1997 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

04/03/97 Committee on the Judiciary - McCollum Statement

Statement of Representative Bill McCollum

Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime

Hearing on U.S. Counter-Narcotics Efforts in the Caribbean

San Juan, Puerto Rico

April 3, 1997

Good Morning. This hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Crime will come to order.

The subject of today's hearing could not be more important or more timely. We will be examining an issue this morning that is, quite simply, a top national security issue -- perhaps THE top national security issue. And that is the scourge of illegal drugs, and the violence and corruption that they bring with them. In the aftermath of the Cold War, illegal drugs are the primary national security threat to the United States.

If there is anyone who doubts the nature of the threat posed to the United States by illegal drugs, come to Puerto Rico. Here, you will find an island under siege. But you will also find an island that is fighting back. And that is why we are in San Juan today, on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Gallatin. [pronounced "GAL-A-TUN"] The annual flood of nearly 650 metric tons of cocaine from South America into the United States has been devastating to the islands of the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico in particular. And yet, nowhere is the resolve to turn back this deadly tide more evident than it is in Puerto Rico. This Island, under the leadership of its capable Governor, has fought back on all fronts. And with recent Federal initiatives underway -- led by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs Service -- there is reason to be hopeful. Yet, I must say, I believe the Federal government has let Puerto Rico down, and let the United States down over the last few years.

Concentrated and sustained drug interdiction efforts by the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, the Customs Service in the late 1980's and early 1990's reduced the flow of drugs entering the United States through the Caribbean. But beginning in 1993, the U.S. drug interdiction capability in the Caribbean was dramatically reduced. In 1995, the President's National Drug Control Strategy stated that "a stronger focus on source countries was necessary," and the President directed that "a controlled shift in emphasis" occur -- a shift away from transit zone interdiction that had proved so successful -- to source country efforts.

The recommendation was only partly implemented, however, with funding for transit zone interdiction being slashed nearly in half without any offsetting increased funding for source country programs. As a result, all of the key U.S. interdiction agencies lost vital transit zone resources. And the drug interdiction capability that had taken years to develop was severely impaired.

It came as no surprise then, that at the close of 1996 the percentage of cocaine entering the United States by way of the Eastern Caribbean was rising rapidly, approaching an estimated 40%. With the ability to intercept drugs in and around Puerto Rico substantially reduced, Puerto Rico found itself becoming a corridor of choice for traffickers bringing drugs into the United States.

This island knows all too well what the consequences have been. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of all the violence on the island is drug-related. Puerto Rico's murder rate is now higher than that of any State. The mainland has also suffered as a result. The average price of cocaine in the United States dropped to unprecedented lows by 1996. The average price per gram of cocaine in 1993 was $110; in 1996 it was $94.00.

Importantly, recent evaluations of the effectiveness of interdiction demonstrate that a well-planned interdiction strategy is cost-effective -- increasing cocaine prices and thereby reducing cocaine use. Put simply: effective interdiction means fewer kids in San Juan, Orlando, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles using drugs. I would submit to those who question the value of interdiction -- we cannot afford NOT to do it. And our effort must be vigorous and sustained.

In the last three years, Congress restored some of the critical funding for transit zone interdiction. While the President's fiscal year 1998 request is up to $1.6 billion for interdiction, it is still well below what I think is needed, and well below the $2 billion that was committed to drug interdiction in fiscal year 1991.

There is reason to believe that recent initiatives such as the Coast Guard's Operation "Steel Web" and Operation "Frontier Shield" and the Customs Service "Operation Hard line" have been successful in re-establishing the U.S. interdiction capability. While interdiction is key, this battle against illegal drugs in the Caribbean involves more than interdiction. It involves dangerous undercover work, tedious investigations, and acquiring and sharing timely intelligence. It involves taking down the South American-based drug organizations, as well as developing bi-lateral agreements with the 30 nations in the Caribbean region. In short, it requires a sustained, coordinated effort by all U.S. law enforcement. Such an effort appears now to be underway.

In November, 1995, the Drug Enforcement Administration opened a regional office in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And in 1996, the region of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was declared a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, providing enhanced inter-agency coordination and making additional Federal counter-narcotics resources available. Recent programs by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration are already credited with substantially improving counter-narcotics investigations and damaging drug organizations.

Importantly, initiatives such as "Frontier Shield," have been implemented so as to allow their effectiveness to be measured. The results have been promising; yet, there are serious questions about the sustainability of these efforts in the future, and what initiatives will be left in their place. Today's hearing will allow us to consider these questions.

Let me say that I have followed the careers and actions of the Governor and the heads of the Federal agencies who are with us today, and I am proud to have you join us today. I believe that our witnesses testifying today are American heroes who have made invaluable contributions to the U.S. war on drugs. I appreciate all of you taking the time to be here today.

Let me also thank Governor Rosello and Admiral Kramek in particular for being such outstanding hosts, and, I might add teachers. We appreciate how much you have taught us over the past year about how the drug war should be fought.

I want to acknowledge and welcome my two friends who are not members of the crime subcommittee but who have done a great deal of work on this issue: the Commissioner from Puerto Rico, Mr.Romero-Barcelo, and the delegate from the Virgin Islands, Ms. Christian-Green.

Before I turn to my colleagues for brief opening statements, I want to wish the Governor a speedy recovery from his recent illness. I also want to welcome Attorney General Fuentes-Agostini who is testifying in his place.