Those of us who opposed the mostly military “Plan Colombia” aid package in 2000 still squirm when recalling Sen. Joe Biden’s performance during the Senate’s debate in June of that year.
Citing human rights and strategic concerns, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) had introduced an amendment seeking to cut back the large military component in the Clinton administration’s proposed package. Pacing the Senate floor while holding a handheld mike, Sen. Biden (D-Delaware) opposed Wellstone’s amendment with a lengthy improvised speech.
There will be a worldwide spotlight shined upon this military. I have never personally testified on the floor that I have faith in an individual leader, but I have faith in President Pastrana. He is the real deal. What is at stake is whether or not Colombia becomes a narcostate or not. This is not in between. Keep in mind, folks, when the Supreme Courts of Colombia several years ago extradited some, they blew the Court up; they blew the building up and killed seven Justices. When a Presidential candidate took them on, they shot him dead.
Since then, however, Sen. Biden’s view on U.S. policy toward Colombia has become notably more nuanced. Now, of course, he is the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee. Unlike nominee Barack Obama, who arrived in the Senate in January 2005, Sen. Biden – the ranking Democrat and now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – has a long record of statements that allow us to gauge the evolution of his views on Colombia.
Here are some highlights.
- February 22, 2000: Press Release
We must make clear to the Colombian government, in our words and our deeds, that although their fight against narcotics trafficking is our fight, their war against the guerrillas is their fight to win.
- May 3, 2000: Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
I came away from my visit convinced that the U.S. Congress should act quickly to approve President Clinton’s request for supplemental funding for Colombia. Unless the Congress acts quickly to approve funding for this plan, a critical opportunity in the fight against narcotics trafficking in Colombia may be lost.
- June 21, 2000: Senate Floor Speech in Opposition to the Wellstone Amendment
The good news is, because of eradication programs, because of U.N. leadership, I might add in this area, essentially there has been an elimination of the crop in those two countries. The bad news is that it has all moved into Colombia. They now are a full-service operation. The product is there, the narcotraffickers are there, the laboratory laboratories are there, and the transiting is there. That is the bad news. The good news is it is all in one spot for us to be able to hit it. It is all in one spot for us to have a very efficacious use of this money.
- August 30, 2000: Press Conference Accompanying President Clinton’s Visit to Cartagena
The journey now begins. We’re in it for the long haul, as long as you are able to, as you’ve been in the past, demonstrate at least to my countrymen that human rights is very high on your agenda. I thank you and compliment you for your efforts.
- September 17, 2002: Hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
The United States has to continue to press Colombia for improvements in human rights. Last week, the secretary of state certified that Colombia’s military is taking steps to suspend soldiers committing human rights violations and is cooperating with civilian prosecutors to prosecute those who have been alleged to have committed those acts. And is taking steps to severe links with the paramilitaries. But the military has long way to go, in my opinion. The military continues to turn a blind eye to paramilitary violence. I believe support for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative and will inevitably erode in this body and in this country.
- June 3, 2003: Hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
We are beginning to see some results. Last year, there was a 15 percent decrease in coca cultivation and a 25 percent decrease in opium poppy cultivation. This reduced supply has led to a modest decrease in purity of both cocaine and heroin on the streets of the United States. There is still a long way to go, but this progress is encouraging. … I know that the Vice President and President Uribe are committed to improving human rights. But the message is still not getting through to all levels of the military. We need to see more improvements. Â
- October 22, 2003: [PDF] Letter to Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe
You stated, among many assertions, that some human rights defenders in Colombia are “spokespersons for terrorism” and “traffickers for human rights”.Â I am deeply troubled about your comments, and their potential effect on the safety of human rights defenders in your country, and those working for international organizations who may travel to Colombia.
- June 3, 2005: Letter to Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe, signed by Sens. Biden, Obama, and Four Other Democratic Senators
We are highly concerned that the bill proposed by the Colombian government and approved by committees in Colombia’s Congress [the Justice and Peace Law] is inconsistent with these standards. We are especially disappointed by the fact that the bill does not require that paramilitary combatants reveal all the information they possess about the operational structure and financing of these Foreign Terrorist Organizations, or that they fully confess their role in illegal activities before receiving benefits.
- March 6, 2007: [PDF] Letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
As we proceed in partnership with the Government of Colombia, our support cannot be more of the same. Rather, we need to reexamine the balance between military and social and economic aid.
- December 4, 2007: Statement Opposing Peru Free Trade Agreement
I cannot support the Peru Free Trade Agreement because the Bush Administration has not proven that it will effectively enforce labor and environmental provisions, however good they may be. Our economy is slowing down, and Americans don’t trust this administration to protect their jobs, or the safety of our imports.
Over the past few years, meanwhile, four significant letters from mostly Democratic senators did not include Biden’s signature [Note as of 9:30 8/26 - a colleague reminds me that Sen. Biden has a policy of rarely signing on to group letters.] :
- July 26, 2004 letter from 23 senators to President Uribe endorsing the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- July 1, 2005 letter [PDF] from 22 senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the human-rights certification process
- May 15, 2006 letter [PDF] from 3 senators, including Obama, criticizing a column by then-Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns
- February 28, 2008 letter [PDF] from 14 senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding extrajudicial executions in Colombia