September 8, 2000

President Clinton Address the Press in Colombia and Outlines the War on Drugs

(Editors Note: The following is an edited version of the transcript presented by President Bill Clinton before the press in Colombia, followed by an outline of the war on drugs.)

Casa de Huespedes, Cartagena, Colombia, August 30, 2000 -- I want to thank President Pastrana, members of his government and legislative leaders who have welcomed us so warmly here today.

Together we come here to say that the United States, executive and Congress, Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, stand with Colombia in its fight for democracy.

The White House President Clinton meets with Colombian President Andres Pastrana during his visit to Colombia on August 30, 2000. Photo Credit: Sharon Farmer.

In our meetings I had a chance to thank President Pastrana for his truly courageous leadership, for a peaceful, prosperous, democratic country free of narco-trafficking. He has pursued this vision fearlessly, as has so many others. The 11 widows of those who gave their lives for the rule of law and human rights and a better future that we met earlier today are the most eloquent testimony of it.

The United States has a strong interest in Colombia — in your economic recovery of the country, in the conservation of your democracy, in the protection of human rights for the people of Colombia, and in your pursuit of peace, security, stability, not only for Colombia, but for the whole region, and, undoubtedly, in reducing the international drug trade.

Meeting those objectives for us is what Plan Colombia is all about. It takes aim at all the interwoven challenges facing Colombia both in the economy and in the civil conflict, fighting drugs, defending human rights and deepening democracy. And as President Pastrana said, it is Plan Colombia — a plan made by the leaders of Colombia for the people and future of Colombia.

Our support of that plan includes a tenfold increase for social and economic development to help farmers grow legal crops, to train security forces to protect human rights, to help more Colombians find justice by extending access to the courts. We've also made clear our confidence in President Pastrana's economic approach, and we're working closely with the international financial institutions to encourage their support of the Colombian economy.

Our assistance also makes a substantial investment in Colombia's counter-drug efforts. Drug trafficking breeds violence, breeds corruption, and drives away the jobs that could help to heal this country's divisions. It also supplies most of the cocaine and much of the heroin to the United States. Our assistance will enhance the ability of Colombian security forces to eradicate illegal crops, destroy drug labs, stop drug shipments before they leave Colombia.

Let me make one point very clear: This assistance is for fighting drugs, not waging war. The civil conflict and the drug trade go hand-in-hand to cause great misery for the people of Colombia — 2,500 kidnappings in the last year alone; over the last 10 years 35,000 Colombian citizens have lost their lives; 1 million have been made homeless. Our program is anti-drugs and pro-peace.

Forty years of fighting has brought neither side closer to military victory. The President himself has said that over and over. Counter-drug battalions will not change that, and that is not their purpose. Their purpose is to reduce the drug trade that aggravates every problem Colombia faces, and exports chaos to the world, including the United States.

I reject the idea that we must choose between supporting peace or fighting drugs. We can do both; indeed, to succeed, we must do both. I reaffirmed to the President our support for the peace process. The people of Colombia have suffered long enough, especially in the area of human rights. No good cause has ever been advanced by killing or kidnapping civilians, or by colluding with those who do. Insurgents and paramilitaries alike must end all human rights abuses, as must the security forces themselves.

The President is doing his part to hold the military accountable, and today we discussed his efforts to accelerate efforts to investigate, prosecute and punish all offenders, whoever they may be.

What happens in Colombia will affect its citizens and this entire region for a very long time to come. There is a lot riding on this President and this Plan Colombia. We are proud to stand with our friend and our neighbor as it fights for peace, freedom and democracy, for prosperity, human rights and justice, and for a drug-free future. All these things should be the right of all Colombians.


Human Rights and U.S. Assistance for Plan Colombia

A central goal of U.S. assistance to Colombia is to promote and protect human rights. The Government of Colombia is committed to improving human rights conditions in Colombia, and President Pastrana has taken important steps to address his country's legacy of human rights abuses. The United States is working with the Pastrana administration to bring an end to impunity for those who violate human rights and to eliminate collaboration between members of the government security forces and paramilitary groups.

Programs to enhance respect for human rights and promote the rule of law are an essential component of President Pastrana's Plan Colombia. Through its assistance package, the United States is supporting the efforts of the Pastrana administration to strengthen the justice system, hold human rights abusers accountable, and address the conditions that breed human rights violations, whether by paramilitaries, insurgents, drug traffickers, or elements of the security forces.

U.S. human rights initiatives in Colombia include:

• Human rights screening. In accordance with U.S. law and policy, assistance to the Colombian security forces is contingent upon screening on a unit basis for credible evidence of gross violations of human rights.

Although unit-level screening is sufficient to meet U.S. legal requirements, in the case of the three counter-drug battalions being equipped and trained with U.S. support in Colombia, the United States has gone further to screen all officers and noncommissioned officers on an individual basis.

• $48.5 million for support for human rights programs and security for human rights workers. This funding will provide training and support for human rights non-governmental organizations as well as government investigators and prosecutors, including a specialized human rights task force. With this assistance, the Colombian National Police and the Prosecutor General's Office will establish additional human rights units dedicated to investigating and prosecuting human rights abuses. The United States also is working with the Colombian Vice President's office to promote the implementation of its national human rights policy. The United States is providing human rights-related training for security force members and judges, increased assistance to the human rights ombudsman, support for witness protection and judicial security in human rights cases, and support for enhanced protection for human rights defenders in Colombia.

• $65.5 million for administration of justice programs. This will include training for police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges; expansion of USAID's Casas de Justicia program that creates community-based centers to facilitate citizen access to justice; security protection for witnesses, judges and prosecutors; help in prison design and security; support for the development of a Colombian Armed Forces Judge Advocate General corps; and support for procedural and legislative reforms to ensure that the justice system functions fairly, transparently and effectively.

• Supporting President Pastrana's efforts to stamp out collaboration between security force members and paramilitaries. The United States will continue to press the Colombian Government to eliminate any remaining links between members of the security forces and the paramilitaries. The United States has also repeatedly called on the paramilitaries, the FARC guerrilla group, and the ELN guerrilla group to respect international human rights norms and international humanitarian law and to cease the practice of kidnapping and the recruitment of child soldiers.

• Promoting peace. U.S. support for the Colombian peace process is in part premised on the principle that a negotiated peace settlement will be a key step in eliminating human rights violations.

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