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Clinton Arrives in Colombia with Aid Package to Combat Drug Cartels

Aired August 30, 2000 - 4:34 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Gene Randall in Washington.

We want to take you now to Cartagena, the port city in Colombia, where President Clinton and Colombia's president, Andres Pastrana, are holding a joint news conference. The focus of Mr. Clinton's brief visit: the Colombian war on drugs.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... and specifically will the treaty that benefits the Colombian textile makers, will it be extended?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the short answer is, I hope so. But if I could, let me explain this -- this issue, not only to the Colombian press but to the American press, because it hasn't received a lot of attention.

We passed a very important bill this year to increase our trade with Africa, because we thought we had not done enough, and we have many African-Americans in the United States, as you do have citizens of African descent in Colombia and all over the eastern part of South America.

In that bill, we also had legislation to give more duty-free access to goods from the Caribbean Basin in the Caribbean. We did it because, when we passed the NAFTA trade agreement back in 1993, benefiting our trade with Mexico enormously, it had the unintended consequence of putting a big burden on the Caribbean nations, mostly the little island nations, and it took us all this time to correct it.

Now, we know that this legislation could have severe unintended consequences on Colombia in ways that would undermine the impact of Plan Colombia. So, Senator Graham, who is here on this delegation, and Senator DeWine, and perhaps others who are here, have sponsored a bill, which would, for one year on the textile front, in effect, treat the Colombian textiles in the same ways as those from the Caribbean island nations, and that would -- in the sense of American nations, and that would prevent a mass migration of jobs out of Colombia, and it would give the next president and the new Congress a full year to debate what the next step in the economic integration of our region should be.

So I'm -- I will tell you the exact same thing that I told the president and the government inside. We're a couple of months away from an election, and the Congress will not be in session much longer, but I think this should be done. The speaker thinks it should be done. And we don't want the Congress to be in the position of having -- or the administration either -- of having come up with over a billion dollars in aid that is partly designed to restore the Colombian economy and to move people out of coca production into legitimate earnings, and then turn around and take the economic benefits away that were there before we started.

So it's a problem. There is a narrow legislative fix, which Senator Graham and others, Senator DeWine and others have proposed, which, for the benefit of the American press, would not increase textile imports in our country, over and above what they will be anyway over the next year, but would keep massive migrations of jobs from Colombia to other places in the Caribbean region from occurring.

That's basically what Senator Graham's trying to do.

So I just -- because it's so close to the end of the session, I wish I could promise you that this will happen. I cannot promise you it will happen. All I can tell you is I will try and I hope we can do it.

QUESTION: President Clinton, 10 years ago, President Bush visited here with the same purpose as yours, and in the intervening years the flow of drugs to the United States -- illegal drugs has increased. What makes you believe the new U.S. aid package, although it be part of a broader Colombian plan, can reverse that trend without drawing U.S. troops into a shooting war here?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think that there is a lot of evidence that the flow of drugs out of Colombia per se has increased, as Senator Biden said, because efforts in Bolivia and Peru and several other places have been relatively successful. But that the overall problem in the United States is abetting. Unfortunately, it's getting -- abating -- unfortunately, it's getting worse than some other parts of the world.

And I give a lot of credit to General McCaffrey, to the attorney general, to the secretary of state and others who have -- we have worked very hard on this. And I give a lot of credit to the Congress, including the majority party in Congress. There's been an enormous effort, over the last five years, to intensify our efforts to reduce demand in the United States and to more effectively deal with supply. So that's the first thing I want to say. We have some evidence that we can succeed.

The second thing I would say is, a condition of this aid is that we are not going to get into a shooting war; that this is not Vietnam, neither is it Yankee imperialism. Those are two of the false charges that have been hurled against Plan Colombia. You have a perfect right to question whether you think it will work or whether you think we've properly distributed the resources, but I can assure you a lot of the opposition to this plan is coming from people who are afraid it will work. And so that won't happen.

The third thing you asked me -- I believe this will work because I think that this...

RANDALL: President Clinton and the Colombian president, Andres Pastrana, at a joint news conference in Cartagena, the port city. President Clinton made his brief stop in Colombia with a $1.3 billion U.S. aide package meant to help Colombia in its fight against the country's powerful drug cartels.

I'm Gene Randall in Washington.

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