Apr 06
“United States plans new bases in Brazil and Peru to contain Venezuela,” says TeleSur.

During his stop in Quito yesterday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, was asked about reports that the United States and Brazil are talking about creating a joint anti-narcotics facility in Rio de Janeiro.

Valenzuela responded that the United States and Brazil are discussing a bilateral security agreement. He insisted that this will not resemble the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the United States and Colombia last October, which granted U.S. personnel access to seven Colombian military bases. But he didn’t explain much more.

Below is a translation of the article that broke this story, a piece that appeared last Wednesday in Brazil’s O Estado de São Paulo.

This article tells us the following:

  • The facility will be under Brazilian command.
  • It will resemble the U.S. facility (Joint Interagency Task Force South) in Key West, Florida, where representatives of several Latin American countries, and several U.S. military and law-enforcement agencies, monitor the skies and waters of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for aircraft and boats suspected of trafficking in drugs, arms or other contraband. It will also resemble a similar European Union facility at Lisbon, Portugal.
  • As such, it will not be a military base, but a building where people gather and share intelligence.

Put that way, the new facility sounds rather uncontroversial. But as media outlets all over the region start reporting about a “new U.S. base in Brazil,” the U.S. government’s public diplomacy apparatus has responded with … silence.

This lack of an official response is troubling because we’ve seen this before. In 2008, the Southern Command caused a regional outcry by suddenly rolling out a long-dormant “4th Fleet” for its operations in the hemisphere. Alarms went off again in mid-2009, after the first leaks about the Colombia defense agreement. In neither case did U.S. officials explain what they were doing. In the face of this silence, Latin American perceptions of both moves ended up being shaped by media outlets and governments that suspect the worst of U.S. motives.

In the Internet era, several days of silence are no longer an option. The vacuum will be filled quickly by others. The Venezuela-based TeleSur network, for instance, is already reporting extensively about the Brazil agreement.

Rather than let others define an agreement that may in fact be quite benign, the Obama administration must show us that it has learned the importance of a more agile public diplomacy effort in the Western Hemisphere. Explain this, please.

Here’s last Wednesday’s article.

O Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, March 31, 2010

Brazil discusses with the U.S. setting up a base in Rio

Goal would be to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and smuggling, all under the command of Brazilians

By Rui Nogueira and Rafael Moura Moraes

At the suggestion of the Federal Police, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva discussed yesterday with the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Lieutenant General Douglas Fraser, the proposed creation of a “multinational, multi-function” base headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

The base would form, along with two existing ones in Key West (USA) and Lisbon (Portugal), the tripod of monitoring, control and combat against drug trafficking and smuggling, especially of weapons, and surveillance against terrorism.

Douglas Fraser spent the day yesterday in Brasilia. After meetings and a working lunch with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, the U.S. commander met with the director general of the PF [Federal Police], Luiz Fernando Corrêa.

The PF already has an intelligence attaché working at the base in Key West, Florida [The Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South]. The Planalto [the Brazilian Presidency] is to decide whether the attache at the Lisbon base will be a federal delegate or an officer of the Navy.

The base in Rio, as well as the other two, does not allow operations under the command of foreigners. Countries who participate in cooperative programs to fight organized crime always send attachés who work under the supervision of the sovereign country’s agents on the base. The idea is that with the base in Florida, which closely monitors trafficking in the Caribbean, and Lisbon, which exercises control over the North Atlantic, the Brazilian base serves as an outpost for monitoring the South Atlantic.

Tragedy. Key West is a naval air base and that operates in cooperation with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, federal agencies and allied forces. Since 1989, it has housed an intelligence task force that conducts operations against drug trafficking in the Caribbean and South America.It was from there that the first airplane rescue flight departed after the tragedy of flight AF 447, Air France, last June, off the coast of Brazil near Fernando de Noronha. Notified of the accident, the base mobilized its Brazilian attaché, who initiated the rescue.

The group of agents at the Key West task force aims to curtail the cultivation, production and transportation of narcotics. The British, French and Dutch contribute by sending ships, aircraft and officials. The group includes representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American countries.

The U.S. presence in the region [Key West] began in 1823 with the objective of combating local piracy. It was initially used for patrol and submarine operations and as an air training station, used by more than 500 airmen at the time of World War I (1914-1918). In 1940, it earned the designation of a naval and air base.

In Lisbon, the naval base is on the bank of the River Tagus, the Alfeite Military Perimeter. It was established in December 1958.

Fraser also came to Brazil to organize the trip of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, planned for mid-April. The visit is the reciprocation of Jobim’s trip to New York in February. On the agenda is the two countries’ strategic military cooperation, the purchase of fighter planes by Brazil and the U.S. interest in acquiring training aircraft – Embraer produces the Super Tucano. The American Boeing makes the F-18 Super Hornet, which is among the three models being considered in the FAB [Brazilian Air Force] plan for a big purchase.

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 24
Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, in 2008, telling a FARC commander, “We are with you. Be strong.”

In an unusual moment last week, the four-star general who heads the U.S. Southern Command had to clarify his comments after questioning from members of Congress.

On March 11, Gen. Douglas Fraser, asked by Sen. John McCain about linkages between the Venezuelan government and Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We have not seen any connections, specifically, that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection. We are concerned about it, I’m skeptical, I continue to watch for it. …

There has been some old evidence, but I don’t see that evidence, I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.

A week later (March 18), under similar questioning in the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Fraser said something different:

We do see a long-term relationship that exists between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. That has been evidenced, if you go back and look at the computer records that came out of the Rafael (sic.) Reyes— capture of that computer. That continues on. There is safe haven, there is financial, logistic support, there’s safe haven for the FARC provided. And all the evidence I have says that continues— the evidence I have doesn’t say that it— that I can explicitly say it’s continuing, but I can’t say it’s explicitly not continuing. So based on the evidence to date, I would say that support still continues.

The following day, Southern Command posted a clarification to its blog.

Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement:

There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the Government of Venezuela and the FARC.

This recalls the February “Annual Threat Assessment” testimony [PDF] of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

[Chávez] has restricted Colombian imports, warned of a potential military conflict, and continued his covert support to the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

So does the Obama administration believe that Hugo Chávez and the government of Venezuela are helping the FARC? Do the words “linkages” and “support” mean military assistance with lethal consequences? It is very important to be precise about this, because of what it implies.

“Hugo Chávez is helping the FARC” means “Hugo Chávez is helping a group that kills Colombians on Colombian soil and seeks to overthrow the Colombian government.” Or, more simply, “Hugo Chávez is helping to kill Colombians and overthrow Colombia’s government.”

Wars — “just” wars — have been fought over less than that. By this interpretation, a Colombian military response on Venezuelan soil would not even be preemptive. It would be retaliatory.

Words matter. Colombia could interpret (misinterpret?) the administration’s message as a “green light,” a signal that Colombia would be justified in taking military action in Venezuelan territory, and that Colombia would have U.S. support in the political and military firestorm that would follow such action.

Precision is important, because it will determine what actions follow. The question the Obama administration needs to answer unambiguously, then, is: does it believe that Venezuela’s government, as a matter of policy (as opposed to the actions of corrupt or rogue elements), is aiding and abetting the FARC today?

In Venezuela’s interest?

The FARC is widely hated in Colombia, condemned internationally for abuses ranging from massacres to narcotrafficking to the use of landmines and child soldiers, and militarily weaker than it was a decade ago, with no chance of taking power by force of arms. Given all that, it’s hard to argue that it would be in Venezuela’s self-interest to aid them. (And Hugo Chávez has not stayed in power for more than 11 years by neglecting his self-interest.)

Why, then, would Venezuela want to help the FARC? Perhaps out of misplaced ideological solidarity. Or perhaps Hugo Chávez still hopes to win a diplomatic victory by helping to broker a peace in Colombia. Perhaps out of a desire to balance out U.S. power by aligning with all declared enemies of the United States (including Iran). Perhaps out of a belief that the FARC would be a first line of defense against a hypothetical U.S. invasion via Colombia. Or perhaps merely out of corruption.

The evidence we know about

But all of this is pure speculation. What follows is the evidence about Venezuela-FARC ties that we have seen through open sources. If there is more — imagery, documents, communications intercepts, corroborated witness testimony — we don’t know about it.

  • Evidence from files recovered from the laptop computer of Raúl Reyes, the FARC Secretariat leader killed in a March 1, 2008 Colombian Army raid into Ecuador. These files point to discussions between FARC representatives and Venezuelan government officials about financial support and the provision of identity cards and weapons. These discussions seem to have increased in 2007, during President Chávez’s short-lived tenure as an authorized facilitator of talks to free civilian hostages in FARC custody. According to an indictment [PDF] issued recently by a Spanish judge, the files also mention FARC cooperation with Spain’s ETA terrorist group via an ETA member working in the Venezuelan government. Colombian officials believe that a Venezuelan referred to in the files as “Angel” is Hugo Chávez.

    These two-year-old computer files remain the strongest evidence indicating a FARC-Venezuela tie, and Venezuela’s insistence that they are a fabrication has not been a convincing response. However, the Reyes files are not sufficient evidence on their own. They contain some inaccuracies and wild fabrications, and often appear to be the words of far-flung guerrilla leaders relying on secondhand information to make inflated claims of their own success. There is no reason at all to doubt that the FARC has asked Venezuelan interlocutors for support. What remains unclear — in part because the Reyes computer claims have not been corroborated — is whether Venezuelan officials truly complied, and if so, whether they had President Chávez’s authorization.

  • Words of support for the FARC from President Chávez and other Venezuelan officials. In the days after Raúl Reyes was killed, President Chávez held a moment of silence in his honor on Venezuelan national television. Participating in a 2008 unilateral hostage release, Venezuela’s interior minister at the time, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, shook a guerrilla’s hand and told him on camera, “We are with you. … Be strong. We are following your cause.” (The U.S. Treasury Department later called Rodríguez Chacín “the Venezuelan government’s main weapons contact” for the FARC.)

    These and other words of support for the FARC have yet to be explained away. But Chávez has, on other occasions, also called on the FARC to release all of its hostages and disband. So statements alone prove nothing beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • The Swedish rockets. Last July, the Colombian government announced that it had recovered from the FARC a number of AT4 shoulder-fired rockets, manufactured by Saab in Sweden. The rockets’ serial numbers corresponded to those Sweden had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. Chávez later claimed that the rocket launchers had been stolen from a Venezuelan port in 1995, years before he became president.
  • The freedom with which the FARC operates on Venezuela’s side of the border. Colombian officials frequently contend that the FARC maintains encampments in Venezuela, that top FARC leaders spend much time there unmolested, and that Venezuelan officials routinely issue Venezuelan identity cards to FARC members. It is unclear whether this is a result of official Venezuelan policy or local-level corruption. No matter what, though, it is absolutely certain that Venezuela is doing almost nothing to prevent the FARC from using its territory, or punishing officials who assist, or fail to confront, the Colombian guerrillas.

    One could say the same, however, about other illegal Colombian groups that operate in Venezuela, both “new” paramilitaries and narcotrafficking organizations. Paramilitary groups are active in the northern part of the border region (across from Norte de Santander, Cesar and La Guajira). And one of Colombia’s most powerful narcotraffickers, Wilber Varela alias “Jabón,” was killed by a rival gang in the resort town of Mérida, about 100 miles from the Colombian border, in early 2008.

    Is the FARC’s latitude on the Venezuelan side of the border, then, a result of a Venezuelan policy to aid and abet them? Or is it part of a general lack of control of territory, and dysfunction in the security forces, that extends from the greatly increased flow of drugs across Venezuela to the alarming murder rate in Caracas? (Either way, it’s a huge problem for Venezuela.)

The response

If the U.S. and Colombian governments conclude from this (or from classified evidence) that Venezuela continues to aid the FARC, then both countries have an important choice to make. Ambiguity and vague accusations are not a proper response to such a serious charge.

Nor, however, should the response be military. War between Colombia and Venezuela is in nobody’s interest. It could escalate, with significant loss of life. It could destabilize the Andes. And it’s hard to define what a military “victory” in such a scenario would even look like.

Instead, if Washington and Bogotá have evidence that Venezuela is sponsoring killing and attempted state overthrow in Colombia, they must go to the UN Security Council. Article 39 of the UN Charter says the Council “shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken.” Sponsorship of the FARC would certainly qualify as a threat to peace and an act of aggression.

Unless the evidence presented is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, going to the UN — much less the OAS General Assembly — might not succeed. But such a decisive step would be preferable to the ambiguity and — as we saw last week — apparent contradiction in the administration’s message.

Instead of confusing signals that Colombia could misinterpret as a green light for military action, it’s time for more precise language. And if the precise language leads to more direct and decisive diplomatic action, then so be it.

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].)

2002

“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.

2005

“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.

2010

“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.

Mar 02

Apologies for the light posting this week. I’ve written two articles for two other outlets in the last two days, which has left no time for blog entries. (I’ll link to those articles when they appear.)

Instead, here is a cross-post of a Colombia-related podcast produced for the CIP-LAWG-WOLA “Just the Facts” program. It’s an interview with Roxana Altholz of the University of California at Berkeley Law School Human Rights Clinic, author of “Truth Behind Bars,” a hard-hitting report on 30 Colombian paramilitary leaders’ extradition to the United States, which has complicated efforts to win justice for their victims. (The report was summarized in a recent entry to this blog.)


Download

Feb 17

100217para.jpg

It’s been almost two years since the Colombian government extradited most of the old AUC paramilitary leadership to the United States to face drug charges. While it is positive to see these once-powerful warlords behind bars, they are here to be tried for narcotrafficking only — not for the thousands of murders and other human rights crimes for which they are responsible.

The extraditions have brought nearly two years of additional frustration for victims trying to recover stolen property or learn what happened to their loved ones; for prosecutors trying to dismantle the paramilitaries’ criminal networks; and for investigators trying to determine who in Colombia’s politics and armed forces gave the murderous militias support, funding and arms.

The Berkeley Law School’s International Human Rights Law Clinic released a report yesterday that is by far the best source of information and analysis on what has happened since the extraditions began. “Truth behind Bars: Colombian Paramilitary Leaders in U.S. Custody” (PDF) lays out the apparently inadvertent damage that the extraditions have done to the cause of truth and justice in Colombia. It also, however, recommends workable steps that the U.S. and Colombian governments might take to set things right.

Here are just a few excerpts from the report. Download the full 4.1MB PDF file here.

Most extradited paramilitaries have dropped out of the “Justice and Peace” process, and thus do not have to speak to Colombian authorities at all.

Only five of the thirty Defendants have continued their voluntary statements at the Justice and Peace hearings from the United States. Defendant Salvatore Mancuso participated in four version libre confession sessions from the United States, more than the other extradited leaders. During these sessions, he detailed several massacres and trade unionist murders. However, on September 30, 2009, Mancuso announced his decision to withdraw from the process. His announcement came three days after fellow extradited AUC leader Diego Murillo Bejarano made a similar announcement. In letters to Colombian authorities, both Defendants cited unexplained delays, the inability to confer with subordinates, and threats to family members in Colombia as the reasons for their decisions. Colombian authorities have confirmed the difficulties in securing the Defendants’ continued participation. Of thirty-nine hearing requests made by Colombian authorities during a five- month period, only ten were satisfied.

Victims are cut out almost completely. U.S. prosecutors have chosen not to apply the Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA).

To preserve victim involvement in the Justice and Peace process, Colombian and U.S. authorities initially planned for Defendants to testify via video conference for viewing by accredited victims in Colombia. In practice, however, Colombian authorities have cancelled several transmissions because of lack of funds. Similarly, U.S. custody of Defendants has frustrated victims’ ability to question perpetrators directly, as stipulated by the Justice and Peace Law. …

Colombian victims have been unable to pursue economic redress against Defendants through the U.S. criminal proceedings. In theory, victims are eligible to collect compensation from Defendants and to inform the terms of a plea bargain and eventual sentence under the U.S. Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA). However, U.S. prosecutors have opposed the efforts of Colombian victims to intervene and have refused to acknowledge them as victims under the statute. This approach prevents victims from even learning of the status of the prosecutions of Defendants.

The extraditions have effectively blocked other judicial investigations aiming to dismantle paramilitarism and punish collaborators, including the “para-politics” investigations. U.S. officials aren’t even responding to information requests coming from Colombian prosecutors and even Supreme Court justices. Those who helped the paramilitaries now have little reason to fear that the extradited leaders might reveal their identities.

Colombian investigations outside the Justice and Peace process have been stymied by the extradition of Defendants. At the direction of the United States, Colombia has forwarded all requests for judicial cooperation to the justice attaché at the U.S. Embassy. However, Colombian judges
and prosecutors report that U.S. officials have not been sufficiently responsive. Transmission of information has been delayed and cancellations of exchanges are frequent. In a May 21, 2009 letter to a Colombian non-governmental organization, the Colombian Human Rights Unit identified fifty-four unanswered requests for judicial assistance. … Colombia’s Supreme Court has encountered similar difficulties. For instance, since late 2008, the Supreme Court has made multiple requests to take statements from Defendants, including AUC leaders Carlos Jiménez Naranjo, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, and Diego Murillo Bejarano. However, as of October 28, 2009, U.S. authorities had not responded.

The report has three recommendations for the U.S. government.

  • Create an effective and efficient procedure for judicial cooperation. The United States should review current policy to identify the cause of delays in responding to requests for cooperation. New procedures should ensure that U.S. authorities share information with and respond to requests by Colombian authorities in a timely manner to minimize any impact of the extraditions on open investigations in Colombia.
  • Incentivize extradited paramilitary leaders to disclose details about all their crimes and the identities of their accomplices in the military, government and national and foreign businesses. The United States should actively encourage extradited leaders to testify about their crimes and allies by conditioning sentence reductions or other benefits achieved through plea-bargaining on effective cooperation. Possible benefits of cooperation should include provision of visas to family members of Defendants under threat in Colombia. … The U.S. Department of Justice should reverse its current policy of taking “no position” on whether Defendants should cooperate with Colombian authorities.
  • Initiate investigations for torture committed by extradited paramilitary leaders. [P]ursuant to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. has ratified, the State Party in whose territory an alleged torturer is found has a duty to either extradite that individual, or to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.” This duty is also supported by U.S. domestic anti-torture legislation. … The United States should hold extradited leaders accountable for all their crimes under federal law, including torture, and promote justice for Colombian victims.
Feb 10

Washington has been hit by two big snowstorms in the past five days. Everything has been closed all week – the government, the schools, and CIP’s offices (everything is closed tomorrow too; the roads are impassable). On the bright side, being trapped at home gave me a chance to read three just-released books about Colombia. All of them are from careful, credible authors who happen to be very clear writers.

Law of the Jungle: The Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure, by John Otis, published by William Morrow. (Official release February 23.) John Otis has reported from Colombia for more than a decade for the Houston Chronicle, Time, and the Global Post website. He spent much of that time in the field, covering the Pastrana government’s failed peace process with the FARC, the expansion of U.S. aid programs, the plight of guerrilla hostages, and other stories. Law of the Jungle focuses especially on the three U.S. contractors who were taken hostage by the FARC in 2003 and freed in 2008, and the Colombian military unit that came upon a multi-million-dollar cache of guerrilla dollars in the jungle in 2003, then got in trouble after spending it lavishly on themselves.

Otis’s book is written for an audience that is not intimately familiar with Colombia; he includes a lot of background information, vividly written. The book is fast-paced and peppered with anecdotes. Striking examples include a 2001 battle between the FARC and DynCorp contractors sent into the wilds of Caquetá to rescue the head of Colombia’s Counternarcotics Police, who was pinned down by guerrilla fire; and the too-slow response after Colombian soldiers caught a glimpse of the three U.S. hostages in early 2008. In general, the U.S. government is portrayed as lumbering, bureaucratic, and slow to learn. The Colombian military is portrayed as at times heroic — the case of Operación Jaque, the July 2008 ruse that freed 15 FARC hostages, is richly detailed — but at times abusive or corrupt, as in the case of the guerrilla cash find or former Army Chief Gen. Mario Montoya’s alleged collaboration with paramilitaries.

Otis includes some unvarnished quotes from people involved in the story; U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield even drops the “f-bomb” once or twice.

“No divulgar hasta que los implicados estén muertos:” Las guerras de “Doblecero,” by Aldo Civico, published by Intermedio. Aldo Civico, an Italian-born  anthropologist who heads Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution, was doing post-graduate research in Medellín in the early- to mid-2000s. He developed a relationship, with interviews and a long series of e-mail exchanges, with Carlos García, alias “Rodrigo Doblecero,” the leader of the AUC paramilitary group’s “Metro Bloc,” which for a time at the turn of the decade dominated Medellín and much of Antioquia department. By the time Civico met “Doblecero,” he was on the run from his former paramilitary colleagues (especially Diego Murillo alias “Don Berna,” now in a U.S. prison), from whom he had split out of disagreement with their increasing involvement in narcotrafficking. By then the paramilitary leader was fighting “Don Berna” and the military far more than he was fighting guerrillas. Cívico was in regular contact with “Doblecero” (who at the time was also talking to U.S. reporters) from mid-2003 until days before he was killed in May 2004.

Most of the book is transcriptions of emails from “Doblecero,” or his recorded words as Civico interviewed him. Much is autobiographical or explaining the origins of the paramilitaries, making “No Divulgar” an interesting companion book to AUC founder Carlos Castaño’s 2002 autobiography Mi Confesión.

His analysis of what is wrong with Colombia’s politics and economy makes “Doblecero” sound like a leftist: venal, corrupt elites and narcotraffickers, in his view, are strengthening a feudal system. But those he regards as the “true” paramilitaries are defending the interests of middle-class landholders, whom the guerrillas — in what he sees as a great miscalculation — began to target in the 1980s. “Doblecero” believes that the paramilitary cause went badly in the late 1990s, when leaders like Carlos Castaño allied with the country’s principal narcotraffickers, many of whom became top paramilitary leaders and amassed huge quantities of land. “Doblecero,” however, has very little to say to Civico about the massive atrocities that even the most “pure,” non-narco paramilitaries committed, including the bloody mid-1990s Urabá campaign in which he participated.

Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs, by Vanda Felbab-Brown, published by Brookings Institution Press. Brookings Institution Fellow Felbab-Brown traveled extensively to Afghanistan, Colombia and Peru to research a study concluding that U.S. “War on Drugs” programs badly undermine U.S. counter-insurgency goals. In countries where insurgencies draw support from the drug trade, one of the main assumptions underlying U.S. counter-drug policy has been that attacking drug production will take resources away from the insurgency, weakening it badly. Felbab-Brown dismantles that argument.

Instead, she argues for a “political capital” model, which considers how the U.S.-supported operation affects the population’s perception of the insurgents. If people in Colombia or Afghanistan live off of coca or poppy plants, an eradication campaign may modestly reduce the insurgents’ income. However, Felbab-Brown argues, the eradication will alienate the population from the government and increase their support for the insurgents, adding to their “political capital,” which gives them strong military advantages. Shooting Up makes an important, well-documented point, one that explains much of the frustrations of U.S.-supported campaigns in Colombia and Afghanistan during the 2000s (both of which left drug production unaffected while insurgent groups tenaciously persist).

Felbab-Brown’s model points to only one type of drug policy that can reduce both the insurgents’ drug income and their “political capital” simultaneously. This would be something along the lines of a “laissez-faire” approach, or even decriminalization and regulation, which would reduce the drug trade’s profitability while offering no political advantages to the insurgents. She acknowledges, however, that for now such approaches are “politically infeasible.”

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.

Jan 21

The United States’ initial response to the Haiti earthquake has been almost entirely military. The U.S. armed forces control the Port-au-Prince airport. The U.S. Navy is assessing and trying to repair ruined port facilities. U.S. Army cargo aircraft and helicopters are delivering aid, while military search-and-rescue teams try to save survivors.

This is not unusual. The military was the first U.S. agency to respond to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and to Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Perhaps the world’s priorities are out of whack, but no country in the world budgets enough to maintain a permanent civilian rapid-reaction agency able to respond to massive natural disasters. During the first few days after a large-scale disaster – when transportation infrastructure has been destroyed and the priority is saving lives – only the military has the manpower, the boats, the helicopters and the equipment to do the job.

Still, the U.S. military’s massive deployment in the days following the Haitian earthquake has raised complaints – some valid, others not so much. As Abigail Poe noted on the “Just the Facts” program blog yesterday, some relief agencies charge that U.S. military air traffic controllers, giving priority to flights transporting soldiers and marines, delayed or rerouted flights bringing medical and relief supplies. “This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti,” said France’s international cooperation minister. These concerns deserve a response that ensures a proper balance between security concerns and urgent aid delivery needs.

Other criticisms, however, have been more ideological than practical. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Sunday that the U.S. operation was “occupying Haiti undercover,” while Bolivian President Evo Morales said yesterday he would go to the United Nations to seek condemnation of the U.S. “occupation.”

This charge makes little sense. Why the United States would want to find itself governing Haiti, with its myriad social and economic challenges, is unclear. Certainly, such a mission would be hugely unpopular among U.S. voters.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, some observers see the U.S. deployment as a model for U.S. military action worldwide. Writing on Newsweek’s website, John Barry argues that “whole of government solutions” make little sense in this context, and that the Pentagon should be given control over the United States’ Haiti rebuilding effort.

[T]he only entity on the planet with the capacity to bring help to Haiti on the scale needed is the U.S. military. The United Nations will find it impolitic to admit this; the big international relief groups, proud of their noncombatant status, will shy from acknowledging it. But it is the reality.

This is true at the beginning of the disaster, when lives must be saved and no infrastructure exists. A few months from now, however, as Haiti moves from the emergency phase to the long rebuilding phase, military leadership will no longer be necessary, and the military presence should draw down dramatically.

Engineering, productive, food-security and medical projects should be the province of civilian agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, employing Haitians wherever possible. And the UN mission can handle security, as it did ably until January 12.

The military is the only option in Haiti for now. But the “occupation” phase must be short.

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.