PREPARED REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS
APRIL 28, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Thank you, Richard. And thank you for inviting me to the State Department for your Washington Briefing.
For over 35 years, the Council of the Americas has provided a valuable forum for the exchange of ideas between government officials and members of the U.S. business community who, taken together, represent the vast majority of private investment in Latin America.
The broad themes of today's program - democracy, governance and economic expansion - are timely, as we face a crucial moment in the history of the Americas.
Nearly all of the countries of the Americas have adopted democratic, representative forms of government. Democracy, though, consists of more than free elections or open economies. Certainly, these are indispensable preconditions. But to endure, freedom must exist as a permanent right, and it must rest upon institutions of civil society that are sufficiently robust to stand up to adverse pressure.
With this in mind, I am pleased to speak to you about the steps that the Department of Justice is taking to promote the Rule of Law in Latin America. Rule of Law is vital to providing the platform upon which human beings stand, with dignity as individuals and the promise of opportunity and equality. Without the Rule of Law, democratic governments cannot be said to be truly democratic, and the free market cannot be said to be truly free.
In practical terms, where the Rule of Law is firmly established, we find:
- Effective law enforcement;
- An absence of government corruption;
- Human rights protected vigorously and equitably; and
- A strong, independent judiciary that applies the laws evenly and predictably.
When these conditions are secured, they create hope and faith in the institutions of civil society.
The Department of Justice has long promoted the Rule of Law in Latin America. We provide both direct assistance in law enforcement operations, as well as training and technical assistance to Latin American law enforcement officials and judicial officers.
Perhaps the best-known and most comprehensive effort at legal reform is "Plan Colombia," an integrated strategy developed with the Government of Colombia. We are tackling the most serious issues facing that country, including narcotics trafficking, corruption, human rights abuses, judicial reform, and economic development.
In addition to providing direct assistance in law enforcement operations, we are working to reform the Colombian justice sector. These programs are funded by the Department of State and coordinated by the Justice Department.
Our work in Colombia involves numerous components of the Department of Justice, including the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training, and the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons also play key roles.
Through Plan Colombia, the Department is also assisting in ambitious legal reforms of the Colombian Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. The aim is establishment of an "adversarial" system of criminal justice, which will permit trials with open testimony before an impartial court and offer protection for the legal rights of the accused.
The Department of Justice is also engaged in numerous projects aimed at improving the operational capabilities of Colombian law enforcement. These include:
- Training a special corps of Colombian prosecutors to focus on cases of maritime interdiction of drug shipments;
- The creation of Asset Forfeiture, Money Laundering, and Anti-Corruption Task Forces to help the government investigate effectively those crimes; and
- The development and implementation of a comprehensive program to investigate and prosecute kidnapping and extortion offenses.
Trans-national organized crime is one of the greatest challenges for Colombia, as well as the other nations of the Americas. The threat these groups pose to regional stability and security increases as the criminal empires join forces with terrorist organizations. Sometimes they are one and the same.
In November 2002, under Operation White Terror, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the DEA indicted four men for their roles in a $25 million, Colombian narco-terrorism drugs-for-weapons scheme.
Had the deal succeeded, hundreds of pounds of cocaine would have entered the U.S. Meanwhile, the ruthless narco-terrorist group, United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, would have procured:
- shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles,
- 53 million rounds of various types of ammunition,
- 9,000 assault rifles and submachine guns, and
- rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 30,000 grenades.
Led by Carlos Castaño-Gil [CAHSTAHNYO-HILL], the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, is an 8,000-man paramilitary group listed on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization List.
Colombian police estimate that the AUC is responsible for 804 assassinations, 203 kidnappings, and 75 massacres with 507 victims during the first 10 months of 2000. Castaño-Gil has boasted that 70 percent of AUC financing comes from drug trafficking. As the AUC reaps the profits of cocaine flooding the streets of America, it sows terror in the streets of Bogota.
Operation White Terror is evidence that our law enforcement relationship with Colombia is today stronger than ever. We exchange evidence and conduct sophisticated joint investigations. Fugitives, including top-ranking drug traffickers, are routinely extradited to the United States.
To that end, we are working to improve training for Colombian prosecutors, police, and prison administrators responsible for the most violent offenders, including terrorists, drug traffickers, and those awaiting extradition.
The Department is also assisting the Government of Colombia in establishing 11 satellite human rights units to respond more aggressively to incidents of alleged violations more aggressively in remote parts of the country. We are also strengthening the government's forensic capabilities to investigate human rights cases and to identify victims and perpetrators of human rights abuses.
I should mention here one essential point. None of this work would be possible without the courage of those on the front lines: the people and leaders of Colombia and other Latin American countries.
I had the honor of meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Davos, Switzerland, and I expressed my admiration for his courage and effort in steadfastly supporting reform and cooperation. I extend the same message of admiration and gratitude to my Latin American colleagues here today.
Although Plan Colombia is perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious effort to promote and secure the Rule of Law in Latin America, numerous other countries are taking valuable and concrete steps towards legal reform, as well. Here, too, the Department of Justice is providing assistance.
As you know, public corruption is a serious problem in many parts of the Americas. It is a major obstacle to political reform, law enforcement efforts, and economic growth. The Justice Department continues to reinforce implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption - which the Council strongly supported - through numerous initiatives and programs.
Recently, the Department hosted a regional conference on "Investigations and Prosecutions of Public Corruption." Teams from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama attended. Training was provided in investigative techniques, money-laundering prosecution, and methods for gaining international legal assistance. Similar conferences have been held in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
We must recognize the anti-corruption efforts of so many countries in the Americas. Real progress is being made, thanks to the strong leadership of individuals, such as my good friend Macedo de la Concha, the Attorney General of Mexico.
In addition to conducting training programs to develop the operational capabilities of law enforcement officials in such countries as Honduras, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, and soon Nicaragua, the Department of Justice is also assisting efforts at legal reform in countries of the region. Efforts to transform the criminal justice system from an "inquisitorial" structure to one that relies on adversarial proceedings are well underway in several nations.
In October 2002, and again in February 2003, officials from the Department of Justice held training courses in Bolivia on Drug Investigations and Prosecutions under the new adversarial system of criminal law that is being implemented there.
In June 2004, a new criminal code will take effect in the Dominican Republic that is based on an adversarial legal model. As we speak, officials from the Department of Justice are en route to implement a course for investigators and prosecutors on methods for conducting criminal cases under the adversarial system.
We are also actively assisting countries in the region in creating and implementing the legal frameworks necessary to fight terrorism. This upcoming summer, for example, an Assistant United States Attorney will be placed in Paraguay as a Resident Legal Advisor to assist in drafting and encouraging passage of effective anti-terrorism financing legislation, as well as assisting Paraguayan authorities in combating terrorism.
Our list of partnerships is long and varied, but there is a unity of values, a unity of interest, and a unity of purpose - freedom. And every day, there are successes that remind us how far this region has come - and how far we still must go.
Recently, a team from one of the Plan Colombia human-rights satellite units responded to early information of a massacre site in a remote part of southwestern Colombia. There they found the remains of 36 bodies that had been mutilated and dismembered. The team collected DNA samples and relocated the bodies to a cemetery, using numerical identifications.
Through interviews with the local population, and the use of sophisticated forensic capabilities provided by the United States, the team has begun identifying some of the perpetrators of this atrocity. An investigation that could not have been contemplated before is now well underway, including formal charges and prosecution.
When citizens see the Rule of Law in action, they are seeing justice done. To those people who have never seen it, justice can be an inspiration; it can reinvigorate hope, and it can reinforce reform. The Rule of Law is the essential cornerstone to building the community and civil structures so important to freedom and prosperity's enduring strength.
Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of South America, spent a lifetime fighting for freedom. In the end he watched his dream of a democratic hemisphere disintegrate into faction and corruption. Seeing his vision pushed aside, he said, "I have been plowing in the sea."
There are surely times when the United States and the nations in Central and South America felt that they, too, were cutting furrows of futility.
Nevertheless seeds of freedom were sown, and democracy has grown. You have helped nourish freedom through open markets and free trade, pressing for judicial reform, and respecting human dignity. However, we must remain vigilant.
These accomplishments must be continually reinforced and reaffirmed. If we are successful, the 21st Century will be a defining moment, for the Americas and for free peoples committed to the defense of democratic ideals.
Then it will be written that democracy and the Rule of Law rose to the task.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.