Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State
House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Criminal
Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources:
August 6, 1999
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the situation in Colombia
and our joint counternarcotics efforts there. Colombia stands at a
critical crossroads now, and there are considerable dangers for U.S.
interests, but also significant opportunities. The policy choices we
make in the next several months, and the assistance we provide, could
have a significant impact on Colombia's future, helping to determine
whether it continues its long, slow descent toward chaos, or begins to

The Current Situation

It is difficult to describe the current situation in Colombia without
sounding alarmist. Colombia's national sovereignty is increasingly
threatened by a resurgent guerrilla movement, a violent illegal
paramilitary movement, and wealthy narcotrafficker interests. Although
the central government in Bogota is not directly threatened at this
time, control over large swaths of the countryside is limited to
non-existent. It is in these very areas where the guerrilla groups,
paramilitaries and narcotics traffickers flourish.

The links between narcotics trafficking and the guerrilla and
paramilitary movements are well documented. We estimate that
two-thirds of the FARC fronts and one half of the ELN fronts are
involved in narcotics trafficking to one degree or another. By
involvement, we mean not just that the guerrilla groups collect
"taxes" as they do with all legitimate businesses in areas they
control, but that they actively participate in other ways. We have
reporting to indicate that guerrilla groups protect narcotrafficker
fields and labs, transport drugs and precursor chemicals within
Colombia, run labs, encourage or intimidate peasants to grow coca,
accept drugs as payment from narcotics traffickers and resell those
drugs for profit, trade drugs for weapons, and have even begun to ship
drugs out of the country -- to Brazil and Venezuela. Estimates of
guerrilla profits from narcotics trafficking and other illicit
activities such as kidnapping and extortion are undependable, but may
exceed $100 million a year, and could be far greater. Paramilitary
groups also have clear ties to important narcotics traffickers, and
obtain much of their funding from traffickers. Carlos Castano, the
paramilitary leader, has been previously identified as a significant
narcotics trafficker in his own right. Profits from illegal
activities, combined with a weakening economy and high unemployment,
have enabled the FARC in particular to grow rapidly in strength.

Colombia's security forces, despite valiant efforts, have not fared
well in confrontations with the guerrillas. Over the last few years,
guerrilla forces have racked up a string of significant successes: Las
Delicias, El Billar, Miraflores, and Mitu. Only during the recent
summer FARC offensive have the Colombian military and police been able
to inflict significant defeats on the guerrillas. While these recent
engagements give reason for optimism and are a sign of increasing
commitment and aggressiveness by the Colombian armed forces, they
should not be permitted to obscure the fact that the Colombian
military still needs to address severe deficiencies in training,
doctrine, organization, and equipment to be able to deal effectively
with the guerrilla and paramilitary threat.

The strength of Colombia's armed insurgent groups has, in turn,
limited the effectiveness of joint U.S./Colombian counternarcotics
efforts. While aggressive eradication has largely controlled the coca
crop in the Guaviare region, and is beginning to make inroads in
Caqueta, any gains made there have been more than offset by explosive
growth in the coca crop in Putumayo, an area which has been off-limits
for spray operations because the Colombian National Police has been
unable to establish a secure base there due to heavy guerrilla
presence. Interdiction operations are similarly limited, and we are
unable to carry out any meaningful alternative development programs in
most of the coca-growing region because the Colombian government lacks
the ability to conduct the monitoring and enforcement necessary for
the success of such programs. In order for our counternarcotics
programs to be successful, it is untenable for certain areas of the
country like Putumayo to be off-limits for counternarcotics

Fortunately, however, there are reasons for optimism. In the Pastrana.
administration, the U.S. finally has a full and trustworthy partner
that shares our counternarcotics goals in Colombia and is committed to
full cooperation on the full range of counternarcotics efforts. After
the extreme difficulty of working with the narco-tainted Samper
regime, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of this. The
Colombian National Police, under the direction of General Serrano, has
continued its superb record of counternarcotics activity, reinforcing
its image as one of the premier counternarcotics forces in the world.
Now, for the first time, the CNP's commitment to counternarcotics is
being matched by the Colombian armed forces. Under new leadership, the
Colombian military is undergoing a transformation which, if sustained,
bodes well for Colombia. The Colombian military, under the civilian
leadership of Defense Minister Ramirez and Armed Forces Commander
Tapias, is taking dramatic steps to deal with the legacy of human
rights abuses and impunity that has clouded relations in the past.
Specifically, we refer to the forced retirements of Generals Millan
and del Rio because of ties to illegal paramilitary organizations, and
the arrests of Gen. Uscategui and Lt. Col. Sanchez Oviedo for alleged
involvement in the 1997 Mapiripan massacre conducted by
paramilitaries. Our human rights report has also documented a steadily
declining number of reported human rights violations by the Colombian

Clearly much work remains to be done to address the problem of human
rights in the Colombian military, but we now believe that the will
exists to do so.

Concurrent with this effort to clean up the military is a renewed
Colombian military commitment to counternarcotics. The new leadership
realizes that one of the best ways to attack the guerrillas is to
attack their financing, in the form of narcotics profits. The
Colombian Army has greatly expanded cooperation with and support for
the Colombian National Police, and is forming a brand new
counternarcotics battalion, specifically designed for the
counternarcotics mission and to work directly with the CNP. The
Colombian Air Force has undertaken an aggressive program to regain
control of their airspace, and deny its use to traffickers. They have
registered some significant successes and demonstrated considerable
competence and will, but are still limited by outdated equipment,
limited operating funds and inadequate training. The Colombian Navy is
working closely with U.S. forces on maritime interdiction, and has
participated in many significant seizures, despite limits on equipment
and operating funds. Overall, cooperation with Colombian military on
counternarcotics operations has never been better.

Peace Process

One of the top priorities of the Pastrana government is the peace
process it has begun with the FARC. The USG supports Pastrana's
efforts to negotiate an end to Colombia's long-running internal
conflict. We believe that the cessation of hostilities and the
severance of insurgent- trafficker links would be of great benefit to
U.S. interests in Colombia. It would stabilize the nation, remove some
of the narcotics traffickers' protection, permit the government to
restore its authority in the coca-growing region, help Colombia's
economy to recover, and allow for further improvement in respect for
human rights.

We have made it very clear to the Pastrana government, however, that
we cannot accept "peace at any price." We have consistently asked the
Colombian government to press the guerrillas to cease their practice
of kidnapping, provide an accounting of the fate of the missing New
Tribes missionaries who were kidnapped by the FARC in 1993, and turn
over to legitimate authorities those responsible for the murder
earlier this year of three U.S. citizen indigenous rights activists.
We have made clear to all parties that the peace process must not
impede counternarcotics cooperation, and that any agreement must
permit continued expansion of all aspects of this cooperation,
including aerial eradication. The Pastrana government understands our
priorities and fully agrees with them.

The peace process is currently stalled, primarily because of FARC
intransigence. During the course of the negotiations to date, the
Pastrana regime has offered several unilateral concessions, the most
important of which was the establishment of a large "despeje" or
demilitarized zone for the FARC, as gestures of good faith and to
induce the FARC to negotiate. The FARC has failed to reciprocate. Now,
in the face of this intransigence, and in reaction to reliable reports
of human rights abuses committed by the

FARC within the despeje, as well as evidence that some of the attacks
in the recent FARC offensive were launched from within the despeje,
the Pastrana administration has hardened its negotiating position. The
government of Colombia is insisting on immediate establishment of an
international verification commission to monitor the despeje, ensuring
that the rights of those citizens within it are protected, and
ensuring that it is not used as either a haven for narcotics
traffickers or a base for offensive operations. The FARC is resisting
such a commission, despite having agreed to it in principle
previously. We strongly support the Pastrana government's stand on
this issue. If the FARC is unwilling to allow its actions in the
despeje to be monitored by an independent commission, its commitment
to a meaningful peace process must be questioned. It is time for the
FARC to demonstrate its seriousness by taking at least this small step
toward peace.

One of the key limitations confronting the Pastrana administration
during the negotiations is that the guerrillas currently are feeling
little pressure to negotiate. They do not perceive the Colombian armed
forces as a threat, and the profits generated by involvement in
narcotics trafficking and other illegal activities will allow them to
continue building their strength through recruiting and arms purchases
for the conceivable future. Essentially, the guerrillas have little
incentive to negotiate other than a desire to "go legitimate".
Although we do not believe it is feasible for Colombia to end the
insurgency militarily, we do believe Colombia's armed forces must
improve their performance and become a more serious threat to the
FARC, before the FARC can be expected to make the real concessions
which are necessary to breathe life into the peace process.

The road to peace is often a rocky one, and there could be many
advances and setbacks before the process ends, whether it is
successful or not. Throughout the process, however, we will continue
to emphasize vital U.S. interests, including the protection of our
citizens and continued countenarcotics cooperation.

Joint Counternarcotics Programs

The USG in general, and INL in particular, is involved with the
government of Colombia on a wide range of programs in support of our
Colombia counternarcotics strategy, which is, in turn, an integral
part of the President's Source Zone Strategy, as described in
Presidential Decision Directive 14. Our strategy for Colombia calls
for an integrated program of support for interdiction and eradication
efforts, justice sector reform, alternative development, and
institutional strengthening. Colombia is the largest single recipient
of U.S. counternarcotics assistance, almost $200 million in FY99
alone, much of it from the emergency supplemental passed by Congress
last year, which many of the members of this committee played vital
roles in crafting and supporting.

In 1998, the joint CNP/INL eradication campaign sprayed record amounts
of coca, over 65,000 hectares. In the Guaviare region, where most of
the spray effort has been concentrated, and which used to be the
center of the Colombian cocaine industry, the crop has decreased more
than 30 percent in the last two years, and very little new cultivation
is reported. Similar inroads are being made in the Caqueta region now.
Unfortunately, this success has been undermined by the inability of
spray aircraft to penetrate the Putumayo region, where the crop has
increased an astounding 330% over the last two years. The center of
gravity of the coca industry in Colombia has clearly shifted.

On the opium poppy front, spray activity has prevented the expansion
of the opium poppy crop, which has remained essentially stable for
several years. During this time, however, Colombian-origin heroin
dramatically increased its market share in the United States, and now
increasingly dominates that market, particularly in the eastern U.S.
For that reason, we kicked off an intensive opium poppy eradication
campaign with the CNP in December 1998. To date, the CNP has sprayed
over 7000 hectares of opium poppy, a record total. They have
essentially sprayed the entire poppy crop in the Huila growing area
and have now shifted operations to Cauca. Unfortunately, spray
operations have slowed since the tragic death of a Colombian spray
pilot in an accident high in the mountains during spray operations,
and an unrelated accident, also resulting in loss of life, involving a
helicopter which struck a cable while in hot pursuit of suspected
traffickers in northern Colombia.

We continue to provide support for the interdiction operations of the
Colombian National Police, which have progressed at a high rate
throughout this year. We are also working closely with the Colombian
Air Force to improve the effectiveness of its aerial interdiction
program, providing funds for the upgrade of A-37 interceptor aircraft
and working with the interagency community to provide better detection
and monitoring support not just in Colombia, but throughout the source

We also support an administration of justice program in Colombia,
working with AID, OPDAT and ICITAP to provide technical assistance and
training to the beleaguered Colombian justice system, which continues
to be a weak link in the Colombian counternarcotics effort, is
incapable of ensuring justice will be done, and has lost the public's
confidence. We are pressing actively for continued reforms, including
development of an effective criminal investigation and prosecution
capability, improved asset forfeiture procedures, tighter
money-laundering enforcement, stiffer penalties for narcotics
trafficking offenses, and better prison security to keep drug lords
from escaping or continuing to operate their illicit enterprises from

We have just begun to provide support for a nascent alternative
development program in Colombia, $5 million in FY99. We are, however,
limiting our program to areas in which the government can exercise
reasonable control. Experience has taught us that without government
control alternative development cannot succeed because compliance
cannot be monitored and enforced. As a practical matter, this has
limited our assistance to programs in the opium poppy region, where
the government has a better presence and the necessary infrastructure
already exists. The program is being integrated with aggressive opium
poppy eradication. Combined, the programs aim to eliminate the
majority of Colombia's opium poppy crop within three years.

We are also working directly with the Colombian military in two
important areas. First, we are working closely with SOUTHCOM and DOD
to provide training and equipment for the Colombian Army's new
counternarcotics battalion. This battalion is a 950-man unit,
comprised entirely of personnel who have been vetted by both the
Embassy and the Department to ensure that none of them have been
involved in any human rights violations. The USG is providing training
and some equipment to the unit. The first company and several of the
support elements of the battalion have already completed most of their
training, and training of the remaining two companies has just begun.
The Colombian government believes the full battalion will be
operational by January 2000. The mission of this unit is to conduct
counternarcotics missions and support the CNP. For example, the
battalion will be used to secure areas in which the CNP is about to
operate, clearing insurgents and other armed actors from the area so
the operations, be it interdiction or eradication, can proceed with
greater confidence of security. The CNP has agreed to assign a regular
liaison team to work with the battalion and ensure close coordination.

We are also working to improve the Colombian security forces' ability
to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence on counternarcotics
activity and on insurgent activity which could threaten
counternarcotics forces to those units which need the information. A
key element in this is helping the CNP and the military to share the
information they do have, so that all relevant forces have access to
the best available information on activity in their area. This is a
force protection issue for us, as well, and we are taking steps to
ensure that we get all information necessary to ensure the safety of
U.S. personnel in the region, including State Department contractors
helping with the eradication effort and DOD personnel conducting

Where We Go from Here

While we will continue to support the Colombian peace process and
carry out ongoing counternarcotics programs, we believe it is
imperative that we support Colombia's counternarcotics strategy as it
moves in new directions to stay on top of a very dynamic narcotics
trade. Director McCaffrey and I traveled to Colombia just a week and a
half ago to discuss with the Colombian government how best we can
support their efforts, and we have come back with some clear ideas as
to what kind of support is needed. We are currently involved in
discussions within the Administration over how we can use existing
authorities and funds to support counternarcotics operations.
Undersecretary Pickering and I will be traveling to Colombia next week
to assess these requirements and reemphasize our support for both
Colombia's counternarcotics efforts and the peace process.

Of primary importance to us is starting counternarcotics operations in
Putumayo. As long as this region remains a sanctuary for traffickers,
progress we make elsewhere will be undermined. In order to operate
effectively in this area, which is heavily dominated by the FARC, the
CNP will need the support of the Colombian military. The CNP cannot
operate there alone. Therefore, we must begin working with the
Colombian military, to bring their capabilities up to a level where
they can successfully operate alongside the CNP and contribute to the
counternarcotics effort. We are currently examining the needs of the
Colombian military forces involved in counternarcotics and searching
for ways to steer the appropriate resources toward them. Given the
extensive links between Colombia's guerrilla groups and the narcotics
trade, counternarcotics forces will come into contact with the
guerillas, and must be provided with the means to defend themselves
and carry out their mission. Beyond force protection, however, we have
no intention of becoming involved in Colombia's counterinsurgency.

We also believe an active aerial interdiction program is absolutely
necessary. In Peru, we have seen the dramatic effect such a program
can have on the economics of the drug trade, and we would like to
recreate that effect in Colombia. The Colombian Air Force is willing,
but requires considerable assistance to carry out the mission.

We will continue our strong support of the Colombian National Police,
who maintain primary responsibility for counternarcotics operations in
Colombia, and who still have some outstanding equipment needs, as well
as an ongoing need for operational support.

We need to continue working to guide the Colombians in the reform of
their justice system and provide alternative crops or employment for
coca farmers so that they do not continue to replant after their crops
are eradicated.

I appreciate the support that members of this committee and the
Congress as a whole have shown for Colombian counternarcotics efforts
and our partnership role. I hope that continued bipartisan support
will enable us to turn the tide in this important endeavor and begin
to substantially reduce the amount of illegal drugs on the streets of
the United States.