Drug War Update
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KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the last decade, Colombia led South America in producing most of the world’s cocaine, much of it sold in the United States. Now a new report by the U.S. Government says the Colombian cultivation of coca, the raw material that makes cocaine, increased 20 percent in last two years. That report caught the attention of Congress and the Clinton administration, and both now appear ready to intensify efforts to combat Colombia’s flourishing cocaine trade.
The United States already has invested billions to assist anti-narcotics efforts in South America, much of it in the last three years. And over that time, Peru and Bolivia eliminated thousands of acres of cocaine and heroin fields within their borders. But the Central Intelligence Agency says new fields developed in neighboring Colombia more than made up for that lost drug production. Complicating the drug war in Colombia is its ongoing civil war between the government and at least three competing guerrilla groups, some of which are active in the drug trade.
General Barry McCaffrey, President Clinton’s drug czar, was up on Capitol Hill today to outline the administration’s plan to continue the drug war in Colombia. Testifying before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Drug Policy, McCaffrey first described the current state of the Colombian drug trade.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.) National Drug Control Policy Director: Cocaine production in Colombia has gone up 140 percent in a little less than four years. Today… yesterday we released the crop estimates for this year. Colombia produced, in our view, 520 metric tons of cocaine. It is astonishing. We’re talking 70 percent or more of the world total. And that cocaine, we would argue, is the heart and soul of the incredible impact that 26,000 armed people are having on Colombian democratic institutions– the FARC, the ELN, the AUC, so-called paramilitary terrorist groups, they’re wearing shiny new uniforms. They have more machine guns than the Colombian infantry battalions have. They have planes and helicopters and wiretap equipment, and they are assassinating mayors and intimidating journalists and corrupting public officials.
KWAME HOLMAN: McCaffrey then detailed how the administration planned to spend $1.6 billion to assist the Colombian government’s fight against the drug cartel.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: If you look at the total package, essentially 85 percent of it goes to Colombia; the rest goes to Peru and Bolivia. Then the remainder of the program, if you look at it, half of it is a mobility package. That’s what that is. It’s 63 helicopters, 30 Blackhawks, 33 UH-1N’s, rebuilt with the operational requirements of spare parts, the training package to get the crews; that’s what it is. 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: Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney said he was concerned the plan could drag the U.S. into Colombia’s 40-year civil war with guerrillas who control the southern countryside where most of the coca is grown.
REP. JOHN TIERNEY, (D) Massachusetts: Ought we not insist that we show some signs to the real allocation or the different allocation of this money by more support to crop alternatives, to ways to get that crop to market, to the roads, to things of that nature? Shouldn’t we build their confidence by putting more of the money in that direction?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: There is, in our view, a coherent, well-thought-out Colombian plan to take all these issues into account. And then, in addition, even within our $1.6 billion piece, as I mentioned, there is a massive increase in alternative economic development support, support for the judicial system, prison reform, et cetera– the peace process. It’s a $240 million package that’s in there, and it’s gone up from 5 percent to 20 percent of the total.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans on the committee generally supported the administration’s package of increased aid to Colombia. However some were concerned the Colombian military and police weren’t getting the U.S. equipment they need fast enough.
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN, (R) New York: General Serrano has been pleading for Blackhawk helicopters so he can get to the higher altitudes and eradicate the heroin crop and poppy crop. And he’s said that if he’s given the wherewithal to do that, he can eliminate that crop within a two-year period. How many Blackhawks have we delivered to General Serrano to do this work?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, he’s got 47 aircraft…
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN: I’m asking about Blackhawks, General.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: He’s got six Blackhawks. He’s got three more en route. Let me just tell you, Mr. Congressman, you know, I’ve done this kind of thing my entire life. We do not wish to take the Colombian national police and turn them into a force capable of engaging in open combat with the FARC fronts regarding cocaine…
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN: I’m not suggesting that, general McCaffrey. I’m just suggesting that let’s give General Serrano the wherewithal to do what he wanted to do, and that’s to eliminate the heroin crop, the poppy crop.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: We’ll have a plan over the coming years that will provide a trained, maintained, balanced force to support their army. That’s what…
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN: How long will it take us to do that, General?
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Well, I mean, it takes 18 months to get a Blackhawk pilot. It takes ten months to build the plane. It takes two to five years to put together a credible system. I don’t know. We’ll be working at it for a long time.
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN: Well, at the same time, don’t the anti-narcotic police have 150 trained chopper pilots? They’re now…
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: The Colombian national police do not have a system to support a sudden infusion of Blackhawks, period.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering was in Colombia’s capital of Bogotá yesterday. He and Colombian President Andres Pastrana inspected the U.S. Blackhawk helicopters that have been delivered. During his visit, Pickering reiterated that the U.S. role in Colombia’s drug war will be limited to providing equipment and training to Colombia’s anti-drug forces.