COLOMBIA'S FOUR WARS (Senate - June 30, 1999)

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Mr. DeWINE. Mr. President, we have just concluded the foreign operations bill, and I congratulate Senator McConnell, Senator Leahy, and others who have worked so very diligently on this difficult and tough bill. Contained in the bill we just passed, among other things, was a sense-of-the-Senate resolution. This sense-of-the-Senate resolution was proposed and offered by myself and by my colleague from Georgia, Senator Coverdell. It deals with the situation in Colombia and the United States relationship to that troubled country.

I want to talk this evening about that sense-of-the-Senate resolution and about the situation in Colombia.

For the past several months, United States foreign policy has really been dominated by the crisis in Kosovo. Certainly we have to continue to work with the NATO alliance and Russia to help bring the Albanian Kosovars back to their homeland and to bring a stable peace to the region. But tonight I want to discuss another compelling and very serious foreign policy crisis that is taking place right in our own hemisphere.

Like Kosovo, it is a crisis that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, more than 800,000 since 1995, and instead of a small province being ethnically cleansed by its own government, this democratic country is fighting multiple conflicts--a war against two threatening and competing guerrilla groups, a war against paramilitary organizations, and, finally, a war against drug lords who traffic in deadly cocaine and in heroin.

I am, of course, talking about the four wars that are taking place tonight in Colombia. While a 19-nation NATO alliance struggles to prevent the disintegration of a small province, the disintegration of an entire nation is going practically unnoticed by our own Government in Washington. The decade-long struggle in the Balkans is being duplicated in Colombia, which is fracturing into politically and socially unstable ministates and is posing a significant threat to our own hemisphere. Colombia is shaping up to be the Balkan problem of the Americas.

More than 35,000 Colombians have been killed in the last decade. More than 308,000 Colombians were internally displaced in 1998 alone. In Kosovo, 230,000 people were displaced during this same period of time before NATO took action. And like the Albanian Kosovars, Colombians are fleeing their country today in large numbers. More than 2,000 crossed into Venezuela in a matter of a few days recently. A Miami Herald article recently reported a growing number of Colombians leaving for south Florida.

Our Nation has a clear national interest in the future of the stability of our neighbor to the south, Colombia. In 1998, legitimate two-way trade between the United States and Colombia was more than $11 billion, making the United States Colombia's No. 1 trading partner, and Colombia is our fifth-largest trading partner in the region.

In spite of this mutually beneficial partnership, the United States simply has not devoted the level of time nor resources nor attention needed to assist this important democratic partner as it struggles with drug problems, with violent criminal and paramilitary organizations, and guerrilla insurgents.

In fact, in December 1998, a White House official told the Washington Post that Colombia, quote, `poses a greater immediate threat to us than Bosnia did, yet it receives almost no attention.'

Attention is needed--now more than ever. According to the State Department, Colombia is the third most dangerous country in the world in terms of political violence, and accounts for 34 percent of all terrorist acts committed worldwide. The Colombian National Police reported that Colombian rebels carried out 1,726 terrorist strikes in 1998--that's 12 percent more than in the previous year.

Kidnapping is also a significant problem. Approximately 2,609 people were kidnapped in 1998, and there have been 513 reported kidnappings in the first three months of this year. Guerrillas are responsible for a high percentage of these incidents.

The wholesale acts of violence that have infected this country are symptoms of four wars that are going on in Colombia. Any single one of them would pose a significant threat to any country. Together, these wars represent a threat beyond the borders of Colombia. Let me describe them in detail.

For more than three decades, the guerrilla groups known as Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces--the FARC--and the National Liberation Army--the ELN--have waged the longest-running anti-government insurgency in Latin America.

Determining the size of these guerrilla organizations is an inexact science. Most open sources range their combat strength from about 10,000 to 20,000 full-time guerrillas. However, irregular militias, part-time guerrillas, and political sympathizers also play a role that is hard to quantify.

The insurgents have their own armament capabilities and are manufacturing high-quality improvised mortars. Organized crime links also have long been suspected. The Chief of the Colombian National Police, General Jose Serrano, has reported in the past that the FARC has completed guns-and-cash-for-drugs deals with organized crime groups in Russia, Ukraine, Chechnya and Uzbekistan. A Colombian army study recently stated that the two main leftist guerrilla groups had raised at least $5.3 billion from 1991 to 1998 from the drug trade, abductions, and extortions to fund their long-running uprising against the state.

According to the State Department's 1998 Human Rights Report, the FARC and ELN, along with other, smaller groups, initiated armed action in nearly 700 of the country's 1073 municipalities, and control or influence 60 percent of rural Colombia. Although these groups have had no history of major urban operations, a number of recent guerrilla-sponsored hostage takings recently have taken place.

Colombian President Pastrana is trying to make peace at all costs with FARC rebels, who have little incentive to agree to any peace deal. Throughout these negotiations, the FARC has continued to assault and kill dozens of Colombian military and police.

The current prospects for peace are dismal. If Pastrana were to accept the demands of the FARC and ELN for political and territorial autonomy, he would have to splinter his country into Balkan-type factions. The effects of this would be increased paramilitary violence and increased regional instability.

In fact, one of the FARC conditions already agreed to by President Pastrana was the creation of a temporary, demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland. All Colombian Armed Forces and Police were ordered out of the area. Despite this enormous concession on the part of the Colombian government, the FARC has not agreed to any cease-fire and has made no concessions. In fact, they made it clear to the Colombian Government that they should expect continued guerrilla operations and attacks.

`Farclandia' is the name some local residents have given to this odd state-within-a-state. The area has over 90,000 residents. Despite its creation as a temporary demilitarized zone, the FARC appear to be cementing control and taking steps to ensure that expulsion from the zone would be extremely difficult, particularly if the talks break down.

According to the Catholic Bishop residing in the DMZ area, residents are required to feed the FARC, which is simply a form of taxation. The FARC has attempted to expel a Catholic priest for being an `enemy of peace.' The priest argued the FARC is violating human rights, usurping the locally elected government, interfering with economic activity, imposing labor duty, and recruiting minors, teenagers, and married men. The bottom line is that FARC fighters are using their armed stranglehold on the zone to abuse Colombian citizens.

In April, FARC leaders asked Pastrana to extend rebel control over another zone in southern Colombia--approximately 7,600 square miles--that is allegedly the home to some of the most concentrated cocaine-production facilities in the world. The Pastrana Government agreed to place the request on the negotiating table. While the additional zone was not approved, Pastrana agreed to allow FARC rebels to have continued control over the DMZ. This is the second time, since November 1998, that President Pastrana has extended the DMZ to the FARC during the talks.

This decision provoked outrage within Colombian military ranks, particularly since military officers had been humiliated by the creation of the original zone. That earlier decision required the withdrawal of hundreds of police and army troops. By the end of May, Colombian Defense Minister Ricardo Lloreda announced his resignation.

Following his announcement, dozens of military officers resigned in solidarity with Lloreda. Of the total of 30 Colombian army generals, reports indicate that between 10 and 17 resigned in solidarity with Lloreda. With the exception of Lloreda's resignation, Pastrana did not accept any other resignations. However, as a result of this mass protest, Pastrana agreed that the FARC zone would be demilitarized for only six more months and that a retired general would be included in the negotiating team for the talks.

In another important development, the Colombian Congress too is beginning to express its doubt in the peace process. Earlier this month, the Congress rejected a bill that would have given Pastrana sweeping powers to grant political concessions--including an amnesty for convicted guerrillas.

Lloreda's resignation was truly unfortunate. I met Defense Minister Lloreda in Colombia last November. Lloreda, described by

his peers as someone who could help bring about needed reform in the military, was just beginning to gain some ground. He had already begun rebuilding the army, a difficult task given its record of human rights violations. In fact, he had forced the resignation of Colombian military officers suspected of human rights violations and had others arrested.

Lloreda had also lifted the morale among the military, having suffered significant defeats by the FARC forces. According to the Economist magazine, the defense budget has doubled this year to $1.2 billion. In March, the army even managed a successful offensive, which left 50 guerrillas dead.

The resignation, however, threw Pastrana's 10-month-old government into crisis and placed the future of the nation's fragile process in doubt. It has also left open important questions about the future of the Colombian military.

Mr. President, Colombian military operational mobility is widely acknowledged to be a shortcoming. Colombia is a very large country. One of their departments is as large as the nation of El Salvador. In fighting an insurgency, the state has to defend many critical areas, but also has to have the capability to mass and economize forces to attack guerrilla formations when they present themselves. Colombia's army has barely 40 helicopters for a territory the size of Texas and Mexico combined. El Salvador, 1/50th the size of Colombia, had 80--twice as many--during its civil war.

Although the Army has 122,000 soldiers, most of them are 1-year conscripts. Approximately 35-40% are high school graduates not assigned to combat duties by law. At any time, about 30% are undergoing basic training. A large portion of the remaining force (50-60%) is assigned to static defense of key economic or isolated municipal outposts. That leaves approximately 20,000 soldiers remaining for offensive combat operations. These are the veterans or volunteers that constitute--apart from the officer corps-- the only true repository of combat experience in their army. Now consider that the active guerrilla combatants alone number between 11,000 and 20,000. You do the math. It doesn't look good. It is conceivably a one to one `fighting' ratio. How can a military, with limited resources, fight two guerrilla movements which have virtually unlimited resources from drug trafficking, kidnappings, extortion and arms trafficking?

The Colombian Army has already suffered a string of military defeats. In 1998, the Colombian Armed Forces suffered three major blows in March, August, and November. In fact, the FARC executed one of its major blows against the military just as President Pastrana was meeting with FARC leaders on the peace talks.

The FARC currently holds over 300 military and police POW's. And according to Jane's Intelligence Review, Colombian guerrillas killed 445 soldiers during 1998. If you include Colombian National Police, the figure would rise to 600. The CNP too has experienced significant losses. Over 4,000 policemen have been killed in Colombia in the past decade.

As if the FARC weren't enough of a problem, let me complicate this situation further by discussing the war with the ELN. The ELN has been envious of the attention the FARC has been getting,

particularly at the negotiating table. As a result, the ELN has resorted to a series of recent hostage takings. Shortly after Pastrana and the FARC announced in April that formal negotiations would take place in the summer, the ELN hijacked a Colombian commercial airliner in mid-April, kidnapping 41 passengers and crew.

Then, shortly after Defense Minister Lloreda's resignation, about 30 ELN guerrillas invaded a church service in an upper-class neighborhood in Cali and abducted over 140 worshipers. In response, the Government deployed more than 3,000 soldiers and policemen to locate them. While some hostages have been released from the hijacking and church incidents, approximately 50 are still being held including two Americans.

I have outlined, Mr. President, the two main guerrilla groups which are a significant threat to Colombia. Unfortunately, however, I have not yet spoken of another ongoing war which poses an additional and substantial threat--the Colombian paramilitaries. In fact, the Colombian paramilitaries are also seeking a role at the negotiations table.

The Colombian paramilitaries are an umbrella organization of about 5,000 armed combatants. Their mission has been to counter the grip of leftist guerrillas. Carlos Castano, the powerful leader of the paramilitary umbrella organization United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, has been quoted defending the strategy of killing villagers who are guerrilla supporters and sympathizers.

The paramilitaries are funded by wealthy landowners and, in some cases, cocaine traffickers. They exercised increasing influence during 1998, extending their presence into areas previously under guerrilla control.

The presence of paramilitary groups have driven a wedge in the peace talks because the FARC leadership refuses to negotiate until the government effectively clamps down on the right wing gunmen. The problem is that the government also has a problem in trying to control the paramilitaries.

In an attempt to become a player at the negotiating table, Castano's organization kidnapped a Colombian Senator last month. In fact, Castano said shortly after the abduction that his aim was to gain political recognition and a place at the negotiating table for his movement. The Senator was freed after being held for two weeks. The Senator later commented that Pastrana should eventually include Colombia's paramilitary forces in negotiations to end the 35 year civil war. Since the leftist rebels vehemently oppose their participation in the peace talks, prospects for the peace negotiations are complicated even further.

Before I talk about the increasing drug threat from Colombia, let me spend a few minutes on the general violence in Colombia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Colombia led the world in kidnappings in 1998, and may be the most likely place in the world to be abducted. The country averages five people a day snatched by guerrillas or other criminals. Guerrillas from the FAR, ELN and the smaller Popular Liberation Army accounted for approximately 1,600 kidnappings of the 2,609 reported in 1998.

A report issued by the Colombian Government's anti-kidnapping office in May calculated that at least 4,925 people have been

abducted since January 1996, with the largest total coming in 1998. The problem with this statistic is that many families and businesses prefer to deal directly with kidnappers and not report abductions to the police. Hence, this figure is only the official one. It is understandably difficult to count how many kidnappings truly occur in Colombia.

Imagine, if you will, living in a country where you can't send your child on school field trip; where you can't decide to go out of Bogota for the weekend to visit relatives in a nearby city. In fact, the situation is so grave that you think twice about going to the grocery store or even to a movie.

A recent New York Times article described the lives of Colombians and the precautions they must take on a daily basis. The article stated that Colombians are refusing to fly on any airplane that is not a jet. They cite the example of ELN hijacking of a prop plane. The Colombian quoted in the article commented that it is almost impossible for guerrillas to take over a big jet and make it land at some little airstrip out in the jungle.

In the week before Easter, a traditional vacation time throughout Latin America, travel within Colombia was down 40% over last year, according to a Colombian civic group. With increasing regularity, the five million residents of Bogota are canceling trips to towns that are barely a two hour drive away, while traffic on highways to the Caribbean coast has also dropped significantly.

Kidnapping is such a significant threat that a Colombian government study made public estimates that the country's three main guerrilla groups have obtained more than $1.2 billion in kidnapping ransoms in recent years.

Mr. President, the situation in Colombia has gotten so bad that the State Department recently issued a warning, advising Americans to not travel to Colombia. You see, Colombians are not the only targets in their country. There have been U.S. casualties as well.

In late 1997, the State Department added the FARC to its list of terrorist organizations.

In January 1999, guerrillas announced that all U.S. military and law enforcement personnel in Colombia would be considered legitimate targets to be killed or captured. In late February, the FARC viciously murdered three U.S. human rights workers. This horrific execution met with no reaction from the Clinton Administration. A resolution was recently introduced in the House, calling on the Colombian government to pursue the killers, members of the FARC and extradite them to the U.S.

Colombian terrorists continue to target Americans, kidnapping over a dozen U.S. citizens in 1999 so far--this is double the total amount for 1998. The 1998 State Department Terrorism Report also suggests that terrorists also continued to bomb U.S. commercial interests, such as oil pipelines and small businesses.

There has also been much concern that the civil war in Colombia could spill over into neighboring countries--including Venezuela, where President Chavez is alleged to have had contacts in the past with the ELN. A spill-over into Venezuela would be disastrous for the United States, given that Venezuela is our number one--let me repeat this--number one supplier of foreign oil. The situation is so grave that Venezuela has sent 30,000 troops to the border with Colombia.

There has been a recent exodus of Colombians into Venezuela. In a two day period recently, over 2,000 Colombians began their exodus to Venezuela after death squads massacred about 80 people near a border town. Many of the Colombians were said to be coca farmers.

At first, Venezuelan President Chavez said Venezuela was prepared to offer the Colombians temporary refuge until they could return safely to their homes. However, only one day after the recent cross-over began, Venezuela had already started repatriating Colombians back to Colombia. And within a few days, all Colombians have been repatriated.

Colombian-Venezuelan relations have been tense. For example, while Chavez has agreed to play a role in the negotiations, in mid-May Chavez announced he was seeking a direct meeting with FARC commander Manuel Marulanda. In fact, two months earlier, he angered President Pastrana by suggesting that the FARC's armed struggle was legitimate and declaring that Venezuela remained `neutral' in the conflict.

There has also been some concern of a spillover of the conflict into Ecuador, another nation bordering Colombia. In fact, Ecuadoran government officials indicate that rebel forces have crossed over to their nation, primarily for rest and relaxation. With the end of its border dispute with Peru, Ecuador is in the process of relocating 10,000 troops to the Colombian border. In addition, Ecuadoran intelligence has reportedly periodically taken down some guerrilla supply routes.

Colombia also borders Panama, which should be of significant concern to our nation. It is a known fact that Colombian rebels have been infiltrating the Darien province in Panama for quite some time in search of supplies.

In late May, hundreds of Panamanians fled their homes near the border with Colombia, fearing a violent clash between Colombian guerrillas and paramilitary bounty hunters. Witnesses claim that there were about 500 FARC rebels in Panama.

Mr. President, this rebel crossing is occurring just 250 miles southeast of the Panama Canal. And let me remind you that U.S. military forces are departing from Panama.

The United States should be extremely concerned. The departure of U.S. forces could encourage Colombian rebel groups to become more active in the deep, inaccessible rainforests of Panama's Darien region. And while Panama has increased a border police force to 1,500, they are no match to the Colombian rebels. Panama has no military, and our total U.S. troop presence is scheduled to depart Panama by the end of this year. We just closed down operations out of Howard Air Force Base in May, and we are about to turn over the Panama Canal and remaining military facilities at the end of this century.

Mr. President, while the United States is complying with the Panama Canal Treaties, in terms of giving Panama the Canal at the end of this year, the treaties state that the United States has the continued responsibility to protect and defend the Panama Canal. And the duration of this treaty is indefinite. In the event that something happens to the Panama Canal, just a few hundred miles from Colombia, how would the United States respond then?

I have spent most of my time talking about the worsening civil strife in Colombia. But I cannot end this speech without talking about the final war in Colombia. It's the war Americans probably have heard the most about--the war prompted by the fact that Colombia is the world's most important cocaine producer and a leading producer of heroin.

According to our State Department, over 75% of the world's cocaine HCL is processed in Colombia. 1998 marked the third consecutive year of significant increase in Colombia coca crop size; recent statistics indicate that about 75% of the heroin seized in the northeast United States is of Colombian origin. Colombian heroin is so pure--roughly 80% to 90%--that in 1998, the number of heroin overdose cases in the United States went up significantly. In fact, in 1998, the number of heroin overdoses in Orlando surpassed the number of homicides.

Drug trafficking is profitable, and provides the FARC with the largest share of its income. Sixty percent of FARC fronts are involved in the drug trade. About 30% of ELN war fronts are likewise engaged in drug trafficking. This includes extortion/taxation of coca fields and yields, precursor chemicals and security of labs and clandestine air strips. The insurgents control the southern rural terrain of Colombia where the largest density of cocaine fields and production is found.

Mr. President, I have outlined a deteriorating situation in Colombia. I have spoken to you about Colombia's ongoing and escalating four wars. These are significant issues that have a direct impact on our hemisphere and our Nation. The future of Colombia as a unified country, and the stability of an entire hemisphere is at risk. The sad reality is that our country is not yet making an adequate response to this crucial foreign policy challenge. We are simply not paying attention, nor are we adequately responding.

U.S. leadership in this Colombian crisis is needed. This is no time to keep our backs turned. Continued inattention will only contribute to continued instability. Like Kosovo, the U.S. should mobilize the international community to play a role in resolving the Colombian conflict.

Certainly we should pledge our support to the democratically elected Government. We should also be ready to provide other types of support such as training, equipment, and professional development to help Colombia overcome these threats to democracy and freedom.

Finally, we must continue to work to disrupt and dismantle the drug trafficking organizations and to reduce their financial control of antidemocratic elements in Colombia.

We are doing some things in Colombia. I had the opportunity to see those myself when I traveled there a few months ago. But we simply have to do more. We have to become more engaged.

I remember President Ronald Reagan's profound wisdom in negotiating from a position of strength in his efforts to strengthen our military. This strategic vision led to the crumbling ultimately of our adversaries. Unfortunately, this dynamic has not yet taken hold in Colombia.

Because of the Colombian Government's weakness, no incentive appears to exist for its multiple adversaries to respect and to adhere to any agreements. Their only incentive is to extract further concessions from the Government and to further attempt to weaken the Colombian Government.

Before I close, let me quote a passage from a report in Time magazine. I quote:

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The six members of the presidential peace commission did not know where they were headed when their Bell 212 helicopter took off from Bogota at dawn. The pilot had been given the top-secret coordinates minutes before takeoff, but not even he was sure of the destination. Suddenly, the flag of the FARC, the oldest, largest and bloodiest of the country's numerous anti-government guerrilla groups, was sighted in the jungle below. This time, however, the flag signified the making of history, not war. In a small clearing in the Alto de la Mesa rain forest, FARC guerrillas and the government's representatives met to sign a momentous eleven-point cease-fire agreement.

While this article seems to depict the present situation in Colombia in terms of peace talks, the fact is that it does not. The main reason is that there has not yet been a cease-fire agreement as a result of this latest round of talks.

Let me repeat that. There has not yet, to this day, been a cease-fire agreement as a result of this latest round of talks.

The article I quoted appeared in Time magazine's issue dated April 16, 1984.

In April 1984, the then-Colombian President triumphantly announced on national television his Government's formal acceptance of that pact with the FARC guerrillas. He thought that he had negotiated an end to the guerrilla conflict with the FARC leadership.

Let me note that there have been numerous other accounts by other Colombian Presidents throughout the years to negotiate a resolution to the guerrilla wars in Colombia. Each time the peace talks have failed, and each time the guerrilla groups have been further strengthened.

While the current President of Colombia is negotiating with the very same FARC leader, a few things have changed over the last 15 years. Back in 1984, the Time article reported that the FARC consisted of 2,050 guerrillas backed by an additional 5,000 people in `civil defense cadres' spread mainly throughout the countryside. But today the FARC has about 10,000 to 15,000 active combatants--quite a change.

In 1994, the ELN had roughly 200 men and the Popular Liberation Army had about 275. The ELN today has between 5,000 and 7,000 troops.

It is simply amazing to me what a difference 15 years has made in Colombia, a difference, unfortunately and tragically, for the worse. We have gone from seeing Colombia's combat-ready guerrilla number in the 2,000 range--2,000 is what it was--to a situation today where there is likely a guerrilla combatant rebel for every Colombian military combatant person available, a 1-to-1 ratio.

My question to this Congress and to this administration is, How can we expect Colombia to overcome these multiple wars? The rebel personnel resources have significantly increased since the mid-1980s and are one of the main reasons behind this rise in the alliance between the guerrillas and the drug traffickers.

This strategic alliance, in which each party benefits from the other's involvement, makes it very clear that it is extremely difficult to separate the drug war from guerrilla and paramilitary wars. That is why the United States must play a role to help Colombia overcome all of its wars--not just the drug dealers. We must understand that our drug consumption only further exacerbates the Colombian crisis. And we must be involved in helping them resolve the four wars I have described.

In the 1980s, the United States made a major investment in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Latin America. We pretty much succeeded. We basically went from a situation a generation or two ago where half the countries were democratic to a situation today where every country save one is democratic, or is at least moving rapidly towards democracy. We have succeeded.

But if we want Latin America to continue to evolve into a stable and peaceful trading partner and a friend of the United States, we will have to make a more serious commitment to Colombia. No one wants to see Colombia devolve into a criminal narcostate. But unless we act soon in partnership with the democratically elected Government of Colombia, unless we act soon to reverse this democratic death spiral, it is only a matter of time before Colombia ceases to exist as a sovereign nation with democratic principles.

President Ronald Reagan showed profound wisdom in leading this hemisphere toward democracy and toward free markets. We must do all we can to make sure that this positive tide is not rolled back for our neighbors to the south.

I thank the Chair for his indulgence.