Rubio: “It is my view that Colombia is our strongest and most capable ally in the Western hemisphere on a series of fronts.”
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, convened a hearing titled “U.S.-Colombia Relations: New Opportunities to Reinforce and Strengthen Our Bilateral Relationship.”
Video of the hearing can be found here.
Portions of Senator Rubio's exchange with the witnesses are below.
Chairman Rubio: I want to narrow in Secretary Madison on the drug trade that we keep focusing on. There's no doubt that, you know, coca is grown, maybe even be processed in these labs out there, but then it has to be moved. Okay. And some of that is maritime movement, is that correct? Some of it is put on these boats?
Madison: I think they move it any way that they can.
Rubio: Well part of it is aerial.
Madison: But a big part is maritime.
Rubio: Right, so let's talk about the flights, because there are airplanes that land in these fields in Central America and then trafficked up across the border. There are others that go into the Caribbean. And some of it leapfrogs from the Caribbean into the U.S., but some of it leapfrogs from the Caribbean to Europe. There's a growth in the cocaine that’s being shipped into Europe, correct?
Madison: In fact, there's a growth in the cocaine market around the world. I was recently in London and I was recently in Australia. And in both places cocaine is actually an enormous issue and its coming from this Hemisphere.
Rubio: Right. And those would have to be aerial routes, I imagine they’re not taking these little fake submersibles all the way over there, right?
Madison: Actually they do get boats that cross the Southern Ocean and go to Australia.
Rubio: Fast boats.
Madison: But I am assuming that's not the preponderance of it.
Rubio: The point I am trying to raise is: When those flights happen, where are those flights originating? What is the path those flights are taking?
Madison: There's a number of pathways, but we have noted, which I imagine is an issue of concern to you in particular is, we have noted a pattern of flights leaving Venezuela. There is also a vector, a maritime vector, through Ecuador up the East Pacific which is actually pretty significant. But the flights is, a lot of them are Venezuela.
Rubio: Let me ask you, is it fair to say that these people who are flying these drugs are deliberately flying through Venezuelan airspace to avoid radar detection by either the Colombians and otherwise, and certainly taking off from airfields in Venezuela? That’s fair to say.
Madison: What I think is always fair to say is that narco traffickers will always take the path of least resistance. And if there is a place where enforcement is not done, where there isn't, you know, sort of a denial of use of airspace, and where there’s no official effort to block them, they will take it. The other instance where they can take it...
Rubio: That sounds like Venezuela.
Madison: is where there isn't capacity. Which is also the case in some places.
Rubio: Well, Venezuela has the capacity to control its airspace. We've seen them do it when they have to. The point being is that one of the paths of least resistance, there are air flights leaving Venezuela with Colombian cocaine. A significant portion.
Madison: As I said in my testimony, let me just reiterate: I think Venezuela is an enormous problem on the counter-drug issue. I think the fact that Venezuela does not work with us or its neighbors on the way that it once did, is very damaging to the larger effort to take these issues on in South America. It is why it is so important we are working with the Colombians, working with the Peruvians, we brought Ecuador back in line and really in some respect it’s about the objective realities of a place like Colombia. But it’s also about the failures in Venezuela.
Rubio: I know there’s a question asked earlier by Senator Menendez, the Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Sullivan, has said on the record that Venezuela acts as a safe haven for criminal organizations. He was referring to the ELN and these dissident FARCs. They’re criminal organizations because of what criminal enterprise were they involved in? Beyond murder and kidnapping and things of this nature.
Madison: Obviously there’s a narco trafficking nexus into Venezuela.
Rubio: And if the Deputy Secretary of State is saying they have safe havens, and Colombia is saying the same. So we have these narco trafficking organizations operating in Venezuela.
Madison: I believe that’s correct.
Rubio: I’ll tell you why I’m getting to that point, because all of this eradication stuff is important. And by the way there was a direct correlation between the ending the aerial eradication under a court order and the spike in production. And that was under a court order, and I know they’ve worked through it. The point I’m trying to get at is: all of these things we’re doing with the Colombians are important., what they’re trying to do is important as well. But as long as you have a two major drug trafficking organizations, if not more, operating openly, with little to no formal resistance. And often, I believe, I think the evidence is clear, cooperation of a neighboring regime in a neighboring country. There’s no way to deal with this. As long as there are these criminal elements operating with impunity across their border, trafficking these drugs, operating in this way, I don’t know how we wrap the bow, and really deal with this problem.
Madison: I certainly think it makes it much harder as I’ve said. I will say, even at a time where we had more cooperation out of Venezuela it was still absolutely critical that we were present and working with the Colombians and with others.
Rubio: Of course.
Madison: But this is most assuredly not making it easier, and in fact it’s really undermining a lot of the good work that’s going on.
Rubio: Well, none of you have these narco trafficking organizations operating out of Venezuelan territory. They also have, as a side intent, to overthrow the government of Colombia. So, I guess the point I'm trying to raise is, I personally do not believe, and I believe the evidence supports this, that we could ever truly address the production and sale and trafficking of cocaine out of Colombia, without addressing the fact that these groups are operating with impunity, from a neighboring territory, and the Colombians, right now anyways, can’t do anything about it, because of what the implications of that would be.
Rubio: I want to talk about Peace Deal, because I think it’s important to bring some clarity into that. You know, the Peace Deal, one of the guys that showed up in the video the other day, by all accounts, certainly wasn’t in Bogota, so he was probably in Venezuela when he posted that video about how he’s going to take up arms again. Is an individual who, after the Peace Deal had been signed, after he had been given, handed, a seat in Congress was caught, along with his nephew shipping ten tons of cocaine, and he was indicted and the DEA went after him. His nephew is now a cooperating witness, so we are going to learn a lot more about all of this. The guy, Santrich was able to fight extradition and then winds up on a video a few weeks later saying I’m out of the Peace Deal because they are not being nice to me. You’re a drug dealer, and he’s a drug dealer after the Peace Deal was in place, and all of a sudden the Peace Deal doesn't make sense. Look, I guess we should have expected it because I image he took a major pay cut going from drug dealer to Congressman. That’s a huge pay cut I imagine, it’s very lucrative to be in this business. But I think it's important to point out that this Peace Deal, that people now say is falling apart: they’re not taking up arms because there are problems in implementation, that's always the case. But many of these elements broke away initially because they don't want to give away the money that it produces. And this guy, after the deal was signed and he was supposedly a Congressman, still tried to ship ten tons of cocaine, and the DEA went after him. So I think that’s really important.
Rubio: On the diplomacy front, and I know that’s been mentioned, last week Mr. O’Reilly, is it not the case that the United States and Colombia, along with 10 other countries, invoked at the OAS the beginning process of raising what’s commonly known as the Rio Treaty. Which took a significant amount of diplomatic work. I know it was under reported but that took a lot of diplomatic work. And I think one of the things that’s been lost in a lot of the discussion about the region, because the focus is on U.S. policy, is I think, a pretty unprecedented certainly in the last decade regional diplomatic commitment on this issue of Venezuela. Obviously that impacts Colombia. I’m I correct, it was 12 countries that helped bring that to the forefront?
O’Reilly: Yes, Senator absolutely, and it took an immense amount of work, and most of that work was done by South Americans. We of course, follow this closely, we are members of the Rio pact, we are signatories of the Rio Treaty. We are deeply engaged in this. But it was Colombian diplomacy, it was Chilean diplomacy, it was Brazilian diplomacy, and many other governments besides all working together to try to figure out how they can protect their interests. They’re the ones who are receiving millions of people expelled by Nicolas Maduro into their territory. They are the ones who are having the health risks imposed upon them by this migration, and the security risks, and the whole gamut of challenges.