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Former U.S. Ambassador Frechette on Clinton’s Colombia trip and the war on drugs
Myles Frechette was the U.S. ambassador to Colombia between July 1994 and November 1997. He served as special coordinator for the Santiago Summit of the Americas from November 1997 to October 1998. Frechette also served as director of Policy Planning, Coordination and Press for the Department of State’s Bureau of Inter-American Affairs between June 1993 and July 1994. He is currently a consultant at Hills & Company in Washington, D.C.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Ambassador Frechette, and welcome.
Myles Frechette: Hi. Good evening. I’m happy to be with you.
Chat Moderator: Do you think Plan Colombia is the right direction for U.S. policy?
Myles Frechette: Well, the Plan Colombia is a much bigger issue than our part of it. It covers economics, education, resettlement of displaced people, and alternative development.
Our part of it, $1.3 billion out of a total of $3.5 billion, which President Pastrana is requesting from the international community, will go to strengthen the counternarcotics fight in Colombia. But about 20 percent will go to strengthening the judicial system, settling refugees, human rights, alternative development and even helping the government strengthen their economy.
It is a good first step, but in the future we are going to have to give Colombia much more assistance. And we will have to give much more money to strengthen Colombia and its institutions.
Question from Suzan: Ambassador Frechette, is it true that Colombia is split between the very rich and the extremely poor?
Myles Frechette: Yes, there is very unequal distribution of income, but it is not an unusual situation in Latin America.
Chat Moderator: Colombia's neighbors are concerned that they will be drawn into the conflict. Is that a legitimate concern?
Myles Frechette: Yes, it is a legitimate concern, because when you attack narco-trafficking because it is a very profitable business in one country, the narcos move their operations to other countries.
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, we provided a lot of assistance to Peru and Bolivia, and the production of coca in both of those countries went down. When that happened, the narcos increased their operations in Colombia, so we know that.
Therefore, out of the $1.3 billion that the United States is giving Colombia, $300 million will go to Peru and Bolivia to help those countries increase their counternarco battle, just in case the narcos feeling the pressure in Colombia decide to move back.
We have to face the fact that if you start giving assistance in a region, as in the Andean countries in South America, you have to give assistance to the other countries as well.
Question from NRAMember: Will Colombia be another Vietnam?
Myles Frechette: Absolutely not. We have absolutely no intention of sending troops to Colombia. The Colombians don't want American troops there. They can handle it on their own, if we give them assistance and training. And I don't think the American people or Congress would accept sending troops.
Just consider the reaction in Congress and public opinion when we were talking about sending American troops to Kosovo. Nobody in the United States wanted to send troops into an area where they could get hurt.
Question from Chris: Isn't the real source of the problem the demand for drugs here in the United States?
Myles Frechette: It's part of it but not all of it. And we have made progress at reducing consumption in the United States. In 1980, there were some 25 million consumers of illegal substances in the United States. Today there are 12 or 13 million. That is still a huge figure, but I think you will agree that progress has been made, and we will continue working in that direction.
But it is not just consumption. Drugs cause enormous problems in Colombia, too. First, there is the damage done to Colombians who use illegal substances. But much bigger is the damage done by narco-trafficker money in terms of corruption and breeding violence. Remember that Colombia is one of the most violent countries in the world.
Question from Filipo: What do you think is the most likely economic future of Colombia? I am one educated Colombian who decided to move to Canada.
Myles Frechette: Well, the Colombians are really very hard-working people. And I think with assistance from the international community, if they can achieve peace with the guerrillas and reduce violence and narco-trafficking, I think Colombia has a bright future. But it is going to take time -- a decade, perhaps even more -- and a great deal of willpower, not by just the Colombian leadership but by all the Colombian people, including politicians and economic elites.
Chat Moderator: Is the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) goal of five years doable?
Myles Frechette: No, it is not doable. It is totally unrealistic. To reduce narco-trafficking significantly, you would have to put tremendous resources into Colombia, and it will probably take 10 to 15 years.
Question from JrTyD: Myles, what should we be looking for during President Clinton's visit?
Myles Frechette: Well, you should look for a reaffirmation that there is bipartisan support from the United States. After all, he was accompanied by almost 20 congressmen and senators of both political parties. That showed that there is bipartisan support for helping Colombia, which will extend into the next administration, not only to fight narco-trafficking there, but also to strengthen their institutions.
Question from Natelandow: What do you think about the fact that over 20 people were killed today in the wake of anti-Clinton protests?
Myles Frechette: It is extremely regrettable. And I know that there are Colombians who feel, quite honestly, that this aid package will increase violence in Colombia. However, the fact is the violence has been increasing in Colombia for years. It was increasing when I was ambassador there, and I left in 1997. And we didn't have this kind of big aid package.
It may be that there will be some increase in violence as a result. After all, the narco-traffickers are not just going to sit there while we fight their evil business. They will fight back. But in the long run, violence will be reduced, thanks to our assistance.
Question from JrTyD: Myles, what will determine whether this visit is a success or a failure?
Myles Frechette: I think the visit is a success. President Clinton has gone there with many members of Congress to announce $1 billion of aid. A recent poll in Colombia shows that over 70 percent of the Colombians polled welcomed U.S. assistance. So, I think the visit is a success. The Colombians know that we are standing beside them.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
Myles Frechette: Well, I think that we have to look on President Clinton's visit as a beginning of a totally different relationship with Colombia. We know that President Pastrana is going to fight narco-traffickers, so we have confidence in him.
And because he has asked the world community to help him fight Colombia’s many interrelated problems -- and we have made it clear that we are prepared to do that, which we were not ready to do before -- I think the Colombian people have satisfaction that the United States is standing beside them in a very difficult period.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Ambassador Frechette.
Myles Frechette: Thank you all for giving me this opportunity to chat with you. I enjoyed it very much.
Ambassador Frechette joined the News Chat via telephone from Washington, D.C. CNN.com provided a typist for Ambassador Frechette. The above is an edited transcript of that chat, which took place on Wednesday, August 30, 2000.
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