Opening Statement of
Chairman John L. Mica
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources
"The Narcotics Threat from Colombia"
August 6, 1999
Our hemisphere and the United States are facing one the greatest
challenges to regional and national security as the situation with
Colombia continues to deteriorate. During the past few days, the
United States military lost five American lives in the drug war being
waged in Colombia.
The influx of illegal drugs to the United States is our nation's
number one social challenge and most insidious national security
threat. Because 3/4 of the heroin on U.S. streets and virtually all
the cocaine comes from Colombia, this Subcommittee is once again
investigating this Administration's counter-drug activities in
For the record, I have been in Colombia several times over the past
few years and most recently in February. I saw firsthand the enormity
and complexity of the drug and insurgency problem.
Even since February, the threat has grown substantially. Events
in-country appear to be spiraling out of control. Colombia is now,
what military officials call, "situation critical." Many of us on the
Hill saw this situation coming years ago, as this Administration
repeatedly ignored the problem.
As a result, Colombia now supplies 80 percent of the cocaine entering
the United States. More disturbing, in just the past five years, there
has been an explosion of poppy cultivation in Colombia.
High purity Colombian heroin in tremendous quantities is now flooding
our communities. Heroin overdoses have doubled in the past 2 years.
Since 1992, heroin use by our teenagers has soared 825 percent. Our
DEA heroin signature program indicates that 75 percent of the heroin
seized in the U.S. originates from Colombia.
Compounding the problem, Colombia faces a full-scale guerrilla war --
one that is financed almost entirely by narcotics trafficking.
By recent accounts, that armed conflict is now raging out of control
in Colombia. Rebel insurgents are becoming more aggressive, killing
In fact, more people have been displaced in Colombia than in Kosovo
even at the height of the recent conflict, and there are indications
of a potential mass exodus from Colombia. More than 300,000 Colombians
were internally displaced in 1998 compared to 230,000 in Kosovo during
the same period of time.
In short, despite five years of congressional pleas for assistance to
Colombia, countless hearings, and intense congressional efforts,
resources approved by Congress have failed to be provided to Colombia.
Two weeks ago today, five American men and women from the U.S. Army
were killed in the line of duty in Colombia when their U.S.
reconnaissance plane crashed into a mountain on a counter-drug mission
into narco-guerilla territory. This marks the first time in U.S.
history that American military personnel have been killed in action in
Colombia's drug war.
American blood has also been spilled on Colombian soil in other ways.
In addition to these five Americans, three U.S. contract pilots have
been killed in Colombia over the past two years. Three Americans were
abducted and brutally murdered by the FARC, Colombia's largest group
of drug trafficking guerillas, earlier this year. And numerous
Americans have been kidnapped by Colombian narco-guerillas. The
longest held U.S. hostages are 3 American missionaries from my
District -- unaccounted for since 1993.
Additionally, nearly 5,000 Colombian policemen have been killed by the
narco-guerillas, and nearly 40,000 Colombians have been killed over
the past decade.
In fact, more deaths occurred in Colombia last year from the drug war
than in Kosovo during the recent inhumanity seen in that country. Yet
this war is little recognized by the United States, and has been
largely ignored by this Administration.
Our U.S. Drug Czar recently confirmed that the dual threats of
narcotics trafficking and the rebel insurgency have become
indistinguishable. And while the Administration grasps for an
effective policy to deal with this "emergency," Colombia's
narco-terrorism now poses the single greatest threat to the stability
of our hemisphere.
What brought us to this brink of disaster? Today we will examine this
question along with a series of other critical issues -- including
this administration's inability or unwillingness to deliver
drug-fighting support and equipment to our trusted allies in Colombia.
Time and time again, this administration has ignored the emerging
situation in Colombia despite congressional oversight hearings that
have tried repeatedly to call attention to the impending crisis.
In February and in July of 1997, this subcommittee held oversight
hearings on the counter-drug problem in Colombia. In March of 1998,
this Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on regional counter-drug
At the same time, the House International Relations Committee held a
hearing on Colombia's Heroin Crisis in June of 1998, a hearing on the
implementation of the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act in March
of 1999, and hearings recently on Colombia and Panama.
By contrast, this administration has compounded the situation in
Colombia by reversing course on important policy issues. Just
recently, this administration issued a policy reversal on U.S.
information-sharing with the Colombian military.
In 1996 and 1997, when this administration decertified Colombia
without a National Interest waiver, it severely undermined the
legitimate drug fighting efforts of General Serrano and the Colombian
National Police, cutting off IMET training and critical equipment.
Executing any effective anti-narcotics program has been fatally
handicapped by the absence of U.S. intelligence sharing, due in part
to the reduced air coverage after the forced closure of Howard Air
Force Base in Panama. This gap in surveillance capability has put the
entire region at risk now and for many months to come.
This administration has also displayed a schizophrenic approach to
provided aid to Colombia. While very publicly calling for $1 billion
in emergency aid last week, this same administration requested only
$40 million for Colombia just six months ago and blocked assistance
there two years ago.
Indeed, in a bold display of hypocrisy, the administration's FY-2000
budget request did not include a single dollar of the $280 million
authorized by Congress for Colombia under the Western Hemisphere Drug
Elimination Act, an emergency congressional appropriation initiated by
Worse still, this administration has resisted congressional efforts to
ensure that needed drug-fighting equipment makes it to Colombia in a
timely manner. The Administration has fought us on Blackhawk utility
helicopters for the past 3 years and, to date, not a single Blackhawk
helicopter has yet made it to Colombia. Notably, there is one sitting,
right now, on a tarmac in Stranford, Connecticut, as we speak.
Likewise, this administration fought us on upgraded Huey-II
helicopters for the Colombian National Police. Again, to date, only
two of twelve upgraded Huey-II helicopters have made it to Colombia,
despite the fact that, right now, there are four Huey-II helicopters,
outfitted and ready to go, sitting on a tarmac in Ozark, Alabama.
These Huey-II helicopters are vital to protecting planes, which
conduct crop eradication in Colombia, vital to getting at the cocaine
labs, and vital for eliminating high altitude heroin poppies.
Today, there are reports of increased activity by the 15,000 Marxist
narco-terrorist guerillas also known as the FARC. This army of
insurgents, heavily financed by the drug traffickers, controls nearly
one-half of Colombia and now actually threatens the hemisphere's
second oldest democracy.
As chairman of this subcommittee, I am deeply concerned that the FARC
army has gone largely unchecked and is expanding now beyond Colombia's
borders. The United States can ill afford further instability in this
With 20 percent of the U.S. daily supply of crude and refined oil
imports coming from that area -- and with the strategically important
Panama Canal located just 150 miles to the north -- the national
security implications of Colombian rebel activity spilling over into
neighboring countries are enormous.
In conclusion, with drugs flooding our borders and pending regional
turmoil, our vital national interests are undeniably at stake. We face
a serious and growing challenge. The question is what policies and
strategy America will adopt to meet this threat and protect the vital
U.S. interests in the region.