Documents on Terrorism
John P. Leonard Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Remarks before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics and Terrorism Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Washington, DC, March 24, 1999

U.S. Policy Toward Colombia

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity today to discuss U.S. Government policy toward Colombia. As Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Rand Beers is also here, I will defer to him on specifics of narcotics policy except to note how closely narcotics issues are related to other dimensions of our policy. I will focus primarily on the enhanced engagement of the U.S. Government with President Pastrana's Government. I will then review Colombia's economic situation and the state of human rights. I will discuss the Colombian peace process, our December meeting in Costa Rica with representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgents and the FARC's brutal and cowardly murder of the three American citizens in Venezuela on March 4.

On January 21, Secretary Albright delivered an address on democracies under attack. She identified Colombia as one of the democracies most at risk. The Secretary noted the tests Colombia faces from "drug cartels, guerrillas, paramilitary forces, and poverty." She said Colombia has "a promising new President" whom "we are determined to help."

The U.S. Government is delighted to be working with President Pastrana. We have greatly improved and strengthened bilateral relations since his inauguration last August.

This is in marked contrast to our relationship with President Samper. Samper's personal and political links to the Cali Cartel undermined bilateral relations. Some said that relations were in a downward spiral. With the advent and the settling in of a Pastrana Government, this is no longer the case. Difficult issues still exist in our bilateral relations. In order to meet the challenges they represent, and to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by Pastrana's election, the U.S. Government has greatly enhanced its engagement with the Colombian Government.

Enhanced Engagement

The massive voter turnout and the decisive margin in Colombia's 1998 presidential elections gave Andres Pastrana a strong mandate for peace. President Pastrana responded quickly to that call. Even before his inauguration he established a basis for the first peace talks with the FARC insurgents since the early 1990s.

With President Pastrana's October 1998 state visit, we strengthened the formal instruments of bilateral cooperation. We signed a new counternarcotics alliance and reached agreements on alternative development, on support of human rights, on financial sector assistance, on the environment, and on cooperation on law enforcement issues such as seized asset sharing and customs. We also agreed to create a U.S.-Andean Community Trade and Investment Council.

The United States seeks expanded engagement with the Pastrana Administration, to include cooperation on issues such as support of a peace process, protection of human rights, trade, investment and economic development, humanitarian affairs, and increased cooperation in multilateral institutions. We have also agreed to start up a high-level consultative mechanism with the Colombian Government to address these issues.


It is clear, however, that counternarcotics cooperation must remain central to our bilateral relationship. Eighty percent of the world supply of cocaine is produced in Colombia or transits through that country. An estimated 50-70% of the heroin seized on the East Coast is from Colombia.

We are already deeply committed to helping the Government of Colombia in the fight against illicit narcotics. We have expanded our assistance to Colombia to more than $280 million, making Colombia the largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the Western Hemisphere. Virtually all of the money is for counternarcotics. In particular, we are looking further to reinforce cooperation in eradication, interdiction, money laundering and drug education.

Assistant Secretary Beers will address these issues in detail in his testimony.

Economic Issues

Colombia has a long record of economic growth and prudent economic management. It also has been in the forefront in Latin America in implementing economic reforms and privatizations. Its unblemished debt repayment has earned its sovereign debt an "investment grade" rating from the international financial community, a distinction enjoyed by only one other country in Latin America. Real GDP growth averaged 4.5% from 1970-96, posting growth each year.

Under President Samper, that record was seriously tarnished. The overall fiscal deficit rose from zero in 1992-94 to nearly 5% of GDP in 1998. Official inflation for 1998 was just under 17%, the highest in 15 years. Unemployment for 1998 was just under 16% -- a near record high.

The new administration's top economic task has been to shrink the fiscal deficit -- which was at 5% of GDP and rising when Samper left office. The Pastrana Administration has announced strict measures to cut the fiscal deficit in half in 1999 and to eliminate it entirely in 2000. International financial commentators have welcomed these plans for fiscal retrenchment. In November 1998, the administration declared a state of economic emergency, obtaining authority for the executive to move against financial sector deterioration, including authority to cut budgets immediately as needed. By the end of 1998, the Pastrana Administration had obtained from the Colombian Congress a major tax-reform package and a tight 1999 budget.

Colombia's two-way trade with the U.S. was nearly $11 billion in 1998. Colombia was the fifth-largest export market of the United States in Latin America and our 26th most important market worldwide. Major U.S. export categories to Colombia are telecommunications equipment and services, energy components, computer equipment and services, and auto parts. Major Colombian exports to the U.S. are oil (Colombia is our eighth most important supplier), coffee, agricultural products, and flowers. The U.S. is Colombia's largest investor, providing more than 40% of Colombia's foreign direct investment.

We have a mutual interest in strengthening this economic relationship. To stimulate increased trade and investment, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Trade and Development Agency (TDA), and the Export-Import Bank (EX-IM) are all back in business in Colombia. We are also working closely with the Colombians on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), on greater intellectual property protection, on strengthening financial sector regulation, and on increasing cooperation between the United States and the Andean Community.

Human Rights

Protection of human rights is fundamental to democratic society. We are direct and demanding with the Pastrana Administration on its duty to protect human rights and to prosecute those who abuse them. Complicity by Colombia's security forces with the paramilitary groups remains a serious problem, although Colombian security forces have made improvement in this area in recent years. Attacks by the paramilitaries against human rights workers continue to be a serious concern.

Of the 10 human rights workers killed worldwide in the first 10 months of 1998, six were Colombian, according to the Human Rights Watch, non-governmental organization (NGO). For example, on January 30, two members of a Colombian NGO, the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), were pulled from a Medellin-Bogota bus and murdered. These killings came just three days after four other Medellin human rights workers from the Popular Institute of Training (IPC) had been kidnapped by paramilitaries.

We are fully committed to ensuring that our security assistance to Colombia is in accordance with U.S. law. In particular, U.S. law prohibits the provision of U.S. assistance to any unit of a security force if there is credible evidence that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights and appropriate steps are not being taken to bring those responsible to justice. There are strict procedures in place to verify that individuals and units proposed for assistance and training have not been involved in any human rights abuses.

One serious problem in Colombia, which perhaps does not receive adequate attention, is the plight of its internally displaced persons (IDP). The scope of the problem is enormous. As many as 300,000 persons, mostly women and children, were driven from their homes in 1998. NGOs report that Colombia has the fourth-largest population of displaced persons in the world. The vicious conflict between paramilitaries and guerrillas is largely responsible for the forced displacement of Colombians.

We are pressing the government vigorously to assure that any remaining ties between military commanders and paramilitaries are broken. We insist on an end to the evident impunity afforded officers accused of human rights violations. We want to assure that there is additional humanitarian assistance to help the displaced. The State Department provided $2 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross in August for their emergency feeding program in Colombia for the internally displaced.

Peace Process

We believe that President Pastrana is correct in making peace his first priority. In our view, measures which aid in settling Colombia's internal conflicts also will help in other areas. Colombia's internal fighting limits and weakens domestic and foreign investment and is in itself a bar to reducing poverty. Combat costs, both in lives and in finances; both insurgents and paramilitaries have cut deals with drug traffickers to raise money. Those who die are not only the combatants but all too often the innocent.

Establishing a viable peace process is the best approach to Colombia's long-running civil conflict but this has not been easy and many obstacles lie ahead. Distrust is deep. We cannot be sure that President Pastrana's valiant effort to find a negotiated solution to the conflict will succeed. However, the Government of Colombia owes it to its people to try. And we owe it to basic human decency to support this effort.

If peace can be negotiated, democracy will be revitalized. We have seen this in other countries and believe it to be the case in Colombia. Through the peace process, insurgents and the government can address fundamental issues of democratic participation, agrarian reform, reform of military and police, protection for non-combatants, better guarantees of human rights, reduction and elimination of illicit drug production and cultivation, and measures to aid alternative development. We intend to support Colombia's peace process through contributions to alternative development in areas controlled by the government, programs to support human rights, and measures to strengthen local government.

The Peace Process and the Demilitarized Zone

We have carefully monitored the current demilitarized zone, a temporary measure which President Pastrana extended until May, and narcotics activity in that area. Current indications are that narcotics-related activities in the demilitarized zone remain relatively unchanged.

Nevertheless, both the Government of Colombia and the FARC must ensure that producers and traffickers do not expand their activities in the zone. The United States would strongly condemn any arrangement which resulted in a "law-free" zone of operations for illegal narcotics. FARC representatives professed a desire to remove their movement from the drug business; their ability to do so will be a revealing test of their commitment to negotiate and to deliver.

The FARC, Our Meeting and Their Murders of American Citizens

Last year, the State Department was approached by the Colombian Government, which said that the FARC sought a meeting with U.S. Government representatives. The GOC asked that we accept the offer and told us that this would help them in their talks with the FARC. We carefully considered this and decided it would be in our interest to hold such a meeting. We believed that a meeting would strengthen the hand of the Colombian Government in their peace negotiations, and that it would give us an opportunity to pass a strong message to the FARC on kidnapped Americans, on our support for the peace process, and on counternarcotics.

We never agreed nor did we engage in any negotiations, or any discussions, which could be construed as bargaining with the FARC. The meetings consisted of informal exchanges of points of view among USG representatives, a senior Government of Colombia official, and representatives of the FARC. We used the opportunity to convey to the FARC our support for the peace process, our unflagging commitment to counternarcotics, and our demand for an accounting for the three kidnapped American missionaries. We demanded that the FARC refrain from threats against U.S. citizens and interests in Colombia. As a result of this meeting, we have made these demands to the FARC directly and we believe that it was important that the FARC understand clearly U.S. views on these issues.

We were deeply saddened by the March 4 brutal murder by the FARC of Terence Freitas of California, Ingrid Washinawatok of Wisconsin, and Laheenae Gay of Hawaii, who were affiliated with American organizations supporting the environment and protection of indigenous rights.

We are outraged by the March 4 murders of three American citizens by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia which we view as a repugnant act. There is no denying that these brutal murders call into question the credibility of the FARC leadership and its representatives, both in terms of the FARC's ability to control its own forces and in terms of its commitment to a peace process.

The U.S. Government insists that the perpetrators and the intellectual authors of these murders be brought to justice before the legally constituted authorities. The United States Government has emphatically closed the door to any further contacts with representatives of the FARC unless legal justice is done.

The FARC is directly responsible for these crimes. Their belated admission that a FARC front committed the murders is insufficient. Our objective is to see justice done in this case. FARC leaders have much to answer for and much more remains to be done by them and by the governments involved before this case can be brought to a close.

We have demanded a complete investigation by legitimate law enforcement entities. We have told both Governments of Venezuela and Colombia that all those individuals responsible for this heinous crime must be identified and turned over to the legal process of investigation and prosecution. Both governments have been cooperative.

We note as well that despite the direct urging of U.S. officials in December, the FARC has not provided a full accounting for David Mankins, Mark Rich, and Richard Tenenoff, missionaries from the New Tribes Mission who were kidnapped on January 31, 1993 -- over six years ago. We have concrete information that the FARC was responsible for this kidnapping and we call again on the FARC to provide a full accounting for the whereabouts and the status of these missionaries.

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