Jan 14

El Tiempo asked me yesterday to briefly discuss the political implications of President Bush awarding Colombian President Álvaro Uribe the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The focus of this piece, as a result, is different from the joint NGO statement we signed on to yesterday – more of a “news analysis” than a protest.

Here is the English. The Spanish is on El Tiempo’s website. My byline doesn’t appear (a blessing, perhaps), but it’s me.

Analysis: The Medal of Freedom’s Risks

President Uribe has little to gain or lose by accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington Tuesday. The negative and the positive nearly cancel each other out, leaving his ability to pursue his agenda in the United States little changed.

There are clear political risks, though. For many of the now-ruling Democrats, President Bush’s decision to give Uribe the United States’ highest civilian honor reignites the past two years’ bitter debates over the Free Trade Agreement and the future of U.S. assistance. These debates raised the profile of Colombia’s continuing human rights scandals, para-politics, and President Uribe’s own repeated attacks on human rights defenders, the media and the judiciary. For many, then, the spectacle of President Bush appearing to ignore these concerns will increase their desire to remake his Colombia policy.

Another, equally serious, risk is that the medal increases the perception that Uribe is partisan. Uribe, who met with both John McCain and Sarah Palin, already has to confront a perception that Obama was not his candidate. Now, he will be visiting Bush in his final days to receive the same award to the CIA Director and the civilian and military leaders of the Iraq invasion, which generated an enormous outcry in December 2004.

President Uribe has not done enough to dispel the notion that he is in Washington to offer a final valedictory to George Bush. His public message to the next administration appears to be one of nostalgia for the Bush years, instead of a desire to work constructively with the incoming team.

On the other hand, it’s not all risk for President Uribe. Despite recent politicization, the Medal of Freedom remains prestigious. He is receiving an award that only thirteen other foreign leaders have received in the past sixty years. Foreign Medal of Freedom awardees are an elite group that includes Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. Among the majority of U.S. policymakers who pay little attention to Colombia, the medal confers a strong measure of legitimacy: “He has a Medal of Freedom. His critics must be exaggerating.”

Uribe, then, will return to Colombia with a shade more prestige, but also with stronger questions about human rights and a greater perception that he is tied to a deeply unpopular U.S. president and his out-of-power party. The Medal of Freedom’s net effect is likely to be minimal.

Jan 13

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award the U.S. government offers, and it aims to recognize those who make “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” President Harry Truman originated it in 1945, John F. Kennedy revived it in 1963, and it began to be given regularly in the 1980s.

When we last saw the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a high-profile setting, it was December 2004 and President Bush was bestowing it on Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks and George Tenet for their role in Iraq. Critics, noting the disastrous state of the Bush administration’s controversial war, charged that the President was politicizing, and thus devaluing, the medal.

On Tuesday, exactly a week before George Bush leaves office, he will make Colombian President Álvaro Uribe one of thirteen foreign heads of state or government to have received the medal. Uribe will be joined at the White House by two former prime ministers, Iraq coalition partners Tony Blair of the UK and John Howard of Australia.

Below is a joint statement by several U.S. organizations, including CIP, expressing strong opposition to this award. Álvaro Uribe reduced violence in his country by marshaling military resources against leftist guerrillas, and brokering a deal with rightist paramilitaries. But Colombia is still one of the Americas’ most violent countries, and its conflict is nowhere near ending. Organized crime and narcotrafficking remain robust, with drug production virtually unchanged. The security forces’ commitment to human rights is shaky at best. The president’s own attacks on human-rights defenders, journalists, judicial officials and political opponents are very disturbing, and in some cases a direct threat to the checks and balances on which democracy depends. Also disturbing are the allegations that so many of Uribe’s close political supporters have been paramilitary supporters too. Meanwhile Uribe is still considering a third term in office, which would put his democratic credentials deeply into question.

The decision to offer the Medal of Freedom is the President’s alone to make. As Álvaro Uribe is honored Tuesday, though, we just wish that a U.S. government would someday offer similar recogntion to Colombia’s thousands of other heroes. The country has no shortage of honest officials, non-governmental watchdogs, social-movement leaders and others who dream of living in a democracy under a strong rule of law. Most face constant opposition and threats from government representatives, organized crime, paramilitaries, and guerrillas too. Sadly, Tuesday’s medal ceremony is not for them.

For Immediate Release

US: Award to Uribe Sends Wrong Message
Colombia’s Rights Violations Should Bar Its Leader From Award

(Washington, DC, January 12, 2009) – US President George W. Bush’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia is a disturbing example of the Bush administration’s disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies, seven leading  nongovernmental organizations said today.

The organizations include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Bush is giving the award to Uribe at a ceremony in the White House on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

“The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.”

The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia.

Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army. And while Uribe’s government has strongly confronted the abusive left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe has failed to take a similarly clear stance against equally abusive drug-running paramilitary groups, who have massacred, raped, and forcibly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent decades. Fundamental flaws in a paramilitary demobilization process under Uribe have permitted many of the groups to continue to engage in abuses under new names. The president’s verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries.

Apr 07

As he sent the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress this morning, President Bush painted a picture of the Colombian government’s human-rights efforts that sounded nothing sort of miraculous.

In discussions about the Colombia free trade agreement, some members of Congress have raised concerns about the conditions in Colombia. President Uribe has addressed these issues. He’s addressed violence by demobilizing tens of thousands of paramilitary figures and fighters. He’s addressed attacks on trade unionists by stepping up funding for prosecutions, establishing an independent prosecutors unit, and creating a special program that protects labor activists. He’s made clear that the economic benefits the agreement brings to Colombia would strengthen the fight against drugs and terror, by creating a more hopeful alternative for the people of Colombia.

If this isn’t enough to earn America’s support, what is? President Uribe has done everything asked of him.

This is a terribly partial portrayal, ignoring some huge concerns in order to portray Colombia’s rather ugly human-rights situation in the best possible light. While Colombia has taken some initial steps on crucial human rights issues, what remains to be done is huge, and the political will to do it is uncertain.

The Latin America Working Group Education Fund reminds us of this with a newly released, well-researched, balanced memo about Colombia’s human rights situation. Entitled “So Far to Go: Human Rights in Colombia” (PDF), the 17-page document adds a badly needed dose of perspective. No recent document produced by any group provides a similar synthesis of the very serious issues that Colombia is confronting, or failing to confront.

“So Far to Go” is a necessary accompaniment to the partial version of events one reads in the U.S. and Colombian governments’ celebratory statements. Below is an overview from LAWGEF Executive Director Lisa Haugaard.

A new report [PDF] by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund shows that on a variety of indicators, human rights problems in Colombia persist and in some cases are intensifying.  “So Far to Go: Human Rights in Colombia,” citing reliable nongovernmental, U.S. State Department, UN and OAS sources, reveals that extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian armed forces appear to be on the increase, guerrilla violence continues, and paramilitaries, far from being completely disarmed, continue to threaten, intimidate and kill the civilian population, including human rights defenders and trade unionists.  The report shows, for example, that:

  • Colombia’s major human rights groups documented 955 extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the Colombian armed forces between July 2002 and June 2007, compared with 577 over the previous five-year period, a 65 percent increase. The Colombian Commission of Jurists documents 13 cases in the first month of 2008. These cases, which are deliberate rather than cases of civilians caught in the crossfire, typically involve groups of soldiers detaining a civilian, who is seen by witnesses, and who later turns up dead, dressed in guerrilla clothing and claimed by the army as killed in combat.
  • From the start of the ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and paramilitary forces in December 2002 until June 30, 2007, the Colombian Commission of Jurists documents at least 3,530 killings and disappearances by the paramilitaries (outside of combat). The guerrillas (FARC and ELN), who are not “demobilized,” and who have not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, were responsible for 1,805 killings and disappearances of civilians during nearly the same time period (July 2002 through June 2007). Paramilitaries in a period of ceasefire and demobilization killed and disappeared nearly twice the number of civilians as the guerrillas who were still in active combat.
  • According to the government’s National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation, paramilitary groups have killed at least 15 victims participating in the process and over 200 have received death threats. (“Nueva rebelion de los ex ‘paras’ profundiza rezagos en reparacion,” El Tiempo, 25 de julio de 2007)
  • “Although kidnapping, both for ransom and for political reasons, continued to diminish, it remained a serious problem. According to the Presidential Program for Human Rights, there were 289 kidnappings during the first eight months of the year, compared with 476 in the same period in 2006. The government’s National Fund for the Defense of Personal Liberty (Fondolibertad) reported 393 kidnappings for extortion during the first nine months of the year.” (State Department 2007 human rights report) The majority of kidnappings were carried out by common criminals and guerrilla groups.  Kidnap victims continued to be held for years in deplorable conditions. The release of a handful of high-profile kidnap victims provided one of the few rays of hope recently for kidnap victims’ families.
  • CODHES, the primary nongovernmental group tracking displacement, estimated that 305,966 people were displaced in 2007, a 27 percent increase from 2006.
Mar 19

As noted before, CIP is not an active participant in the debate over the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. But in the past week the Bush administration has unearthed a “national security” justification for the FTA that can’t be allowed to stand.

“As your national security advisor in that region, I will tell you that it is very important that the free trade agreement be passed from a national security perspective,” the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis, told the House Armed Services Committee last week. “And, I hear that not just from senior people in Colombia, but from my interlocutors in the region. They’re watching very closely to see what happens to a nation that stands with the United States for a decade or more.” The admiral echoed an argument that President Bush used in speeches on March 12 and yesterday.

The administration is employing this argument in a specious, misleading and cynical way. As currently formulated, it could become a pretext for a host of irresponsible and counter-productive policies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To the extent that it has been thought through, this “national security” argument seems to be based on four main debating points. Each of these points makes little sense, though, when considered on its own.

1. The FTA will make Colombia more secure by increasing economic prosperity, which will weaken the FARC.

White House “fact sheet”: A free trade agreement with Colombia would bring increased economic opportunity to the people of Colombia through sustained economic growth, new employment opportunities, and increased investment.

Dan Fisk, director of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council: The free trade agreement, in our view, is critical to helping Colombia address the continuing threats it faces. First and foremost is the threat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the FARC. It continues — the FARC continues its assault on Colombian democracy, and its assault against the Colombian people. … In fact, if there’s one argument, I think, that is paramount in this is that we know that the main recruitment ground for terrorists, for guerillas or drug traffickers is poverty. The best way to get out of poverty is to create more and more opportunities for Colombians. That’s what President Uribe and the Colombian government is trying to do. That’s what the Colombia free trade agreement will do.

Whether the FTA will create prosperity in Colombia can be endlessly debated between credible experts on both sides. There does seem to be a rough consensus on two points, though:

  • Increased access to U.S. markets would probably mean job growth for Colombia’s export-oriented manufacturing sector, which is mainly based around big cities like Medellín, Bogotá and Barranquilla. (There is less consensus, obviously, about whether these would be unionized jobs or even “good jobs at good wages.”)
  • In rural areas, export-oriented agribusiness (capital-intensive crops like African palm, timber, or rubber) would do well. But these crops produce very few jobs per acre.

Smaller-scale farmers, on the other hand, would be dealt a strong short-term blow. As has happened in Mexico since NAFTA, family farms, cooperatives and communities producing foodstuffs for local markets could find it impossible to compete with a flood of cheaper products coming from the United States.

Even if the rural situation somehow restructures itself in a decade or two, over the next few years the FTA will mean a severe shock for many of Colombia’s small-scale rural producers. Past experience with FTAs makes it reasonable to expect a sharp economic downturn in the remote, “unglobalized” rural areas.

In Colombia, the trouble is that these are the very areas where coca is grown and guerrillas are strong.

Dealing a blow to small-scale producers in places like Cauca, Nariño or Putumayo could damage the livelihoods of thousands of farmers who, as it is, are just getting by. It could add to the ranks of rural dwellers who see no other option but to plant coca. It could add to the population of young rural Colombians susceptible to recruitment by guerrillas or “emerging” paramilitary groups.

In the absence of a “Marshall Plan” for Colombia’s countryside – which is not forthcoming – the FTA could deal an economic shock to zones that, while sparsely populated, are of central importance to the effort to combat armed groups and the drug trade. Rather than making the Andes safer, the FTA could trigger a more immediate national-security threat.

2. Failure to pass the FTA in 2008 would be a victory for Venezuela.

Continue reading »

Mar 05

It is not news that Latin American sensitivities are high about issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Regional condemnation of Colombia’s incursion into Ecuador Saturday, which killed FARC leader “Raúl Reyes,” has been nearly unanimous. The move has been criticized by Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and even by more conservative governments like those of Alán García in Peru and Felipe Calderón in Mexico.

This makes for an interesting contrast with the United States, where even the two “liberal” Democratic presidential candidates defended the Uribe government’s action.

  • Barack Obama: “[T]he Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region.”
  • Hillary Clinton: “The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. … Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups.”

John McCain, reports CBS news, sees in this crisis a reason to bring back the super-hard-line “Just Say No” drug policies of twenty years ago.

“I want to reiterate our partnership and friendship with President [Alvaro] Uribe and the government of Colombia. … They are a vital ally. … I hope that tensions will be relaxed, President Chavez will remove those troops from the borders – as well as the Ecuadorians – and relations continue to improve between the two. … [The FARC] are a terrorist organization and one that I believe we must assist the Colombian government in repressing.”

For his part, President Bush’s three-minute statement on the crisis yesterday was partly a show of support for Colombia, partly a call for a diplomatic solution, and mostly a “commercial” for congressional ratification of the Colombia free-trade agreement.

President Uribe told me that one of the most important ways America can demonstrate its support for Colombia is by moving forward with a free trade agreement that we negotiated. … Our country’s message to President Uribe and the people of Colombia is that we stand with our democratic ally. My message to the United States Congress is that this trade agreement is more than a matter of smart economics, it is a matter of national security. If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region, and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere.

A State Department spokesman sent a more helpful message on Monday. After making clear that the U.S. government supports Colombia, Tom Casey called forcefully for diplomacy.

 ”[L]ook, I think right now our focus is on trying to encourage Colombia and Ecuador to work out diplomatically the concerns that have been raised about this military strike. Certainly, we expect that that’s how this is going to be resolved. And I don’t think anybody at this point ought to be talking about military action.”

This sentiment was echoed in a letter to the OAS (PDF), released Tuesday, which bore the signatures of fifteen members of the U.S. Congress. The message, calling for OAS leadership of a diplomatic solution, is the only Colombia-related letter in memory signed by both the hawkish Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) and the dovish Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts).
While this letter was signed by both parties’ senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere (Burton and Rep. Eliot Engel [D-New York]), the ranking Republican on the full Foreign Affairs Committee was absent. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) put out her own, more bellicose statement.

The courageous men and women of the Colombian National Police, its intelligence unit and the country’s security services have shattered the myth that FARC’s leadership is invincible. … Recent State Department reports cite deepening ties between the Chavez regime and Iran and Cuba, and an unwillingness by Chavez to prevent Venezuelan territory from being used as a safe haven by FARC. These reports are alarming and require the careful attention of our government and those of our neighbors. … Rather than rattle sabers, Colombia’s neighbors need to play a more constructive role in bringing about a durable peace and removing FARC’s foreign sanctuaries that have been exposed by this operation.

Feb 05

The State Department has sent Congress its foreign aid request for 2009, along with updated 2007 and 2008 numbers. We have added all of this new data to the ever-growing aid database located at www.justf.org. Several links below point to pages on that site.

The State/Foreign Operations budget appropriation request provides about 75 percent of the military and police aid – and 85 percent of the total aid – that goes to Latin America and the Caribbean. The rest either goes through small programs that can give aid “on the fly” (Excess Defense Articles, “Food for Peace” and others) or, for some types of military aid, through the Defense budget.

The 2009 request calls for a sharp jump in aid to Latin America and the Caribbean. The hemisphere received a total of $1.75 billion from Foreign Operations budget programs in 2007; the request foresees that rising to $2.30 billion by 2009.

Combining this with estimates of aid from other sources, we calculate that total U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean would rise from $2.12 billion in 2007 to $2.67 billion in 2009. Total military and police aid would rise from $943 million in 2007 (44.5%) to $1.226 billion in 2009 (45.9%).

Here is what that looks like graphically, since 1996.

(The economic-aid spike in 1999 was Hurricane Mitch aid. The military-aid spike in 2000 was Plan Colombia.)

Why would aid levels bump upward in 2008 and 2009? This chart makes it pretty clear:

See that big purple bulge in the middle in 2008 and 2009? That’s Mexico.

Along with the countries of Central America, Mexico would see a huge increase in aid – most of it military and police aid – under the proposed “Mérida Plan” aid package. If the Bush administration were to get what it asked for – both as a “supplemental” addition to the 2008 budget, and as part of the 2009 budget – aid to Mexico and Central America would more than double.

Here is a breakdown of aid to Mexico and Central America, first by country and then by type of aid. Look at that increase.

Continue reading »

Jan 07

Note as of 8:30 PM – Shortly after posting this, I realize I may have missed the bigger story. While Colombia does suffer an aid cut as a result of the reprogramming described below, the majority of the money – at least $10 million – is to be transferred away from Evo Morales’s Bolivia. This would mean a major decrease in military and police aid to Bolivia, which totaled about $33 million in 2007.

During the early 1990s, as Central America’s civil wars drew to a close, the U.S. government reduced its military aid to the region. At the same time, aid to the armed forces and police of Colombia and the Andes began to inch upward.

Could the opposite be happening now? Consider this State Department document that recently came our way (PDF). It is dated September 28, 2007 – the last business day of the U.S. government’s 2007 budget year.

It informs Congress that the State Department decided to take away $16 million in unspent counter-drug military and police aid that had been “in the pipeline,” appropriated and obligated for aviation support programs in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Instead, this money would be redirected to Central America, where it would pay for:

  • Four Huey helicopters for Guatemala ($10 million, originally intended for Bolivia), for interdiction and opium-poppy eradication.
  • $800,000 for a Guatemalan Police anti-drug Special Investigative Unit (SIU) to work closely with DEA.
  • $650,000 for a “vetted unit” and police aid in Honduras.
  • $1.3 million for ballistics analysis capabilities in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
  • $850,000 in assistance to prevent young people from joining gangs.
  • $600,000 for prison improvements.
  • $175,000 for laser tattoo removal machines for ex-gang members.
  • $1 million for an OAS program for at-risk youth.
  • $175,000 for the DARE (drug education) program in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.
  • $200,000 for CADCA community drug abuse-prevention programs in Honduras.
  • $100,000 for drug-abuse prevention in Guatemala.
  • $150,000 for methamphetamine precursor chemical control training in El Salvador or Guatemala.

This is the third reduction in Colombia’s military and police assistance during the past nine months. The first came in April, when Congress rescinded $13 million in funding for maritime interdiction aircraft that the previous Republican-majority Congress had inserted in the 2006 supplemental appropriations bill. The second came at the end of the year, as Congress appropriated $141 million less military and police aid for Colombia than the Bush administration had requested for 2008.

The $16 million cut announced September 28, however, is the first one coming from the Bush administration itself, instead of Congress.

The resulting transfer would mean a huge increase in counter-drug aid to Central America, which we estimate as having totaled only about $10 million in 2007.

Jul 25

The latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey adds some nuance to the dire headlines about the plummeting U.S. image in Latin America and elsewhere. Here is a guest commentary from Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, who has written often about Latin American citizens’ perceptions of the United States.

LAWG-EF logoLatin America News & Views

An occasional series of viewpoints from Latin America

Latin America & the Pew Global Attitudes Survey

The new Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, “Global Unease with Major World Powers,” conducted this year and released June 27, sheds some interesting light on Latin American perspectives. The 47-country survey covered Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela within the Latin American region. The complete survey can be found at www.pewglobal.org.

Favorable views of the United States The study finds that views of the United States, as in much of the rest of the world, have deteriorated in Latin America in the last five years. The survey notes that since 2002, “the decline has been especially strong in Venezuela (26 points), Argentina (18 points), and Bolivia (15 points)” (p. 14). However, majorities in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Venezuela still have a “favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the United States. Forty-two percent of Bolivians and 44 percent of Bolivians view the United States favorably. “Very unfavorable” ranges from 41 percent in Argentina to 11 percent in Peru and Chile. Consistently, it is Argentine respondents who view the United States most negatively. “The balance of opinion toward the U.S. among Argentines (16 percent favorable, 72 percent unfavorable) is worse than in any country surveyed outside the Middle East” (p. 14).

In each Latin American country surveyed, more distrust than trust President Bush by two-to-one margins. A strong majority of Latin Americans surveyed expressed either “no confidence” or “not too much confidence” in President Bush’s ability “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” ranging from 60 percent in Peru to 87 percent in Argentina.

Views of political leaders

To put Latin Americans’ concerns with the United States in perspective, the United States is viewed somewhat more positively in most of the Latin American countries surveyed than in Western Europe. However, countries in Africa view the United States much more favorably than those in Latin America.

Why the increasingly negative view of the United States? A large number of Latin Americans surveyed perceive U.S. policies as “increasing the gap between rich and poor countries,” ranging from 71 percent in Argentina to 48 percent in Venezuela. Latin Americans are also concerned that the United States acts in its own narrow self-interest; when asked, “Do you think the United States takes in to account the interests of countries like yours?” 70 percent of Argentines to 34 percent of Venezuelans said “not too much” or “not at all.” Most Latin Americans agreed with the statement, “The United States promotes democracy mostly where it serves its interest,” with the range of 83 percent of Brazilians to 69 percent of Chileans only somewhat less cynical than the 95-97 percent who agreed with this statement in France and Germany.

Continue reading »

Jul 10

We’re still awaiting final word from the Senate about its version of the 2008 foreign aid bill. In broad terms, though, it appears that the Senate bill makes changes to U.S. aid to Colombia that are similar to – but smaller than – those in the bill that the House of Representatives passed last month.

[Note added 7/11: the Senate Committee report - but not the bill text - is now available online. Note the big Colombia table under "Andean Programs" - it's easier to read in the PDF version.]

The Senate bill probably cuts military and police aid in the Bush administration’s request by about $90.7 million, to about $359.5 million; the House had cut military and police aid by about $160.4 million, to $289.8 million. The aerial fumigation program would be cut significantly, with an increase in funding for manual coca eradication.

It also appears that the Senate increases economic-aid programs by about $61.9 million over the Bush administration’s request, to about $201.4 million; the House bill would increase economic aid by $101.3 million, to about $240.8 million.

Overall, the Senate bill would decrease aid to Colombia by about $28.8 million, a slightly shallower cut than the $59.1 million foreseen in the House bill. The military-to-economic aid split would be 64 percent to 36 percent, compared to 76-24 in the administration’s request and 55-45 in the House bill. (As always, about $150 million in military aid from the Defense budget must be added to the final total.)

These numbers are not completely final, there may be – but probably won’t be – changes to the final bill once it’s made public. We have no sense yet, either, of how the Senate bill would condition or earmark aid.

Here is some interesting language from the Appropriations Committee report, though:

The Committee notes that after spending in excess of $5,000,000,000 in support of Plan Colombia since 2000, some areas of the country are safer and Colombia’s economic indicators are, for the most part, positive. However, reports of unlawful killings by the army have increased in the past 2 years, and impunity for such crimes remais the norm. After predictions 6 years ago that Plan Colombia would cut by half the amount of coca production by 2005, the avaiability and price of cocaine on America’s streets remain unchanged. There is no indication that the abilty of Colombian drug traffickers to meet the demand for cocaine in the United States and elsewhere has been appreciably diminished. Coca is now grown in small, hard to eradicate plots in every department of the country, as coca growers continue to adapt to aerial eradication and destroy more forest as they replant.

Continue reading »

Jun 05

The White House “Drug Czar’s” office has now posted its estimate of Colombian coca cultivation last year. The official number is about 157,200 hectares (388,400 acres) under cultivation in 2006, slightly more than the 156,000 that Colombian President Álvaro Uribe reported last Friday. This is about 13,200 hectares more than the U.S. government detected in 2005.

The official release offers some interesting observations and alarming proposals.

  • The U.S. government acknowledges that coca cultivators have found ways to get around fumigation. “Rapid crop reconstitution, a move to smaller plots, and the discovery of previously unsurveyed coca growing areas, have posed major challenges to the techniques and methodologies used to understand Colombia’s coca cultivation and cocaine output. After losing one-third of the estimated coca cultivation to herbicidal spraying between 2001 and 2004, traffickers and growers implemented the widespread use of techniques such as radical pruning and replanting from seedlings.”
  • A subtle push to expand spraying into nature preserves and along the Ecuadorian border. “Moreover, farmers appear to be focusing on expanding cultivation into areas off-limits to the spray program, such as national parks and the area along the border with Ecuador, where Colombia suspended spraying in 2006 due to protests from the Ecuadorian government.”
  • An admission of uncertainty about how much cocaine is actually being produced in Colombia. “Building on joint research aimed at understanding the yield of the coca bush, the U.S. Government and the Government of Colombia will work in advance of next year’s estimate to better reflect the impact of coca eradication on cultivation estimates and estimates of the output of finished cocaine.”

  • On the other hand, a surprising degree of certainty about how much the FARC is profiting from the cocaine trade. “According to a U.S. government study, FARC drug profits declined from $90–150 million in 2003 to $60–115 million in 2005. The FARC’s overall profit per kilogram of cocaine declined from a range of $320–460 in 2003 to $195–320 in 2005.”
  • No information whatsoever about how much paramilitaries – current and former – are profiting from the cocaine trade. Not a mention of paramilitaries at all, even though many coca-growing areas (significant amounts in Antioquia, Córdoba, Meta, Nariño and elsewhere) are in paramilitary-dominated zones.
  • A proposal to spray more in areas where the Colombian government is trying to increase state presence. “[T]he U.S. Government, working with the GOC, is shifting the focus of its aerial eradication in coordination with Colombian civil and military efforts to target the areas of most intensive coca cultivation. Complementing Colombia’s Democratic Security Strategy, which seeks to bring security, as well as increased availability of health care, transportation, justice and education services to isolated parts of the country, the U.S. Government will seek to work with the Government of Colombia to increase the tempo of spraying, to help counter the growing tendency toward pruning and replanting.”
    But if security and government services are being established, why not make voluntary, manual, permanent coca eradication a part of that? Why intensify the spraying?

Apr 19

On April 4, the State Department certified that the Colombian military’s human-rights record was improving. This triggered a provision in the foreign aid law that released $55.2 million in military aid that had been frozen since 2006.

On Monday, concerned members of the U.S. Congress reacted, using their power as appropriators to “re-freeze” the aid. Here is the release that CIP and several other groups put together yesterday in support of that decision. (Most of the work on this statement was done by the other groups, as I spent yesterday in Chicago.)

Press Release
April 18, 2007

Renata Rendón, Amnesty International USA, (202) 544-0200 cell (646) 269-1152
José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch, (202) 612-4330 cell (202) 431-2471
Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171 cell (202) 489-1702

Human Rights Organizations Support Congressional Hold on US Funding to Colombian Armed Forces

(Washington, April 18, 2007) — The U.S. Congress should maintain a hold on military assistance to Colombia until alleged links between paramilitary groups and state officials are thoroughly investigated, Amnesty International USA, the Center for International Policy, Human Rights Watch, the US Office on Colombia and the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a joint statement today.

Just 12 days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified that the Colombian government and armed forces are making progress on human rights, the U.S. Congress, on April 16, put a hold on the remaining fiscal year 2006 funding to the Colombian Armed Forces. Congress has apparently placed the remaining funding of $55.2 million on hold out of concern about alleged links between the head of the Colombian Army and the paramilitary group known as United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

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Apr 13

We remain disappointed about the State Department’s decision, announced Tuesday, to certify that Colombia has improved its human-rights performance. The certification freed up $55 million in 2006 military aid that had been on hold.

It is praiseworthy that the State Department delayed the certification, which must occur twice per year, for over ten months. Nonetheless, after reading through the department’s 59-page “memorandum of justification” (large PDF) explaining its decision, we still don’t understand what has improved sufficiently to allow State to take this step.

The decision is especially confusing in the current climate, in which Colombia’s military has seen itself caught up in a flurry of scandals. In the past year, officers have been accused of torturing recruits, killing police on behalf of drug traffickers, planting car bombs, killing civilians and passing them off as guerrillas, and – along with the presidential intelligence service – working closely with paramilitaries. Amid all of these serious human-rights questions, it is unfortunate that the State Department has given Colombia’s Defense Ministry a chance to celebrate this “recognition” of its record.

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Feb 05

About an hour ago, the State Department released the broad outlines of its 2008 aid request. Its so-called “Function 150″ document gives us a rough, but pretty fair, estimate of what the Bush administration is asking Congress to give Colombia next year. (See the PDF file available here, and scroll down to the tables at the very end.)

The result is very disappointing. After weeks of talk about a new “social” approach to aid to Colombia, the aid request for next year looks almost exactly the same as the past several years.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said this to the Colombian daily El Tiempo:

It’s important to understand that the strategy that President Uribe’s government is presenting now understands that the social side has to stand out in the second phase of Plan Colombia. Therefore, our aid will probably follow that line.

This simply did not happen.

U.S. aid to Colombia in the foreign operations (foreign aid) bill totaled $587.1 million in 2006, of which 77.9 percent went to Colombia’s security forces. The request for 2008 moves only $10 million from the military to the economic category; the military-police share falls only slightly, to 76.2 percent of a total of $586.0 million.

That’s right – instead of a shift in priorities, we see a shift of 1.7 percent. There is nothing new about the 2008 request, at all.

Military / Police Aid 2006 and 2007 2008
Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) $334,861 $366,968
ACI – Air Bridge Denial $13,860 $0
ACI – Critical Flight Safety $17,700 $0
Foreign Military Financing (FMF) $89,100 $78,000
International Military Education and Training (IMET) $1,673 $1,500
Subtotal $457,194 $446,468
Percentage of Total 77.9% 76.2%
Economic / Social Aid 2006 and 2007 2008
Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) $129,920 $0
Economic Support Funds (ESF) $0 $139,500
Subtotal $129,920 $139,500
Percentage of Total 22.1% 23.8%
(Aid in the 2006 budget supplemental) (2006)  
(International Narcotics and Law Enforcement) $16,300  

(Congress did not pass an aid bill for 2007, so the 2006 amount is simply repeated this year. Still more military aid – probably about $150 million – goes through the Defense Department budget, so the real percentage of military assistance is significantly higher. See this table.)

In 1999, the Colombian government (with U.S. input) developed “Plan Colombia,” a plan for new aid and spending that would be 25 percent military. In 2000, the United States responded with an aid package that was the exact reverse: 75 percent military and police assistance. Now, the Colombian government has issued a “Plan Colombia 2″ that is 86 percent non-military – and the Bush administration’s response is a package of 76 percent military and police assistance.

Nothing is different – unless the Democratic Congress takes the initiative to make the changes the Bush administration was unwilling to implement in this budget request.