FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE
Tuesday, 31 March 1998
HEARING OF THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE --
SUBJECT: Counternarcotics Policy Towards Colombia
CHAIRED BY: Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-NY)
Acting Assistant Secretatry of State, Bureau of International
Narcotics and Law Enforcement
--General Charles E. Wilhelm,
Commander-in-Chief, US Southern Command
--General Jose Serrano,
Director General, Colombian National Police
--Thomas Hargrove, Former FARC Hostage
--Dan Germann, New Tribes Mission
--Tania Rich, Wife of Hostage, New Tribes Mission
------------------------------------------------- 2172 Rayburn House
TRANSCRIPT BY: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE
620 NATIONAL PRESS BUILDING
WASHINGTON DC 20045
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. -----------------------
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN (R-NY): [...]
We begin today the second in a series of hearings on our United
States policy toward Colombia, in particular, the war against illicit
drugs. And today, we hear from the administration as well as our
good friend, General Jose Serrano, director general of the Colombian
General Serrano is world renowned as a fearless drug fighter. DEA
Administrator Tom Constantine recently said in the congressional
testimony, and I quote Tom, "General Serrano and his men and
women are heroes in our war on drugs." I fully agree, and I'm sure
our committee agrees, the general is a cop's cop; and we're proud to
have him with us today.
A raging war that is based upon and financed by narcotics is placing
the future of Colombia and the stability of the entire region at risk.
Our own vital national interest and that of the good Colombian people
who are engaged in the struggle hang in the balance. The frightening
possibilities of a narco-state just three hours by plane from Miami
can no longer be dismissed.
President Clinton's February 26 certification of Colombia with a
(national interest waiver?) was, in large measure, due to the efforts
of General Serrano, Colonel Gallego (ph), and the other brave men
and women of CNP's (ph) elite antinarcotics unit, the Dante (ph).
We must help them do better and even more in the common struggle
against illicit drugs. And, though long overdue, the president's
certification of Colombia was welcome. There are no longer any
excuses nor any reasons to delay vital counternarcotics assistance to
the CNP. We must help all those good, dedicated men and women in
the fight against the corrosive and deadly narcotics trade which
originates in Colombia.
Following the certification decision, Secretary of State Albright
summed up what the future of our bilateral relationship should be,
and I quote Secretary Albright: "The (Heyward ?) decision is
intended to lay the groundwork for increased future cooperation and
to support those in Colombia who are striving to strengthen the rule
of law and to buttress their embattled democracy." Those were
certainly welcome words from the secretary of state.
And now we look forward to some more concrete action. For
example, when will we see delivery of the long-overdue Blackhawk
utility helicopters? At least 12 Huey (II?) upgraded choppers, DC-3
supply planes, and other vital assistance that's urgently needed by
the CNP. As of today, only seven of the entire fleet of 36 CNP Hueys
are operational for missions. The rest have shot up or are being
repaired or have been grounded, and I note our military has
grounded our own used Hueys that were used in Vietnam as being
unsatisfactory for operational activities at the present time. I hope
we're not sending more of the same to Colombia. They need better
equipment than that. They need good assistance now if they are to
wage a serious and credible war against drugs in the major source
nation in our own hemisphere.
We find now a recent communique issued by the narco-guerrillas
just this week declared war on any US operatives in Colombia. If
that's a declaration of war, it certainly spells out the need for our
being engaged in a warlike response. Helicopters are not an
insignificant part of that struggle against drugs in Colombia. And, as
General Serrano has said, these choppers are involved in 90 percent
of the CNP's antidrug missions.
Colombia is a nation with high-altitude mountains and low plains and
is larger than Texas and Kansas combined. Mobility is the key to
victory in any real war on drugs in Colombia, as General Wilhelm
recently stated himself, and we're pleased the general is here with us
today. However, the enthusiasm with which the certification waiver
was received here, and in Bogota, has been tempered by recent
events. Earlier this month, the (FARC Narco Guerrillas?) killed or
captured more than 100 members of the Colombian Army in the coca
and cocaine- producing regions of southwest Colombia. It was the
worst defeat of the Colombian Army in what some still mistakenly
believe is a war driven by ideology rather than by narcotics.
The subsequent announcement of the triumphant FARC commander
that they will now also target Americans working in Colombia is a
measure of how strong and arrogant these guerrillas have come to
feel. They're also targeting American-provided helicopters, and last
week they downed two CNP choppers that were on a mission to
destroy a cocaine laboratory. In reality, the guerrillas of the FARC
and the ELN (ph) are nothing but common criminals and terrorists.
Our own State Department last fall officially designated these
Colombian guerrillas as terrorist organizations. In light of these
determinations and their targeting of Americans, there should no
longer be any romanticism about the former leftist guerrillas. These
groups have kidnapped and held Americans for ransom and just last
week grabbed four more Americans, including a 63-year-old retired
Along with these individuals, the narco-guerrillas are holding
hostage the future of our own youth. We will hear later in our
hearing from the families of some of the hostages and an American
who was held for nearly a year by one of the criminal guerrillas.
What happens in Colombia directly affects our own nation and
especially our young people. Colombia's the source of more than 80
percent of the world's cocaine and 60 percent of thethat you would
set a hearing for such a subject. I understand you and your staff are
working on a date now. I wonder if the Chairman can confirm that.
REP. GILMAN: Yes, we will be holding a hearing hopefully near the
end of April.
REP. HAMILTON: Well, I appreciate that very much. Returning to the
Colombian situation, it's a very bad situation. Seems to me to get
worse every day. They have a wide range of problems -- drugs,
corruption, armed insurgency, human rights violations, very weak
civilian leadership in the government. Instability there affects
regional stability; it affects drug production. And, as the kidnapping
of the four US citizens last week demonstrates, it affects the national
security of our citizens. I think it's time for us to look at our
counternarcotics policy and to ask ourselves what assistance to
Colombia is accomplishing. I have a number of questions. Among
them are these:
First is the question of effectiveness. Is our assistance leveraging
tangible cooperation from Colombia to curb drug production? Is the
US certification policy, after four straight years of decertification,
producing positive results?
Second is the question of end use. Are we getting the kind of
cooperation on (end-use?) monitoring and respect for human rights
that US law requires?
Third is the question of sustainability. Is the government of Colombia
taking steps to curb corruption and provide sufficient resources to
sustain an effective counternarcotics program? Does the government
of Colombia have the personnel to use the assistance we have
provided and are intending to provide? Finally is the question of
who's dealing with whom. What are the connections between the
guerrillas and the drug trade? What are the connections between
paramilitary organizations and the drug trade? What are the
connections between the government and the drug trade? So I
welcome our distinguished guests this afternoon. I look forward to
their testimony, and I want to explore with them some of these
questions. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Hamilton. Any other members seeking
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL): Mr. Chairman?
REP. GILMAN: Yes.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: I just wanted to --
REP. GILMAN: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.
REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you so much. I wanted to welcome
General Wilhelm to our committee hearing. We are so fortunate and
blessed in Miami to be the new home of SouthCOM (ph). It's a
wonderful center. Along with my colleague, Congressman Lincoln
Diaz- Balart, we had an opportunity to tour SouthCOM just the last
week. Wonderful men and women who make up that center. Of
course, strategically located in Miami because that's the place where
you can get the updated information about what is going on,
especially in the Caribbean.
We had a heated exchange, Lincoln and I, with the general about the
new report that we expect to be coming out soon about whether
Castro is or is not a threat to the United States. And, although we did
not agree, I know that we do agree on the fact that drugs is a never-
ending threat to our national security, and we believe Castro's
complicity is ever-present. And we know that it's been a problem for
Colombia as well, but no group of people have valiantly fought
against drug traffickers as the Colombian people have. And we're
very pleased to have SouthCOM in our community. We're very
honored to have General Wilhelm here, and there will be other times
when we will agree more than we have this past few days. And I
welcome the free exchange of ideas. Welcome so much to our
REP. GILMAN: Thank you --
REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN): Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Our first witness --
REP. BURTON: Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: -- is Mr. Burton.
REP. BURTON: Yeah, Mr. Chairman, in the other room, we just met
with three of the wives of the New Tribe Missionaries who have been
held captive down there for five years. And, this past week, four
more Americans, I believe they were all Americans, they were down
there watching birds, were captured. And the guerrillas have sent
out a memorandum which we're having translated right now which
indicates that any American that's down there, military or otherwise,
iveloped a broad concept of operations for moving across the board
against narco-trafficking. This will involve an expanded intelligence
collection effort in cooperation between the United States and the
government of Colombia. It will involve an expanded interdiction
campaign, both busting cocaine laboratories on the ground and going
after narco-trafficking aircraft in the air in southern Colombia. It will
involve an expanded eradication program, both against opium poppy
and coca; and it will involve expanded efforts to improve the justice
situation in Colombia with respect both to issues such as extradition,
but money laundering and corruption as well.
We, the United States, and we, the government of Colombia, cannot
cede Colombian territory, either air or ground, to the traffickers and
the insurgents. We must contest them in a broad-based effort, using
our flexibility, our mobility, our technology, and sound management
We must be more effective than the traffickers are. I believe we're
committed to this process. I believe we have a plan for this process
which I'm prepared to discuss in more detail.
We need essentially to increase the operational tempo of our
activities in Colombia. We have budgeted for fiscal year '98 and
notified to Congress a $30 million budget for Colombia. I am here
today to tell you frankly that that is an inadequate budget for
Colombia. We need a larger budget for Colombia. We need, at
minimum, another $21 million to maintain the momentum in order
to maintain the level of eradication at 50,000 hectares, whieh is what
we sprayed last year; in order to be able to go after both opium and
coca in the field; and in order to expand our interdiction effort.
REP. GILMAN: Mr. Beers, let me interrupt you a moment. Have you
made a request for that additional fund?
MR. BEERS: I would like to come and see you and explain to you how
we intend to do that. But let me start by saying, sir, that this
expanded effort is constrained by the earmark for the Blackhawk
helicopters which you have placed into the record. And --
REP. GILMAN: We'll get it in.
MR. BEERS: -- as the secretary explained to you earlier, there are
other alternatives, and we would like to come and talk with you
about that and begin to discuss how we can deal with this problem
and accomplish both of our objectives, because we do share the
objectives behind which you stood when you put forward this
Blackhawk earmark. And we do need your assistance in this process.
We cannot do it, the administration cannot do it, without the
cooperation of the Congress. Let me end there and leave the floor to
my colleague or however you wish to proceed, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Beers, and we'll get to
questions after both panels are finished. We'll now hear testimony
from General Charles Wilhelm, commander in chief of our US
Southern Command. Prior to his (employment or deployment?) in
September of 1997, General Wilhelm served our nation as
commander of the various forces in the United States Marine Corps
and has received many decorations for his distinguished service.
Having recently returned from Colombia, I'm certain that General
Wilhelm will be able to offer us some keen insights. General Wilhelm,
welcome to our committee. You may proceed. You may put your full
statement in the record or summarize, whichever you may deem
GEN. CHARLES E. WILHELM: I have a brief opening statement that I
would like to make, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
GEN. WILHELM: Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the
committee, I appreciate this opportunity to appear before you to
discuss United States narcotics policy for Colombia and the current
security situation in what I consider to be the most threatened
country in the United States Southern Command area of
responsibility. The timing of this hearing could not be more
appropriate. The events of the past month have brought into clear
focus the growing strength of insurgent forces in Colombia and the
inability of Colombian security forces to answer their challenges. The
unfavorable outcome of the major engagement between the
Colombian Army and elements of the FARC, southern front near
(LBR?), (in or and?) their Cocotaw (ph) department, and the recent
spate of kidnappings involving Americans are alarming indicators of
just how badly the situation has deteriorated.
While the current tactical picture is bleak, I am encouraged by the
recent policy decision to grant a national interest waiver to Colombia.
This decision can open the doors for better, more comprehensive, and
more effective security support to the security forces of Colombia as
they attempt to regain the initiative.
I have just returned from a visit to Colombia during which I
discussed the current situation at length with our new ambassador,
Kurt Caemon (ph), and spent considerable time with the c mmander
of d he armed forces, General Bonet (ph), touring rocent areas st
conflict, surveying coca production in the southern departments,
discussing planned operations and the intelligence training and
equipment support needs of the armed forces. As a prelude to your
questions, I would like to provide the committee my personal
assessment of the current situation in Colombia and some of my
thoughts about the approaches we should take to assist the
government of Colombia and its security forces in reasserting control
and governance over the countryside.
The problems confronting the government of Colombia are numerous,
complex, and, in many cases, they're intertwined. They are
simultaneously confronted with an active, growing, and increasingly
violent insurgency, an expanding narcotics industry, and brutal
paramilitary organizations which are wreaking havoc on the civilian
In combination, these elements have abridttlement.
As the impasse continus the government little leverage in their
attempts to reach a negotiated settlement with the insurgents.
Absent incentives to negotiate, FARC and ELN spokesmen are
becoming increasingly strident in their demands for the government
to cede control of large areas where their fronts now hold the upper
Having briefly defined the problem, I would now like to discuss some
possible solutions. My focus will be on the military side of the
Our analysis of Colombian security forces is based on a review of
their doctrine; their organization, training, and equipment; and its
adequacy to successfully counter the alliance of convenience between
the narco-traffickers and insurgents.
As we see it, the primary vulnerability of the Colombian armed
forces is their inability to see threats, followed closely by their lack
of competence in assessing and engaging them. In the near term,
intensified assistance in intelligence collection and analysis,
command and control, operational level planning, small-unit training,
and aviation maintenance can bring about a significant and posit
have correctly identified the deficiencies themselves.
For the long term, we at US SouthCOM are working with Colombian
military leaders to build a stronger base of professionalism within
their armed forces and an enduring code of military ethics. We will
achieve this through a military-to-military (context?), the
(Interdashional?) Military Education and Training Program, small-
unit exchanges, battle staff training, and through Colombia's
participation in joint and multilateral exercises.
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