Barbara Lee

Columbia Program - Jan. 1, 2006

Barbara Lee
January 01, 2006— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words. I rise in strong support of the McGovern-Skelton amendment. This amendment transfers $75 million from Colombian military assistance to global programs for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Now, this amendment signals to Colombia and the world that this government is serious about the need to respect human rights, that it believes that we need to rethink our approach to the Colombian situation, and that we recognize that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the greatest health and humanitarian crisis of our time.

Plan Colombia has failed. Coca production in the Andes has increased. Eradication programs are shifting production, not eliminating it, and they are exposing men, women, and children of the region to dangerous pesticides. At the same time, paramilitary organizations tied to the Colombian army we are supporting have engaged in gross human rights violations. Those same paramilitaries, according to the Washington Post and other sources, are major drug dealers themselves. The Post reports that paramilitaries control 40 percent, that is 40 percent of the Colombian drug trade. Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organizations have reported that Colombian military officers alleged to have committed human rights abuses remain on duty.

We should be able to translate United States assistance into influence to promote the protection of human rights. That is not happening in Colombia, and civilians are paying the price. We are compelled to ask: What are we trying to do in Colombia and what is our exit strategy? How much will we spend on this program and what will it accomplish? The United States has a long and troubled history in Latin America, and we should end this chapter.

At the same time, this bill underfunds the President's $3 billion HIV/AIDS initiative, so this amendment would help correct this imbalance that will cost lives. While the money that this amendment would transfer from the Colombian account is a modest sum by most standards, it can go a long way towards helping those individuals who are suffering and dying from HIV and AIDS and other opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Now, with the cost of generic anti-retroviral drugs dropping to under $300 a year, let me tell my colleagues what $75 million would do. Seventy-five million dollars would allow another 250,000 HIV/AIDS infected individuals access to these lifesaving drugs. Seventy-five million dollars could also pay for approximately 7 million people to take the normal $10 treatment course for tuberculosis, which is the leading killer of HIV and AIDS patients. And with the cost of most malaria treatment courses ranging from $2 to $5, up to 15 million patients could be treated with just $75 million.

Let me be clear, though, that as much good as this money can do, it can in no way overcome the nearly $1 billion shortfall in spending for our global AIDS, TB, and malaria initiatives. Now, the President has promised $3 billion, but it is obvious that this Congress must deliver on that. I would hope that the President would try very hard to find some way to make up the difference between the $3 billion that we authorized back in May and the just over $2 billion that we are now appropriating.

Thanks to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Kilpatrick) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern) and the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton), with this amendment we have an opportunity to piece this money, and that is what we are doing, piecing this $1 million together. But it is worth it.

It would be a travesty to underfund our first-year pledge of the 5 years, $15 billion commitment we made so recently to fight global AIDS, particularly since the President spoke so much about it during his recent trip to Africa. Expectations have been raised, and we must deliver upon them or we risk further damage to our credibility.

This amendment improves our foreign policy in two directions. It helps correct a Colombian policy that has gone badly astray, and it transfers desperately needed funds to the most urgent humanitarian and health crisis of our time. It helps us, this House, deliver on the President's promise. So I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.