It is also clearly not in the U.S. national interest, nor that of any country in the hemisphere, to have a corrupt narco-state among its neighbors. A comprehensive approach to Colombia's problems is needed and the framework for that has been provided by President Pastrana's Plan Colombia. The Colombians have a lot of work ahead of them. Those who expect instant results will be frustrated. Change is going to take a long time, but with the help of its friends, including the United States, Colombia will reach the goals of seriously curtailing narcotics production, reestablishing complete sovereignty over its national territory, helping those who have suffered during the on-going conflict, bolstering its democracy, governance and human rights record, and seeing the peace process through to a satisfactory conclusion.

Thank you very much.

[end of document]

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