|WAR ON DRUGS|
June 22, 2000
After a background report, Senators Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) discuss Colombia, drugs, aid and treatment.
KWAME HOLMAN: As part of the Senate's $13.5 billion foreign operations bill, members earmarked nearly a billion dollars to assist the Colombian government in its ongoing war against the country's well-financed cocaine producers. Most of that cocaine is shipped to and consumed in the United States. Majority Leader Trent Lott says that requires the U.S. to respond.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: President Pastrana of Colombia has asked for our help not to solve the problem for him. We're not advocating U.S. troops go in or that we have direct involvement in their efforts there, but to help him to solve it without American troops -- give them the aid they need, give them the equipment they need to fight these massive narcotic drug cartels in Colombia and that part of the world.
KWAME HOLMAN: In recent months, president Clinton's drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, made several trips to Capitol Hill to press lawmakers to approve the anti-drug money. He argued that as Colombia's cocaine production increased, so did the threat against its democratic institutions.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.): Cocaine production in Colombia has gone up 140 percent in a little less than four years. It is astonishing. We're talking 70 percent or more of the world total. And that cocaine, we would argue is the heart an of the incredible impact that 26,000 armed people are having on Colombian democratic institutions. They're wearing shiny, new uniforms. They have more machine guns than the Colombian infantry battalions have. They have planes, helicopters and wiretap equipment and they are assassinating mayors and intimidating journalists and corrupting public officials.
KWAME HOLMAN: During this hearing before a House committee on drug policy, McCaffrey said some of the money would be used to send helicopters to Colombia and to train pilots to fly them.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.): And that mobility package, in our view, in the Colombian plan, allows Colombian democratic institutions to regain sovereignty over their own terrain, particularly in the South.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the House were convinced, and in March approved money to fight the cocaine war in Colombia as well as in neighboring countries. But during yesterday's debate in the Senate, Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone proposed taking about a quarter of the nearly one billion dollars ticketed for Colombia and redirecting it.
|The demand side|
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE, (D) Minnesota: This money instead would say... And this follows up on what general McCaffrey and others have said, which is that we also need to deal not just with interdiction, but also the demand side in this country. And we have to figure out a way to cut down on the demand side in our country, so we will provide money for prevention and treatment programs in this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: In turn, Washington State Republican Slade Gorton called for spending no more than $200 million on Colombian assistance, warning against the direction he said U.S. policy was taking.
SEN. SLADE GORTON, (R) Washington: This is a shift from supporting a police force in a friendly country to supporting an army engaged in a civil war; a civil war that it has not been winning, a civil war in which other side is very financed-- indirectly, at least, in large part by Americans who purchase cocaine-
KWAME HOLMAN: However, both attempts to slice money away from the nearly one billion dollars to assist in the Colombian drug war failed. An overwhelming number of Senators sided with the argument made by Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, (D) Connecticut: Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in the conflict in Colombia. Because of events in that country and because of our own habits in this nation, people are dying in the streets of America. This is not some distant conflict without any ramifications here at home.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Senators overwhelmingly endorsed spending the nearly one billion dollars to assist in Colombia's drug war. But next week they and their colleagues in the House will be asked to do more by approving $1.3 billion for the Colombian effort -- a compromise worked out by today.
JIM LEHRER: And now to two Senators who see this issue differently: Republican Paul Coverdell of Georgia, and Democrat Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Both are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Coverdell, President Clinton said today this is a huge, huge issue. Do you agree with that?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL, (R) Georgia: Yes, I do. I think we've witnessed a very significant occurrence in American foreign policy and hemispheric foreign policy, of demand focus in the United States. I was somewhat surprised by the overwhelming margins for which this plan was endorsed. I personally believe that what we're talking about here is the stability of the future of all these new democracies in our hemisphere -- a very significant event in American history.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wellstone, do you see it in the same terms, that democracy in the hemisphere is at stake here?
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: No. I mean, I think first you have to look at this in terms of what's happening with addiction and drug use in our country. I would argue we ought to be helping the Colombian government. I want to. I think we should help them build democratic institutions, economic development, interdiction, you name it. But some of the money, if we're going to talk about war on drugs, some of the money ought to be for treatment here in our country. I do a lot of work in this area. 80 percent receive no treatment whatsoever, I don't know why we're not dealing with demand side in our country. That's one issue. The second issue which is it's one thing to be supporting the police. Now we shift to a 7 to 1 ratio in supporting the military to a push in the South. We're becoming involved in a civil war with the military there, with Americans on the ground, a military that every human rights organization, every human rights organization, much less our own State Department, says has a deplorable record when it comes to human rights and all too often is involved with paramilitary organizations that have murdered and assassinated people. That's the question. Do we want to become involved in this kind of a conflict?
JIM LEHRER: Is that what the question is, Senator Coverdell?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: No, of course I admire Senator Wellstone's attempts at treatment, but I would point out in the last eight years treatment budgeting has increased dramatically while interdiction has fallen through the floor, and the result is more drugs are in the United States and they're cheaper. Therefore, in the last eight years, utilization among our children 9 to 12 is virtually doubled. I would argue that the greatest treatment program in the world is to prevent the individual child from getting caught up in it in the first place.
JIM LEHRER: What about his second issue of....
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: I just don't accept... I think the weakest issue the Senator portrays is a military co-opted by radical right. I just don't believe it. I've been there. Many of his colleagues on his side of the aisle have been there; all of these arguments have been aired and have been rejected 80-20, 90-10 in the United States Senate. That is on an issue of this magnitude an overwhelming majority.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wellstone, what about the point, Senator Coverdell made it, but also Senator Dodd, your Democratic colleague, made it on the floor of the Senate that whether we like it or not is the way Senator Dodd put it, we're involved in that conflict, that civil war?
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: Well, you know, it's interesting. When I heard Senator Dodd say that, I thought to myself in one way, yes, but here's the question. Of course we should be helping President Estrada. I want to. Of course, interdiction to me is you figure out a way of stopping it on the boats, you figure out a way of stopping it on the planes. You're involved in interdiction. You're involved in helping the government there and building democratic institutions. How are you going to end this civil war? Do you think you're going to end it by a military push to the south or do you think you'll help it by a way of figuring out a way of building democracy in that country? My second point is we are involved because we have the whole problem of addiction in our own country - our states tell us on the ground -- maybe 23 million Americans have a problem with substance abuse. Why aren't we getting treatment to people? Paul says the budget has gone up. Paul, my gosh, look at the all reports this year. 80% of adolescents not receiving any treatment whatsoever -- 60% of adults not receiving treatment whatsoever. When Paul says, "I've been there and I just don't believe it" I can just say Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. 70, 80 different non-government organizations, religious community in Colombia saying don't support the military in the drive to the south. That's the issue. Do we want to get involved in a civil war? Do we want Americans on the ground with the Colombia military, a military that has been identified with blatant violation of human rights.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's be specific here, Senator Coverdell. What do you add or subtract from what Senator Wellstone says about the nature of the people who we are supporting?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: You have both used the word civil war. This is no longer a civil war. It may have been in the beginning an ideological, but this is a narco financed insurgency from top to bottom. It's a money machine. They have 3 percent of the Colombian population that would maybe follow it. This is one of the oldest democracies in the hemisphere. It's a very committed people. President Pastrana has been endorsed by all. I just might point out that all these assertions have been rejected by 80 to 90% of the United States Senate after years and months of discussion. It just... I don't think it holds water.
JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. Hold on, Senator Wellstone. Let me ask Senator Coverdell this question: The issue that Senator Gordon raised and Senator Wellstone, which is, is there a concern at all that... do you share the concern at all that we, the United States, could get over committed here, that there could be... we will eventually have to put troops on the ground because you take one step at least to another, et cetera?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: I think a legitimate part of the debate in worrying, yes, I have concerns about it but my greater concern is that we sit here and cover our eyes and do nothing. I know what the result of that is: A total explosion and destabilization of our democratic hemisphere. Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, the heart of this drug struggle in the hemisphere is in Colombia, and it is spilling over the border - we are moving armies. Panama has no army to defend itself and has thousands of these insurgents wandering around.
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: But, Jim, Paul and I are good friends. But what you just heard, this is now a different argument. If we're going to say this is a war on drugs that's one thing, then we ought to deal with the demand side in our country. What Paul is now saying is Colombia, insurgents, it's all over Latin America. My gosh, this is the "domino theory" all over again. And if we're going to be involved in a military conflict, if we're going to be involved in this push to the South and what this is really about is the military counterinsurgency effort with United States soldiers and others on the ground, people in our country ought to know that; in all due respect to Paul Coverdell who has been honest about it, that's a very different question, and I'm very concerned about it. Again no one has refuted any of these human rights reports. No one can.
JIM LEHRER: Let's stay on the subject of what the dominos. Senator Coverdell, you think if this does not stop now, you're talking about a huge, huge-- to use President Clinton's terms-- a huge, huge happening down there.
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: It already is a huge happening. It's already affecting the policy of Panama, of Ecuador, of Peru and of Bolivia. It's the entire Andean region. This is not a civil war. This is a battle against a group of thugs that are extremely evil, that do not have a population that endorses them. And they have overwhelming wealth and weapons, as the President just said, because of narcotic money.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wellstone, do you dispute what Senator Coverdell just said in depicting who these people are on the other side, the narco types?
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: I don't dispute that. The paramilitary is identified with the same narco traffic. I'm all for, I said it yesterday, I'm all for a good part of the package especially when it can lead to some resolution of this conflict -- especially when it can lead to police and interdiction and all the rest. I'm not for putting our people on the ground in an effort in this military push into Southern Colombia. I'm certainly not for Paul's argue all the that as goes southern Colombia, align ourselves with the military and paramilitary groups which have been involved in the same narco traffic, if we don't do that, so goes all of south America and all of central America, I think that's a dubious proposition. Again it is naive to believe that we are going to be able to do something about the tragic consequences of substance abuse and addiction in our country unless we invest the resources in the demand side and in treatment programs at the community level. We don't have that. I just wonder why my colleagues are so generous with this money for a military push to the South in Colombia all in the name of fighting drugs and not willing to put the money into community-based drug programs, anti-drug programs in our own country?
JIM LEHRER: Senator Coverdell?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: We've put the money into....
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: Very little.
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: Billions. I might point out that when we quit the process of interdiction-- I just want to make this point very clear-- in the last eight years, we have seen drug use among nine-year-olds-- nine, ten, eleven and twelve-- double and it's because we allowed more drugs on the street, the price fell, the use went up, and we have a tragedy here. We drove drug use in this country down in the '80s by stopping it and by setting examples. It all went to... in a hat basket in the last eight years. We cannot ignore interdiction, and the only force in the United States that can deal with it is the federal government, period. No state, Minnesota, Georgia, can deal with the international proportions of this struggle.
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: One quick point, Paul. RAND Corporation has done a study. They said it's 23 times more effective to do the community-based treatment program on the demand side than a military action in another country like Colombia. And, second of all, Paul, when you say we're spending money, you cannot dispute and you won't-- because I know you-- our own government reports that right now 80 percent of kids, of adolescents in this country, that need drug treatment get no treatment whatsoever. Those are the facts. You can't dispute that.
JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, we have to end this but as a practical matter, Senators Coverdell and Wellstone, you do agree that this is going to become the law of the land probably next week, right -- as the result of the Senate action and the compromise that was worked out this afternoon?
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: I think the decision has been made.
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: We agree on that and he's a very good Senator. We agree on that too.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.
SEN. PAUL COVERDELL: Thank you.