It isnâ€™t easy to characterize the U.S. approach so far to the Colombian governmentâ€™s
talks with the AUC. â€œAmbivalent,â€ perhaps. The United States has been the talksâ€™
biggest foreign detractor at the same time that it has been its biggest foreign
The government of Ãlvaro Uribe is prodding Washington to offer the talks more
political support and more funding. (Curiously, the OAS verification mission,
MAPP-OEA, is playing a similar cheerleading / lobbying role; mission chief Sergio
Caramagna was here in Washington last week making a sales pitch to key members
of Congress, and he admonished the United States and Europe to do more in an
target="_blank">interview Monday with the Associated Press.) The U.S. response,
however, has been unclear â€“ at least in part because the Bush administrationâ€™s
position still appears to be evolving.
â€œSupport for peace should be the easiest of decisions. But in Colombia it is
not,â€ U.S. Ambassador William Wood
href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/040628wood.htm">said in June. Instead,
Washington is adopting a tricky position of modest support and strong criticism,
of moving toward helping to demobilize paramilitary fighters while simultaneously
seeking to extradite their leaders on drug charges.
The U.S. government officially supports the peace talks, or at least the idea
of negotiations as a cheap, peaceful way to eliminate the paramilitaries as
a factor of instability and narcotrafficking. Washingtonâ€™s shows of support,
though, have been relatively small and tentative. In May 2003 Alex Lee, then
the head of the embassyâ€™s political section, met with an AUC emissary to discuss
the talks. That year, a February 2004 letter from the State Department (PDF
format) indicates, USAID spent $150,000 in Andean Counterdrug Initiative
(ACI) funds on â€œa needs assessment study and to pay for consultants from two
USAID contractors (International Organization for Migration and Creative Associates)
to advise the Colombian government as they design demobilization/reintegration
This sort of logistical support has continued in 2004. Caramagnaâ€™s MAPP-OEA
mission got several hundred thousand dollars from USAID to help establish itself.
â€œThe government just provided $1 million [to the OAS] for further preparation
and development,â€ Ambassador Wood said in June. â€œBut long-term funding is unclear.â€
target="_blank">European Union, the United States has indicated that the overall
process will be easier to support once Colombiaâ€™s congress approves a â€œlegal
frameworkâ€: a law determining what happens to demobilized paramilitaries accused
of serious abuses, dismantling paramilitarism, and compensating victims. Small
amounts of U.S. funds have gone to non-governmental organizations advising the
drafting of such â€œjustice and compensationâ€ legislation, including the yet-to-be-introduced
bill drafted by Sen. Rafael Pardo and a multi-party group of congresspeople
(discussed in an
Overall, though, the U.S. contributions to the AUC process have been small,
though its outlays exceed those of other donors â€“ Sweden, the Netherlands, and
the Bahamas â€“ whose support has mostly (perhaps entirely) gone to the OAS mission.
In fact, the U.S. governmentâ€™s expressions of skepticism have attracted much
more attention. Officials speaking off the record will readily admit strong
concerns about issues like the paramilitariesâ€™ narcotization and economic power,
the possibility of impunity for rights abusers, and the security vacuum that
demobilizations could leave behind. For his part, Ambassador Wood took on a
markedly more critical tone during early and mid-2004. A few examples:
- February 2004: â€œIt is clear that the paramilitaries have not completely
met the commitments of the cease-fire,â€ Wood told the daily El Tiempo.
- June 2004: â€œIâ€™m not sure the self-defense groups have a political goal or
that they have a political agenda. They have only one program: narco-terror.
And only one agenda: destruction. â€¦ We are skeptical about the peace process,â€
Wood told the newsweekly Cambio.
- July 2004: After calling three paramilitary leadersâ€™ address before the
congress a â€œscandal,â€ Wood told the Cartagena daily El Universal that
the Congress was not an appropriate forum to host the AUC leaders. â€œWeâ€™re
willing to give them a forum, if they want it. Itâ€™s called a courtroom.â€
- July 2004: Referring to the â€œlaunchâ€ of negotiations in the Santa Fe de
Ralito demilitarized zone, which no U.S. official attended, Wood said, â€œIt
doesnâ€™t look to me like a transition in favor of peace as much as one in favor
- July 2004: â€œWe believe that Dr. Restrepo [government peace negotiator Luis
Carlos Restrepo] has done a magnificent job, but this all depends on the compliance
of the evildoers.â€
While statements like these have made headlines in Colombia, they pale in comparison
to the best-known expression of U.S. skepticism about the AUC talks: the U.S.
Justice Departmentâ€™s requests to extradite paramilitary leaders on narcotrafficking
charges. â€œOur position has been that weâ€™re not involved in negotiations. Weâ€™re
not involved either in dropping any charges or other legal action that we might
want to take against individuals,â€ State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
target="_blank">said in September. It is now a clichÃ© in the Colombian press
to refer to the extradition requests as a â€œSword of Damoclesâ€ hanging over the
To the best of our knowledge, ten AUC leaders are wanted to stand trial in
the United States. Most, though not all, of these leaders are currently in the
Ralito demilitarized zone negotiating with the Colombian government. Those in
the zone do not face any danger of arrest as long as the talks continue. Those
outside the zone are powerful fugitives whose arrests are unlikely. Several
of those listed here are among the wave of
who have only recently put on paramilitary uniforms in an effort to win amnesty.
- Salvatore Mancuso, the top AUC leader, was one of the first to face
an extradition request, a September 2002
on charges of shipping at least seventeen tons of cocaine to the United States.
On November 24th, Colombiaâ€™s Supreme Court gave final approval
for his eventual extradition, should talks end and Colombia arrest him.
- Juan Carlos Sierra, a lower-ranking chieftain nicknamed â€œEl Tuso,â€
was also named in the September 2002 indictment. In an effort to prod the
talks during a low point in late September 2004, the Colombian government
declared that Sierra, who was present in Ralito, would be arrested and extradited.
He has since been a fugitive.
- Vicente CastaÃ±o, â€œEl Profe,â€ is a longtime narcotrafficker allegedly
implicated in the April 2004 attack on, and subsequent disappearance of, his
brother and longtime AUC leader Carlos CastaÃ±o.
- Diego Fernando Murillo, nicknamed â€œDon Bernaâ€ or â€œAdolfo Paz,â€ is
the AUCâ€™s very powerful â€œinspector-generalâ€ and head of several blocs.
- VÃctor Manuel MejÃa MÃºnera, nicknamed â€œEl Mellizoâ€ (â€œThe Twinâ€) but
known in Ralito as â€œPablo Arauca,â€ is the head of the AUCâ€™s â€œAvengers of Araucaâ€
- Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, or â€œJorge 40,â€ runs the AUCâ€™s Northern Bloc and
is based in the port of Barranquilla.
- Ramiro Vanoy Murillo, or â€œCuco,â€ heads the Antioquia-based Mineros
- Francisco Javier Zuluaga Lindo, known as â€œGordo Lindoâ€ in the drug
underworld but in Ralito as â€œComandante Gabriel Galindo,â€ is the political
chief of Don Bernaâ€™s Pacific Bloc.
- Guillermo PÃ©rez Alzate, or â€œPablo Sevillano,â€ heads the Liberators
of the South Bloc, based in the Pacific port city of Tumaco, NariÃ±o.
- HernÃ¡n Giraldo Serna, based in the Caribbean port city of Santa Marta,
is wanted for ordering the murder of two DEA agents.
In the extremely slim chance that he is still alive, Carlos CastaÃ±o
would of course be an eleventh paramilitary leader facing extradition.
While seeking to bring the AUCâ€™s top leadership into U.S. courtrooms, the Bush
administration wants to give a different treatment to rank-and-file paramilitaries,
expressing some interest in funding their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration
(DDR). The State Department indicated in February that â€œin its FY 2005 Budget
Request, USAID asks for $3.25 million of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
account for â€˜Peace Initiativesâ€™ in Colombia, which could be used in support
of the AUC peace process.â€
Most of that $3.25 million is likely to go to DDR, though it will cover only
a tiny sliver of the Colombian governmentâ€™s expected total cost. According to
Ambassador Wood, â€œEstimates have placed the cost of the whole demobilization
process at about $8,500 per head.â€ Multiply that by 20,000 paramilitaries and
you get $170 million, or 52 times the USAID obligation.
Itâ€™s hard to imagine the U.S. contribution increasing much in the near term,
for at least two important reasons. First are the conditions the Bush administration
appears to have set for itself, which the State Department indicated in February.
We have made it clear to the Government of Colombia that our overall
support for the peace process is conditioned upon a clear timetable for demobilization,
legal accountability for those AUC members who have committed gross human rights
violations, and a continuing commitment to illegal drug eradication and interdiction
in AUC areas. In addition, the government should control any zones in which
armed militants are concentrated for the purposes of demobilization and disarmament.
Some of those requirements have been met: a demobilization timetable does exist
for the 3,000 paramilitaries expected to hand in their weapons by the end of
the year (though it requires a lot to be done in a very short period), and herbicide
fumigation certainly takes place in AUC areas. But no
is yet in place to guarantee accountability for rights violators, and the governmentâ€™s
ability to control zones where paramilitaries are demobilizing is very much
While the United States and Europe have been pushing hard for a legal framework,
this remains stalled in Colombiaâ€™s congress, and probably wonâ€™t be taken up
again until the next legislative session begins in February.
Second, though the executive branch is free to fudge its own conditions for
increased support, the U.S. Congress â€“ which is not enthusiastic about supporting
the AUC talks â€“ has added some strong, though non-binding, requirements of its
own. The House-Senate Conference Committee that drew up a compromise version
of the 2005 foreign aid bill had some strong words and some stringent conditions
target="_blank">narrative report that accompanied the bill, approved in November.
The managers [the Conference Committee members] believe that the
costs of demobilizing illegal armed groups should be borne by the Colombian
Government, not the United States. The managers are concerned that the demobilization
process is being undertaken without adequate safeguards to ensure the dismantling
of such FTOs [Foreign Terrorist Organizations], to deter members of such groups
from resuming illegal activities, or to prosecute and punish those involved
in drug trafficking and human rights violations.The managers do not believe
the Administration should request funds in fiscal year 2006 for the demobilization
/ reintegration of members of such FTOs unless it is for limited activities
that are determined by the Justice Department to be consistent with United States
The committee urges that any DDR aid be contingent on the following conditions:
(1) The FTO is respecting a ceasefire and the cessation of
illegal activities; (2) the Government of Colombia has not adopted any law or
policy inconsistent with its obligations under the United States-Colombian treaty
on extradition, and has committed to the United States that it will continue
to extradite Colombian citizens to the United States, including members of such
illegal armed groups, in accordance with that treaty; (3) the Colombian legal
framework governing the demobilization of such groups provides for prosecution
and punishment, in proportion to the crimes committed, of those responsible
for gross violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian
law, and drug trafficking, for reparations to victims, and for the monitoring
of demobilized individuals; (4) the Government of Colombia is implementing a
policy of effectively dismantling such groups, including the seizure
of financial and property assets; and (5) the Government of Colombia is taking
actions to enable the return of stolen assets, including real property,
to their original owners.
The committee also urges that future assistance to the OAS mission meet a set
The managers request that, prior to the provision of additional funds
to the OAS for this purpose, the Secretary of State report to the Committees
that the OAS Mission is strictly adhering to its verification role, FTOs are
concentrated in zones for demobilization, the legal framework governing the
demobilization conforms with (3) above, and the Inter-American Commission for
Human Rights is providing advice to the OAS Mission.
Since this is narrative report language, not legislation, the Bush administration
can ignore these conditions without breaking the law â€“ and it might, since several
of these conditions, especially the requirement for a legal framework, are unlikely
to be met soon. But to do so would be to run counter to the strongly expressed
preferences of both housesâ€™ appropriations committees â€“ which means that a great
deal of negotiation will be required to free up even the planned $3.25 million
As weâ€™ve indicated in earlier postings, CIP supports conditions along these
lines. However, the phrase â€œpunishment in proportion to the crimes committedâ€
is too vague. If the standard of â€œproportional punishmentâ€ were to be rigidly
applied, all AUC leaders would have to go to jail for life, which they wonâ€™t
do willingly. Instead, a maximum sentence of ten years is contemplated in both
the Colombian governmentâ€™s and Sen. Pardoâ€™s proposed laws. Left-of-center Sen.
Piedad CÃ³rdoba introduced an alternative bill on December 6 calling for up to
twenty years in jail â€“ a tougher penalty but still hardly a proportional punishment
for mass murder. It is unclear whether even Sen. CÃ³rdobaâ€™s bill meets the standard
set in the Conference Committeeâ€™s report.
(A third obstacle to increased U.S. aid for DDR was a Justice Department interpretation
of Section 803 of the PATRIOT Act. The interpretation left open the possibility
that DDR aid to ex-AUC members might be construed as giving â€œmaterial supportâ€
to terrorists. According to communications with congressional staff, though,
an agreement with the Justice Department has recently been reached, thus removing
The Bush administrationâ€™s approach has so far been two-pronged: offer a small
amount of support for the AUCâ€™s rank-and-file â€“ thus showing that Washington
supports the process â€“ while taking a very hard line against their leaders.
Can this two-pronged approach work? The answer depends on how the extradition
issue plays out.
The Justice Department â€“ which exists to enforce U.S. law and doesnâ€™t care
about peace processes â€“ is not going to withdraw its extradition requests. Ultimately,
the Colombian and U.S. governments will each have to make a decision. The Colombian
government must decide whether or not it will honor the U.S. extradition requests
for AUC leaders (or whether it will only honor some, perhaps handing over those
who became paramilitaries only recently in a bid to win amnesty). If it does
not â€“ if paramilitary leaders receive assurances that they will not be extradited
after negotiations conclude â€“ the U.S. government would then have to decide
whether rejection of the extradition requests will damage U.S. relations with
If a final peace accord can be reached with the AUC (or the FARC, for that
matter, as several guerrilla leaders also face extradition), it is very likely
that BogotÃ¡ would promise not to extradite and Washington would not make a big
issue of it. (Governments change, however, and unless Colombiaâ€™s constitution
is amended to protect paramilitary leaders permanently â€“ which is unlikely â€“
one of President Uribeâ€™s successors could someday choose to honor the extradition
While the â€œdonâ€™t extradite, donâ€™t complainâ€ result is by far the likeliest,
the extradition issue, while it remains unresolved, gives the Colombian government
significant leverage in the talks. The Colombian and U.S. governments would
do well to hold this card close to their chests as long as possible, using the
threat of extradition as a means to extract the greatest possible concessions
from the paramilitaries, particularly with regard to reparations and the dismantling
of the AUCâ€™s support networks. The threat of extradition can also keep paramilitary
leaders at the negotiating table: if they break off the talks, they risk finding
themselves on a plane to Miami.
Colombian government negotiators would do well, then, to make no concessions
on this issue early in the talks. Government negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo
did some damage already by hinting, in taped negotiation sessions leaked by
Mancuso, that President Uribe could use â€œdiscretionalityâ€ on extradition.
Using extradition as a negotiating tool is a double-edged sword, however: pushing
too hard could torpedo the talks. Paramilitary leaders have made no secret that
extradition is of paramount importance to them. Salvatore Mancuso told an interviewer
earlier this month that unless an understanding on extraditions is reached,
â€œThe demobilizations will not advance, because it is easier for me to go back,
gather the few remaining troops that havenâ€™t demobilized, run off to the jungle
and die there, either of old age or when the law kills me, than it is to finish
the negotiations here only to be taken away to jail in the United States.â€
For the time being, the extradition requests will remain the most visible element
of Washingtonâ€™s policy toward the paramilitary peace talks. However, if Colombia
manages to pass a â€œlegal frameworkâ€ law governing demobilization, dismantling
and reparations â€“ thus satisfying a key administration and congressional pre-condition
â€“ we can probably expect U.S. support to become more visible.
We probably cannot expect U.S. aid for demobilizing the paramilitariesâ€™ rank-and-file
to reach high levels, though. Congressional appropriators have made clear that
they expect Colombia to pay for it, and only a few million dollars would be
available between now and 2006 unless the administration includes more money
for DDR in a supplemental budget request for 2005 (and weâ€™ve heard no indications
that this will happen).
This â€œwait and seeâ€ attitude is understandable, and we support it. Until basic
conditions are met â€“ a real
the exclusion of
from the talks, a strategy in place of
a plan to fill the â€œ
and a legal
for justice, reparations and dismantling â€“ the U.S. government would be wise
to continue its current policy of modest aid and â€œskeptical support.â€