Jan 26

Three Senate Democrats on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. aid to Colombia sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton on January 21. The letter calls for a changed U.S. approach to Colombia: a reduced military focus, greater support for civilian governance including the judicial system, a stronger priority on human rights and democratic institutions, and increased openness to facilitating a negotiated end to the conflict.

The three senators are:

  • Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee;
  • Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee; and
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate Appropriations State/Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

Here is a brief excerpt. Or download the whole 3-page letter as a 1.3-megabyte PDF file.

Reports suggest further deterioration of the rule of law and basic rights in Colombia in other areas as well. The well-documented abuses of the presidential intelligence agency, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), are particularly troubling. … Colombia’s highest officials continue to publicly denigrate human rights defenders in ways that jeopardize their safety. Additionally, a possible third term for the current president threatens to further erode the checks and balances that help protect Colombia’s fragile democracy.

In light of these trends, the State Department’s September 8th decision to certify that Colombia has met the human rights conditions in U.S. law was very disappointing, as were statements indicating that the Administration’s new base-access agreement with Colombia is intended to deepen relations with the Colombian military. President Obama’s words of concern about human rights abuses during President Uribe’s June 2009 visit were welcome and helpful. But it is also essential that the administration send an unambiguous signal that these abuses are unacceptable and that stopping them is a priority and a prerequisite for our continued partnership with the Colombian government.

Dec 15

Last week, 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed and sent to Secretary of State Clinton a strong letter [PDF] calling for significant change in U.S. policy toward Colombia, starting with the 2011 aid request, which the State Department will issue to Congress in two months. This is the letter discussed in a post here in mid-November.

Many thanks to everyone who made calls and otherwise sought to alert members of Congress and convince them to sign. Many thanks as well go to the letter’s initial sponsors, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Rep. Donald Payne (D-New Jersey), and Rep. Michael Honda (D-California).

As the letter notes, “This is the right moment to take stock and reconfigure both aid and diplomacy.” We hope that the State Department is working to do just that.

Nov 16

A very good letter to Secretary of State Clinton, asking for several badly needed changes to U.S. policy toward Colombia, is currently circulating in the U.S. Congress. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) and Mike Honda (D-California) are asking their colleagues in the House of Representatives to sign on.

Please call your member of Congress and ask them to sign on to this letter. It is circulating at a good time, as the Obama administration develops the 2011 aid request it will issue to Congress in February. If the letter goes to the State Department with lots of signatures, it will have real influence on the future of U.S. assistance to Colombia.

Here is the alert and calling instructions from the Latin America Working Group. The text of the letter is here.

As of November 6th, this letter, written by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne, and Honda, is circulating throughout the halls of Congress with a clear message: let’s spend our taxpayer dollars on supporting victims of violence, not funding military abuses. This is our chance to get Congress behind the changes that we want to see and have our government start standing by our brothers and sisters in Colombia.

The letter makes a strong case for why there is no time to waste in changing our policies towards Colombia. It paints a vivid picture of the Colombian government’s failure to protect human rights, raising issues like the killing of civilians by the army, the persecution of human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis of over four million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Echoing what we have been saying for a long time, it demands a cut in military aid and an increase in support for victims and those who are working for peace and justice in Colombia. It also calls for an end to harmful and ineffective aerial fumigations, investing instead in drug treatment in the United States. To get all the details, click here to read the full letter.

But, this letter needs the support of many members of Congress to be effective. So, that’s why we need you make sure your congressional representative signs on now.

Click here to contact your representative today.

And don’t stop there: Tell your friends. Tell your family. Or just go ahead and forward this on to your whole address book! We won’t get another chance like this again for a long time, so let’s pull out all the stops and make it happen together!

From November 6th through 24th, a letter calling for change in U.S. policy towards Colombia will be circulating through the House of Representatives. This letter has our message, calling for a decrease in U.S. aid for Colombia’s military and an increase in support for human rights and humanitarian efforts.

Now, it’s up to us to use our grassroots power to get at least 70 representatives to back up the initiators of this letter—Representatives Jim McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Donald Payne, and Mike Honda—by adding their signatures before it is sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The best way to persuade your member of congress to sign on is by calling his/her office and speaking directly with foreign policy staff, so please do it today!

Below we’ve given you simple instructions for making that call. Although it isn’t quite as effective as a phone call, if you would prefer to send an email to your representative, click here.

How to Make an Effective Call

1. Check to make sure your Representative has not signed on yet. Click here to check our updated list of co-signers. Then, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be put through to your member of Congress. If you don’t know who your representative is, click here. Ask the receptionist if you can speak with the Foreign Policy aide. If he/she is not available, ask to leave a message. Below, we’ve provided a script that you can use in your phone call, but feel free to add any personal stories or thoughts that you’d like to share.

Call script:

“I am a constituent calling to encourage Representative ____________ to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter written by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne, and Honda, which calls for change in U.S. policy towards Colombia. This letter to Secretary of State Clinton asks that our government be honest about the human rights conditions in Colombia and make changes in the aid package. The U.S. should stop spending taxpayer dollars on the military, which has been found to be killing innocent civilians and illegally wiretapping human rights defenders, journalists, and Supreme Court judges. Instead, we should be supporting refugees and displaced people, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and small farmers who are trying to turn away from coca. And we also need to invest in drug treatment centers here at home. I strongly urge Representative ______ to take a stand for human rights and sign on to this letter today. To get a copy of the letter and to sign on, please contact Cindy Buhl in Rep. McGovern’s office. Thank you.”

2. After you’ve made your call, if you have time, send a quick email to Vanessa, at vkritzer@lawg.org, so we can track how many phones we’re ringing.

Oct 16

(I’m spending Friday at a conference at Syracuse University. Meanwhile, we’re pleased to help get the word out about this important hearing Tuesday afternoon with Margaret Sekaggya, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Read the statement from her September visit to Colombia, when she found that “patterns of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders, and often their families, continue to exist in Colombia.”)

Commission Hearing Announcement
Human Rights Defenders in the Crosshairs:
The Ongoing Crisis in Colombia
Margaret Sekaggya,
UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
Tuesday, October 20
2 - 3:30 p.m.
Room: TBD

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia. The hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday, October 20, (room: tbd). The hearing is open to the media and the public.
The ongoing 44-year-old armed conflict in Colombia has created one of the worlds most dangerous environments for human rights defenders, social leaders, labor activists, and journalists, despite some protection efforts by the Colombian government. During last year’s Universal Periodic Human Rights Review of Colombia at the United Nations, the subsequent Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review on Colombia (A/HRC/10/82; Jan. 9, 2009) reflected the global concern regarding extra-judicial killings and disappearances of individuals.
Recognizing the dangers that human rights defenders face from paramilitary, guerilla fighters and drug lords, the working group recommended that the Colombian government fully implement Presidential Directive 7 of 1999, and give stronger and unambiguous public recognition and support to human rights defenders.  The recommendations also included sanctioning those who make unsubstantiated allegations against human rights defenders and strengthening the protection program for NGO representatives. The report further recommended that the Colombian government fully investigate and punish crimes against human rights defenders to end the climate of impunity and called for the visits of all relevant human rights rapporteurs to Colombia.
Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and former head of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, visited Colombia last month from September 7-18 and met with the Uribe government, civil society, judicial institutions, diplomatic delegations, and authorities in Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellín, Cali and Arauca. Ms. Sekaggya will be joined by other human rights experts to present and discuss the findings of her trip.
Other witnesses include:·
  • Principe Gabriel Gonzalez Arango, Colombian Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee·
  • Reynaldo Villalba Vargas, President, José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective·
  • Andrew Hudson, Manager, Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First
  • Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia.

If you have any questions regarding this hearing, please contact Hans Hogrefe (Rep. McGovern) or Elizabeth Hoffman (Rep. Wolf) at (202) 225-3599.

James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Frank R. Wolf, M.C.
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Jul 24

The House has passed the 2010 foreign assistance budget bill, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has passed its version.

Where aid to Colombia is concerned, neither house made fundamental changes to the Obama administration’s request.

Here are the numbers as they stand right now. For far more detail, including specific programs – and much improved legibility – download this Excel file (36KB).

Please note that this is not all aid to Colombia. Another $100-150 million in military and police aid will go through the Defense budget counternarcotics account (perhaps more, when we include money spent to do construction at the bases that U.S. personnel will be using). And another $5-20 million in economic and social aid may come through USAID’s Transition Initiatives account, the Defense Department’s “Section 1207″ transfer authority, and the State Department’s regional fund for Migration and Refugee Assistance.

Colombia 2009 Authorized Amount % of total 2010 Administration Request % of total 2010 Request minus 2009 2010 Passed by House % of total House minus 2009 House minus 2010 Request 2009 Senate Appropriations Committee % of total Senate minus 2009 Senate minus 2010 Request Senate minus House
Military and Police Aid 305,050,000 56.0% 290,606,000 56.6% -14,444,000 277,840,000 53.4% -27,210,000 -12,766,000 270,995,000 52.9% -34,055,000 -19,611,000 -6,845,000
Economic and Social Aid 240,000,000 44.0% 222,394,000 43.4% -14,340,000 242,160,000 46.6% 2,160,000 19,766,000 241,500,000 47.1% 1,500,000 19,106,000 -660,000
Total Aid Specified for Colombia in the
Foreign Operations Appropriation
545,050,000 513,000,000 -28,784,000 520,000,000 -25,050,000 7,000,000 512,495,000 -32,555,000 -505,000 -7,505,000

Sources used for this table and the Excel file are online and publicly available:

May 20

The House has passed, and the full Senate has begun to take up, a bill appropriating new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and by extension, Pakistan), among other priorities. Congress expects to send the bill to the White House before the end of the week, when it goes into a weeklong recess for the Memorial Day holiday.

  • The House bill is H.R. 2346.
  • The Senate bill is S. 1054.
  • The Obama administration’s April 9 request is here (PDF).

The two chambers’ bills would also give significant new aid to Mexico this year. However, each bill’s Mexico provisions are wildly different. Here is a comparison.


  • The Obama administration had requested $66 million in additional 2009 assistance to Mexico through the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program (INCLE), which funds both military and economic aid efforts.
  • The bill passed by the House of Representatives goes well beyond this request. It would provide Mexico with $470 million: $160 million in INCLE funding and $310 million in military and police aid through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the main non-drug military aid program in the foreign aid budget. If the House version of the bill is approved, Mexico would surpass Colombia as the Western Hemisphere’s number-one recipient of U.S. military and police aid in 2009.

The House Appropriations Committee’s report describes how this additional money would be spent:

In order to facilitate and sustain the difficult task undertaken by the Mexican government, the Committee is accelerating the provision of Merida program funding. In addition to the $66,000,000 requested for the purchase of three UH-60 `Black Hawk’ transport helicopters for the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), the Committee is providing an additional $94,000,000 in INCLE funding and $310,000,000 in FMF funding. The additional INCLE funding for Mexico is intended for such items as forensics and nonintrusive inspection equipment, computers, training and fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

… [FMF] funds are available to expand aviation support for Mexico. In support of a continued cooperative partnership with Mexico, the Committee recommendation provides funding for the final three surveillance planes (CASA 235) and for medium lift maritime transport helicopters (HH-60). The Committee notes that the provision of such additional equipment in an expedited fashion will greatly assist the Mexican government by enhancing the air transport ability and maritime aerial surveillance of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) to conduct counternarcotics, and counterterrorism operations.

  • The bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee provides exactly what the Obama administration asked for: $66 million in INCLE funds for Mexico.

Human rights conditionality

In February, Congress passed the bill governing the regular foreign aid budget for 2009. Aid to Mexico’s security forces in that bill includes human rights safeguards. Section 7045(e) holds up 15 percent of this aid pending a State Department certification that Mexico’s human rights performance is improving according to four criteria. The Obama administration’s request makes no recommendation about whether these conditions should also apply to the supplemental 2009 aid.

  • The House bill, however, contains specific language exempting the $470 million in aid to Mexico from the human rights conditions. The committee report language argues that the human rights language must be lifted in order “to ensure the expeditious delivery of this equipment to Mexico.” This would set a very troubling precedent for aid to Colombia and elsewhere, where human rights conditions have been an important tool to exercise leverage against impunity for abusers.
  • The Senate bill, by contrast, makes no mention of the conditions, and would leave them in place.

Border security fund

  • The administration’s request and the House version of the supplemental bill both include a provision allowing the Defense Department to spend $350 million “for counternarcotics and other activities including assistance to other Federal agencies, on the United States border with Mexico.” The language would allow the Pentagon to transfer the money to other agencies. It is not clear whether the confusingly worded language would also allow the Defense Department, through its regular counter-narcotics aid authority, to give some of these funds to Mexico. We have been told that the intent of this fund is to support possible National Guard deployments to the U.S. side of the border, and to assist unaccompanied minors among the migrants apprehended crossing into Mexico.
  • The Senate bill does not include this border funds provision. It does, however, provide funding to the Justice and Homeland Security departments to beef up domestic border security.

Restrictions on Mexico’s use of aid

  • The Senate bill would prohibit the use of U.S. funds to provide fuel or logistical support for aircraft Mexico has purchased with its own money. It would require that communications equipment provided to Mexico be compatible with equipment used by U.S. agencies. And it would require the State Department to submit a report on actions Mexico has taken “to investigate and prosecute violations of internationally recognized human rights by members of the Mexican Federal police and military forces, and to support a thorough, independent, and credible investigation of the murder of American citizen Bradley Roland Will.” Will, an independent journalist, was shot and killed while covering a crackdown on protests in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006.
  • The administration request and the House bill do not contain similar provisions.

The next steps for the bill are:

  • Passage by the full Senate, which as of Tuesday evening has begun to debate the bill.
  • Drafting of a compromise bill by a House-Senate conference committee, which will have to work out the sharp differences between both chambers’ Mexico provisions.
  • Approval of the conference committee’s compromise version by votes in the House and Senate. This could happen before the weekend.
  • Signature by the president.
Apr 07

Not all House Democrats seek a range of views on the human rights situation, narcotrafficking, or the complexities of U.S. policy in Colombia. Here is House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), speaking today on a visit to Colombia whose agenda consisted almost completely of meetings with Colombian government officials. (Audio here.)

It is hugely disappointing that a prominent member of Congress failed to use this forum even to say a sentence about the importance and legitimacy of non-governmental human rights defenders, journalists, and judges. Though Álvaro Uribe frequently subjects these individuals to vicious verbal abuse – including irresponsible accusations of support for terrorism – Mr. Hoyer warmly praised the “respect and protection” that President Uribe purportedly offers them.

Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am pleased, along with Mr. Blunt, to lead this delegation of nine members of the Congress of the United States. We have taken an opportunity over this break in the Congress’ business to visit Mexico, Panama, and Colombia, and we will be going from here to Medellín, and then to Brazil.

One of the focuses of our trip has been the critical importance of the partnership between the United States and our friends, to fight those who would undermine the health and security of our countries and of our people with narcotrafficking and terrorism.

The success that Colombia has had under President Uribe has been extraordinary and welcome. Plan Colombia has worked, is working, and we believe needs to continue to work.

We are pleased as well with the progress that has been made on human rights, with the commitment of President Uribe and his cabinet, to focus on making sure that every individual’s rights are respected, and protected. Whether they be friends, or whether they not be allies or friends. That all people deserve respect and protection.

We are also pleased to be joined by our ambassador, Ambassador Brownfield, and most particularly, by the ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Carolina Barco, who is with us as well, who does such an extraordinarily good job in representing the people of Colombia and the Uribe administration.

We obviously, as well, talked about the free-trade agreement that is pending. I am a supporter of that agreement, as is Mr. [Roy] Blunt [R-Missouri]. And we heard from the President, from the Minister of Labor, the Minister of Trade, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister, on how very important this agreement is, not only to the economic relationship between Colombia and the United States, but also to the people of Colombia. We will hope to return to the United States and to work with the administration to see this matter move forward.

I’m now very pleased to yield, but before I do that, as I said, we are going to Medellín, the city of the President’s birth. Medellín, where I have never been, but I am told is a striking example of the success, Mr. President, that you have had in reclaiming a city from narcoterrorists, providing security and safety for people, so the quality of life of your people has been enhanced very substantially. We look forward to that visit.

Mar 06

Here is a transcript from the remarks of Rep. George Miller (D-California), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, at the end of a February 12 hearing on labor rights in Colombia.

It was referred to a number of times here about the beauty of the country of Colombia. And, for those who have visited Colombia, it would not take more than a few seconds to realize why people say that, because of the spectacular nature of the country and its natural assets. And of course, when you meet its people. But that is not a substitute for a serious inquiry into human rights.

I can remember standing at the American embassy, with the American ambassador, at the height of the violence in Chile, and him telling me that this is a beautiful country, and that I should really go to Valparaiso and enjoy the beaches, and see the people who use the beaches, and I should go shopping and enjoy the people who are shopping, and that my concerns were misplaced, because it’s such a beautiful country. My concerns weren’t misplaced. It took almost 30 years, but we brought Mr. Pinochet to justice.

And the world now knows the history of what was taking place while people were suggesting it’s a beautiful country. I had the same treatment from then-President D’Aubuisson, that I should go walk and enjoy the rivers of Salvador, because it’s such a beautiful place. And we all know the history of violence by that government against its people.

[Note: Roberto D'Aubuisson, a far-right sponsor of death squads and founder of El Salvador's ARENA party, was never actually president.]

Rep. Miller’s words inspired the following response yesterday from Colombia’s vice-president, Francisco Santos, in an interview on Colombia’s RCN radio network. [mp3 version here]

RCN Questioner: What do you think about what we just heard? A U.S. Congressman, the president for these issues in the House, George Miller, comparing Colombia’s situation to El Salvador during the time of that criminal, Roberto D’Aubuisson, or with Pinochet’s Chile?

Santos: It seems to me that this statement indicates Mr. Miller’s lack of objectivity, of his ideologization of his entire perception of Colombia, ideologization and radical politicization of Colombia’s reality, which makes him, well, an enemy of Colombia, someone who doesn’t have Colombia’s interests in mind, only his personal and ideological interests.

It seems to me that it [Mr. Miller's statement] is part of a smear campaign against Colombia, in which the political debate going on here has moved overseas.

RCN Questioners: Of course, yes. Vicepresident, yes sir, of course yes. Sir, it’s worrisome that this person, Mr. George Miller, is quite close to Nancy Pelosi. So one might feel that bills like the Free Trade Agreement still have many enemies, at least in the ideological sense in the United States, and that the issue, instead of becoming clearer, is more tangled.

Santos: This is a congressman who only has a personal vendetta, an ideological vendetta, that has nothing to do with, with…

RCN Questioner, interrupting: Reality.

Leave aside for a moment the vice-president’s questioners’ extreme deference and lack of objectivity. (One understands why Colombians refer to RCN as “Radio Casa de Nariño,” using the name of Colombia’s presidential palace.)

Rep. Miller’s point was that he was tired of discussing a country’s natural beauty or good shopping when he wanted to have a conversation about human rights. He was not comparing Colombia to Pinochet’s Chile or 1980s El Salvador – though given the hundreds of unpunished extrajudicial executions the Army has committed in the past few years alone, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

In no way should his words make George Miller an “enemy of Colombia.” But the Vice President’s use of this terribly unfortunate term is a chilling example of how today’s Colombian government regards any expression of dissent.

This is not an accidental gaffe on the Vice President’s part, either. He had similar words for a delegation of human rights leaders who visited Washington this week. He told Colombia’s “La W” radio network the following, about an hour before the delegates spoke at an event on Capitol Hill hosted by U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-California).

Today in the United States … there is a Sam Farr hearing … where the sad thing about all this is that Colombian politics have moved to international scenarios, and the hatred of the President, the ill will toward the President on the part of some sectors, has now taken on the strategy of going everywhere to trash the country. It makes one feel pain for the fatherland, it hurts one that this strategy is used to try to attack Colombia, to attack the President.

Last week, the Colombian government sent three ministers and other high officials to Washington to ask for a continuation of aid, and to present their version of the country’s current security and human rights situations. However, when Colombian experts and activists with different information travel here – whether to testify at hearings or as guests of non-governmental colleagues – the Colombian government’s highest officials trash them viciously in the national media, while severely mischaracterizing what they have to say. And now, this trashing even extends to members of the U.S. Congress.

We note as well that one of those who testified in Rep. Miller’s February 12 hearing has received serious threats from the Black Eagles paramilitary group. Here in Washington, these threats and Vice President Santos’ careless words send a message loud enough to drown out all official public-relations campaigns’ images of natural beauty and improved security.

Feb 25

Five months into Fiscal Year 2009 (which began October 1), the U.S. Congress has almost completed the 2009 federal budget. The House and Senate have developed an “omnibus” spending bill combining ten sections of the budget, which the House is expected to vote on today.

One of those ten sections funds foreign assistance for the rest of the world. The 2009 State Department and Foreign Operations bill provides Colombia with US$547.05 million in aid for 2009. Of that total, 55.8 percent (US$305.05 million) would go to Colombia’s armed forces and police.

An additional amount of military and police aid goes separately, through accounts in the Defense Department’s budget. In 2007, the Defense budget added an additional US$114.26 million in military and police aid. If that amount is similar in 2009, then total aid to Colombia this year will add up to US$666.31 million. Of that total, 62.9 percent (US$419.31 million) will be military and police aid.

The 2009 aid bill’s Colombia outlay almost exactly resembles the amounts and military-economic splits that Congress provided to Colombia for 2008. The Bush administration, which heavily favored military aid to Colombia, had sought to undo the Democratic Congress’s far less military 2008 aid package for Colombia; in February 2008 it requested a 2009 aid package for Colombia that was 72.9 percent military and police aid (76.9 percent when Defense-budget aid is added). Congress denied this request and maintained 2008 aid levels.

Here are the details, from the House-Senate Conference Committee’s “Joint Explanatory Statement” (PDF).

Military and Police Aid:
(Thousands of dollars)

Aid program 2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Andean Counterdrug Programs 247,098 329,557 242,500
Foreign Military Financing (FMF) 55,050 66,390 53,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 0 19,247 5,000
Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related (NADR) 3,715 3,150 3,150
International Military Education and Training (IMET) 1,428 1,400 1,400
Subtotal: Foreign Operations programs 307,291 419,744 305,050
Defense-Budget programs (estimate based on 2007) 114,264 114,264 114,264
Total 421,555 534,008 419,314

Economic and Social Aid:
(Thousands of dollars)

Aid program 2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Economic Support Fund (ESF) 194,412 142,366 200,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 39,427 11,340 40,000
USAID Transition Initiatives (2009 est.) 2,000 2,000 2,000
Subtotal: Foreign Operations programs 235,839 155,706 242,000
Defense-Budget programs (2009 est.) 5,000 5,000 5,000
Total 240,839 160,706 247,000

Overall Total:
(Thousands of dollars)

2008 2009 – Bush administration request 2009 – H.R. 1105
Economic Support Fund (ESF) 194,412 142,366 200,000
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) 39,427 11,340 40,000
USAID Transition Initiatives (2009 est.) 2,000 2,000 2,000
Foreign Operations programs 543,130 575,450 547,050
Defense-Budget programs (2009 est.) 119,264 119,264 119,264
Total 662,394 694,714 666,314

The House-Senate Conference Committee’s statement [PDF] provides this additional detail about economic aid to Colombia, indicating how it recommends that the 2009 aid money be distributed.

Nov 14

We returned last night from our visit to Ecuador with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts). The delegation spent three days in Ecuador’s eastern Amazon basin region, near the border with Colombia. We visited sites that had been badly contaminated by oil production, the subject of ongoing litigation between U.S. oil company Chevron and thousands of citizens from the region. We visited towns bordering Colombia where local populations were dealing with continued high refugee flows, threats from illegal armed groups, and violence from a narco-economy that continues to flourish. And we spent a day in Quito meeting with officials.

We will post more about what we saw soon. In the meantime, here are some photos from the trip. More can be viewed here and here.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) at Yuca 5 oil well site, November 9

McGovern Ecuador Delegation
Visit to San Carlos, Orellana, November 9

Shushufindi 38 Oil Well Site, November 10

Shushufindi 38 Oil Well Site, November 10

IMG_3976Shushufindi 38 Oil Well Site, November 10

On a barge outside Lago Agrio, Ecuador, November 10

Visit to Cofán indigenous community in Dureno, Sucumbíos, November 10

Visit to Cofán indigenous community in Dureno, Sucumbíos, November 10

On the road between Lago Agrio and Barranca Bermeja, Sucumbíos, November 11

McGovern Ecuador Delegation
In Barranca Bermeja, looking across the San Miguel River at Putumayo, Colombia, November 11

Meeting with community leaders in Barranca Bermeja, Sucumbíos, November 11

Meeting with community leaders in Barranca Bermeja, Sucumbíos, November 11

Meeting with community leaders in Puerto Mestanza, Sucumbíos, November 11

McGovern Ecuador Delegation
Meeting with President Rafael Correa, Quito, November 12

Sep 10

From Colombian Embassy lobbying materials being distributed this week (PDF).

We’re hearing reports from Capitol Hill that an enormous delegation of Colombians has descended on them.

Led by Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata and funded (or at least mostly funded) by the Colombian government, at least eighty government officials, businesspeople, pro-trade labor unionists, former combatants and others have fanned out across the U.S. Congress this week. Divided into eight separate groups, each with a different agenda of legislative lobby visits, their goal is to sell the controversial U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The FTA’s ratification has been stalled since April, when House Democratic leaders responded to the Bush administration’s effort to force a debate by removing the strict timetable, known as “fast track,” in the rules governing congressional consideration of trade treaties.

The Colombian visitors hope to nudge the U.S. Congress into considering the FTA before the 110th Congress adjourns at the end of the year. That is unlikely to happen. Congress will recess on September 26 – two-and-a-half weeks from now – so that members can return to their home states and campaign for the November 4 elections. It is not clear whether they will come back between the elections and the early January inauguration of the 111th Congress, a period punctuated by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays known as a “lame duck session.”

There may not be a lame duck session this year, Reuters, repeating what we have also been hearing, reported yesterday: “Democratic leaders in Congress say their plan is to finish up whatever work there is to do in the next several weeks and not return until early 2009, when a newly elected president and lawmakers will take office.”

The Colombian government has nonetheless pulled out all the stops. Just consider the expenses incurred for the current lobby visit.

Assume a four-day stay in Washington for 80 people. We have hosted enough visitors from Latin America over the years to know that a visit to Washington is not cheap. These are very conservative estimates:

  • Airfare, visa fees, aiport taxes – assume $900 per person. (More if the visitor didn’t fly coach, or had to fly first from a Colombian city without an international airport.)
  • Hotels, four nights – assume $1,000 per person. (Go to hotels.com and try to find a room in downtown DC for less than $250, including taxes, this time of year.)
  • Food and ground transportation, four days – assume $200 per person.

That brings us to $2,100 per person, or $168,000 for this week’s lobby visit. The real figure is likely higher, but even this is about 50% higher than CIP’s expenditures on all Colombia-specific work this year. On the other hand, it is equal only to what the U.S. government provides to Colombia’s police and military every 3 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, President Álvaro Uribe will be passing through Washington next week, while visiting the United States to attend the UN General Assembly. The blitz continues.

Aug 25

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.
  • 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.  
  • October 22, 2003: [PDF] Letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe
    You stated, among many assertions, that some human rights defenders in Colombia are “spokespersons for terrorism” and “traffickers for human rights”.  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 Álvaro 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
Jul 22

The Senate Appropriations Committee finished work last Thursday on its version of the 2009 State/Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the U.S. government budget legislation that supplies most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Excerpts from the Senate’s bill are here.
  • Excerpts from the Appropriations Committee’s non-binding narrative report are here.
  • The Bush Administration’s 2009 foreign aid budget request, issued in February, is here.

The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee has also finished its version of the bill; that language is not available yet, though a brief summary press release is here [PDF].

Don’t expect this bill to become law anytime soon. The U.S. Congress is only in session for six more weeks between now and the November elections. The Democratic majorities that control both houses are unlikely to hurry and send a bill for a Republican president’s signature when they stand at least a 50-50 chance of being able to send a much different bill to a Democratic president in January. Still, this bill is a useful measure of the Senate’s view of how foreign assistance programs should evolve.

The bill does not recommend specific aid levels for most countries. In the case of Colombia, however, there are enough recommendations to draw a pretty accurate picture of how the Senate appropriators would assign aid. As the table below indicates, aid to Colombia would remain similar to 2008, which involved a significant cut in military aid and increase in economic aid over 2007 levels. The Bush administration’s 2009 aid request sought to undo those 2008 changes; the Senate bill refuses to do so.

Military and Police Assistance

Aid Program

2007 (approved by Republican-majority Congress)

2008 estimate (approved by Democratic-majority Congress)

2009, administration request

2009, Senate Appropriations

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement 386,869,000 247,097,704 329,557,000 241,800,000
Foreign Military Financing 85,500,000 55,050,000 66,390,000 53,000,000
NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance 3,395,000 3,288,000 2,750,000 2,750,000
International Military Education and Training 1,646,000 1,428,000 1,400,000 1,400,000
NADR – Humanitarian Demining 691,000      
NADR – Small Arms and Light Weapons   427,000    
TOTAL 478,101,000 307,290,704 400,097,000 298,950,000
Economic and Social Assistance

Aid Program


2008 estimate

2009, administration request

2009, Senate Appropriations

Economic Support Fund   194,412,000 142,366,000 199,000,000
International Narcotics Control Economic Aid 139,166,000 39,427,296   45,000,000
Transition Initiatives 1,699,970 2,000,000    
TOTAL 140,865,970 235,839,296 142,366,000 244,000,000
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Total 618,966,970 543,130,000 542,463,000 542,950,000
Military-Police Aid
Economic-Social Aid
Other military-police appropriations (est) 126,638,053 126,374,053 126,347,053 126,347,053
Other economic-social appropriations (est) 4,858,000 0 0 0
Total aid to Colombia 750,463,023 669,504,053 668,810,053 669,297,053

(Recall that the Foreign Operations funding bill provides most, but not all, aid to Colombia. Visit our “Just the Facts” Colombia aid page for the full picture.)

The bill also repeats conditions on the Colombia aid regarding impunity for human rights violations, and the environmental and health impacts of aerial herbicide fumigation.

The Senate bill meanwhile slices deeply into the Bush administration’s $500 million request for counter-narcotics aid to Mexico under the “Mérida Initiative,” granting $300 million instead. The committee’s report recalls that Mexico got $400 million through the special Iraq-Afghanistan war appropriation passed last month, and that this aid will only begin to get spent when the 2009 budget year begins.

Here are some excerpts from the committee’s narrative report. Continue reading »

Jun 13

    In 2007, the UN measured more coca in Colombia than it had since 2002.

  • We’ve done a lot of work on the new CIP-WOLA-LAWGEF “Just the Facts” site, which monitors U.S. aid and other security issues in the region. Since the last time we mentioned it here, we’ve added reams of data, an image gallery, a calendar of events, legislative updates, and much else. There are still a few blanks to fill in, and it will get a design facelift before we launch it formally, but it’s already a resource that we ourselves are using several times a day. Pay a visit at www.justf.org; comments at this stage would be very helpful.
  • This morning’s El Tiempo has the first solid official statistics for Colombian land area under coca cultivation in 2007. The news is not good. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, whose 2006 figure of 78,000 hectares (193,000 acres) was half the U.S. government’s estimate, detected 98,000 hectares (242,000 acres) in 2007 – 20,000 hectares or 26% more coca. While some of this increase likely owes to methodological adjustments, the figures make clear that narcotrafficking is one area where Colombia has made no progress since the “dark days” of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The UNODC data are not public yet, but will eventually appear here. No final word yet on when the U.S. government will release its (normally higher) coca-cultivation estimates for 2007.
  • John McCain will be visiting Colombia sometime in early July. For McCain, this is a smart political maneuver, currying favor with swing Latino voters – including more recently arrived Colombians and Venezuelans, who tend to be fervently “Uribista” – in key states like Florida. For the Colombian government, it’s a risky gamble. If Obama wins in November, the new administration might not easily forget that President Uribe held what amounted to a campaign rally with the opposing candidate. It will be interesting to see how the Uribe government handles the visit. “More doors must be opened,” warns former foreign minister Augusto Ramírez Ocampo. “All the eggs can’t be put in one basket.”
  • On Tuesday, the House of Representatives debated and approved a bill authorizing expenditures for the “Mérida Initiative” aid package to Mexico and Central America. It is important to note that this is not the bill that will send any money to Mexico and Central America. That is a separate bill: the 2008 supplemental appropriations bill, which would provide piles of money for Iraq and Afghanistan, includes the Mérida aid in a few pages. The bill that passed the House this week, by contrast, only authorizes this use of funds for Mexico and Central America, laying out a statement of policy and adding provisions to permanent law.

In Congress, it is considered good practice to “authorize” appropriations like this before laying out money for them. But it doesn’t happen all the time; where foreign aid is concerned, in fact, “unauthorized” appropriations have been the norm since the mid-1980s. Though the House made the effort to pass authorizing legislation, the Mérida Initiative aid will be no exception: the Senate has no similar authorizing bill, so the bill that the House passed on Tuesday is unlikely ever to become law.

The supplemental appropriations bill that will actually “write the checks,” on the other hand, is on a separate track: the House and Senate both passed it in May, and now they are working out the differences in the two bills. This bill would give Mexico less money, and include stronger human rights conditions on military aid, than what this week’s House authorization bill recommends. The Mexican government has loudly complained about these human-rights conditions, especially the more specifically worded ones in the Senate’s version of the appropriations bill.

The New York Times reported – very briefly – on Wednesday that the House and Senate had worked out their differences and rewritten the conditions in a way that leaves them “intact, although softened.” The new text has not been made publicly available, but would appear here when it does.

  • Meanwhile, back in Colombia: another unpleasant chapter has been opened in the two-year-old scandal surrounding Jorge Noguera. For more than three years, Noguera headed President Uribe’s powerful presidential intelligence service (DAS). Today, he stands accused of using his position to help paramilitary leaders, including passing them lists of labor leaders and activists to be killed. For the second time, Noguera’s lawyers have managed to get him out of prison on a slim technicality (something involving the fact that a delegate of the prosecutor-general, and not the Prosecutor General himself, filed the charges – look it up yourself and try to understand it).

Noguera is free, and prosecutors now have to file charges all over again. And once again we see how hard it is to prosecute the powerful and well-connected in Colombia, even when the charge is aiding and abetting mass murder.

  • We haven’t been paying close enough attention to the scandal involving allegations that President Uribe offered favors to an obscure regional congresswoman, Yidis Medina, in exchange for a crucial committee vote that allowed him to run for re-election in 2006. But it certainly turned weird this week, with Uribe, brandishing cellphone call records and posting a flurry of releases on the Colombian Presidency’s website, claiming that Medina had been trying to blackmail his family. “The confusion increases when President Uribe himself heads the curious media crusade,” notes a sober editorial in today’s El Tiempo.
  • In our 2006 report on Medellín [PDF], we discussed many analysts’ view that the city’s newfound social peace owed in part to the monopoly on organized crime enjoyed by former paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna.” From his jail cell, many believed that Murillo continued to exercise control over much gang and narco activity in the slums tha surround the city, enforcing a sort of “pax mafiosa.”

A month ago, however, Murillo was extradited to the United States. With the paramilitary “Leviathan” out of the country, the “pax mafiosa” hypothesis is now being tested. An article in this week’s edition of the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio is not encouraging. It notes that violence took ten lives in 24 hours on Monday, the highest single-day total since 2002 – which in Medellín was an especially grim year marked by daily battles between guerrilla militias and two paramilitary groups.

  • Rumors of an impending FARC hostage release – under varying possible circumstances – were raised several times this week. President Uribe says that guerrillas have called the current DAS chief to discuss conditions, such as a no-extradition guarantee, in exchange for releasing captives. Former hostage Luis Eladio Pérez told reporters Monday that “the country will soon hear the news” that the FARC are to release four more hostages unilaterally, including the son of “peace walker” Gustavo Moncayo. Journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, who has interviewed FARC leaders on numerous occasions, told a policy forum on Monday that the FARC may be reconsidering the whole idea of hostage-taking. Senator and former dialogue facilitator Piedad Córdoba said, “Íngrid [Betancourt]’s liberation is closer today. … But the next liberations are going to be absolutely difficult.” And even a Washington Post editorial speculated that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s new attitude toward the FARC may be relevant: “Perhaps, too, Mr. Chávez hoped to take credit for what some Colombian sources say may be an imminent move by the FARC to free hostages.”
  • Here are two videos worth viewing: an investigative report from Ireland’s RTÉ network on the drug war’s failure, and a vivid look at Barrancabermeja, and the brave members of that city’s Popular Women’s Organization (OFP), from former Peace Brigades International volunteer Taline Haytayan.
  • Many congratulations to Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), who was named yesterday to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos as co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
Apr 12

Good morning from Bogotá. I spent the entire day yesterday in a conference / strategy meeting attended by more than 100 human-rights defenders from all over Colombia. Though it was fascinating and informative, it did have a few slow moments, during which I wrote the following about this week’s fight over the free-trade agreement.

Many Republican members of Congress from blue-collar, swing districts no doubt breathed a sigh of relief yesterday. Thanks to the House Democratic leadership’s unprecedented change in the “fast track” rules, these vulnerable legislators would not have to cast a potentially damaging vote for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement before the November elections.

While opinions about the FTA diverge sharply, few members of Congress could have been anxious to debate and vote on a controversial free-trade agreement in the midst of an election year (an election year in which the free trade issue has already arisen a few times), while the economy appears to be in recession. In this climate, even an FTA with Canada or Norway would have been in trouble – and Colombia is not Canada or Norway.

Now that “fast track” is stripped out, though, what happens next? This week’s move in Congress leaves some key questions unanswered.

1. Is the agreement dead, or is the intention to bring it up in 2009?

While the White House and House Republican leaders clearly believe that the FTA was “killed” on Thursday, that is not certain. Some speculate that the Congress might try to vote on the FTA between the November election and the January negotiation. A more likely scenario could be that it comes up in 2009, with a new (presumably Democratic-majority) Congress and a new (anyone’s guess which party) administration.

Bringing up the agreement in 2009 would give Colombia’s justice system more time to reach verdicts in dozens – we would prefer hundreds – of cases against union-members’ murderers. A year to take a big piece out of the impunity that labor leaders’ killers have traditionally enjoyed. If that progress takes place, one of the Democrats’ main objections to the FTA would be weakened, and even a President Obama or a President Clinton might argue that their expectations for change in Colombia have been met.

2. Will the agreement have to be re-negotiated?

Even if Colombia locks up dozens of unionist killers by next year, however, the agreement will still be very controversial. The U.S. labor community will continue to oppose the FTA as another example of an objectionable “model” or “template” that dates back to NAFTA and CAFTA. Others will remain concerned about other aspects of the treaty like its effect on smallholding agriculture in Colombia or the impact of higher intellectual property standards.
Continue reading »