September 22, 1999
With a failing economy, a surging illegal drug trade, and continued civil unrest, Colombian President Andres Pastrana discusses efforts to stabilize his country.
JIM LEHRER: The country on the front line of America's drug war-- we start with this report by Kwame Holman.
KWAME HOLMAN: The South American country of Colombia produces three-quarters of the world's illicit cocaine and two-thirds of the heroin sold on the streets of the US As part of its war on drugs, Washington this year tripled its anti-narcotics assistance to Colombia to $289 million dollars. That makes Colombia the third largest recipient of US military aid, behind Israel and Egypt.
In July, the American-backed drug war in Colombia exacted its first US military casualties. An army surveillance plane went down in remote southern Colombia, killing five US soldiers. The crash added fuel to a partisan political debate in Washington over the US role in Colombia's drug war. The White House drug czar, Retired General Barry McCaffrey, was in Colombia in August, and called the drug situation there an emergency. McCaffrey wants an additional $1 billion in US military and civilian aid to go to Colombia and its neighbors over three years. And McCaffrey defended efforts by Colombia's president, Andres Pastrana, to reach a settlement with antigovernment guerrillas.
Columbia's civil war between the government and at least three competing guerrilla groups has resulted in some 30,000 deaths just in the last decade. An estimated 1.3 million people of Colombia's population of 40 million have left their homes because of the fighting. Many fled to neighboring countries. The economy also is suffering, with the peso losing a quarter of its value versus dollar this year. Unemployment is at 20 percent, and Colombia's current recession is said to be the worst in 70 years. McCaffrey acknowledged the government's talks with the rebels, known by their Spanish acronyms FARC and ELN, have been slow-moving.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: There's been no gesture of goodwill on the part of the FARC guerrillas. It's outrageous. And yet in saying that, I do not imply that we should do anything but be entirely supportive of continuing to engage on a negotiated -- support Pastrana and his colleagues on a negotiated end to the FARC, ELN, and paramilitary struggle against the government.
KWAME HOLMAN: On Capitol Hill, Republicans say Pastrana's peace overtures have failed to curb violence, and that the Colombian president destabilized the situation further when he effectively gave a portion of land to the rebels. Today, the guerrillas control about half the territory in the country. Indiana Republican Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is a leading critic of the Pastrana government and US policy.
REP. DAN BURTON: It's unfortunate that it took the tragic deaths of five US Army personnel in Colombia to enlighten this administration that there's a problem down there. A blind person could have seen there's a problem. If we haven't learned anything throughout history, we ought to learn this: Appeasement does not work.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans also blasted the administration for failing to deliver state-of-the-art Black Hawk helicopters promised to Colombia to help it fight the drug growers. This week, President Pastrana is in the US asking for more help. Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly and meeting with US officials, he requested $3.5 billion in international assistance to fight the drug war.
the drug war
JIM LEHRER: And Colombia's president, Andres Pastrana is with us now. Mr. President, welcome.
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Thank you much, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: How would you spend the $3.5 billion?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Roughly, I think, the figures of this $3.5 billion, 55 percent are going to be invested in fighting drugs, in narco-trafficking -- another 45 percent in social investment, in education, alternative development, housing, infrastructure, and creating alternative development in the areas in which we have right now illegal crops.
JIM LEHRER: How would this money make it possible... what would this money make possible for you to do that you're not doing now to fight the drug situation?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: I think that we need to invest in our economy, because we need to create back again the structure to put the economy back on the track of development, growth, employment -- avoid people going from the urban areas and the rural areas to cultivate coca or poppy fields. So I think that if we invest in them in alternative development, in creating new jobs in the country, enhance the commerce between Colombia and the United States, we're going to get more jobs, and we're going to get these people out of this illicit business.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you believe it's the responsibility of the United States and other countries to help you?
|Supply and demand|
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Because this is a war that is not only of Colombia. This is a global problem. I will not stay only in the supply demand--
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead. That's fine.
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: I think we go a step further. What's good and what's bad. And I think that it is bad to cultivate like what is happening in Colombia, but it's also bad to consume as is happening in the United States and in Europe. And that's why we're not asking aid. I think this is a strategic alliance between Colombia, the United States, Europe, Asia. This is the largest business in the world, it's a $500 billion business.
JIM LEHRER: $500 billion?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: And that's why we need to unite all the countries of the world to eradicate drugs from the face of the earth. And this is not only your problem.
JIM LEHRER: So when you talk to US leaders, whether it's General McCaffrey or whether it's President Clinton or Secretary Albright or whoever, you say, "hey, wait a minute, there is a supply problem, and we're working on that but there's also a demand. You reduce the demands and help us reduce the supply." Do you think the US is doing everything it can to reduce the demand?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: They can do more. And I think you can see in the public opinion of the United States that they want more investment also in avoiding consumption in the United States. And that's why I think we need to unite all the efforts, Colombia, the US, Europe, Asia, to fight this problem.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, I know just on this program for the last 20-plus years, we've been talking about... talking to people about doing things about the drug problem, the drug trafficking, the drug growing in Colombia. And it seems to have gotten worse and worse and worse. What gives you any confidence that $3.5 billion or any other effort could finally stop it?
|Colombia's internal unrest|
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: I think this is the starting point. I think that we've been fighting, for example, in Colombia in the last 18 years, we've been in the front lines against drugs. We have lost, you've seen many times - I imagine-on this program, our best journalists, our best politicians--
JIM LEHRER: They've all been killed.
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Killed. Even myself - I've suffered personally the violence of drugs. I was kidnapped by the Medellin Cartel at the end of the 80's. But I think that we have the commitment, and we're wishing to fight and eradicate drugs from Colombia, from the US, and the world. And that's why I think we need to unite all of the efforts of all of the countries that have been affected right now by drugs to eradicate this problem. And I think it's not a pointing at one country, or accusing one country. I think if we unite all these efforts, not only military efforts, I think we also need to invest in social justice, in recovering our economies, invest in the people, we are going to get rid of this problem on the face of the earth.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what is the connection between the drug problem, the drug traffickers, the drug growers in your country and the guerrillas?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Right now I think that most of the finance of the guerrillas and the vigilantes, militias in Colombia are financed by drugs.
JIM LEHRER: They need each other you mean?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: That's right. I said that that is a convenience matrimony that they have right now. They take care of the plantations. They take taxes from the drug lords taking care of the labs. So I think that if we attack direct narco-trafficking, we are going to avoid the rivers of money that are going to the insurgency or are going into other actors of the conflict in violence, not only Colombia, but also the United States and other parts of the world.
|Colombia's peace process|
JIM LEHRER: What do you say to several US Congressmen who say, "wait a minute. You cannot separate these. If we go in there and increase our aid and assistance to Colombia in the narco-war, we are in fact also involving ours in the civil war?"
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: That's why, Jim, we create what we call the special anti-narcotics battalion of the army. Right now police and army are involved in drug trafficking against drug trafficking, and that's why we separate the aid to these anti-narcotic battalions that is going to work hand in hand with the police in eradicating drugs in Colombia, and all the aid, all the support of the United States is going to be to these special units, united with the government. And with the society, we are going to fight narco- trafficking in the country -- avoiding money that will be going to the army. That is why we are creating a special anti-narcotics unit. We hope by the end of the next three years we can have between 4,000 to 5,000 specialized training men of the army and the police fighting together to eradicate crops from our country.
JIM LEHRER: No danger that the US could get sucked into the other war?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: That's why we're trying to split. This aid will go directly to these special units.
JIM LEHRER: What about critics like Congressman Burton we just saw on the tape who accuses you of appeasement in the way you have dealt with these guerrillas by giving them a huge part of your country, et cetera?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: I control and my government controls the whole territory of Colombia. But what is not fair is that I've been working for the peace process only one year. If you compare the peace process of Colombia with Northern Ireland or the Middle East, they've been centuries before sitting at the table of negotiation. In one year, I have with the FARC agreed on an agenda, 12-point agenda, and we hope very soon to start our negotiations with the FARC. Sometimes people are expecting soon that we could achieve peace in Colombia, and this is a difficult process. To achieve peace you have to work, you have to build. You have to create environment. We've been in this internal war for 40 years. And people are expecting--
JIM LEHRER: Forty years?
|A military solution|
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Forty years, and people are expecting that in eight months or nine months while I've been in government only for one year -- and in the last eight months, I think that we have advanced more than in fifty years. So I think that this is a good starting point, and we hope to get negotiations very soon.
JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, is a military solution even possible?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: I agree with President Clinton. The problems of Colombia, you cannot solve the problems through a military solution. It's through a political solution that we are going to solve our problems.
JIM LEHRER: But does the other side really want peace? Don't they really want to control part of that country? Don't they want to continue drug...
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: They're not controlling 30 percent of the country.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. You dispute
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: What is happening is that they have presence in 30 percent of the country. But we have absolute control of the whole territory of Colombia. What we created with what we call the distention zone is a zone in which insurgency and government, journalists and members of the international community go there or could be there to start this negotiation process.
JIM LEHRER: What are you doing about all these people that are fleeing your country?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: The problem is that for the first time in the history of Colombia, as you said also in your report, we have a link between insecurity and economic crisis. Colombia has been is a very -- our economy has been growing for the last 70 years, but for the first time we inherit a economic crisis. Unemployment right now in Colombia is 20 percent. That's why we think if we enhance the commerce with the United States, new products of Colombia, new employment in Colombia, we're going to have new employers in our country, and in that way, we are avoiding people going out of the country, looking for new alternatives or a way of living, because we have to be aware that many of the displaced people that we have right now in Colombia because causes of violence are not in Miami or Washington or Canada or in other Central American countries, they are in Colombia, and that's why we need to create new employment and put back the economy on track and growing.
|The UN response|
JIM LEHRER: How would you characterize the response you've received at the UN yesterday, and here in Washington today?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Excellent, excellent.
JIM LEHRER: They're going to help you?
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Yes. President Clinton was committed to help. Even today, Senator Coverdale and Senator DeWine, they proposed $1.5 billion for the next three years as help to Colombia. So I think that's a very good first step. But we also want them to ask international community to be involved and get involved in this program. Colombia is putting into this plan $4 billion. Forty percent of my budget of the defense in Colombia is dedicated to drug trafficking. What we're asking is the world, not only the United States, why don't you help us or why don't we create this strategic alliance to fight drug trafficking and to end violence in my country with $3.5 billion in the next three years.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Mr. President, thank you and good luck to you, sir.
PRESIDENT ANDRES PASTRANA: Thank you very much.