View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (Cartagena, Colombia)
For Immediate Release                                    August 30, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                         SPEAKER DENNIS HASTERT

                          Aboard Air Force One
                      En Route Cartagena, Colombia

10:25 A.M. EDT

SPEAKER HASTERT: -- (in progress) -- intelligence. We have seven agencies on the border that, in my experience, one agency doesn't know what the other agency is doing most of the time. And there needs to be a real coordination on the border, including our sea borders, as well. Interdiction is something that we need to emphasize on it. We need to be able to coordinate. Most of the interdiction and most of the border stops are from human intelligence and other types of intelligence and we just don't -- I mean, just randomly you just can't stop 70 percent of all the drugs that are used in this country coming across the borders, we just haven't been able. So we need to be able to develop those intelligences.

And, of course, in the source countries there are strategies that you can stop. And I think we've been somewhat successful in Peru, in Bolivia, in working with those countries. Peru, when you suppress the price of coca so they couldn't get it out of the country, from $450 a kilo to $150 a kilo, nobody grew it anymore. And you gave them alternative crops and other things to be able to do and we've had a huge suppression in the amount of coca. Unfortunately, when you suppress it there, it ended up in Colombia. But that's where basically all the players are.

Q Mr. Speaker, what about the concerns of some people with all this military aide that, gee whiz, this is kind of the way we got into Vietnam.

SPEAKER HASTERT: Well, I think certainly our entry into Vietnam wasn't a political issue. My view on this thing, we lose 14,000 of our kids every year on our street corners, in very wealthy, affluent neighborhoods and the poorest -- to drugs and drug violence. And we need to do something about it. If we lost 14,000 kids in central Europe or some place else, our people would be going crazy. But these kids kind of die in silence. There is something we need to do. I see that there is a multi-level areas of things that we have to do on both the supply side and the demand side. And this is one part of it. And what we're trying to do is stop the huge increase in growth of drugs. What happened down there all of a sudden people who used to be ideological groups -- the FAR and the EBN -- used to make their money and get their money from Cuba and Eastern Europe. When that shut off, they found other ways to get money and they bring almost -- a lot of different estimates, but almost a hundred million dollars a quarter from their involvement in the drug business, either protecting the drug growers or helping the manufacturer or creating these little private armies that move drugs. That's where their wealth is coming from.

What we need to do is be able to stop the drug business and help the Colombians stop it themselves. So not only is this a disrupting factor in the Colombian economy and Colombian society of drugs, itself, because now the drugs are actually permeating the society as well, but these forces who've taken over and are really anti-democratic, and threatens I think the stability of the oldest democracy in the southern hemisphere. I think they need to do something about it. But the core of it is the whole drug issue.

Q But now the FAR is coming out and saying that with this aid they're going to come and push-- you know, increase their number of attacks. So how is that helping?

SPEAKER HASTERT: I think the FACS are going to say anything that they can. I think they probably have taken a page out of the book of Mao Tse Tung, you know, talk, talk, fight, fight, talk, talk, fight, fight. I've seen this ever since Pastrana carved out this area, south central Colombia, that they have their own zone. They talk a good game about moving for peace and every time you move for peace, they have insurrection.

If you look at the last 10 years, you've shot about -- killed about 35,000 people in Colombia, most of them policeman who are trying to keep the peace, and those folks being assassinated. They need to do something. I think the people of Colombia are terrorized, they're afraid. They want to see a positive change for their country. So this whole issue is not the old colonial aspect of it or us coming in to try to start a war, it's trying to stabilize the country, give them the help that they can help themselves. And, also, we have a stake in this, too. It's our kids and our future.

Q Can't the United States help Colombia without involving the United States military in this?

SPEAKER HASTERT: Well, one of the things that they need -- I've been involved in this for about the last seven years. They need the wherewithal, they need to be able to penetrate down into the places where the coca growing is; they need to get up on the mountain tops, where they grow the poppy. They just didn't have the ability to do it. So they need equipment and they need technology to be able to do it. And we're one of the only countries that can provide that.

On the other hand, when we help them do that, it also helps stem that overwhelming flow; because there is a demand and supply side of drugs. When the cost of drugs are lower in this country, because they're over producing or they're bringing a lot of it in, there's more use in this country. So we need to stem the flow.

One thing that I really didn't talk about, I think a very important aspect, and that's money laundering. If we can't stem the flow of the $10 and $20 and $50 bills that come off our street corners and end up in the pockets of the drug lords or the narco guerillas, whoever they are, then we'll never be able to stop this. And we need to do a better job in that aspect, as well.

Q What makes you think that this aid can be effective, given the weakened state of the Pastrana government?

SPEAKER HASTERT: One of the reasons the Pastrana government is imperiled is because of the rise of the narco guerillas and the money that they have and the ability for them to be able to create terror across the whole country of Colombia. He needs some abilility to actually stop the growing and the manufacturing of drugs, which is the source of their revenue so that they can create the havoc. It's kind of a chain. You're going to need to stop it some place.

Q This aid package, is this the first step in a larger investment in Colombia?

SPEAKER HASTERT: Well, one of the things that we want to see is investment in Colombia is our ability to deal with Colombia on a economic basis. That's the real solution to the those problems. I think that's what the Colombian people would like to see, too, is a stronger economy, jobs for everybody, a better opportunity for those people.

You know, Colombia is a country with tremendous resources. But in the state that they are today, actually under seige from both the ELN and the FARC, it's awful difficult to develop that or have the cooperation that they can help themselves. So they need tosolve the problem, they need to heal the wound, first, before you can start to develop other things.

Q So there's no talk, even, of any economic discussions today, during the visit, because that's --

SPEAKER HASTERT: There is some economic -- I mean, there is some crop replacement and other job development stuff. There's a social and economic package that goes with this, that's part of t $1.3 billion.

Q That's very small.

SPEAKER HASTERT: It's all relative. It's more than we've ever put in there before.

Q I understand that Pastrana is going to push Clinton for a greater, wider trade privileges. Do you have any NAFTA-style pact, do you have any comment on that?

SPEAKER HASTERT: We just got done with a Caribbean Initiative and the African Trade. It's something that I thought was important and we pushed to make happen. There is a very delicate balance between the Caribbean and the Indian states, which includes Colombia and Bolivia and Ecuador. So we have to listen towhat they have to say. And, of course, that's probably -- that first move is in the President's area, anyway.

Q Is this an open-ended commitment by the U.S. government?

SPEAKER HASTERT: We made -- Plan Colombia is something that's going to move for the next three or four years. They needed this help to begin with. The plan is that they also try to get some help from other allies -- the Europeans and other countries, Japan. I talked to the former Prime Minister of Japan, Hashimoto, and they're committed to try to do some things, as well.

Europeans, especially, cocaine was never a big problem in Europe. All of a sudden, you know, it's the drug of being -- the new drug. Plus the fact of the Colombians ability to now grow poppy and have a heroin contingent as well. So that's a threat to European stability, as well. So there ought to be further work with our European and Asian allies that have a stake in this. So I don't think it's necessarily a unilateral situation in the United States. I think a lot of the social and other economic things can be engaged by our other friends around the world, and should be.

Q Thank you.

SPEAKER HASTERT: Thank you. My pleasure.

END 10:35 A.M. EDT