|Robert S. Gelbard
Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Statement Before the Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
Washington, DC, February 14, 1997
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have the opportunity today to discuss with you U.S. counternarcotics policy toward Colombia. Before I begin my remarks today, however, I would like to thank the Subcommittee for its strong backing of the Administration's counternarcotics programs. In particular, Chairman Hastert, your support helped ensure that the International Narcotics Control budget would be sufficient to carry out critical anti-drug and crime initiatives throughout the world, top among which are our programs in the major cocaine and opium source countries.
President Clinton denied certification to Colombia March 1, 1996, because the efforts of Colombia's honest police, military, prosecutors and government officials were being undermined by corruption at the highest levels of the Colombian Government and Congress. The challenge we confronted was to find a way to maintain pressure on a president we believe to be influenced by traffickers, while also supporting constructive Colombian anti-drug efforts. I believe that our strategy has produced results, and we have balanced our rejection of corruption in the Samper Administration with increased support directly to the Colombian institutions that are combating the drug scourge. To deny honest Colombian police, judicial and military officials desperately-needed resources and technical assistance would have demoralized and left them vulnerable and ill-equipped to confront drug traffickers and corrupt politicians. We would have handed some of the world's leading criminals a victory by default.
Our strategy to meet that challenge over the past year has been to maintain support for essential counternarcotics programs and institutions in Colombia; in fact, from 1996 to 1997, we have almost doubled our assistance program for the Colombian National Police (CNP) and elements of the justice sector. At the same time, we pressed the government to take specific policy and legislative actions that would strengthen the hand of the law enforcement and judicial sectors. Our objectives included the enactment and implementation of tough asset forfeiture and sentencing laws; the strengthening of Colombia's inadequate 1995 money laundering statute; reconsideration of Colombia's policy of not extraditing its nationals; support for investigations and prosecutions targeting corrupt public officials; stepped-up eradication of coca fields; and the signing of a bilateral maritime agreement. We also sought continued law enforcement and judicial action against traffickers; their prosecution, conviction, and sentencing to prison terms commensurate with their crimes; the dismantling of their organizations; and the forfeiture of their front companies and ill-gotten proceeds.
This list did not come as a surprise to the Samper Government. In fact, in July 1994, he promised, in a letter sent to many of the members of both this House and the Senate, to undertake many of these same initiatives immediately upon taking office. He said he would "accelerate the reform of Colombia's penal code, increasing the penalties for drug traffickers and removing the loopholes in our plea-bargaining system." He committed as well to send to the Colombian Congress stringent anti-corruption legislation and strengthened laws against money laundering. Finally, President Samper promised to "track down corruption and send the political cronies of the cartels to jail." Rather than supporting anti-corruption efforts, however, Samper publicly attacked the Prosecutor General's office for its far-reaching investigation of political corruption known as the "Case 8,000," which implicated Samper and members of his administration as well as many legislators. Despite credible evidence that his political campaign had accepted drug money, President Samper was exonerated by the Colombian Congress through a patently flawed process that lacked transparency.
Progress on some of the legislation, the maritime agreement, and expanded eradication efforts has been made. We believe this progress was largely due to the denial of certification, international and Colombian private sector pressure, and the inherent threat of economic sanctions. But the Government of Colombia has failed, in our view, to follow through on promised counternarcotics action, or to take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to confronting fully the drug interests that contributed millions of dollars to President Samper's electoral campaign. To the contrary, he did not follow through on key items on the agenda, such as extradition of nationals or strengthened sentencing legislation. Additionally, the evidence that President Samper has aided and abetted drug traffickers was sufficient to warrant the revocation of his U.S. tourist visa last year.
In concrete terms, the government took no action in response to U.S. warnings that the Cali kingpins continue to run their operations from prison. In late January 1997, top drug lords Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela were sentenced to only 10.5 and 9 years in prison, respectively, for their conviction on drug trafficking and illicit enrichment charges, and together were fined just over $12 million. The sentences imposed reflect a reduction by one half of the original gross sentences. These mandatory reductions, and others for which they will be eligible under existing Colombian sentencing guidelines--guidelines developed in a process influenced by the Cali drug traffickers--could ultimately reduce their remaining prison terms to four or five more years apiece.
If President Samper had acted promptly on his 1994 promise to revamp Colombia's sentencing laws, these sentences might have been more commensurate with the seriousness of their crimes. Draft legislation to toughen sentences for drug trafficking and to combat money laundering were not introduced by the government until mid-1996, and were only addressed by congress late last year. The Colombian congress convened an extraordinary session this week to consider this key legislation. Despite the government's protestations that new sentencing laws could not have been applied to these men, the prosecutors who managed the cases have stated publicly that the Rodriguez Orejuelas were convicted for offenses which they committed up until mid-1995, and that a tougher sentencing law, passed in 1994 or early 1995, could have been applied to those crimes. In stark contrast to the Colombian sentences, a U.S. federal judge sentenced Mexican drug lord Juan Garcia Abrego--a long-time associate of the Rodriguez Orejuelas--to 11 life terms and a fine of $128 million on January 31, 1997, on charges of trafficking some 15 tons of cocaine and of money laundering.
The Samper Administration took no concrete action to reexamine extradition of these traffickers, despite the inadequacy of Colombia's laws to deal with their criminal enterprise. Other sectors of Colombian public opinion have begun to openly discuss the need for extradition. In fact, Colombia's Constitutional Court is considering the issue of whether Colombian nationals could be extradited pursuant to existing international treaties, despite Colombia's 1991 constitutional prohibition on the extradition of its nationals. The Samper Administration, however, made no serious effort to press the case for reinstatement of extradition, or to launch a constitutional reform initiative in 1996. We will hold the Government of Colombia to the promise made by Ambassador Esguerra to President Clinton, just this past Tuesday, that the Samper Administration will introduce such a bill in March. Meanwhile, our formal requests for the extradition of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera Buitrago, and Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia not only have gone unanswered, but have never formally been presented to the Colombian Supreme Court.
Asset forfeiture legislation, for which President Samper lobbied near the end of the 1996 congressional session, passed December 19, 1996. The law, as approved by the legislature, is a good one and could prove to be a very significant development. Before we can evaluate the government's commitment to implement it, however, the legislation must stand the review of the Constitutional Court--a test which some Colombian observers believe the law was designed to fail. Let me note in passing, however, that the first attempts at implementation of the law have failed utterly. For example, the hold on assets placed in the names of family and friends of the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers was lifted at the time of their sentencings, and these assets are now available to them once more.
While we continue to hope for the best, we can only judge the Colombian Government by its concrete actions. As recently as late 1996, while the investigation and trial of the Cali kingpins was well underway, Samper and Interior Minister Serpa were actively pursuing negotiations with the Cali mafia kingpins that would have undermined the efforts of the police and Prosecutor General's office. This revelation was merely another reminder that Samper's commitment to take on the top traffickers must be evaluated on the basis of specific results, rather than stated intentions.
While some critical issues were not addressed, the Samper Administration sought to recover some measure of international legitimacy by improving its cooperation on a number of other issues on the agenda. In late 1996, the government agreed to a U.S.G.-funded enhancement of the coca crop eradication program. It also agreed to expedited shipboarding procedures in November 1996 and initialed, in early 1997, a maritime agreement to interdict illicit cargo at sea which will be signed by our governments soon. Leading segments of the private sector began to mobilize in order to press the government to pass key legislation, and Colombian industries have sought more direct cooperation with the U.S. to coordinate an approach toward countering the drug trade. Notable among private sector organizations is the Colombian Flower Growers Association, which has taken a courageous public stand in favor of the asset forfeiture law and extradition. Application in late 1995 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) against Cali mafia front companies propelled the Colombian banking sector to take steps to implement tighter, voluntary controls over their own industry, recognizing the potentially devastating implications for Colombia should key banks lose their access to the U.S. banking system.
At the operational level, our counternarcotics cooperation with the Colombian National Police (CNP), the Prosecutor General's Office and the elements of the armed forces remains good. As I noted earlier, we have substantially increased our assistance to the CNP in the past year. We have doubled our assistance, from $22.6 million in program and aviation assistance last year to some $44 million in 1997, most of which supports the eradication and interdiction operations of the Anti-Narcotics Police. Part of this increase will be devoted to purchasing non-lethal, military-issue equipment and spare parts which previously have been funded with counternarcotics Foreign Military Financing monies, inaccessible now due to the denial of certification. We also have dramatically increased our aviation support to the CNP, including the no-cost lease of 12 additional UH-1H helicopters and deployment of additional INL support helicopters, valued at over $20 million. We will be deploying upgraded spray aircraft--five OV-10 Bronco aircraft--this spring, and should deliver 12 more UH-1H helicopters associated with the President's 506(a)(2) drawdown package in four to six months. INL obtained a number of Bronco aircraft and is refurbishing them as spray planes with the capability to conduct reconnaissance. A twin-engine aircraft with much greater range than the current spray platforms, the Bronco should help the CNP reach growing areas beyond range of the current fleet.
Much of the combined police-military interdiction efforts in 1996 focused on denying drug cultivators and traffickers the solvents and chemicals necessary to process refined cocaine HCl. This effort produced a substantial increase in precursor chemical seizures, and in the number of labs destroyed. In an operation earlier this year, the Anti-Narcotics Police and army netted a massive laboratory in the coca growing region capable of turning out more than a ton of cocaine per day. At the same time, the shift in focus of interdiction operations, and the devotion of increased resources to the eradication program, resulted in a drop in the seizures of drug trafficking aircraft, cocaine, and heroin products as compared to 1995.
We have worked more closely than ever with the CNP to carry out a much-enhanced aerial eradication program. Our efforts to rapidly expand the program in late 1996 presented significant challenges--including meeting expanding infrastructure, logistical support and security requirements--which the CNP has accepted without hesitation. The military also rose to this challenge, increasing its support to the police eradication operation and allowing the CNP to live and operate out of a number of its facilities in the coca-growing region. Despite the demonstrated commitment of the CNP to the eradication program, the Colombian government, has strongly opposed the testing of the safe granular herbicides which we know to be more effective in killing coca than the liquid herbicides currently being used.
The Colombian coca crop expanded by over 30% last year, from almost 51,000 hectares to over 67,000 hectares, despite our joint efforts to expand the aerial eradication program and make it more effective. Coca cultivation increased by 13% between 1994 and 1995, and has almost tripled since 1987. This continued expansion of Colombia's coca crop points to one of the greatest challenges Colombians and we face in stamping out the drug trade.
There are a number of factors driving this expansion. Law enforcement and interdiction pressure in Peru helped produce an impressive 18% reduction in the Peruvian coca crop last year. The shrinking Peruvian supply of cocaine products likely is part of the explanation behind the dramatic increase in Colombia's crop in 1996. Stepped-up spray operations also were probably a factor, as coca growers extended new planting into areas beyond the current reach of the spray aircraft.
The crop has been steadily expanding since 1987, however, and we must recognize the decisive role played by some elements of Colombia's insurgent groups in identifying an economic opportunity--the insatiable desire of the traffickers for a reliable source of cocaine products--and deciding to carve out a significant portion of that market for themselves. This dynamic, which implies increased self-sufficiency for the Colombian drug industry, has significant implications for our efforts to eliminate this scourge. Those guerrilla fronts engaged in the drug industry now have a proven source of income, and a vested interest in expanding and protecting the trade. In the regions of the country where they are cultivating massive coca fields and protecting laboratories--areas where the Colombian government often has no consistent presence or control--these guerrilla fronts constitute a very real threat to Colombian anti-drug forces deployed to eradicate fields, and the American personnel who support them.
In this environment, counternarcotics cooperation from Colombia's government, and that government's clear support of the efforts of its own police and military, prosecutors, judges and other government officials on the front lines of this struggle, are more important than ever. We have implemented a strategy that is producing some progress on key legislation, and that has galvanized the private sector to take a more active role in pressing its own government to fight the drug trade. We must continue to provide a high level of direct support, assistance and encouragement to those in Colombia dedicated to ending the drug scourge and the corruption it has engendered. And most importantly, we must continue to make clear to the Colombian Government that the American people expect concrete results.
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