Apr 01

In our December report on U.S.-funded counterinsurgency programs in Colombia, we discussed a major threat to these programs’ success: populations’ fear of a “land grab.”

Much hinges on land tenure in places like the Montes de María, a region near the Caribbean coast where USAID has been supporting a Colombian government “Fusion Center” for about a year. This small zone saw some of Colombia’s most intense violence in the early 2000s, when paramilitaries carried out a string of massacres whose names (El Salado, Chengue, Mampuján, Macayepo, and dozens more) remain notorious today.

The paramilitary offensive displaced most of many communities’ populations; nine or ten years later, only a minority have returned to their lands.

These lands are fertile, and with the near-total disappearance of leftist guerrillas from the zone since 2007, the Montes de María have become much less violent. As a result, land prices are skyrocketing, and speculators are looking to buy up the small parcels held by displaced, or recently returned, farmers. According to a March 6 article in Colombia’s Semana magazine:

Some years ago, large investors – the majority from Medellín – arrived in the Montes de María to buy parcels from campesinos who had been displaced and had become indebted to banks. In a town-hall meeting with President Álvaro Uribe in El Carmen de Bolívar, several farmworkers denounced that intermediaries are massively buying land at low prices. The campesinos said that the buyers or middlemen arrive shortly after visits from bill-collectors announcing to them that their lands could be foreclosed upon. Cornered, with no other choice, the campesinos were selling.

At the August 2008 town-hall meeting, President Uribe exhorted the local citizenry, “Don’t sell your land!” Meanwhile Colombia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that loans to landholders who were displaced should be renegotiated or forgiven. But this rarely happens for a variety of reasons, from the lack of necessary paperwork to farmers being unaware of their rights.

In response to this situation, the authorities in Montes de María have temporarily prohibited the sales of thousands of hectares of landholdings. Most of these are small parcels handed out in the 1970s-1990s by Colombia’s normally ineffective land-reform agency. Semana reports:

As an official of the Bolívar departmental government explained, the intention of these restrictions on land sales is to keep land from concentrating in few hands, thus affecting thousands of campesinos’ return after being expelled by paramilitary violence in the zone. And the philosophy of protecting those lands not only has to do with legal buyers; it also seeks to keep illegal groups from obligating campesinos to sell at low prices. Throughout the country about two million hectares are protected for the same purposes.

This “freeze” in land sales has modestly allayed farmers’ fears that the U.S.-funded “Integrated Action” program might pose a threat to their landholdings. Although the stated goal of the U.S.-supported “Fusion Center” is to assist the return of displaced communities, fears of a “land grab” are rife in the Montes de María. For many, the prospect of a stronger state presence in the zone implies the stronger presence of institutions not only tied to the elites who sponsored the paramilitaries 10 years ago, but also tied to the shadowy groups of investors who are buying up land right now. The freeze in sales offers some security from the threat of a “land grab.”

But that freeze may not be in place much longer. At the beginning of March, a judge in El Carmen de Bolívar, one of the biggest municipalities in the Montes de María, set a very troubling precedent. At the request of a group of displaced campesinos who wanted to sell their lands, the judge lifted the “freeze” for 40 landholdings, totaling about 1,000 hectares, so that they could be sold to two Medellín investors from a company called Agropecuaria Tacaloa.

Semana warns:

With the decision of the El Carmen de Bolívar judge comes the possibility of the massive sale of thousands of hectares that until now were protected by the Departmental Committee [for attention to the displaced], and the possibility of these lands ending up in the hands of large businesses or, even worse, warlords, while the idea of these campesinos’ return, or of their reparation as victims, is truncated.

The Montes de María are at risk of witnessing an all-out land grab, at the expense of victims who were forced to flee the region for their lives a decade ago. If that happens, the stated goals of the U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” program will be undermined. Displaced populations will not return, the region will undergo a “reverse land reform,” and the population will be even more distrustful of the state. Last month’s court ruling sets a dangerous precedent.

Mar 04
Guatemalan National Police Chief Baltazar González was arrested Tuesday, along with the head of the U.S.-aided police narcotics unit, for plotting to steal cocaine. (Photo Source: El Periódico [Guatemala].)


“The Government of Guatemala (GOG) is actively working to strengthen its drug enforcement capability. Extensive training, and the provision of equipment and infrastructure for the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), and the Narcotics Prosecutors, continues.”

— From the 2003 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in May 2002.

“Corruption forced the dissolution of the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), which was plagued by scandals ranging from extra-judicial killings in Chocon, to the theft of 200% more drugs than were officially seized by police. INL support for interdiction efforts will include the training of the new counternarcotics unit (the SAIA), as well as operational support and equipment maintenance. … After the dissolution of the DOAN, INL provided extensive training to the 400 new SAIA agents at the Regional Counternarcotics Training Center.”

— From the 2004 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in June 2003.


“Three high-level members of the Guatemalan Anti-Narcotics Police (Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos, or SAIA) have been arrested on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States. … The three defendants named in the indictment are Adan Castillo Lopez, a/k/a ‘Adan Castillo Aguilar,’ Jorge Aguilar Garcia, and Rubilio Orlando Palacios. Castillo is Chief of the SAIA and the highest ranking anti-narcotics officer in Guatemala. ‘More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan Police Officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation that they were entrusted to prevent,’ said DEA Administrator [Karen] Tandy.”

— From a November 16, 2005 Department of Justice press release.


“FY 2010 funds will support GOG efforts to recruit and vet new SAIA (anti drug police) by providing polygraph examiners and investigative training, and training that incorporates an anticorruption component. INL provides equipment and logistical support for SAIA law enforcement and interdiction operations.”

— From the 2010 Program and Budget Guide [PDF] (successor to the Congressional Budget Justification) of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in late 2009.

“The director-general of the Guatemalan police, the chief of its anti-narcotics unit and a third official were arrested Tuesday as suspects in a case involving the theft of a cocaine shipment and a handful of dead policemen. … [T]he five murdered policemen, five more under arrest and the three detained commanders formed part of a criminal structure dedicated to stealing drugs. [Arrested National Police Chief Baltazar] Gómez was, at the time, the chief of the Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos (SAIA), [Current SAIA Director Nelly] Bonilla the deputy director, and the ten policemen were investigators or agents from that unit.”

Associated Press, reporting the evening of Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

Feb 08

The drop in aid to Latin America foreseen in the Obama administration’s 2011 aid request to Congress, issued a week ago, has caused a minor stir in the region’s media. Typical is this opening sentence in Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer’s Sunday column.

If President Barack Obama’s foreign aid budget request for 2011 is a reflection of his priorities in world affairs, it looks like the president is saying “adios” to Latin America.

A look at the region as a whole does reveal U.S. aid declining sharply in the hemisphere, by 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. A region-wide view also makes 2011 appear to be the least militarized aid package since 2001; the ratio of economic and military aid would approach 2:1 for the first time in ten years.

(As always, do keep in mind that we’re looking only at assistance in the foreign aid budget here. The U.S. defense budget also provides military aid to the region, much of it for counter-narcotics programs, which normally increases the military-aid total by about one-quarter to one-third. The Defense Department does not have to report its aid expenditures, however, until the year after it spends the money.)

The picture changes dramatically, however, if you remove just two countries: Mexico and Colombia. These two countries:

  • are the number-one and number-two recipients of U.S. aid;
  • account for more than two-thirds of all military and police aid to the region;
  • have been the recipients of mostly military U.S. aid packages big enough to get their own “brand names:” the Mérida Initiative in Mexico, and Plan Colombia in Colombia; and
  • both would see aid cuts — with almost all of the reductions coming from military aid — as both “brand-name” aid programs exit their “delivery of big expensive helicopters and other military equipment” phase.

Here is the same chart as above, leaving out Mexico and Colombia. The difference is striking.

When Mexico and Colombia are removed from the equation, aid to the rest of the region follows a different trend.

  • Total aid actually increases from 2010 to 2011. The only reason 2009 is higher than 2011 is that it included the Millennium Challenge program, which provided much aid to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras that year (despite cutoffs to the latter two) and has not gone on to aid other Latin American countries.
  • The aid is far less military in nature, with military and police aid making up less than one-sixth of all aid in the foreign aid bill. However, it becomes slightly more military from 2009 to 2011, with the economic-to-military aid ratio slipping from over 6:1 to just barely over 5:1. The main reason for this is the Obama administration’s launch of a new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, an anti-crime and anti-drug program in the Caribbean.
  • The 2010 bar on these graphs will grow taller. Economic aid — and, as a result, overall aid — will grow by hundreds of millions of dollars once the administration requests, and Congress approves, a special “supplemental” aid appropriation to help Haiti rebuild from the January 12 earthquake. The amount of this additional 2010 aid is not yet known, as the request has not yet been issued.

Look at the aid this way, and it’s pretty clear that nobody is saying “adiós” to anybody. We need not lament that the tempo of helicopter-buying for Mexico and Colombia has slowed, and we note that economic and social assistance is holding remarkably steady despite the Millennium Challenge program’s decline in the region.

Feb 04

At a site called “FedBizOpps.gov” is an interesting collection of 2009 documents from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. foreign aid agency discusses its experience with U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” programs in Colombia. It also offers a glimpse at the U.S. government’s plans for aid to Colombia as the annual amount becomes gradually smaller and somewhat more balanced between military and economic priorities.

Three documents in particular are worth a look.

1. PCIM Lessons Learned (Microsoft Word [.doc] format): This is an at times candid discussion of the U.S. government’s experience with the “Integrated Action” counter-insurgency program in the La Macarena region about 200 miles south of Bogotá, a program that has received over $40 million dollars in U.S. assistance since 2007. Some findings of our December 2009 report on this program are paralleled here, such as the challenge of corruption, the need to consult communities, and the need to speed civilian government involvement. Others, particularly concerns about militarization and human rights, are not.

The paper includes some language that would have been unthinkable in a public U.S. government document even a few years ago:

Government policies related to zero coca, and strict verification procedures, take a long time and limit the State’s ability to work with communities in transitioning from a coca economy to a legal economy.

When security and coca eradication are not synchronized with the arrival of socio-economic projects, the mood of a community can quickly become hostile.

The dismantling of illegally-armed organizations in an area is often accompanied by an increase in common crime and criminal gangs linked to narco-trafficking.  This situation can present a threat to the legitimacy of the armed forces in a region if not accompanied by the effective presence of the justice apparatus (fiscales and judges).

Some public agencies responsible for key services in the consolidation process have a history of corruption, which can paralyze decision-making, at the risk of being accused of more corruption.

2. CSDI Implementation Concept Paper (Microsoft Word [.doc] format): The “Colombia Strategic Development Initiative” or CSDI is the framework that will guide U.S. aid to Colombia over the next few years. While humanitarian projects (like aid to the displaced) will continue throughout the country, the plan is to focus security and development assistance in a few geographic areas. Though a bit heavy on the jargon, this year-old document is the most detailed description of the CSDI that we have seen.

USAID/Colombia will invite all eligible and interested parties to participate in full-and-open competitions for the right to implement this new approach. … Each organization will lead consortia or networks, preferably made up of Colombian entities, to provide the needed skills and systems required for results achievement. The process will result in awards during 2009-2010.  USAID/Colombia envisions a total combined ceiling of all awards of no less than $500 million but no more than $800 million.  The maximum life of the base period of any resulting agreement will be five years.

3. Briefing Presentation: Partners Meeting (PDF): This is a PDF version of an April 2009 PowerPoint presentation laying out USAID’s strategy from 2009 to 2013. It discusses the “Integrated Action” effort and the new CSDI.

It also includes this map of the U.S. government’s chosen CSDI zones. (While this map has been widely circulated, this is the only public copy we’ve seen online.) These are the geographic areas where the U.S. government will focus its military and development aid for the next few years, as overall aid amounts decline. Any zone outside these red ovals will receive humanitarian aid and little else.

Feb 01

Lea una versión de este artículo en español.

This afternoon, the Obama administration made public its 2011 budget request to Congress, including its proposal for next year’s foreign assistance. This is the first “real” foreign aid request for an administration that had barely arrived in power a year ago.

Congress will use this request as the guideline for its State and Foreign Operations budget funding bill, which provides about three-quarters of all military and police assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. (The Defense budget bill provides nearly all of the rest.)

The Obama administration’s foreign aid request differs significantly, if not radically, from what came before. For Latin America, the difference is notable, as this slideshow indicates.

2011 Foreign Ops

(Note: estimates of military and non-military aid in the slideshow are exactly that: estimates. One program, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE), pays for both military and economic aid, and we don’t yet know how the administration plans to divide it between those priorities. Therefore we had to estimate INCLE military and non-military aid by prorating based on previous years. Our estimate, while not exact, is likely very close.)

Here are a few things we’ve observed after entering the new aid numbers into the “Just the Facts” database.

  • A sharp decrease in military and police assistance, while economic aid levels hold steady. Two-thirds of this request is non-military aid. (Keep in mind, though, that additional military aid comes through the Defense budget.)
  • Reductions for the region’s two largest aid recipients, Mexico (-30%) and Colombia (-11%). With most equipment deliveries already funded, the “Mérida Initiative” is winding down. Similarly, “Plan Colombia” programs are increasingly being turned over to Colombia. Most of Colombia’s aid cut comes from the State Department-managed International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account, which funds the aerial fumigation program and the maintenance of aircraft belonging to the Colombian security forces.
  • Notable increases in assistance, both military and economic, to Central America.
  • No major increase yet in aid to earthquake-battered Haiti; after donors’ conferences conclude, more Haiti aid will likely be included in a supplemental request for 2010.
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.

Jan 26

A new post at the “Just the Facts” program blog discusses two trends:

  • The State Department’s apparent acquiescence in a Defense Department plan to increase, from $350 to $500 million, a controversial military-aid program run out of the Pentagon’s budget.
  • A December proposal (PDF) from Secretary of Defense Gates to Secretary of State Clinton to create a common State-Defense “pool” of funding for both security assistance and development aid.

Both trends weaken diplomatic management of military assistance to Latin America and the rest of the world, and could also weaken congressional oversight and protections – including human rights protections. There appears to be a pitched bureaucratic battle going on, and we’ll be following it.

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.

Dec 03

CIP is very pleased to share our new report on the Colombian government’s U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” or “CCAI” programs: a combination of state-building, counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics that is being viewed as the successor to Plan Colombia.

“After Plan Colombia” is the product of months of research, including visits to two areas where these programs are underway, which were documented on this blog. With lots of graphics and context for readers less familiar with Colombia, it totals 40 pages plus footnotes. Download a PDF of the report, or read the HTML layout version here.

Here is the summary statement we are sending out with the report:

“After Plan Colombia”: A new report from the Center for International Policy examines the next phase of U.S. assistance

Beyond deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama’s December 1 speech called for something that evokes the U.S. experience in Colombia: a “civilian surge.” This, he said, would be “a more effective civilian strategy, so that the [Afghan] government can take advantage of improved security.” Working hand-in-glove with military operations, increased U.S. economic aid would focus “in areas — such as agriculture — that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.”

A U.S.-supported “civilian surge” has been underway for a few years now in Colombia, Latin America’s third most-populous country, where an internal armed conflict has raged since the 1960s. U.S. officials say they hope to apply lessons learned from Colombia in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Misunderstanding these lessons, however, could bring disastrous results.

The program in Colombia, “Integrated Action,” aims to help the government function in zones controlled by armed groups. With U.S. support, a national agency — the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action or CCAI — is to bring civilian government institutions, and basic services, into areas very recently secured by military operations. As in Afghanistan, agricultural aid and other quick-impact projects are priorities.

These programs are controversial, as they tread the uneasy ground between military operations, nation-building, development and human rights. Yet both the U.S. and Colombian governments view Integrated Action as the future of U.S. aid to Colombia, which since 2000 has been by far the world’s largest U.S. aid recipient outside the Middle East. Integrated Action is being viewed as the successor to Plan Colombia, through which the United States has provided $6.7 billion since 2000.

With so much at stake here, the Center for International Policy — which has worked on Colombia policy since the late 1990s — resolved to take a closer look at Integrated Action. This year, we visited the two areas where the U.S. government is most generously supporting the Integrated Action model: the La Macarena zone in southern Colombia and the Montes de María zone near the Caribbean coast. We carried out more than 50 interviews and meetings with more than 150 subjects, from government authorities and military officers to massacre victims and peasant associations.

We found a program that is an improvement over Plan Colombia: there has been learning from the mistakes of a U.S. aid program that, from 2000 to 2007, was 80 percent military and failed to coordinate security and governance. We conclude that the “Integrated Action” model should not be abandoned, which would do more harm than good.

But Integrated Action is not there yet. This experiment could still go badly wrong. A predominantly military program could give the armed forces dominion over all aspects of governance and development. Failure to address land tenure could concentrate landholding in fewer hands. Continued herbicide fumigations and mass arrests could undermine the population’s fragile trust in the government. Poor coordination between government bureaucracies could leave promises unfulfilled.

We recommend several changes to the U.S.-supported approach. These must be implemented before Integrated Action can be considered a model for Afghanistan or anywhere else.

The U.S. and Colombian governments must:

  • Civilianize the Integrated Action strategy as soon as security conditions allow it.
  • Coordinate cooperation between disparate government institutions, and give political clout to the civilian coordinators so that they can compel participation.
  • Consult with communities about every decision that affects them.
  • Work carefully with, and be prepared to say “no” to, local political and economic elites.
  • Act more quickly to resolve land tenure and property rights.
  • Quickly and transparently investigate and punish any allegations of abuse, corruption or predatory behavior.
  • Commit to sustainability by making clear that this effort is for the long haul.

The Center for International Policy is proud to present these recommendations in After Plan Colombia, a new report from our Latin America Security Program. This 40-page, richly illustrated report explains how the U.S. and Colombian governments arrived at this model, explores its design, and narrates “what we saw and heard” on our field visits to the La Macarena and Montes de María zones.

We expect our analysis to inform the lively debate about the future of U.S. policy toward Colombia, which is at a crossroads as the Obama administration reviews its approach. We also hope that After Plan Colombia may contribute to the debate over the U.S. role in Afghanistan — or anywhere else that we may be considering “civilian surges” into ungoverned areas.

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.

Sep 28

This is the third and final installment of posts about our July 2009 visit to the Montes de María region of northern Colombia. It wraps up a longer series of initial observations of Colombia’s U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” (or “consolidation” or “fusion center” or “CCAI” or “Plan Colombia 2″) counterinsurgency or state-building programs. These will be boiled down to key points, laid out and presented as a CIP publication within a couple of weeks.

Earlier posts about the Montes de María give an overview of the region’s recent history, and a narrative of what we saw when we visited. This post attempts to evaluate what is still a very new program in the Montes de María.

A less military program – but soldiers still play an outsize role

When we visited the Integrated Action “Fusion Center” in La Macarena in April, it was plain that we had arrived in the middle of an active military operation. With security far from established, and combat with the FARC frequent, the “Integrated Action” strategy was, as we noted, “a mostly military endeavor.”

That description does not fit the program in Montes de María. There is a significant military and police component, and there is strong reason to be concerned about the armed forces taking on roles that do not correspond to it. But the program’s design and makeup are fundamentally more civilian.

The reason for that is security. In La Macarena, the Fusion Center employs updated maps dividing the zone into red (too insecure), yellow (civilians with military accompaniment) or green (a security perimeter has been established) areas. Most of the map, beyond town centers and their immediate environs, appears red. The Montes de María Fusion Center sees no need for such a “stoplight” system; we were told that the entire region is now considered “green.”

As we have noted, the guerrilla presence in the zone is nearly zero since the late 2007 killing of FARC 37th Front leader Martín Caballero. The heirs to the paramilitaries who swept through the zone are strong, politically influential, and killing each other with increasing frequency, but the state does not regard them to be a threat significant enough to warrant a constant military role in development (more on that below).

There are exceptions, though. The most notable is the program’s largest infrastructure-building project: a badly needed road between El Carmen de Bolívar and Chinulito, Sucre. This road’s construction, ambitious because of the rugged terrain it must cross, has been left entirely up to the Marines (Infantería de Marina; as in many coastal areas, the Marines, a unit of Colombia’s Navy, play a far more prominent role than the Army). When asked why the military was given such a non-security job in a permissive security environment, military authorities contended that using the Marines was more cost-effective. Other Fusion Center personnel characterized it as the result of decisions made in 2007, when the zone was less secure and the CCAI was being established with an active-duty military commander (see below).

While the Montes de María program is a less olive-drab affair than its counterpart in La Macarena, the military component is still viewed as central. “The patrols are there to accompany the campesino,” a military officer expressed to us. A prominent social leader was more critical: “Whenever the guns come out, we’re the ones who get shot at.”

The Coordination (Formerly Fusion) Center

The Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) began work in the Montes de María in 2007. The modestly funded program was coordinated by Col. Rafael Colón, the Marine officer who had confronted the region’s paramilitaries during his 2004-2006 tenure at the head of the local brigade. (Col. Colón is discussed in an earlier post.) Colón was transferred to a post in Peru after a mid-2008 apology, on behalf of the Navy, to the victims of the Macayepo, Chengue and El Salado massacres, which earned a rebuke from his superiors. We heard little evaluation of Colón’s brief tenure during the CCAI’s initial period in Montes de María, other than that it appeared well-intentioned but took too long to get started, seemed to lack resources, and envisioned an oversize military role.

The Montes de María program was “reset” at the beginning of 2009, when the Colombian Presidency’s Social Action agency signed an assistance agreement with USAID. This allowed for a larger budget and, in February, the opening of a “Fusion Center” office to provide on-the-ground coordination of the program’s activities. By June, five such centers had been established throughout Colombia, though only the La Macarena and Montes de María centers had significant U.S. funding. That month, it was decided to change their names to the less bellicose-sounding “Coordination Centers” (a name we will use for the remainder of this post). The Montes de María Coordination Center is not physically based in Montes de María, however: its headquarters are in an office building in Cartagena, with a satellite office in Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) is contributing modestly to this program – amounts likely do not exceed $3 million, though we’ve been unable to obtain an exact figure for this region – but the agency as a whole is planning to invest more heavily; a recent request for grant applications outlines an “Enhanced Livelihoods Initiative” that expects to spend $32 million in Montes de María over the next five years. A CCAI PowerPoint about its Montes de María program appears to indicate a total investment from all sources of about $43.3 million.

As was the case at the La Macarena Center and the CCAI headquarters in Bogotá, the civilian staff at the Montes de María Coordination Center was made up of able, energetic technocrats, most from the Social Action agency. Though Social Action is known mainly for clientelistic programs that hand out cash subsidies to millions, the Coordination Center staff we met were detail-oriented practitioners, not political apparatchiks.

The Coordination Center did not appear to be a tool for the Uribe government’s political machine. To the contrary, the worry would be the opposite: that this surprisingly small office (all CCAI coordinating offices were surprisingly small) is held at such arms’ length from the rest of “government as usual” that it may lack the political clout necessary to gain resources or to overcome opposition from reticent ministries, local officials or economic elites.

Returning the displaced

Unlike La Macarena, where the main goal is to build a state presence where none exists, the Montes de María Center’s main mission is to help displaced communities return to the area. While security and “consolidating governance” are big parts of the methodology, the objective is far more economic or humanitarian than the more counterinsurgent program in La Macarena.

(Click map to enlarge)

The Montes de María program focuses on only four of the region’s 15 municipalities (counties), making up roughly one-third of its land area: San Onofre and Ovejas, Sucre, and El Carmen de Bolívar and San Jacinto, Bolívar. As of early July, the Coordination Center was developing operational plans for each of the four municipalities, focusing on about 12 communities where displaced populations are returning.

As in La Macarena, the USAID/OTI funding was focused heavily on “rapid-impact projects” in and around these communities. These are small construction projects and other efforts designed to make a short-term demonstration that the state intends to establish a presence. They include:

  • Transportation projects like the El Carmen-Chinulito road discussed above, and a series of bridges in San Jacinto municipality being built mostly with funds from the government of Japan;
  • Assistance in restoring returned communities’ housing and neighborhoods;
  • Water and electricity projects;
  • Telecommunications projects like building up the mobile phone network, radio broadcasting (the Coordination Center staff said they sought to encourage community radio stations), and Internet through state-run “Compartel” access points in remote communities;
  • Construction and repairs to schools, though longer-term needs like teachers and materials, the responsibility of the Education Ministry, remained to be dealt with;
  • Construction of health posts in town centers, though the questions of doctors and supplies depend on the Social Protection Ministry. Some community members expressed concerns about providing care in rural areas with a lack of roads and ambulances, while others worried that these health posts, many of them managed by for-profit companies, were part of an effort to do away with public hospitals in municipal “county seats;”
  • Food security projects, with cacao and yuca the principal crops being encouraged. We were told that the Coordination Center’s projects were not encouraging cultivation of the controversial African oil palm, though the municipality of María La Baja, Bolívar, adjacent to the zone of the Center’s focus, is quickly becoming a center of oil palm production, and the crop is popular among many who are rapidly buying land in the region; and
  • Accompaniment of projects for the conflict’s victims, like mental health programs and historical memory efforts like the recent release of a report on the El Salado massacre, published by the Historical Memory Group of the National Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.

As “rapid impact” projects, most of these efforts will require a good deal of follow-up beyond the next two or three years before the Colombian state can truly be said to be present in the region’s historically neglected villages and rural zones.


Any effort to restore displaced farm families to their original communities must immediately confront Colombia’s unjust and intricately complicated land tenure system. In rural Colombia, land is equal to power, and competition for its control has driven the conflict for generations. This is especially true in the Montes de María, with its semi-feudal tenant-farmer past, the unusual fertility of its soil, its location among highly coveted drug-trafficking corridors, its high rate of internal displacement, and the extremely rapid land-buying rush underway today.

As a result of the violence at the beginning of the decade, we were told, as much as 150,000 hectares (375,000 acres) of Montes de María farmland is abandoned and uncultivated, “returning to the jungle.” But in many cases, this land is either in the hands of large landholders whose tenant farmers are not returning, or it is simply unclear to whom it belongs.

The Coordination Center plans to spend US$4.5 million for a range of land-tenure activities, including cadastral surveys, adjudication of disputes, compensation, certifying possession, legal protection for small landholders, debt freezes, freezing land sales in specific areas, and investigating suspicious transactions. The Center does not, however, plan anything as ambitious as a full plot-by-plot cadaster (mapping of landholdings) in all four municipalities, nor does it plan a massive titling of small landholders. Instead, they will focus on the roughly twelve returning communities they have already identified, taking an inventory of landholdings – “a snapshot of what landholding looked like when displacement happened” – and seeking to restore land to those who wish to return.

Even this more modest goal will require unraveling a lot of disputes. Did the landholder ever hold clear title? If they were tenant farmers beforehand, can they prove how much land they cultivated? If they owned the land, did they sell it willingly or under duress (either direct threat or inability to pay debt due to displacement)? Does the current owner of the land deserve compensation, and if so, how much?

The Coordination Center envisions “Municipal Committees for Attention to the Displaced Population” – a body made up of the mayor, the mayor’s first secretary, the International Committee of the Red Cross, police, military, church and community leaders – as the main tool for adjudicating such local land disputes. These committees’ effectiveness varies widely across municipalities, however, and some mayors have not even bothered to convene them.

In fact, these mayors, and local elites, may not share the Coordination Center’s enthusiasm for displaced farmers’ return. As mentioned before, with relative peace in Montes de María has come a sharp rise in land prices, and a bonanza of land purchases. As thousands of hectares change hands in each municipality, we were told, land is being concentrated in the hands of “paisas.” The term refers to people from the more populous, economically potent nearby department of Antioquia, and seems to indicate either large agribusinesses or narcotraffickers laundering profits through land purchases – or both.

Amid this backdrop, the deck is already stacked against small landholders, not to mention returning displaced persons. “As soon as INCODER [the government's troubled land-reform agency] identifies an unowned plot, a large landowner shows up to buy it,” lamented one community leader. Smallholders also have a much more difficult time meeting legal requirements, including the hundreds or even thousands of dollars in notarized documents and other official fees involved in registering even a small land purchase.

While purchases are difficult, the pressures to sell are enormous. “Who is selling their land? Indebted campesinos, campesinos who can’t get credit, campesinos who don’t want to return, campesinos‘ relatives who do not identify as strongly with the land, and campesinos who are threatened, who are told, ‘Either you sell, or I’ll buy it from your widow,’” one non-governmental organization director explained. A smallholder with a large-landholding neighbor who covets his land may be subject to even further pressures to sell, beyond his own indebtedness. The large landholder can affect his water supplies, cut off his road access, or simply “accidentally” leave an opening in his fence through which cattle can pass and eat the smallholder’s crop.

Is the local government an ally of the Coordination Center?

To overcome these extraordinary challenges, small landholders and returning displaced people would need active support from the state. The Montes de María Coordination Center’s plans indicate that they hope to provide that support, at least to the returning communities they have selected in four municipalities. But it is easy to imagine that, in doing so, the Cartagena-based Center will encounter fierce opposition from a constituency that is supposed to be one of its key partners: the local governments of the Montes de María.

Unlike La Macarena, the Montes de María are not a “vacuum” of state presence. The area has been settled for centuries, not recently carved out of the jungle, and most ministries of the central government have long had a presence in municipal capitals and the larger town centers. Mayors and town councils hold actual decisionmaking power, control resources, and often have the backing of regional political machinery.

Granted, this state presence has rarely bothered to penetrate into the rural zones that make up most of the region’s territory. But the point is that where governance is concerned, the Montes de María is not a “blank slate” to the extent that guerrilla-controlled La Macarena is. There is an existing power structure, with its power ratified by elections. As it works toward its principal declared goal of returning displaced populations, the Montes de María Coordination Center must work with – or around, or even against – local and departmental governments.

From Verdad Abierta’s Sucre page (Ex-Governor Salvador Arana is in the picture). Highly recommended.

The declared intention, of course, is to work hand-in-glove with local authorities. “In the consolidation zones, the primary civilian face of the State is the municipal and departmental entities – a point on which the CCAI is clear,” notes an August communication from USAID. “Strengthening local governance capacity – especially at the municipal level – has been a fundamental PCIM [La Macarena Integral Consolidation Program] focus and is now a primary focus in Montes de María.”

The question is to what extent the local authorities actually support the smallholding agricultural model, much less the return of displaced communities. As we have noted, Sucre and Bolívar have been hard-hit by the “para-politics” scandal: many local officials are in jail or under investigation for their support of the paramilitary armies that caused most of the massive displacement in the first place. Many local governments in Sucre and Bolívar continue to be tied to a nexus of large landholders, narcotraffickers, and political bosses who chose to rid the Montes de María of guerrilla presence by sponsoring paramilitary groups that, by overwhelmingly targeting smallholding civilians who lived in the zone, caused the depopulation that the Consolidation Center now proposes to reverse.

In Sucre department alone, the Verdad Abierta website (a project of Semana magazine and prominent NGOs) noted in July, “A total of 35 politicians have been processed for their ties to the paramilitaries. Eight ex-mayors, seven ex-councilmen, one former departmental legislator, three former governors, three former congressmen, three serving congressmen and 3 senators elected for the 2006-2010 period, 2 mayors and 5 councilmen elected in 2007.” Jailed mayors included the former mayor of San Onofre, one of the four municipalities chosen for the Coordination Center’s work, as well as the mayors of neighboring municipalities Colosó and Toluviejo. (Inhabitants of Chinulito, which is part of Colosó, also accuse former mayor Manuel David Arrieta of stealing funds designated for the town’s reconstruction.) Just to the east, in the vicinity of Magangué, Bolívar, the most powerful paramilitary-tied political boss was a woman: Enilce López, “La Gata,” now in prison, who also controlled much of the legal lottery along Colombia’s northern coast.

Colombia last held municipal and gubernatorial elections in October 2007. In several parts of the country, the para-politicians’ political machines suffered stinging defeats at the polls. This was not so in Sucre, Bolívar and the Montes de María, where associates of the jailed and arrested politicians fared well. In San Onofre, the newly elected mayor was a politician widely accused of paramilitary ties. The gubernatorial election in Sucre is believed to have involved fraud in order to keep the same political group in power, as Semana magazine reported at the time:

A point of uncertainty … is the citizen alarm after the partial triumph of “Tuto” Barraza – candidate of Congressman Carlos García, imprisoned for “parapolitics” – over Julio César Guerra Tulena, for governor of Sucre. Until just before eight at night Barraza was losing by 2,000 votes, when mysteriously the Registry’s data transmission system broke down. Shortly afterward, the Registry’s officials ordered the exit of all overseers and witnesses from the political parties. When the system went back online, Barraza was winning by 200 votes. The Registry (Registraduría) assures that it will investigate what happened, while the region’s voters recall that these were the same strategies by which García won elections before being sent to prison.

Also on a 2007 Semana list [PDF] of candidates with a “high risk” of paramilitary links was the elected governor of Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre, Jesús Antonio Paternina Samur. Meanwhile in Magangué, imprisoned regional boss “La Gata” scored another victory in early July 2009 when her approved candidate won a special mayoral election.

We obtained no smoking-gun evidence of current officeholders’ illegal activity. We note, though, that most are members of the same political groupings as the para-politicians who came before. As a result, even if they are not proven “para-politicians” themselves, they are likely to be representing the same sets of political interests and constituencies. And those constituencies have a record of being hostile to the interests of the small landholders and formerly displaced people of rural Montes de María. This concern is ratified by repeated testimony we heard about elected leaders’ utter lack of interest even in visiting communities of small farmers and returned displaced people.

Yet these are the elected officials with whom the Coordination Center – an entity dedicated to the viability of small farmers and the return of displaced people – must work. “They were voted in,” a U.S. official explained. “You do what you can and work with everyone.” The way to deal with the challenge of reticent local officials, officials told us, is to offer training and support to build their own management capacities; to strengthen the justice system so that official wrongdoing can be denounced and punished; to work with all social sectors, not just the local government; and to maintain a constant monitoring presence and avoid giving them direct control of resources. Local officials, we were told, are even expected to provide resources from their own treasuries in order to increase their “buy-in.” These officials, for their part, view this as an additional strain on tight budgets. “They [the Coordination Center] ask for resources, but there aren’t any,” Sucre’s governor told us.

The Coordination Center is involving local leadership through the signing of “Political Pacts” with the authorities and other “fuerzas vivas” (business, religious, and civil-society leaders) in each of the four chosen municipalities. The pacts include commitments for development projects in the entire zone, but their chief focus is the return of displaced communities.

These pacts are being drawn up with local institutions as they currently exist. If these institutions represent interests that favor large-scale agribusiness, do not view displaced communities’ return as a priority, and may be one or two degrees of separation away from the paramilitaries themselves, their partnership with the Coordination Center will be a very uneasy one.

In the best of scenarios, it could pit the central government, allied with USAID and Southern Command, against a local landowning elite. This would be an unusual match-up, and it would be interesting to see who would come out ahead. The determining factor would be the central government: will it ultimately back the technocrats of the Coordination Center, or would it back the local elite, which has been strongly supportive of President Uribe since his first candidacy? An unencouraging sign comes from the central government’s Agriculture Ministry, which has clearly favored the large-landholder model and has been notably slow to issue land titles either in La Macarena or the Montes de María.

The security challenge

Even if communities do return, and receive land titles, how will they protect their claims, and their lives, in a region considered strategic for drug traffickers and highly profitable for land speculators? Since Col. Colón’s tenure in the Marines’ 1st Brigade, the armed forces have been viewed as standing between the population and violent groups. But leaderships change, and protecting the population in a region considered “safe” is not a likely long-term military role anyway, even in Colombia. That responsibility will fall to Colombia’s National Police.

Currently, the police are responsible for citizen security in town centers, while the Marines handle the rural areas. We were told that a transition from Marines to police is likely to take place, though we heard little idea of a timetable. The United States is helping to set up mobile constabulary forces (Carabineros) and provide them with equipment in order to increase police coverage in rural areas. Still, the local police have yet to win the population’s trust. We heard several times that they are often regarded as too tied to local political elites, too corrupt, and too quick to treat the local citizenry with suspicion, including suspicion of helping guerrillas.

The towns, which are the purview of the police, have seen the greatest increase in activity by re-armed or “new” paramilitary groups, some of which are little more than foot-soldiers for drug trafficking organizations. The doubling of murders in Sincelejo from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009 owes almost entirely to internecine violence between groups competing for control of drug trafficking routes.

The “new” groups most frequently mentioned are the Paisas (related to the Medellín-based Oficina de Envigado narcotrafficking organization), the Rastrojos (the rapidly growing heirs to part of the North Valle cartel and the AUC’s Calima Bloc), and the organization led by “Don Mario,” a fugitive paramilitary leader and narcotrafficker captured in April. We also heard of the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), a rearmed group whose name has emerged in many parts of the country, but the Marines told us that this group has not in fact appeared in the zone – it is a name used to intimidate, as when issuing threats.

A special prosecutor, operating from the safety of the 1st Marine Brigade’s base, was assigned from Bogotá early this year to investigate Sucre’s new groups, and between February and June his efforts had resulted in 28 arrests. However, the “new” paramilitaries are more active this year than before in the zone, increasing their recruitment, more visibly monitoring activity in neighborhoods they control, and issuing more frequent and severe threats against civil-society figures, especially victims’ leaders. Among the municipalities of the Montes de María, the armed groups’ violence appeared to be worst in San Onofre, where the victims’ leaders were seeing the worst threats, and where the new armed groups were estimated to have killed between 15 and 19 of each other’s members during the first half of 2009.

Amid this worsening panorama, concerns about the police force’s capacity to protect vulnerable populations, such as returned displaced communities, are real and will require attention.

Civil society

On the positive side, displaced communities are not returning to a vacuum. The Montes de María may have unequal landholding, an entrenched political class, and growing armed groups, but it also has a civil society. At least in the towns, there are organizations petitioning the state, denouncing wrongdoing, and exercising their rights as citizens: victims’ groups, religious groups, human rights groups, and active scholars, among others.

There is also a European-funded “peace and development” program seeking to combine economic projects with reconciliation and conflict-resolution: the Montes de María Development and Peace Network. Since 2005, this program has executed projects funded by the European Commission’s “3rd Peace Laboratory,” an aid program that intends to provide Colombia with non-military, civil-society-based assistance. The Network’s director, Father Rafael Castillo, spoke of building peace on the foundation of a “triangle of sustainability” uniting civil society, state institutions and the private sector. His program, he argued, promotes a model of “development based on rights, not needs,” avoiding an assistentialist, handout-based approach. And he made clear that the Network is more interested in building lasting “processes” through ongoing dialogue with communities than scoring quick, impermanent “successes” – which we interpreted to be a gentle critique of USAID’s “rapid impact project”approach.

Critics of the European-funded model contend that it moves too slowly and tentatively, making the larger community impatient to see results; that it does not distinguish clearly enough between effective civil-society organizations and “free riders;” and that its interactions with communities and the state too often ignore the power and influence of narcotraffickers. Still, the Peace Laboratory and the Development and Peace Network now have several years of experience and have put down roots in the community. The Coordination Center must make every effort to reach out to, and learn from, them. The same goes for the region’s other active civil society groups – especially the highly threatened and vulnerable victims’ groups who most urgently need protection.


The “Integrated Action” program we saw in Montes de María is too new to evaluate. What we saw, however, was a project with modest but mostly laudable goals, with a far better mix of civilian and military/police capacities than we witnessed in La Macarena. The better security situation should also contribute to better relations with the local population, as the security forces are not employing harsh measures like mass arrests or forced eradication.

We saw a model that may in fact encounter its greatest “pushback” not from the rural population, but from the large landholders and traditional political class in the towns and cities. Overcoming that resistance and helping the formerly displaced small-farmer communities chosen for assistance will require strong political support from the central government and an ability to resist the wave of buying and selling that is concentrating land in fewer hands. It will also require a more responsive, capable and professional police presence, a judicial system that can credibly punish abuse and corruption, and a relationship with civil society based on far more trust and communication than exist now.

It will also require that residents of Montes de María be convinced that a state – not local politicians captured by elites, but a state that enforces the law and provides basic services – is truly being established in the zone. This will require more than a few years of “rapid impact projects.” It will call for delivery of services and a constant state presence among communities that have never known one. It is a very long-term commitment.

Sep 15

The State Department’s report to Congress justifying its September 8 decision to certify Colombia’s human rights record is here [PDF].

The following are some initial reactions after reading through the 157-page document.

Impunity reigns: some arrests, but only a tiny handful of convictions

The certification document is unable to make the case that Colombia’s judicial system has improved its ability to prosecute and punish military personnel involved in human rights abuse. This is a major failing. During the 13 1/2-month period covered by the current certification, the State Department notes, “no members of the Armed Forces above the rank of major were sentenced for human rights-related crimes.”

The details of the report, in fact, show “no members of the Armed Forces above the rank of lieutenant.” Here is the breakdown of all the military personnel sentenced for human rights abuses between June 29, 2008 and June 15, 2009:

  • Private (Soldier) 22
  • Third Corporal 3
  • First Corporal 1
  • Second Sergeant 1
  • Sergeant 1 escaped, currently a fugitive
  • Sub-Official 1
  • Lieutenant 3 plus 1 contesting the verdict

This is evidence of a remarkable record of avoidance of punishment, especially given the number of outstanding cases, detailed in the certification document, that continue to drag on.

The certification document lists some important steps against impunity, but nearly all are arrests and indictments:

Despite the challenges it faces, the Prosecutor General‘s Office made several important advances in human rights cases during the certification period, which this report defines as June 16, 2008, to July 31, 2009, including:

  • Arresting four retired generals for collusion with paramilitary forces;
  • Reopening its case against retired General Rito Alejo del Río for his alleged crimes during “Operación Genesis;”
  • Reopening the La Rochela case – including investigations against three retired generals – and indicting ten members of the 17th Brigade for the January 18, 1989, massacre in which 12 investigators were killed in Simacota (Santander);
  • Charging five members of the Army‘s 2nd Artillery “La Popa” Battalion, including its commander, with collusion with paramilitary forces and the homicide of 20 individuals between June and October 2002;”
  • Charging ten soldiers from the 17th Brigade in the February 20-21, 2005, massacre of eight people in San José de Apartadó (Antioquia); and
  • Obtaining 30-year sentences against seven soldiers for the January 12, 2006, homicide of Edilberto Vasquez Cardona, a member of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community. …

In the past, NGOs have noted that while low-ranking officers may be held accountable in cases of human rights violations, commanding officers are rarely prosecuted. As listed in Annexes A through D, between June 16, 2008, and June 15, 2009, the Colombian government reported that among those detained by the Prosecutor General‘s Office were one colonel, three lieutenant colonels and two majors. The Prosecutor General‘s Office indicted at least one general, two colonels, five lieutenant colonels, and two majors. In addition, the Prosecutor General‘s Office continued case proceedings against at least four colonels, one lieutenant colonel and four majors. During the certification period, no members of the Armed Forces above the rank of major were sentenced for human rights-related crimes.

Extrajudicial Executions – fewer, but proving very difficult to punish

The number of new cases of extrajudicial executions, or “false positives,” committed by the military has declined in 2009. However, a year after the revelations of killings of young men in the Bogotá suburb of Soacha shocked the country and forced the Colombian government to take the issue seriously, there have been almost no convictions. This is despite a number of victims between 2002 and 2009 that, according to the certification document, ranges from a low official estimate of 551 to a high NGO estimate of 1,142 people murdered by the security forces. Despite a recent drop, these cases are simply failing to move forward in Colombia’s judicial system, the document acknowledges:

Overall, investigations into cases of extrajudicial killings are proceeding slowly. While some advances have been made in more recent cases, older cases continue to languish. The Prosecutor General‘s Office reports that its caseload dropped dramatically in 2008, tracking a similar decline in cases reported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), and most international and non- governmental organizations agree that numbers of extrajudicial killings have fallen substantially in 2009. However, it is unclear whether this reduction is an indicator that directives, training and disciplinary actions adopted by the Ministry of Defense are working. Some NGOs believe there may simply be a lag in reporting of cases, and that 2009 cases will be reported more as the year progresses.

The DAS wiretaps and surveillance: hard to be optimistic about investigations

The State Department document expresses strong concern about the ongoing scandal, about which details continue to emerge, surrounding the presidential intelligence service (DAS) and its practice of illegally wiretapping and following judges, opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders. The report devotes three paragraphs to the DAS scandal (which technically is not an armed-forces issue, as the DAS is not part of the Defense Ministry). It offers little reason to believe that this alarming practice is going to be thoroughly investigated and punished, indicating that the case is likely to drag on.

The Colombian government has denied official sponsorship of the alleged crimes, and offered a reward for the capture of rogue DAS officials it claims were behind the illegal activities. The Prosecutor General‘s Office continues to investigate the allegations, and it is unclear at this time to what level of the Colombian government any orders can be traced. The conclusion of Prosecutor General Iguaran‘s term in office on July 31, 2009, worries human rights groups, who fear this may delay the investigation.

The importance that the Prosecutor General‘s Office has placed on prosecuting these crimes is a positive step for Colombia. This investigation will likely be an ongoing concern in Colombia for some time. In fact, media reports allege that illegal wiretapping and surveillance by the DAS continues to date. It is vital that the Office conduct a rigorous and thorough investigation in order to determine the extent of these abuses and hold all actors accountable.

General Ospina is not incarcerated

The document mentions four retired generals now under investigation:

In 2008, the Prosecutor General‘s Office authorized the opening of investigations into four former Army generals for alleged collusion with the now demobilized United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Carlos Alberto Ospina (former commander of the Armed Forces), Julio Eduardo Charry (former Army commander in the Uraba region), Ivan Ramírez Quintero (former commander of the Army‘s 1st Division), and Rito Alejo del Río (former commander of the 17th Brigade) were all accused of having connections to the AUC and reportedly named in testimony (”versiones libres”) by former AUC leaders, including Salvatore Mancuso and Francisco Villalba. … The four retired generals are incarcerated, pending the results of the investigation, and have denied involvement with the AUC.

Some of the four may be incarcerated, but not all of them. In the case of Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, it could hardly be more to the contrary. He is currently a professor at the Defense Department’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington. (Staff listing / bio [PDF])

Case of Colonel Hernán Mejía

On April 14, 2009, five members of the Army‘s 2nd Artillery ―La Popa‖ Battalion (10th Armored Brigade in the department of César), including its commander, Army Colonel Hernán Mejía Gutiérrez, were indicted for colluding with paramilitaries in the homicide of 20 individuals in June and October 2002. … Criminal proceedings were begun in 2007.

The discussion of Colonel Mejía’s judicial proceedings fails to mention that key witnesses have been murdered, and others have mysteriously retracted their testimony, severely weakening the prosecution’s case.

A strong case for increasing judicial funding

The certification document makes several references to the weakness of Colombia’s judicial system. This is a serious problem, and the lack of resources for judges, prosecutors and investigators is a severe handicap and a significant measure of political will to punish human rights abuse. The difficulty of prosecuting military human rights abuse, however, is more than just a matter of resources; doing so requires going after some very powerful and often quite ruthless individuals. But the report makes little mention of this other set of obstacles that the judicial system faces.

Some excerpts referencing the judicial system:

[H]undreds more cases of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses are awaiting resolution, but the Prosecutor General‘s Office lacks the financial resources and personnel to do so quickly. In fact, NGOs have criticized the impunity that results from the backlog of cases, and some worry that the departure of Prosecutor General Mario Iguaran as of July 31, 2009, will cause further delays. In 2008, the Colombian government increased the budget and personnel levels of the Office, which was a step in the right direction and an indicator of the government‘s commitment to ending impunity, but more trained investigators and prosecutors are needed to address its overwhelming case loads. To help address this need, the United States, through the Department of Justice, is providing training and equipment to the Human Rights Unit within the Prosecutor‘s General‘s Office along with other sections of the Office. …

The demobilization of over 30,000 paramilitary members between 2005 and 2006 was an important step for Colombia. However, Colombia now faces the challenge of delivering justice with respect to the crimes committed by these individuals. The Colombian government also continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute the parapolitical scandal, with 86 members of Congress, 34 mayors and 15 governors linked to crimes. These tasks continue to overwhelm the understaffed and underfunded civilian judicial system, though the government increased funding and personnel levels for the Prosecutor General‘s Office in 2008, and the United States is providing assistance to the Justice and Peace Unit within the Prosecutor General‘s Office to aid in the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by former paramilitary members. …

Colombian funding for the [Prosecutor-General's Justice and Peace] Unit remains insufficient to respond to the workload. Though increased from 2007 funding levels (10.2 billion pesos = $5.1 million), the Unit‘s 2008 (15.0 billion pesos = $7.5 million) and 2009 funding levels (14.8 billion pesos = $7.4 million), 1.8 billion pesos ($900,000) of which is earmarked for a search project for the disappeared), must cover the personnel increase and infrastructure strengthening. This effectively makes these allotments a reduction over 2007 levels. 26 While U.S. assistance does not provide direct support for salaries or the hiring of new prosecutors and investigators, the United States does continue to fund training and technical assistance to help build the capacity of the Justice and Peace Unit.

There is much more that is deserving of comment, but this is what jumps out upon a first read-through.

Aug 24
One of the 8 river crossings on the road to Macayepo.

Here is another lengthy post – the second of what should be a three-part series on the Colombian government’s U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” programs in the Montes de María region of northern Colombia, which we visited in July. (The first post is here.)

Written principally by CIP Associate Abigail Poe, the observations below come from meetings with human rights and victims’ leaders from San Onofre and María La Baja; community members and leaders along the “road” to Macayepo (“road” is in quotation marks because in order to arrive in Macayepo, we had to ford a river at least 8 times and drive along a dirt road filled with potholes, mudholes and other variations of disrepair); the governor of Sucre, Jorge Barraza; and the chief of the Marine Corps brigade in the region, Colonel Eduardo Cardona; in addition to informal meetings with civil-society leaders, journalists and academic experts in the area.

Throughout our travels, a few themes were consistent. First, “emerging criminal groups” are rampant in the region and it would be difficult to deny that they are remnants of the old paramilitary structure. Second, the lack of state presence outside of urban centers, along with corruption and armed-group infiltration when the state is present, are obstacles to the attainment of the Integrated Action policy’s stated goals. Third, the problem of land, which some scholars say is the backbone of Colombia’s long history of conflict, is severe, and difficult to resolve. And finally, while some displaced families want to return and others do not, this decision is largely influenced by the lack of basic services and security in their communities of origin.

Emerging criminal groups and security in the region

As mentioned in our earlier post about Montes de María, this region of Colombia is adjacent to Córdoba and northern Antioquia, a cattle-raising zone often referred to as the “birthplace of the paramilitaries.” This small region includes the sites of some of the country’s most notorious and brutal massacres of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

While the AUC began a demobilization process in 2003, remnants still remain and are emerging as new criminal groups, with names like the Paisas, Águilas Negras, Rastrojos and Grupo de Don Mario. By most accounts, their numbers and activities are growing as they compete for dominion of the region’s lucrative drug-trafficking routes.

Fighting between them has brought a spike in homicides after several years of sharp declines. National Police statistics showed 106 homicides in the department of Sucre in the first six months of 2009, more than double the 49 recorded during the same period in 2008.

Colombian Marines talk to a young woman at a local “tienda” outside our meeting in Macayepo.

In San Onofre, a coastal municipality in northern Sucre, we met with victims’ leaders and other displaced members of the communities where some of the region’s major paramilitary massacres took place, including Mampuján and El Salado. After the massacres many of the displaced fled to urban centers – including the county seats of San Onofre and María la Baja, as well as Sincelejo and Cartagena – where the majority remain today.

While the Colombian national and local governments contend that recent paramilitary violence in the area is merely a phenomenon of gangs fighting gangs, those in San Onofre tell a very different story.

Following the demobilization of the AUC, the region calmed down and violence levels subsided. In the past year, however, violence and threats against community members have skyrocketed. The spike in violence is being at least partly attributed to the extradition of top paramilitary leaders to the United States in May 2008, leaving the lower levels of the groups to fight for power and control of important narcotrafficking routes and valuable land.

In San Onofre, we were told that 15 people have been murdered so far in 2009 in the municipality; the body of one victim who disappeared four months prior had been found the week before our visit in a roadside grave. And while violence has not returned to the peak levels of the early 2000s, some victims described their situation as worse, because with so many groups and armed actors “you don’t know who is doing the killing. So we can’t speak out.”

Community members from María La Baja, just over the border in Bolívar department, told us they do not receive as many threats as their counterparts in San Onofre. However, many people are still being killed in their town. “It is normal to wake up and hear that a young man was found dead,” one victims’ leader told us.

These leaders receive threats via telephone, cell phone and even email. Many cannot leave their homes or are hiding in the mountains, and others cannot speak out due to fear of being killed by one of the “emerging criminal groups.” Threats against women’s groups have also increased; one leader was recently murdered in front of her five year old daughter.

While government officials, such as the governor of Sucre, say that “only criminals are being killed” right now, the victims with whom we spoke in San Onofre told us that “those who are killed are not only the bad ones, some are being killed for telling the truth.”

The “new” criminal groups have dramatically increased their recruitment. According to one displaced person in San Onofre, “many of the demobilized paramilitaries returned to their ranks. Of the young men from our neighborhood, we estimate that around 20 have gone with them.” In San Onofre, members of these armed groups will sit in the park and offer 1,000,000 pesos (about US$400) to join their group. It is tempting for these young men and women to join the emerging groups – especially those who are displaced, unemployed and living in extreme poverty. If accepted, the new “member” is given a motorcycle, a gun, a salary, and a sense of purpose.

Lack of legal employment opportunities play a role in the success rate of recruitment, a problem to which the governor of Sucre alluded. He told us, “All of the dead and arrested are displaced persons. The problem is that the government doesn’t give them an employment option, or an alternative. Therefore the displaced are using weapons as a machine of their work. The governor suggested few solutions, however, and he said he has heard no complaints about social leaders or victims’ organizations receiving threats.

Lack of state presence and basic services

For a region near major cities that has been settled for centuries, the communities of Montes de María have a striking lack of government presence. This is a factor of a lack of political will and insufficient resources, themselves often a result of local corruption. We heard indications of a general mistrust in local institutions, complaints about public access to health care and education, a lack of basic services such as potable water, electricity, tertiary roads and sewage outside of urban centers, and a police force that is unable to respond to crimes promptly, or at all.

Remnants of the only contact some campesinos have with local political leaders: campaign ads painted on their homes.

Many of the victims and displaced people we spoke to, especially in San Onofre, did not trust the local government, largely due to its recent history of working closely with paramilitaries. “We do not have the trust necessary to denounce the violence or threats made against us, therefore all of our complaints must be made at the national level in Bogotá,” we were told by one victim. “Paramilitarism is so much a part of the structure here that it is difficult to win, or even to speak out.”

The low level of confidence in the local government is also manifested through a weak police force. We were told that “the police are not carrying out their duties” by both community members and military authorities. The first group attributes this mainly to corruption of the police force via collaboration with narcotraffickers and emerging criminal groups, while the latter attributed it to a lack of resources, telling us that many police squads must patrol without police cars and must even hail taxis to take them to a crime scene. The governor of Sucre also said that while the national government recently dispatched 700 additional officers to the region, they still are unable to reach the rural areas, “where the majority of the violence is now occurring.”

As a result, the police often resort to calling the military to help them respond to crimes and violence. As Colonel Cardona explained the military’s role to us, it became clear that the military – with little guerrilla presence to confront in the region – is playing an ever-increasing police role. Marines are manning control points, gathering intelligence and soliciting arrest warrants. Colonel Cardona appeared frustrated that the military could not carry out arrests. “We were told that the problem of the [emerging] criminal groups is of the police, and that we can only intervene when their capacity is surpassed, but since the beginning the police have been overwhelmed.”

Weak (or non-existent) health and education

In San Onofre we heard complaints about the underfunded and understaffed condition of the public hospital in Sincelejo. We were told that the hospital only has five doctors, when at least 12 are needed, and that it does not even have an ambulance. According to one community member, “This is not due to a lack of resources, but to political corruption.” The community member continued, explaining that seventy percent of the hospital budget is to be allocated to the public facility and 30% to private clinics (GPS). However, those assembled alleged, the mayor’s brother runs the GPS in Sincelejo, and therefore it receives 70% of the budget, while the public hospital barely can afford to pay its staff – a strategy which some claimed is intended to shut down the public hospital in Sincelejo.

In the rural communities we visited, access to health is virtually non-existent. A complete lack of health clinics, doctors, and nurses in these rural areas results in the need to travel to Sincelejo – several hours without a private vehicle – when someone is injured or falls ill. The poor quality of the roads leading to these towns often means that a simple injury or sickness is a death sentence.

While there are some schools in some of the rural communities, their lack of resources results in a poor quality of education. The school in Macayepo does not even have a roof, according to one community member.

Lack of basic services

The lack of services means no potable water, sewage system or electricity in many of the rural communities, especially those above Macayepo in the mountains, where the “road” does not reach.

Delivery of basic services in these rural areas is the responsibility of the local government, which receives some funds for this purpose from the central government. These funds, themselves insufficient, frequently fail to reach their destination. As we were returning to Sincelejo after a day of meetings with rural communities, we made one final stop in Chinulito, a community that sits along the main coastal highway. Community members, along with the sergeant heading the local police detachment, told us of several unanswered petitions to the local government for basic services to reach this community.

They told us that resources for the community’s rebuilding had been stolen by local officials. They allege that the previous mayor of the municipality of which Chinulito is a part (Colosó), now in prison for ties to paramilitaries, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of central government funds intended for the town. As a result, Chinulito remains without a decent school, health post or potable water. Chinulito is so close to the highway that these services would be easy to provide, yet the community appears just as neglected as those that sit two hours away up a dirt road.

The role of the Colombian armed forces

Behind the soccer goal is the Chinulito-El Carmen road that is being constructed by the Colombian Marines.

Perhaps due to the lack of state presence and civilian government political will in Montes de María, the Colombian armed forces are not just acting to secure the area, but they are also serving as the main “developers.” The military is working with some communities to create a “census” of their most immediate needs. They then take this list to other government ministries and petition for health, education, roads and other services. (This process is a bit more formal – though incipient – in the four municipalities where the CCAI is operating. More on that in the next post.)

Currently, as part of the “Integrated Action” effort, the marine corps (Infantería de Marina) is building the first east-west paved road in Montes de María, which will connect El Carmen to Chinulito. The route, which exists as a dirt road in severe disrepair, will be paved and have multiple bridges over the winding Macayepo River.

Colonel Cardona was quite pleased with this project, indicating that the military hopes to take part in more development projects in the future. When asked why the military should play such an important role in development, he responded that using soldiers for labor is cheaper: the Montes de María highway, he said, is being built for “40 percent less money” than civilian projects contracted out by the country’s road institute. As a result, he continued, “the goal of the military is to eventually carry out projects such as helping to build roads, instead of being in this conflict. Each brigade wants to add a battalion of engineers to carry out constructions such as these.”

In the region, however, we heard complaints that the El Carmen-Chinulito road-building project is being carried out inefficiently, with antiquated equipment and inexperienced military engineers.

The problem of land

The lack of state presence and political will is a major obstacle in achieving a principal stated goal for CCAI in the region: the return of displaced communities. We visited rural communities whose residents said they have not been visited by a state official in years – other than during election season, when someone shows up to paint a campaign slogan on some houses in the community. While the governor of Sucre told us that he did not have the resources to carry out projects for rural dwellers, officials at the CCAI in Bogotá suggested that he did.

Another obstacle for CCAI in Montes de María will be to change the attitudes of local political leaders. According to one staffer at the “Fusion Center” in Cartagena, “The major challenge is to sit down with the political class. The problem is not how to build the road for the community, it is how to change the attitude of the people.” This may be the greatest challenge, as it requires taking on not only the issue of corruption, but also the perhaps even thornier issue of land tenure.

The problem of land distribution in Colombia is not a recent one, nor is it simple. Many scholars cite it as one of the major factors behind the continuation of the conflict. Yet a chief goal of CCAI in Montes de María – the return of displaced communities to their land – will require officials to take on the land problem energetically. What we saw and heard in the region, however, indicates that this will be a monumental task.

CCAI, supported by the Colombian Armed Forces, is conducting a campaign to convince campesinos not to sell their land. However, this does nothing to address the conditions leading them to sell in the first place. When asked who is selling their land, Father Rafael Castillo, of the Montes de María Peace and Development Foundation, listed off characteristics: “campesinos in debt, campesinos without access to credit, campesinos who do not want to return, relatives of those campesinos who have lost their love of the land, and threatened campesinos.”

The situation is worsened by the quality of land in Montes de María (some of the most fertile in Colombia), its proximity to major cities, or a widespread belief that the region has potential for oil and mineral production. Large landowners, investors in “mega-projects” and foreign corporations are making very rapid land purchases in the newly guerrilla-free zone.

Many campesinos are selling their land as a result of the large debts they owe to INCODER, the state land-reform agency – a problem explained in the first post of this series. Large landowners and investors in mega-projects, such as African palm, bitter yucca (which produces starch and can be used for biofuels) and teak, are taking advantage of this situation and offering a price that will cover the farmer’s debt plus a little extra – an offer that, though below current market prices, many campesinos cannot refuse.

We were also told that when a small farmer refuses to sell his land, he risks eventually being forced off by a strategy known as “circling them out.” Basically, an investor buys up all the land around the farmer who does not want to leave, and cuts off his access to roads and services, leaving him no way to leave his land without “trespassing.” Another strategy described to us involves the large landowner allowing his animals to “accidentally” eat the small farmers’ crops.

Other campesinos are being “convinced” to join cooperatives to grow crops such as African palm and bitter yucca. The agreements bind the campesino to growing crops for biofuels on their land for twenty years, a period of time after which the once-fertile soil is depleated. Many community members we met in San Onofre expressed skepticism about these monocultural cooperatives, which they say worsens the problem of food security in the region.

In parts of El Carmen de Bolívar, where rumors are spreading that a large mining project is in the works, land is being bought up so quickly that the local government has had to place an embargo on more land sales.

However, even though the “land grab” taking place in Montes de María appears often to be illegal, due to the intricate problems of land titling, it is being carried out in a way that, by the standards of INCODER and the Ministry of Agriculture, appears to meet all procedural requirements for legality. “This theft of land is being legalized,” a Cartagena-based government official with land responsibilities explained to us.

However, when we asked local community leaders who was buying the land, we received responses ranging from “paisas” (large landholders from Antioquia department) to investors from a group calling itself the “Friends of Montes de María Foundation” to “we don’t know.”

Food security

The “transportation center” in Macayepo, where small farmers can rent burros to travel up the mountain to their plots of land.

Interviewees often alluded to the problem of food security, which promises to worsen as more and more land is bought up for large plantations of biofuel crops. As one leader put it, “the campesino land plot has a very important function: food security.” And that function is weakening.

Rural community members noted that the lack of transportation infrastructure makes it nearly impossible to get crops to market. In order to transport their products, small farmers must first make a long trip by burro to reach their land. They must use the same burro to haul the harvest down the mountain, either all the way to the highway or to a town along a rutted dirt road, like Macayepo, where groups of farmers will chip in to pay for a truck to carry their harvest the remaining distance. This is a lengthy and expensive strategy that leaves very little profit for the small farmers. The road being built through many of these communities will eventually help make this process more efficient, although most of Montes de María’s farmers cultivate land very far from this new road.


CCAI plans to support the return of displaced populations to their original communities in Montes de María. However, many obstacles remain in the way, some described above. We asked what people thought about the viability of return, and asked those who had returned about the problems they were facing. Some told us they did not want to return, others wanted to yet did not have the resources to make the move, while those who had already returned were struggling with virtually no state involvement or assistance.

It was common for government officials to tell us that people did not want to return. Yet from our conversations, it seems that some of those who say they do not want to return now, would do so if the local government provided the basic services necessary for their return to be viable. In San Onofre, these demands included security, roads, rebuilt houses, and basic services, which were referred to as “the basic conditions of dignity.” Because these conditions were not present, many of those we spoke to in San Onofre said they would not return.

Evidence of new life emerges alongside abandoned homes as some of the displaced begin to return.

Another element that must exist in order for displaced persons to return is education. In many cases, males are returning to farm their land, leaving their families behind in towns and cities so that their children can go to school – an opportunity that does not exist in rural communities.

We were also told that many displaced persons fear returning, especially through a program run by the local government or military, since they saw few guarantees that they would not be displaced again by violence. This fear resonated in many of the meetings we held. People were wary of working with the state without a guarantee that the program would continue for more than two years, for fear of retaliation from illegal armed groups once the state – in their view, inevitably – disappears.

The rural communities we visited were scarcely populated by displaced persons who had returned on their own initiative – perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the original pre-2000 population. These community members felt empowered to do things on their own, and noted that “we couldn’t sit back and wait for someone from Bogotá to come help us.”

Not only have they returned to cultivate their land and continue with their lives, but they have initiated efforts to educate about democracy and human rights, and to work to keep the youth from being enticed by violence. However, the basic disrepair of their houses and the lack of basic services indicated the need for a great deal more assistance from the local government. They cannot do this alone, in a vacuum.


A main goal of CCAI in Montes de María, as presented to us at the Cartagena Fusion Center, is the return of displaced people and victims to their communities and the creation of a political pact between the community and the local government. However, we learned that some huge hurdles stand in the way of actually achieving this goal. Emerging criminal groups threaten human rights and victims’ leaders, land is an incredibly sticky subject, and true buy-in and support from the local government are far from guaranteed.

We were struck by how differently the government and military talked about the Montes de María, compared to the descriptions offered by those who live there. Government and military officials said the zone was secure and that there were almost no reports of murders of victims’ leaders, or even threats. They told us that people were not returning because they are content with their lives in the urban centers, and that those who are getting killed or threatened are the “bad guys.” It is true that many displaced campesinos do not want to return to their communities because, after eight or nine years, they are now used to living in cities and towns. However, if access to health, education, and a sustainable livelihood existed in their original communities, we were assured that far more of the pre-2000 population of Montes de María would gladly return to their land.

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:

Jul 10

Hi from Sincelejo, the capital of the department of Sucre, Colombia. We’ve had several tremendous days of interviews and site visits in the Montes de María region, which was hit hard by the conflict in the early 2000s and which is now increasingly a focus for U.S.-supported “integrated action” programs. Today we go to Montería, Córdoba, and then back to Washington.

Here’s a 100-second video I recorded from the back of a pickup truck on the road between Macayepo and Chinulito, both of them sites of massacres in 2000, and both of them experiencing a partial return of displaced people.

Some of you may recognize Nancy Sánchez of the Colombian human rights group MINGA (winner of the Institute for Policy Studies’ 2003 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award). It may appear that I have Nancy in an affectionate embrace; actually, I’m clinging desperately with my free hand to the roof of the truck in order to avoid flying out. The road is in terrible condition.

On the road between Macayepo and Chinulito from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.

On the road between Macayepo and Chinulito from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.