TRIP TO COLOMBIA, PERU, BRAZIL AND DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- (Senate - April 25, 2006)
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, during the period of April 7-16, 2006, my colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions, and I traveled to Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic for a firsthand view on issues of immigration, drug enforcement, and trade.
On April 7, 8, and 9, we traveled to Bogotá and Cartagena, Colombia. Upon exiting the plane, we immediately met with Ambassador William Wood, who has been U.S. Ambassador to Colombia since August 13, 2003, and is a graduate of Bucknell University.
I was looking forward to returning to Colombia in that I had not had an opportunity to visit there since December 1999. At the time, President Pastrana was the President of Colombia, and I had the opportunity to discuss with him my concerns about the forcible eradication of the supply of narcotics and the status of peace talks between the Colombia Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC.
Traveling to Colombia this time, I was aware that Colombia was still facing many serious challenges. Many of these suspicions were corroborated by Ambassador Wood. Ambassador Wood stated that the United States sent Colombia $600 million in aid in 2005. The purpose of this aid is to assist Colombia against various drug cartels and guerilla groups which threaten Colombia's security. Colombia faces two leftist and one rightwing insurgent group that wage guerilla warfare, carrying out kidnappings, hijackings, attacks on civilians, and political assassinations. The primary threat that Colombia faces is from FARC. Ambassador Wood estimated that FARC is composed of 17,000 members and operates in approximately 40 percent of Colombia.
Senator Sessions and I were also made aware of some recent changes that have occurred to Colombia's justice system. Ambassador Wood stated that the new Colombian Justice system has instilled in the Colombian people a new level of confidence in the prosecution of criminals. The new system provides for live testimony through the implementation of an oral accusatorial system, whereas the previous system was nonadversarial and operated almost exclusively on the basis on written testimony. Ambassador Wood stated that the new system is now in Bogotá and three other municipal areas. Over 17,000 prosecutors and judges have received intensive training in the new accusatory system in 2005 from various U.S. agencies. The implementation of this new justice system demonstrates that the Colombian Government is serious about cracking down on crime and will no longer serve as a kangaroo court for the benefit of the cartels.
Ambassador Wood also noted several other significant areas where the Colombian Government has improved in the area of law enforcement. Specifically, Ambassador Wood noted that the number of annual homicides were at their lowest number in 18 years. The number of kidnappings is down 39 percent, and terror attacks are down 42 percent under President Uribe's administration.
Later during the trip to Colombia, we had the opportunity to meet President Alvaro Uribe and Colombia's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Camilo Reyes. I came away extremely impressed with President Uribe and his agenda for Colombia. President Uribe is a true Colombian patriot who has elected to take the battle to FARC and to try to eliminate the cultivation of illegal narcotics in his country. Based primarily on his success against narcotic groups, President Uribe was reelected President of Colombia on March 12, 2006, on a platform to defeat guerillas, eliminate paramilitary organizations, end narcotrafficking, and enhance Colombia's domestic security.
The first issue that Senator Sessions and I broached with President Uribe was the issue of narcotics. Approximately 90 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States and 80 percent of the heroin east of the Mississippi comes from Colombia. President Uribe agreed with us that the biggest problem in the war on drugs was lowering the consumption of drugs. President Uribe believes, as do I, that so long as there are consumers of drugs, people will keep producing it. Despite this concern, President Uribe was adamant that Colombia, with continued assistance from the United States, would be able to win the war on drugs. President Uribe felt that so long as the United States supplied financial aid to Colombia for another 5 years, they will have taken significant steps towards eliminating cocaine production from his country.
During our meeting with President Uribe, Senator Sessions and I also discussed the recent actions that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have taken on the issue of illegal immigration to the United States. I was very curious to hear President Uribe's opinion on how we might deal with the issue. President Uribe stated his belief that it was important for the United States to legislate carefully in this area in order to maintain a positive relationship with Colombia. President Uribe noted that the United States needed friends in South America in order to serve as a counterweight to Venezuela and President Chavez. The comprehensive Senate bill that originated in the Judiciary Committee, President Uribe noted, appears preferential to the House bill.
Senator Sessions and I also asked President Uribe about the problem of seasonal workers that emigrate from Colombia to the United States in order to work temporarily on farms and don't return to Colombia once their appointed working time period has elapsed. I was interested to hear President Uribe state that he understood the concerns that the United States has with seasonal workers that overstay the work period in the United States. President Uribe stated that Colombia currently has a good working relationship with both Canada and Spain and that he would like to implement that same system with the United States. I asked President Uribe to explain how Colombia was able to get their seasonal workers to return from Canada and Spain after their designated work period had elapsed. President Uribe stated that whenever Colombia sends seasonal workers to Canada or Spain, they keep very close track of where the temporary worker is working and for what time period he is permitted to stay. Seasonal workers also have learned that if they don't return to Colombia at the conclusion of the seasonal work period, then they will never be permitted to participate in an overseas work program again.
Despite President Uribe's approach on this topic, I still expressed grave concerns whether this incentive of returning to seasonal work would be enough to have seasonal workers return from the United States at the conclusion of their work period. President Uribe said he would consider having Colombian workers have microchips implanted into their bodies before they are permitted to enter the United States to work on a seasonal basis. I doubted whether the implantation of microchips would be effective since the immigrant worker might be able to remove them.
I also asked President Uribe what new policies he would like to see the United States enact. President Uribe stated that the five nations of the Andean community, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia, are going through trying times. President Uribe felt that it was important that the United States maintain a good relationship with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia to combat the anti-American influence of Venezuela's President Chavez. I had the opportunity to visit President Chavez in December of 2005 and agree that he does pose a threat to U.S. interests in South America. I still believe, however, that it would be prudent for the United States to deal directly with President Chavez in order to reach an understanding on some of our Nation's differences.
Finally, President Uribe discussed with us a recent vote that had just taken place concerning the protection of intellectual property rights among the Andean nations. By way of background, in 2003, President Bush announced the intentions of the United States to begin negotiating a free-trade agreement, FTA, with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru currently benefit from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, ATPDEA. This trade pact, which is set to expire on December 31, 2006, authorizes the President to grant duty-free treatment to certain products, with more than half of all U.S. imports in 2004 from the Andean countries entering under these preferences.
In a recent vote which just took place in the Andean community, the community voted three to two to protect intellectual property rights in trade agreements with the United States. Colombia, along with Peru and Ecuador, voted in favor of the protection of intellectual property rights, whereas Venezuela and Bolivia voted against the protection of these rights. President Uribe is concerned about whether or not Peru will still support the protection of intellectual rights once they elect a new President in the summer of this year.
Later in Colombia, Senator Sessions and I met Susan Reichle, Deputy Director of the USAID mission in Bogotá, and Guillermo Del Coilitto, Jorge Droujo and Rosano de Riccardi, board members on Project Unidad Pedagogica Productiva Agroindustrial de Turbaco. During our visit to the project, we were told that the project was started in order to teach 300 displaced Colombian families how to generate income and garner employment through agricultural and agribusiness activities in Northern Bolivar, Colombia. This and other USAID projects in Colombia provide income and employment opportunities to rural communities which agree to give up the growth of narcotic crops and for those that are displaced by the country's continued conflict. These projects serve to instill these employment skills which they can market outside of the cultivation of narcotics. I left Project Unidad Pedagogica Productiva Agroindustrial de Turbaco with a favorable opinion of the work that USAID is performing in Colombia.
When we visited the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, on April 8, 2006, we reviewed the incident of February 13, 2003, when a small U.S. plane crashed in Colombia resulting in FARC taking hostage Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes, who were under contract with the Department of Defense in the war against drug traffickers. Despite the best efforts by President Uribe to rescue these hostages, all efforts, as of now, have been unsuccessful. During our visit to the Embassy we were told that, if there were sufficient Department of Defense resources applied, the hostages could be located. As a result of this meeting, Senator Sessions and I sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on April 10, 2006, requesting that he allocate additional resources toward the location of these men. In discussing this matter with the personnel at the Embassy, it was obvious that they wanted more resources for this effort as a successful outcome would clearly have a positive impact on morale and national credibility. One of the men at the Embassy said he thinks about the hostages every day. The Embassy people talk about these men as POW and MIA and there are plaques and signs displayed throughout the Embassy.
Senator Sessions and I also met with Robert Taylor, Assistant Regional Director in the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, and Admiral Alfonzo Diaz of the Colombian Navy. Mr. Taylor and Admiral Diaz discussed the methods by which the Colombian cartels use to smuggle cocaine and other drugs out of the country. We were advised that the primary way that drugs are shipped out of Colombia is via the use of go-fast boats. Go-fast boats can carry up to 3 tons of cocaine and can reach high rates of speed.
They are frequently used to transport drugs to Mexico, Central American and Caribbean transshipment countries, using refueling vessels to extend their range. Despite the advent of go-fast boats, the Colombian navy, in conjunction with U.S. agencies, was able to intercept $25 billion in cocaine in 2005 as a result of their own faster go-fast midnight express boats, which can reach speeds in excess of 60 knots.
Both Admiral Diaz and Mr. Taylor stated that Colombian law enforcement has an excellent working relationship with the United States and all of its agencies. One of the primary examples of this is the sharp increase in the number of extraditions of Colombians to the United States. Since President Uribe took office in 2002, Colombia had
extradited 304 Colombian nationals and 11 non-nationals to the United States. In early 2005, Colombia extradited FARC leader Nayibe Rojas Valderama and Cali Cartel leader Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela. The zeal with which President Uribe's administration is waging the war on drugs left little doubt that it is in the interests of the United States to continue to assist him.
Senator Sessions and I arrived in Peru on April 10, 2006. I have had the opportunity to travel to Peru on four previous occasions, the last of which was on January 4, 2002. This was an optimum time to be in Peru, as they are in the midst of Presidential elections which had taken place the day before our arrival. We first met with Ambassador Curtis Struble, who was confirmed as Ambassador to Peru on December 9, 2003. He and his staff gave us a country briefing and informed us that Peru's poverty rate is approximately 50 percent, but that Peru's economy is starting to rebound and per capita growth rate rose in 1 year from $2,100 a year to $2,800.
Soon after our meeting with Mr. Struble, we were met by Oscar Marutua, Peru's Foreign Minister, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru's Prime Minister. I was especially impressed with Mr. Kuczynski, who is a graduate of Princeton University and worked in New York City for 20 years. He reminded me of our squash match 4 years earlier and commented on my ``drop'' shots.
One of our primary concerns was the status of Peru's recent Presidential elections. Prime Minister Kuczynski advised us that there were a total of 23 separate candidates running for President in Peru. Out of these 23, only 3 were viewed as serious candidates. Ollanta Humula, a leftwing candidate who had been receiving significant monetary support from President Chavez, was leading in the early election return with 30 percent of the vote. The other two primary candidates, Ms. Lourdes Flores Nano and Alan Garcia, were characterized by Mr. Kuczynski as moderates and were in a dead heat, each capturing about 25 percent of the votes.
Mr. Kuczynski explained that under Peru's political system, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, then a run-off vote between the top two candidates occurs on May 7, 2006. Without question, it will be in the interest of the United States that either Ms. Flores Nano or Mr. Garcia prevails in Peru's election for President.
Foreign Minister Maurtua stated that there are approximately 1 million Peruvians living in the United States. Of these, he estimated that 50 percent were residing in the United States illegally. Kuczynski suggested breaking the issue of immigration down into two parts: what to do with the people already in the United States and what to do with those who would like to go there.
Senator Sessions and I also met with Susan Keogh, Director of Narcotics Affairs in Peru. Ms. Keough discussed the current difficulties the Peruvian Government was having in combating narcotics and the deleterious effect that narcotic cultivation has on the environment. Ms. Keough stated that approximately 400,000 acres are being deforested annually for the cultivation of coca and other plants. On average, there are approximately 40,000 to 100,000 coca plants per 2 acres, which require about 2 tons of chemicals to be used for their production. Since coca is very vulnerable to diseases, coca growers cover the coca with pesticides which are very deleterious to the environment. Some portions of these chemicals almost always find their way into rivers and streams, as coca must be cultivated close to a water supply.
I asked what efforts the Peruvian Government is taking to combat these problems. Ms. Keough remarked that the Peruvian Government hardly focuses on this issue and that the growth of cocaine and the effects on the environment was rarely mentioned during the current Presidential campaign. We suggested to Ms. Keough that she and her colleagues, who were concerned about protecting the environment, should write letters to the editor of respected Peruvian newspapers expressing their concern over the growth of cocaine in Peru and the deleterious effects that this cultivation is having on the environment.
Senator Sessions and I arrived in Brazil on April 12, 2006. Immediately upon our arrival, we met with acting U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission to Brazil,
Phillip Chicola, a Cuban-American who came to the United States in 1961 and graduated from Florida Atlantic University. Mr. Chicola stated that, although Brazil views the United States as an ally, the Brazilian administration has made building relations with neighboring countries in the southern hemisphere its first priority. He said that Brazil is seeking to redress U.S. influence by strengthening ties with nontraditional trading partners such as India and China.
Senator Sessions and I also asked Mr. Chicola about narcotics trafficking throughout South America. Mr. Chicola stated that, although Brazil is not a significant drug-producing country, Brazil does serve as a conduit for cocaine moving to Europe and Africa. Specifically, both Colombian and Bolivian drug smugglers attempt to transport cocaine over the Brazilian borders. Although Colombian drug smugglers have had some success in bringing narcotics across the border, the Amazon rain forest and various rivers provide natural boundaries against drug smuggling. As a result of these natural boundaries, drug smugglers have attempted to fly drugs out of Colombia and into Brazil. Mr. Chicola stated that the majority of drug smugglers now ship their cocaine through Venezuela as a result of Brazil's shootdown law, which authorizes the Brazilian Air Force to use lethal force in the interdiction of aircraft suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.
Later during the trip we met with Under Secretary for South American Affairs Ministry for External Relations, Jose Eduardo Felicio. Mr. Felicio was an articulate, impressive man, who spent several years of his life working in New York City. One of the first questions we asked Mr. Felicio was how the United States can limit the destabilizing effect that President Chavez has been having on South America. Mr. Felicio stated that the Brazilian Government views Chavez as the legitimately elected President of Venezuela even though they do not approve of everything he says publicly. Mr. Felicio stated that, despite Chavez's harsh rhetoric against the United States, Brazil does not believe there is sufficient proof that Chavez is a disrupting force in South America.
I also asked Mr. Felicio what steps the United Nations Security Counsel should take in regards to Iran's attempts to develop nuclear arms in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. Mr. Felicio stated that, while Iran should cooperate with requests made by the International Atomic Energy Association, Brazil does not believe that Iran is being treated fairly because there is a double standard against Iran. While certain countries like Israel, Pakistan, and India are permitted to develop nuclear programs in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has been unfairly singled out.
The next portion of the CODEL took us to Manaus, where we spoke with Mr. Francisco Ritta Bernardino, the owner of many hotels throughout the Amazon and noted author of several books dealing with the importance of the Amazon ecosystem. A lawyer and entrepreneur, Mr. Bernardino told us of his meeting with Jacques Cousteau, the famous diver and undersea explorer who documented life in the Amazon from December 1981 to November 1982. Mr. Bernardino stated that it was during this time period that Jacques Cousteau convinced him that the greatest threat to mankind was not nuclear war, but the destruction of nature. Cousteau believed that if the destruction of the Amazon was not halted, mankind would be sacrificing the future of their children and grandchildren.
Soon after Mr. Bernardino's meeting with Mr. Cousteau, he set about the construction of the Ariau Amazon Towers. Mr. Bernardino stated that he built the hotel in the middle of the Amazon in order to help people become acquainted with the Amazon in a region untouched by people. The Ariau Amazon Towers are built upon seven wooden towers interconnected by raised walkways over portions of the Amazon River. These walkways connect the towers with various docks and paths that lead throughout the Amazon.
During our meeting with Mr. Bernardino, we inquired about the origin of the Amazon River flow. Mr. Bernardino explained that the Amazon River is created at the junction of the Negro and Solimoes Rivers near Manaus. He stated that the water of the Negro River runs approximately 3,200 kilometers, originating from the various tributaries that spill out of the Andes Mountains of Colombia and Peru. The water of the Negro River is completely black, colored from the collection of minerals and organic materials that it collects from hundreds of tributaries that empty into it from the rock beds of the Andes. Mr. Bernardino explained that, although the Negro River is full of acid and poor in oxygen, it fertilizes the surrounding shores with its rich minerals. In contrast to the Negro River, Mr. Bernardino stated that the water of the Solimoes River is colored light blue and flows from the Brazilian-Peruvian border. The Solimoes River runs for about 1,600 kilometers, until it meets the black Negro waters where it merges to form the Amazon River in a floodplain about 80 kilometers wide.
The Amazon River runs 5,904 kilometers in length; its basins widening during the rainy seasons to as much as 100 kilometers. Mr. Bernardino explained that
approximately 1,100 tributaries empty their waters into the Amazon and that the Amazon average width ranges from 2 to 30 kilometers, until it reaches a width of 230 kilometers when it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The flow of the Amazon river is so forceful that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are pushed approximately 2 to 5 kilometers away from the shoreline of the Amazon basin by its free-flowing fresh water.
We also met with the National Aeronautical Space Administration, NASA, Project Liaison to Large Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment, Josefine Durazo, about the effects the deforestation of the Amazon is having on global warming. Ms. Durazo explained that the Large Scale Biosphere Atmosphere Experiment, LBA, is an international cooperative research program led by Brazil and dedicated to the study of International Geosphere-Biosphere studies regarding the deforestation of the Amazon. She further stated that she worked with the LBA-ECO, which is a subproject operating under the LBA, funded entirely by NASA. The LBA-ECO is dedicated to gaining an understanding of how the ecosystem of the Amazon functions as a system and what effects the deforestation of the Amazon are having on climate control.
Ms. Durazo explained that NASA began funding the program in 1998 by constructing tower sites which measure carbon flux in various geographic areas within the Amazon. These towers, in conjunction with extensive support by Brazilian researchers, enable NASA to measure the flux of carbon levels during forest fires and lumbering projects. As a result of this research, NASA and LBA have discovered that current logging efforts in the Amazon cover an area nearly equal to that of the portions that have already been deforested. Ms. Durazo stated that by using these techniques, NASA and the LBA will soon be able to determine the effect that the continued logging of the Amazon will have on the level of carbon dioxide being emitted to the atmosphere.
After our meeting with Ms. Durazo, I had my staff reach out to Michael Keller a physical scientist working at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. According to Mr. Keller, carbon dioxide is responsible for the largest portion of the manmade greenhouse effect. Each year, there are eight gigatons, 1 billion tons, of carbon added to the atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide. Of those 8 gigatons, 1.6 result from land use change processes, such as the clearing of forest and savanna in the tropics. Mr. Keller estimates that .3 gigatons of the carbon emitted to the atmosphere occurs as a result of the deforestation of the Amazon. Accordingly, Mr. Keller and other experts believe that the deforestation of the Amazon is playing a significant role in the manmade greenhouse effect. NASA is continuing to study the data that they have collected in the Amazon.
Senator Sessions and I arrived in the Dominican Republic on April 15, 2006, and met for a team briefing with Peter Reilly of the DEA, Andy Diaz of the FBI, Michael Garuckis of the State Department, Jeff Radgowski of the Coast Guard and Timothy Tubbs of the Department of Homeland Security regarding issues of drug trafficking and immigration.
We were told at this briefing that the Dominican Republic's long border with Haiti, combined with its overstretched law enforcement agencies and geographic location in the Caribbean, make the country a prime location for drug traffickers. Although the Dominican Republic is not a major drug-producing country, it nonetheless acts as a transit point for cocaine and heroin bound for the United States from Colombia and Venezuela. The main trafficking points are by sea from Colombia, which lies just 360 nautical miles from the coast of the Dominican Republic.
We were also informed at this briefing that there are approximately 1.6 million Dominicans residing in the United States. In 2005, U.S. immigration authorities repatriated 4,918 Dominicans. Most of those returned to the Dominican Republic had served 4 to 9 years in jail in the United States.
After our country briefing, we traveled to see a training program run by the Hotel Association with assistance from USAID and the Peace Corp at La Romana Bayahibe Tourism Cluster, Romana Cluster. The Hotel Association is attempting to educate and train the local populace in order to make the Dominican Republic more attractive to tourists. The Romana Cluster is a community of homes built by USAID for displaced individuals on land purchased by the Hotel Association for displaced Dominicans.
While there, we met with Lisette Gill, the executive director of the Romana Cluster, and Rosa Garza of the Peace Corps. Ms. Gill explained that the Romana Cluster was started in 2001 by USAID to train the local community in marketable skills so that the area would be more attractive to tourists. Ms. Gill stated that the Romana Cluster receives approximately $250,000 annually from the Hotel Association. Ms. Gill took us to a high school that was constructed by the Hotel Association for 120 students living in the Romana Cluster. Before the construction of this high school, we were told that Dominicans living in the area could not attend high school, as there was no public schooling available in the area.
Later that evening, we met with the Foreign Minister for the Dominican Republic, Mr. Carlos Morales Troncoso. I told the Foreign Minister that I had spoken to President Uribe about the problem of the United States of getting guest workers to return to their native country after they had finished working, and I was interested to hear his thoughts on the subject. Mr. Troncoso stated that the Dominican Republic had just begun a guest worker program with Spain. The Dominican Republic guest worker program was a 2-year program whereby the government would keep a log of where the worker would be working in Spain and where they could find him. Mr. Toncoso explained that, so long as the worker performed well and returned to the Dominican Republic at the end of the working season, then it would be permissible for the worker to work in Spain the following year. He stated that if the worker does not come back, that worker would be barred from being eligible for any future participation in a guest worker program.
Mr. Troncoso admitted that there is always the problem of some guest workers not wanting to return to the Dominican Republic, but nonetheless, the current system seems to be working well. Mr. Troncoso stated that, in 2005, Dominican Republic citizens working in the United States sent approximately $2.8 billion back to their families in the Dominican Republic.
Senator Sessions and I also had the opportunity to meet with President Leonel Fernandez Reyna. President Reyna was a very impressive man who was born in Santo Domingo in 1953 and moved to New York City in 1956 where he attended elementary and junior high school. President Reyna returned to the Dominican Republic in 1969 and served as President from 1996-2000 but was not permitted to run again as a result of term limits. In 2003, however, the Dominican Republic constitution was changed, permitting President
Reyna to become President for a second time in 2004.
President Reyna spoke to us about the border problems that the Dominican Republic was having with illegal Haitian immigrants entering the Dominican Republic. President Reyna explained that, while the Dominican Republic's unemployment rate was 17.4 percent, Haiti's was approximately 50 percent. As a result of this, the Dominican Republic must constantly contend with Haitian citizens coming across the border looking for work. President Reyna stated that it was imperative for the Dominican Republic to encourage the expansion of democratic institutions in Haiti, in the hope that this would lead to political stability.
We returned to Washington on April 16 to use the second week of the recess to work on the immigration bill.