Dec 31

Faced with one of the worst tragedies in modern history, the U.S. government responded – with $15 million. OK, make that $35 million. This is our contribution to the effort to help eleven countries recover and limit the death toll after the Indian Ocean tsunami.

How much is $35 million? Not much, really. It’s enough to buy two souped-up (or three bare-bones) Blackhawk helicopters. (We gave Colombia 22 Blackhawks between 1999 and 2002.) It’s what it costs to run the aerial herbicide fumigation program in Colombia for about three months. It’s more or less what the Republican party plans to spend on inaugural celebrations.

No wonder the UN’s emergency relief coordinator (and former special representative for Colombia), Jan Egeland, allowed the word “stingy” to pass his lips when talking about wealthy nations’ contributions. As an editorial in Thursday’s New York Times correctly noted, “Mr. Egeland was right on target.”

Responding to this allegation on the PBS Newshour, USAID administrator Andrew Natsios on Wednesday blamed the perception of U.S. stinginess on “a European formula” for measuring generosity. This formula, “which we’ve never used in the United States in 55 years, … is to use a percentage of our Gross National Product” to measure overseas aid amounts.

No wonder we’ve never used this measure – it makes us look terribly stingy. With 0.13 percent of GDP devoted to overseas development assistance, the United States lags far behind other (though smaller) donor nations like Denmark (0.96 percent), Norway (0.89), France (0.38), the United Kingdom (0.31), and Canada (0.28), according to the UN Development Program (PDF file, look at table 16). In fact, by this measure, the United States is dead-last among donor countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Natsios then said something remarkable. The United States cannot try to catch up to other donors using this measure, he said, because “if we did, we would dominate the entire world and overwhelm everybody with the amount of money.”

Let’s stop there for a second. Is it actually undesirable for the United States to “dominate the world” with development assistance? How is it that we can be so comfortable dominating the world in so many other measures – from scientific achievement to pop culture, from nuclear warheads to aircraft carriers to armored divisions – but that we want to avoid dominating the world in aid to fight hunger, poverty, ignorance and disease?

As we enter a new year, more than three years into the “war on terror,” it’s time Americans started asking that question. The tsunami-aid spat, combined with the way that military action has far outpaced efforts to rebuild Iraq, should force some badly needed questioning of U.S. foreign aid priorities.

Our current priorities have led us to project an image to the rest of the world of a country that spares no expense for military endeavors – from invading Iraq to years of mostly military aid to Colombia – but has far, far less to offer for disaster relief, health, education, generating goodwill, or strengthening the institutions of democratic allies. (Since Jesse Helms’ evisceration of the old U.S. Information Service in the 1990s, we don’t even spend enough on P.R. to counteract that perception.) It should by now be obvious that even the most powerful military in history by itself cannot achieve the Bush administration’s stated goals of spreading democracy and making us safer. We must pursue a host of non-military objectives with the same urgency, at the same time.

What does all of this have to do with Colombia? Everything. There are few better examples of a country where the United States has repeatedly tried the overwhelmingly military, punitive route – our aid since 2000 has been 80 percent military / police assistance – with only very poor results to show for it. (For those who think Plan Colombia is achieving miracles, here is what I mean by “poor results”: no change in drug prices or availability here at home; zones that were the key focus of our aid – such as Putumayo and Arauca – still extremely violent, ungoverned and insecure; no progress on impunity for powerful rights abusers; poverty rates not budging. There’s more but this is not the point of this posting.)

At least there’s reason to hope that the mix between military and nonmilitary aid might change after Plan Colombia expires at the end of 2005. As CIP has noted earlier, there are three possibilities for what might emerge after the debate over 2006 aid that will begin in Congress this spring: (1) a continuation of the mostly military strategy; (2) increased economic aid and reduced military aid; or (3) an across-the-board cut as money goes elsewhere.

President Bush’s lightning-fast visit to Cartagena in November made it look like the first possibility – a “Plan Colombia 2” with anti-terror military aid as its main thrust, which is most likely Álvaro Uribe’s ideal aid package – was his administration’s preference. “Next year I will ask our Congress to renew its support so that this courageous nation can win its war against narco-terrorists,” Bush promised.

But some recent statements from Plan Colombia stalwarts give hope that, in fact, the 2005 debate may lead to more economic aid and less military aid. Convinced that Plan Colombia has in fact been a success, they are now talking about increased development aid in order to “consolidate” their perceived gains.

  • In a September letter to USAID (PDF format; discussed in this posting), a group of Republican House members, including several longtime proponents of increased military and police aid to Colombia, called for the transfer of funds to several programs for demobilized combatants, noting that “we are reaching a critical turning point. The challenge: to provide basic jobs and opportunities for many more working Colombians – such as displaced persons and the demobilized (ex-combatants who have renounced violence) – in a practical and sustainable manner.”
  • Some Bush administration officials have expressed similar sentiments. In an article published Tuesday, the assistant secretary of state for antinarcotics, Bobby Charles, told the Miami Herald’s Pablo Bachelet that “if we are going to consolidate our gains, we will have to shift in the direction of greater attention to the social fabric in the country.”
  • Clinton-era “New Democrats” who inaugurated Plan Colombia five years ago may also be headed in a less-military, more-economic direction. Robert Weiner, who as spokesman for Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s drug czar’s office was not a central figure in Plan Colombia’s birth but was certainly present at the creation, co-wrote an op-ed in yesterday’s Palm Beach Post calling for a doubling of economic assistance to Colombia.

Needless to say, these aren’t exactly signs that the U.S. has seen the light, and will henceforth offer Colombia packages made up mostly of the humanitarian, development, and institution-building assistance the country so desperately needs. But it is a sign that, for the first time in memory, the momentum may be moving away from military aid and toward economic and social aid. Our work next year must focus on maximizing this economic/social component and channeling it toward the institutions and programs that will make the best use of it.

Let’s hope that 2005 becomes the year of the resurgence of economic and social priorities in U.S. foreign policy. Not just in Colombia, the tsunami zone or Iraq, but worldwide. This component has been neglected for too long, and the “war on terror” is running aground without it.

Best wishes for a happier, more peaceful 2005.

Note as of January 1:Just as this entry was being completed, the Bush administration made public the very welcome news that the U.S. contribution for tsunami victims would increase tenfold, to $350 million. Japan immediately responded by raising its pledge from $30 million to $500 million. As U.S. personnel deliver humanitarian relief to victims – many of them in countries where the U.S. image has plummeted lately – let’s hope that such generosity with non-military assistance will become the rule, not an exception, in 2005.

Dec 21

A colleague in Colombia gave me a copy of this document [ href="">PDF format], obtained
in June from the narcotics unit of the Colombian police (the DIRAN). It provides
statistics about the number of people who have sought compensation for damages
to their legal crops after being fumigated with herbicides by U.S.-funded spray
planes. Of those, the document notes how many have been compensated, rejected,
or are still being considered.

Colombians who seek compensation for damage to their legal crops must undergo an arduous and bureaucratic process, the Latin America Working Group explained in an excellent report
published last February [ href="" target="_blank">PDF format].

The State Department reports that claims of damage are sent to municipal
representatives who refer them to a local agricultural agency to be verified
in a field visit. If the complaints are verified, the municipal representatives
submit the complaint and a record of preliminary verification to the Antinarcotics
Police (DIRAN) and the National Directorate of Dangerous Drugs (DNE). The
DIRAN is then required to certify within five days whether spraying took place
in the vicinity of the complaint. If the claim is certified, DIRAN makes a
field visit within ten days to evaluate the veracity of the claim and the
potential amount of compensation to be paid. It is important to note that
the agency responsible for the spraying operation is the agency in charge
of verifying claims, and it has no incentive to admit to spraying errors.

Despite having to undergo such a difficult process, the DIRAN document notes
that, as of June, 4,535 people – most of them residents of remote and insecure
parts of rural Colombia – had taken the step of registering a complaint.

Of those 4,535:

2,768 (61%) were rejected, or were thrown out because they filed too
late (the most common reasons claimed for rejection: no spraying allegedly
occurred on the day the campesino claimed it did, or the campesino
had some coca near his legal crops);

1,757 (38.8%) were still under consideration, at some stage (field
visits, due to cost and security concerns, are not easily arranged); and

10 (0.2%) had been compensated (I’ve heard anecdotally – and this
may not be accurate, though I’ve heard it several times – that most of the
ten are agribusiness enterprises, particularly oil-palm plantations.)

That’s right: 0.2 percent of those who had bothered to file a claim had received
any compensation at all. Leaving aside the 1,757 still under consideration,
that’s an incredibly low success rate: for every individual compensated, 276
are turned away.

Does this low rate owe to the incredible accuracy of the spray planes, combined
with the malice of Colombian peasants looking to make a quick peso? Of course
not. As the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which closely monitors drug-crop eradication
results, acknowledges in a remarkable recent “Mini-Atlas” of Colombian coca-growing
[ href="" target="_blank">big Powerpoint
document], “It is not technically possible to limit the aerial spraying
only over coca fields and to avoid overlaps.”

In our judgment, this poor record should make it impossible for the Secretary
of State to certify that “fair compensation is being paid for meritorious claims,”
which since 2002 has been a requirement that the U.S. government must fulfill
in order to free up money for new herbicides. (In 2005, for instance, 80 percent
of funding for herbicides is frozen until the State Department can certify that
this and several other requirements have been met.)

The compensation program must be dramatically sped up if the next fumigation
certification is to be at all honest – and if we are to make any progress at
all in the battle for hearts and minds in the “ungoverned spaces” of rural Colombia.

Dec 21

Fernando Londoño was in rare form in his latest href=""
target="_blank">column, which appeared in Monday’s edition of El Tiempo.
He informs us that the Uribe government’s peace talks with paramilitaries would
be going just swimmingly if it weren’t for the sabotage of those all-powerful
human-rights activists, UN representatives, former guerrillas and other assorted

While our pueblo in arms gives its lives in jungles and valleys for
Colombia’s Liberty, and the vast majority of our judges and prosecutors do
their duty with an abnegation and selflessness that we will never forget,
the juridical dogs work indefatigably to render sterile the efforts of their
blood and sweat. Leading this entourage marches Mr. [Michael] Frühling [the
head of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Bogotá Field Office], demanding
the memory, reparations and justice that the UN never mentioned when he and
[UN Special Representative James] LeMoyne were embracing the FARC’s murderers
in the Caguán [during the failed 1998-2002 peace process]. They are followed
by all the Associations and Collectives of jurists, with their purses filled
with foreign gold, proposing whatever perverse obstacles that might slow the
progress of our tragedy’s final process, while also inventing arguments that
they never mentioned when talks were occurring with the band of Marxist bandits.
At their side, some pardoned members of the old M-19 [dissolved guerrilla
group], who want to occupy the professor’s chair of moral values, using the
part of their conscience not compromised by their massacres, kidnappings,
vile murders and acts of terror. In the group are Communist legislators, who
venerate the Chávez dictatorship and detest the democracy in which we permit
them such freedoms.

Londoño seems to have left off his list the paramilitaries’ many victims and
their relatives, who no doubt are doing the fatherland a disservice with their
constant bellyaching about accountability, reparations, the return of their
stolen property, and their desire to see the AUC truly disappear.

I wouldn’t bother to translate and post this if it were just the ravings of
another paleo-right, anti-modern, feudal-landowning, red-baiting dinosaur still
fighting the cold war. (You’re on your own, for example, if you want to wade
through Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza’s href=""
target="_blank">screed in Sunday’s El Nuevo Herald.)

But Fernando Londoño is no ordinary extremist crackpot. Until about a year
ago, he was perhaps the most influential figure in Álvaro Uribe’s government.
In 2002, when the newly elected president was picking his cabinet, he created
a hugely powerful post by fusing the ministries of interior and justice – and
then surprised most by picking Londoño to fill it. The outspoken minister lasted
only fifteen months, consumed by href=""
target="_blank">scandals about shady investment deals and embarrassing misstatements
(such as suggesting that Uribe, if denied a chance to run for re-election, would
resign, call new elections, and run again).

No space will be wasted here responding to the “arguments” in Londoño’s column;
CIP has written much elsewhere about the href="041207cip.htm">paramilitary dialogues, the href="">M-19 process,
and the important role of NGOs.
If Fernando Londoño ever reads this, though (say, if he Googles himself), I’d
like to say to him: Mr. Londoño, you’re doing your former boss a grave disservice
with this overheated, irresponsible prose.

And to President Uribe, who hired Londoño in the first place: You will be known
by the company you keep.

Dec 20

Let’s be clear here: “Simón Trinidad,” the most senior FARC member ever to
be in Colombian government custody, is going to be extradited to the United
States by the end of the year.

On November 24, Colombia’s Supreme Court gave the green light to the extraditions,
on drug-trafficking charges, of Trinidad (real name: Ricardo Palmera) and paramilitary
leader Salvatore Mancuso. The rulings force President Uribe to decide promptly
whether to hand them over to U.S. authorities. Uribe has now made decisions
in both cases, determining that each must meet specific conditions in order
to avoid extradition.

Mancuso’s conditions merely require the top paramilitary figure to keep doing
what he has already said he would do: keep taking part in peace negotiations
and “abandon illegal activities.” Of course, what Mancuso has said he would
do may not be what he actually will do. If the AUC leader continues participating
in “illegal activities,” let’s hope the Colombian government doesn’t turn a
blind eye.

The conditions facing the guerrilla leader’s extradition are much tougher:
if Trinidad’s extradition is to be avoided, President Uribe has declared, by
December 30 the FARC must free all sixty-three of the hostages it has held,
in some cases since the late 1990s. The href=""
target="_blank">list of prominent kidnapped people – whom the guerrillas insist
on exchanging for FARC prisoners in Colombian jails – includes military officers,
politicians (including former senator and presidential candidate href="" target="_blank">Íngrid Betancourt),
and three target="_blank">U.S. citizens captured while working for a Defense Department

There is about a zero likelihood that the FARC will agree to Uribe’s demand.
The guerrillas view their hostages as an enormous bargaining chip, and have
sought to hold talks in a temporarily demilitarized zone (the latest demand
is the municipalities of Florida and Pradera southeast of Cali) to discuss a
deal to secure their release. Though a prominent guerrilla leader, Trinidad
was neither a member of the FARC’s top href="" target="_blank">Secretariat
nor its 18-member high command (Estado Mayor Central); the guerrilla
leadership is unlikely, then, to give in to what it regards as blackmail, freeing
hostages it has held for years merely to secure Trinidad’s release.

So Trinidad will be on U.S. soil sometime around New Year’s Day. If that happens,
what comes next?

Gustavo Petro, a Colombian congressman and former M-19 guerrilla, put it well:
President Uribe’s demand “is like attaching a bomb to each hostage.” The FARC
has already shown its willingness to kill its hostages in cold blood. In May
2003, FARC captors killed the governor of Antioquia department, his peace advisor
(a former defense minister) and several others during a botched army rescue

What is to stop the guerrillas from responding with equal brutality to Trinidad’s
extradition, killing one or more hostages? In their calculations, doing so would
set a precedent making it very costly for the government to agree to extradite
future FARC prisoners. The hostages’ family members are right to be very worried.
The blackmail runs both ways.

President Uribe’s ultimatum not only endangers the FARC hostages, it makes
it even less likely that dialogue can be re-established anytime soon. Angelino
Garzón, the governor of Valle del Cauca department, which includes the area
the FARC hoped to demilitarize to hold talks (a proposal Garzón supported),
laments this situation. “Extradition and a humanitarian negotiation are different
dynamics. The government should carry out greater efforts to find spaces for
agreement, achieve the hostages’ liberation and stimulate opportunities for
peace, such as what is being done with the paramilitaries.”

The government is doing the opposite, issuing ultimatums that play to popular
opinion. Uribe’s demand “isn’t going to have any positive effect on an eventual
hostage liberation,” Camilo Gómez, the Colombian government’s chief peace negotiator
between 2000 and 2002, told El Tiempo. “The President is playing politics
instead of seeking the hostages’ freedom.”

Dec 17

Two months after the fact, I finally found a copy of the resignation letter
(PDF format)
of Alberto Rueda, who was a drug-policy advisor to Colombian Interior and Justice
Minister Sabas Pretelt until October, when he quit in frustration over U.S.
and Colombian drug policy.

Rueda, who had previously worked in Colombia’s defense and foreign-relations
ministries, as well as the human-rights ombudsman’s office, made headlines in
Colombia with his public decision to resign. His letter, on Ministry of Interior
and Justice stationery, makes several thought-provoking – if not downright troubling
– points about an anti-drug strategy that is clearly not working.

The letter takes the form of a 27-page memo, which is too long to translate
here (and often lapses into the staid style of the career bureaucrat). I offer
the following excerpts below, though, because it’s a compelling read.

“Mr. President,” the missive begins, “I have decided to make the document I
sent you on October 19 into an open letter asking for a true course change away
from the current anti-drug policy. … Colombia may be devoting all of its efforts
against this scourge [of drugs], but it is an effort in the wrong direction,
incomplete and without hope of ending this agony anytime soon. … The emphasis
on zero tolerance and fighting – mainly militarily – against supply has diverted
us from a balanced vision, one requiring equal results in demand-reduction and
a full understanding of the shared responsibility between drug-consuming and
producing countries.”

Europe’s role

“The [Uribe government’s] ‘democratic security’ policy continues Plan Colombia
(Pastrana/Clinton) as a central element of the fight against illegal drugs,
under U.S. tutelage and financing. … The paradigmatic activity in this fight
has been the fumigation of illicit crops, which aspires to spray a minimum of
130,000 hectares [about 325,000 acres] per year. … Plan Colombia was a policy
developed bilaterally by the United States and Colombia, excluding very important
international actors like the European Union and other developed countries which,
had they participated, surely would have placed us in a more balanced situation.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, by these countries’ lack of enthusiasm for
supporting the current drug policy. This helps us to understand our difficulty
in obtaining resources from them.”

Lack of coordination and balance between strategies

“The Colombian government suffers from a vacuum of management and coordination
of the fight against illegal drugs. … For example, we are ill-served by a plan
to interdict precursor chemicals when the institutions of security, customs,
and financial control lack a clear policy, sufficient budget, and an appropriate
operational program to carry it out. In addition, the budget must balance priorities:
while the outlay for crop substitution is almost insignificant, the aerial spraying
program has millions at its disposal. Truly noteworthy results will not be obtained
if we fail to take actions against every link of the chain, with equal effort
and efficiency. To think that we will resolve the problem of illicit drugs just
with fumigation is a mistake.”

Fumigation in Colombia’s national parks
(Something that, Colombian Interior-Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt href="" target="_blank">warned
last week, is not out of the question)

“The results of the 2003 illicit-crop census carried out under the SIMCI 2
agreement reveal some thought-provoking statistics. [ target="_blank">SIMCI = Integrated Illicit Crop Monitoring System, a collaboration
between the Colombian government and the UN Office of Drug Control and Crime
Prevention. It’s a useful resource.] National parks were not fumigated in 2003,
yet the amount of illicit crops within their borders continued to decrease,
as they have done since 2001: from 6,057 hectares in 2001 to 3,790 in 2003.
This calls into question the thesis that the only way to reduce these crops
is through fumigation: in national-park areas and buffer zones, the Environment
Ministry instead carried out frequent consultations with communities and recent
migrants (colonos). However, the threat that this success in national
parks could be reversed, and that the expansion of crops in indigenous reserves
could worsen, is more latent than ever. The reduction of supply through fumigation
could raise the price of the product, while the President of the Republic has
declared that lands where these crops are found will be expropriated. Combine
these two factors and the pressure to cultivate in parkland will be hard to
contain, given its legal status as public land that belongs to nobody and thus
cannot be expropriated.”

Fumigation’s declining effectiveness

“Of all years since 2000, it was 2003 that showed the worst results in terms
of reduced coca cultivation, and was the year in which that reduction cost the

Coca reduction was almost two-thirds less than in the previous year,
and the least of the past three years. Comparing reduced hectares of coca with
the intensity of fumigation, we see an inverse tendency: 132,817 hectares fumigated
brought an effect of only 15,731 hectares less coca.

There is a presence of new crops, or an increase, in zones that aren’t characterized
as empty or isolated from the country, such as the provinces of Caldas, Boyacá,
and southern Antioquia.

The costs (borne by the United States) of reducing coca crops by fumigation
have been the highest in 2003, if we compare them with the 16,000-hectare reduction.
Conservative estimates establish that fumigating a hectare costs $626. If we
multiply that by the number of hectares sprayed – 132,817 – we get a total of
$82.5 million. If we divide this figure by the 15,731 hectares reduced, we get
$5,243 per hectare. … This figure is what one would expect from such an unequal
approach instead of an integral strategy: the obvious effect, a marginal success
in the fight against drugs. … To give us an idea of what fumigation has cost
in 2003, let’s conservatively compare it with the annual budget of several government
entities. It equaled, for example, the annual budget of the Agriculture Ministry;
the annual budget of the Ministry for the Environment, Housing and Territorial
Development; or twice the annual budget of the National Housing Fund. And even
though the purpose of this document is not to question U.S. aid, these figures
contrast with the headlines of success promoted by the U.S. Department of State,
which are repeated by the media both in that country and in Colombia. The U.S.
contributors are wasting their money with this strategy.”

Fumigation’s impact on health

“With regard to health, the fumigation strategy lacks solid arguments to defend
it against claims of negative effects on health and the environment. This is
so much the case that the Colombian government has just signed an agreement
with the OAS to carry out an investigation of fumigation’s effects on health
and the environment. That is to say, we do not really know its effects, and
as we act blindly, a href="" target="_blank">certification
from the U.S. Secretary of State argues that fumigation is not harmful to Colombians.
… Only now, after so many years of aerial fumigation of illegal crops in the
country, we have barely begun a program of public-health training and vigilance
over pesticide intoxication. But there is no certain date for getting results
anytime soon, as an active search is taking place for 100 samples that then
have to be completed clinically and undergo laboratory and epidemiological analysis.
The result is that the Colombian government has been applying – and even more
seriously, intensifying – its fumigation program, even though we are not clear
about its health effects. And there is an even more worrisome ingredient: the
National Health Institute study is oriented toward determining acute effects,
such as effects on mucous membranes and skin, but not toward chronic effects,
such as evaluating possible genetic alteration or cancer. … Together, we have
observed the industrial security measures taken by those [contract workers]
who manipulate these chemicals at the airbases where fumigation takes place.
They work covered in impermeable yellow safety suits, with gloves and masks.
Herbicides are herbicides, Mr. Minister.”

Fumigating legal crops when planted with coca

“It is easy to conclude that the campesinos’ strategy of planting illegal
crops alongside legal ones is intentional, but this does not make it legitimate
for the government to apply a summary punitive measure like generalized fumigation.
If the campesino or cultivator breaks the law with said crop, this must
be punished like any violation of the law, and it should be, as is logical under
the rule of law, the result of a judicial action, in which said campesino
can defend himself and the judge can determine a fair punishment. But the state
cannot apply a summary punishment of fumigating the crops they depend on for

The aerial interdiction program

“The aerial interdiction program that re-started in August 2003 contemplates
the shooting down of aircraft suspected of transporting drugs. In the opinion
of this advisor, this is unacceptable. It is inadmissible and we must reject
the notion that the air force can shoot down an aircraft on suspicion of transporting
drugs. That is nothing other than a summary execution.”

A proposed alternative

“We must steady ourselves behind the idea that Colombia should promote, before
the international community and within the framework of the United Nations,
the thesis of regulation of the use of illicit drugs (a model similar to the
recently approved Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), as the most effective
mechanism for taking money away from the financing of war, not just in Colombia
but in relation to international terrorism and transnational organized crime.
This proposal is an alternative to both absolute prohibitionism and total liberalization.
… The best policy, then, is that which takes resources away from narcotraffickers
and terrorists. We would be presenting not just the only possible policy in
terms of the realities we face, but also the only policy that is socially fair
and politically balanced.”

We congratulate Mr. Rueda for his honesty and for following his conscience,
at the cost of a comfortable career in the well-funded world of drug-war decisionmaking.
We hope that he will continue to raise his voice.

Dec 15

It isn’t easy to characterize the U.S. approach so far to the Colombian government’s
talks with the AUC. “Ambivalent,” perhaps. The United States has been the talks’
biggest foreign detractor at the same time that it has been its biggest foreign
financial supporter.

The government of Álvaro 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 – at least in part because the Bush administration’s
position still appears to be evolving.

“Support for peace should be the easiest of decisions. But in Colombia it is
not,” U.S. Ambassador William Wood href="">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. Washington’s shows of support,
though, have been relatively small and tentative. In May 2003 Alex Lee, then
the head of the embassy’s political section, met with an AUC emissary to discuss
the talks. That year, a February 2004 letter from the State Department (PDF
) indicates, USAID spent $150,000 in Andean Counterdrug Initiative
(ACI) funds on “a 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. Caramagna’s MAPP-OEA
mission got several hundred thousand dollars from USAID to help establish itself.
“The government just provided $1 million [to the OAS] for further preparation
and development,” Ambassador Wood said in June. “But long-term funding is unclear.”
Like the href=""
target="_blank">European Union, the United States has indicated that the overall
process will be easier to support once Colombia’s congress approves a “legal
framework”: 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 “justice and compensation” legislation, including the yet-to-be-introduced
bill drafted by Sen. Rafael Pardo and a multi-party group of congresspeople
(discussed in an href="">earlier posting).

Overall, though, the U.S. contributions to the AUC process have been small,
though its outlays exceed those of other donors – Sweden, the Netherlands, and
the Bahamas – whose support has mostly (perhaps entirely) gone to the OAS mission.

In fact, the U.S. government’s expressions of skepticism have attracted much
more attention. Officials speaking off the record will readily admit strong
concerns about issues like the paramilitaries’ 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: “It is clear that the paramilitaries have not completely
    met the commitments of the cease-fire,” Wood told the daily El Tiempo.
  • June 2004: “I’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. … We are skeptical about the peace process,”
    Wood told the newsweekly Cambio.
  • July 2004: After calling three paramilitary leaders’ address before the
    congress a “scandal,” Wood told the Cartagena daily El Universal that
    the Congress was not an appropriate forum to host the AUC leaders. “We’re
    willing to give them a forum, if they want it. It’s called a courtroom.”
  • July 2004: Referring to the “launch” of negotiations in the Santa Fe de
    Ralito demilitarized zone, which no U.S. official attended, Wood said, “It
    doesn’t look to me like a transition in favor of peace as much as one in favor
    of narcotrafficking.”
  • July 2004: “We 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.”

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 Department’s requests to extradite paramilitary leaders on narcotrafficking
charges. “Our position has been that we’re not involved in negotiations. We’re
not involved either in dropping any charges or other legal action that we might
want to take against individuals,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
target="_blank">said in September. It is now a cliché in the Colombian press
to refer to the extradition requests as a “Sword of Damocles” 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 href="">notorious narcotraffickers
who have only recently put on paramilitary uniforms in an effort to win amnesty.

  1. Salvatore Mancuso, the top AUC leader, was one of the first to face
    an extradition request, a September 2002 href="" target="_blank">indictment
    on charges of shipping at least seventeen tons of cocaine to the United States.
    On November 24th, Colombia’s Supreme Court gave final approval
    for his eventual extradition, should talks end and Colombia arrest him.
  2. Juan Carlos Sierra, a lower-ranking chieftain nicknamed “El Tuso,”
    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.
  3. Vicente Castaño, “El Profe,” is a longtime narcotrafficker allegedly
    implicated in the April 2004 attack on, and subsequent disappearance of, his
    brother and longtime AUC leader Carlos Castaño.
  4. Diego Fernando Murillo, nicknamed “Don Berna” or “Adolfo Paz,” is
    the AUC’s very powerful “inspector-general” and head of several blocs.
  5. Víctor Manuel Mejía Múnera, nicknamed “El Mellizo” (“The Twin”) but
    known in Ralito as “Pablo Arauca,” is the head of the AUC’s “Avengers of Arauca”
  6. Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, or “Jorge 40,” runs the AUC’s Northern Bloc and
    is based in the port of Barranquilla.
  7. Ramiro Vanoy Murillo, or “Cuco,” heads the Antioquia-based Mineros
  8. Francisco Javier Zuluaga Lindo, known as “Gordo Lindo” in the drug
    underworld but in Ralito as “Comandante Gabriel Galindo,” is the political
    chief of Don Berna’s Pacific Bloc.
  9. Guillermo Pérez Alzate, or “Pablo Sevillano,” heads the Liberators
    of the South Bloc, based in the Pacific port city of Tumaco, Nariño.
  10. Hernán 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 Castaño
would of course be an eleventh paramilitary leader facing extradition.

While seeking to bring the AUC’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 “in its FY 2005 Budget
Request, USAID asks for $3.25 million of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
account for ‘Peace Initiatives’ in Colombia, which could be used in support
of the AUC peace process.”

Most of that $3.25 million is likely to go to DDR, though it will cover only
a tiny sliver of the Colombian government’s expected total cost. According to
Ambassador Wood, “Estimates have placed the cost of the whole demobilization
process at about $8,500 per head.” Multiply that by 20,000 paramilitaries and
you get $170 million, or 52 times the USAID obligation.

It’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 href="">legal framework
is yet in place to guarantee accountability for rights violators, and the government’s
ability to control zones where paramilitaries are demobilizing is very much
href="">in question.
While the United States and Europe have been pushing hard for a legal framework,
this remains stalled in Colombia’s congress, and probably won’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 – which is not enthusiastic about supporting
the AUC talks – 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
in the href=""
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
anti-terrorism laws.

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
of conditions:

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 – 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 houses’ appropriations committees – which means that a great
deal of negotiation will be required to free up even the planned $3.25 million
for demobilization.

As we’ve indicated in earlier postings, CIP supports conditions along these
lines. However, the phrase “punishment in proportion to the crimes committed”
is too vague. If the standard of “proportional punishment” were to be rigidly
applied, all AUC leaders would have to go to jail for life, which they won’t
do willingly. Instead, a maximum sentence of ten years is contemplated in both
the Colombian government’s and Sen. Pardo’s proposed laws. Left-of-center Sen.
Piedad Córdoba introduced an alternative bill on December 6 calling for up to
twenty years in jail – a tougher penalty but still hardly a proportional punishment
for mass murder. It is unclear whether even Sen. Córdoba’s bill meets the standard
set in the Conference Committee’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 “material support”
to terrorists. According to communications with congressional staff, though,
an agreement with the Justice Department has recently been reached, thus removing
that obstacle.)

The Bush administration’s approach has so far been two-pronged: offer a small
amount of support for the AUC’s rank-and-file – thus showing that Washington
supports the process – 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 – which exists to enforce U.S. law and doesn’t care
about peace processes – 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 – if paramilitary leaders receive assurances that they will not be extradited
after negotiations conclude – 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 Bogotá would promise not to extradite and Washington would not make a big
issue of it. (Governments change, however, and unless Colombia’s constitution
is amended to protect paramilitary leaders permanently – which is unlikely –
one of President Uribe’s successors could someday choose to honor the extradition

While the “don’t extradite, don’t complain” 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 AUC’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 “discretionality” 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,
“The demobilizations will not advance, because it is easier for me to go back,
gather the few remaining troops that haven’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.”

For the time being, the extradition requests will remain the most visible element
of Washington’s policy toward the paramilitary peace talks. However, if Colombia
manages to pass a “legal framework” law governing demobilization, dismantling
and reparations – thus satisfying a key administration and congressional pre-condition
– we can probably expect U.S. support to become more visible.

We probably cannot expect U.S. aid for demobilizing the paramilitaries’ 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 we’ve heard no indications
that this will happen).

This “wait and see” attitude is understandable, and we support it. Until basic
conditions are met – a real href="">cease-fire,
the exclusion of href="">narcotraffickers
from the talks, a strategy in place of href="">improvisation,
a plan to fill the “ href="">security vacuum,”
and a legal href="">framework
for justice, reparations and dismantling – the U.S. government would be wise
to continue its current policy of modest aid and “skeptical support.”

Dec 13

is debating whether to spend $234 million on twenty-four new turboprop attack
planes for its air force. The aircraft the Defense Ministry has in mind are
likely to be a model made in Brazil
(though models from the Czech Republic,
China, and Poland are also
under consideration).

In a rare show of civilian scrutiny of the military budget, Colombia’s Congress
has proven reluctant to approve this expense. Two leading senators, Germán
Vargas and Rodrigo Pardo – both strong supporters of Álvaro Uribe – have led
the challenge, arguing that a big airplane buy should not be a priority
right now, and that it is not clear how useful these airplanes would be for
an internal guerrilla war.

This is not the first time the Colombian Air Force has pushed for this $234
million purchase. A similar debate took place in the fall of 2002; at that time,
even Gen. James Hill, then the head of the U.S. Southern Command, felt compelled
to weigh in with a href="">letter to Colombia’s
armed-forces chief opposing the sale. “The U.S. Congress will probably not view
a light-attack aircraft fleet as the Colombian Air Force’s most urgent purchase,
and this could have a negative impact on the U.S.
Congress’ support for additional aid
,” Hill’s letter warned. The 2002 plan to buy planes collapsed
amid what El Colombiano href=""
target="_blank">calls “scandals of corruption and inappropriateness.”

What is different today? Nobody is saying it in as many words, though it was
raised when Colombia’s congress
debated the issue in early December: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela,
flush with revenue from high oil prices, may be embarking on an arms-buying
spree. On a recent visit to Russia Chávez expressed interest in a major purchase
of MiG-29 fighter planes.

It is not clear how turboprop planes would serve
as a deterrent against MiGs in some very unlikely future conflict between Colombia
and Venezuela;
in any case, it’s now looking less likely that the Chávez government will in fact go ahead
with the MiG purchase. (Incidentally, when asked in late November about Venezuela’s plans, an “unnamed Bush administration
official” giving a background briefing told reporters, “Let me put it this way:
target="_blank">We shoot down MiGs.”)

air force is no doubt tired of its old fleet of planes. But for Colombia to buy
new ones right now would be a bizarre misuse of very scarce resources. Gen.
Hill’s warning of two years ago is perhaps more relevant now. The U.S. Congress
is about to consider whether it will renew Plan Colombia or move foreign-aid money
somewhere else. Budget-cutters in both parties would view a $234 million aircraft
purchase as evidence that Colombia
either has enough money to buy planes it does not urgently need, or has its
priorities badly out of order. Either way, the purchase would strongly weaken
the case for renewed U.S.
aid at current levels.

In Colombia’s
current circumstances, $234 million is a lot of money. Many urgent priorities
aren’t getting that much.

  • Colombia’s
    treasury plans to set aside $160 million to disarm, demobilize and
    re-integrate all of the AUC paramilitaries, href=""
    target="_blank">reports El Tiempo.
  • Next year, Colombia plans to spend $120 million
    to assist internally displaced people, according to the Consultancy for Human
    Rights and Displacement ( target="_blank">CODHES).
  • According to the U.S.
    in Bogotá, the United States
    has spent $206 million since 2000 on alternative development programs
    in Colombia. Total aid to displaced people
    in all those years is $129 million.
  • According to the href="" target="_blank">State
    Department, the United States
    expected to spend $207.6 million in 2004 just to maintain the planes
    and helicopters already given to Colombia’s military
    and police. For some time, Congress has been asking the administration to
    encourage Colombia
    to assume more of these costs, even requiring a report ( href="">PDF format) detailing plans
    for handing over more of these responsibilities. The congressional appropriators
    who asked for this report will look poorly on a decision to spend $234 million
    on new planes.

None of these priorities have received the kind of resources that the Colombian
government now proposes to devote to new planes of uncertain usefulness. Meanwhile
central government is running a budget deficit of 5.6 percent of GDP this year
(excluding profits from state-owned enterprises) – about $5.4 billion or 23
times the size of the proposed aircraft purchase.

Dec 10

In several forums, CIP has argued
that before the United States makes a larger commitment to Colombia, we should
first see greater sacrifice from the wealthiest 10 percent of Colombians. In
particular, the richest Colombians must pay more taxes. In one of the world’s
most unequal countries, only the top income brackets have the resources Colombia’s
government needs in order to end the war, establish the rule of law, and make
neglected conflict zones economically viable.

As you might imagine, Colombia’s business community disagrees strongly with
us. Using arguments reminiscent of the domestic U.S. debate over the Bush tax
cuts, they contend that taking more from the wealthiest will stifle investment
and retard economic growth. The best way to raise money for Colombia’s defense
and governance needs, our opponents argue, is to demand less sacrifice and eliminate
trade barriers, which will spur economic growth, which will lead to higher tax

Those who support this idea of a “supply side war” in Colombia have been pointing
to the country’s rosy macroeconomic prospects. GDP growth was expected to exceed
4 percent this year, allowing Colombia to whittle away at its very high deficit.
This forecast growth rate still lags behind Latin America as a whole, which
is expected to grow 4.7 percent this year, href=",,contentMDK:20282028~isCURL:Y~menuPK:34467~pagePK:64003015~piPK:64003012~theSitePK:4607,00.html" target="_blank">according
to the World Bank. (Colombia’s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, meanwhile,
estimates that 5 percent growth is in fact needed to guarantee a lasting drop
in unemployment.)

However, this week’s news indicates that even 4 percent growth isn’t likely.
Due to “a decline in consumer demand,” GDP grew only 2.43 percent during
the third quarter of 2004, compared with a year earlier. This rate, the lowest
since mid-2003 and less than 1 percent above population growth, was far lower
than expected. The news, according to an El Tiempo href="" target="_blank">editorial,
hit “like a bucket of cold water.”

Less growth means projected tax revenue will be less, which means that Colombia
will have to borrow more even to meet its existing commitments. The Treasury
Ministry href="" target="_blank">foresees
spending cuts and a need to go back to Congress in March for more money – deficit
spending, though the deficit is already too high – to cover expenses.

This bad economic news makes it even less likely that Colombia is going to
have the resources it needs for courts, schools, hospitals and roads – or for
helicopters, planes and special-forces units, for that matter. While U.S. aid
can help, the current rate of $700-750 million a year – whether mostly military
or mostly economic – is just a drop in the bucket.

Which takes us back to our original conclusion. There’s no such thing as a
supply-side war. Fighting a war – as well as “nation-building” in areas where
the state has never been – is essentially a socialistic exercise. It requires
a government to take a big share of resources out of the economy and redirect
them toward an important national goal: in this case, ending the conflict and
guaranteeing that it doesn’t flare up again.

That is going to have to be done with mostly Colombian resources. Which means,
again, that the wealthiest Colombians are going to have to pay more taxes.

Dec 07

Paramilitary groups have cut a bloody swath through Colombia in the more than
twenty years since landowners, drug traffickers, and the Colombian military
began setting up so-called "self-defense groups." Since the 1980s,
paramilitaries have killed tens of thousands and forced hundreds of thousands
from their homes. During most of this period, the violence they committed against
civilians – massacres and extrajudicial killings, torture and forced displacement
– far exceeded the leftist guerrillas’ own horrific record.

As we watch the government-paramilitary talks proceed, we must recognize a
very uncomfortable fact. Any agreement that results is going to include some
impunity for mass murderers
. This is plain, simple and unavoidable. By offering
to negotiate with any illegal armed group, a government implicitly guarantees
that it will not submit its leaders or members to ordinary justice, and offers
a degree of impunity to induce them to lay down their arms.

Santa Fe de Ralito isn’t Nuremberg, after all, nor is it the site of negotiations
with a group that has all but surrendered. No matter what a final agreement
looks like – even with a fair amount of "naming names," admissions
of guilt and generous reparations – individual paramilitaries who ordered or
took part in the deaths of dozens (or even hundreds) of civilians, people who
committed "crimes against humanity" normally punishable with life
imprisonment, will almost definitely be out of jail and living in polite society
within ten years of its signing.

That level of impunity is awfully hard to accept, even when given a fashionable
name like " target="_blank">transitional justice." But it has happened in many countries
that have settled civil conflicts through negotiation over the past couple of
decades, from Central America to sub-Saharan Africa to East Timor.

Unlike these past peace processes, though, Colombia’s talks with the paramilitaries
are taking place between two parties that are far from sworn enemies. The Colombian
state sponsored or tolerated paramilitaries for many years; though official
policy is now to treat the paramilitaries as adversaries, most AUC leaders continue
to insist that they are pro-government. Both sides share an interest in papering
over the paramilitaries’ past abuses and the government collusion or omission
that allowed many to happen. As a vocal advocate of "forgetting,"
AUC advisor Carlos Alonso Lucío, recently href=""
target="_blank">argued in Colombia’s Semana magazine, "We should
be more concerned with those living in the present and future than with the
dead from the past."

No justice, no peace?

Most supporters of the Uribe government’s peace talks argue that insisting
on proportional justice will make peace unattainable. "I’m disturbed by
this strain of humanitarian fundamentalism," href=""
target="_blank">wrote Eduardo Pizarro, a noted Colombian political scientist
and brother of assassinated former M-19 chief Carlos Pizarro, in October. "Its
demands are so great that it could keep us from reaching peace. Should the peace
efforts fail, they and their intolerant attitudes will have an enormous responsibility
for the thousands who would die in the coming years."

This belief underlay the Uribe government’s original "alternative punishments"
bill, introduced in Colombia’s congress in August 2003. This legislation, which
went nowhere, would have required only light and symbolic penalties, along with
financial reparations, for serious crimes. (It is worth noting that many of
the bill’s opponents in fact support the idea of negotiating with paramilitaries.
They are concerned, however, that any law that emerges will set a precedent:
the same weak standards could later be applied to guerrilla leaders following
a future peace process.)

On the other end of the debate is much of Colombia’s human rights community,
which essentially argues "no justice, no peace." A peace deal that
fails to punish the perpetrators and do right by the paramilitaries’ victims,
the argument goes, will only prolong a generations-old cycle of revenge, violence
and warlordism. Many contend that an agreement that allows paramilitary leaders
to remain free will fail to dismantle their structures of command, finance and
support, allowing the phenomenon of paramilitarism to persist. (A few argue
that paramilitaries deserve to be treated differently than guerrillas; since
they acted on behalf of the state, they contend, their crimes should be subject
to the same punishment as those committed by soldiers.)

The "no justice, no peace" argument is a strong one. Colombia has
been through many “forgive and forget” peace agreements that have forced people
to live alongside their loved ones’ and leaders’ amnestied killers, or to watch
those who stole their land and property simply get away with it.

This argument’s principal weakness, though, is its inoperability. Common sense
and the historical record tell us that armed-group leaders do not willingly
turn themselves in and go to jail for long periods. They only do so if they
face a far worse alternative: military defeat. Yet neither the paramilitaries
nor the guerrillas are likely to be defeated militarily anytime soon. To insist
on zero impunity, then, is to condemn Colombia – which has a poor record of
fighting paramilitaries anyway – to many more years of fighting. The fighting
would have to drag on until armed-group leaders see no choice but to submit
to life imprisonment (and possible extradition to the United States).

The point of this long discussion: in our view, a foreign government need not
insist on zero impunity as a precondition for its support of the paramilitary
peace talks. However, would-be supporters must take care not to back a process
that grants amnesty too liberally.

Searching for a compromise

Can a balance be struck between these two extremes? While it is hard enough
for donor nations to determine what threshold must be reached to merit support,
Colombians themselves are debating the issue intensely. The paramilitaries and
the Uribe government (with its original "alternative punishment" legislation)
have indicated that, if left to their own devices, they would favor a very liberal
amnesty deal. Much of the rest of Colombian society – particularly victims’
groups, human rights groups, and key members of Congress – has kept that from
happening by demanding far greater justice and accountability.

As Colombians search for a compromise, there is currently no legal framework
to deal with armed-group members who willingly demobilize but are accused of
committing crimes against humanity. Those paramilitaries who demobilize – as
many as 3,000 are expected between now and December 31 – are covered by existing
law ("Law 782" and "Decree 128") governing individual deserters.
Under these provisions, those who have no outstanding arrest warrants for serious
crimes are automatically amnestied and enter government "reinsertion"
programs. (Semana href=""
target="_blank">notes that if any rank-and-file paramilitary fighter "committed
a crime against humanity but faces no arrest warrant or judicial process, he
can simply hide this information and go home.")

Those who do face charges of committing serious crimes will find themselves
in a legal limbo once they demobilize. While they will not go into Colombia’s
criminal justice system and face life imprisonment, there is still no law in
place to determine what will happen to them. For now, these "unpardonables"
must congregate in the Ralito demilitarized zone while they wait for Colombia’s
congress to agree on an "alternative punishments" law.

Opposition from many in Congress, including pro-Uribe legislators, has so far
torpedoed two "alternative punishments" bills introduced by Uribe
and his high commissioner for peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo: the lenient August
2003 version and a somewhat more stringent April 2004 bill. Neither bill even
came to a vote.

The Pardo "Truth, Justice and Reparations" bill

A new bill that comes closer to an acceptable "midpoint" is nearing
introduction in Colombia’s congress. This time, the legislation is not coming
from the Uribe government, but from opponents of the earlier bills. Former defense
minister and pro-Uribe Senator Rafael Pardo has joined with a diverse group
of legislators (among them Wilson Borja, a former labor leader and leftist congressman
who suffered a paramilitary assassination attempt in 2000) on what they call
a "Truth, Justice and Reparations" law.

The proposed law, like the Uribe government’s April 2004 submission, would
grant amnesty to all who are not accused of crimes against humanity. Those who
face more serious charges would be subject to at least five, and probably closer
to ten, years in prison, followed by parole. (The maximum penalty in Colombia’s
normal judicial system is forty years.)

The bill would create several special units to deal with demobilizations. A
Prosecutor for Truth, Justice and Reparations would investigate and prosecute
accused paramilitary members, who would be judged and sentenced by a special
nine-member Tribunal for Truth, Justice and Reparations. A special unit of the
government internal-affairs branch (Procuraduría) would help victims
in the exercise of their rights.

A National Reparations Council would maintain a fund to compensate victims.
The fund would come from fines charged to paramilitaries and from the sale or
return of ill-gotten assets seized from paramilitary members. The bill makes
clear that demobilizing paramilitary members must account for and give up all
stolen assets, including the thousands of acres of land they appropriated by
displacing peasants; if found to be keeping these assets, they would cease to
benefit from the law’s lighter punishments.

Reparations to victims would include not just the return of stolen assets but
payments for pain and suffering, psychological harm, lost opportunities (such
as inability to attend school), and "damage to reputation and dignity."
As in the recent href=""
target="_blank">arrangement for Chilean torture victims, the government would
assume responsibility for payments even if funds supplied by former paramilitaries
are not sufficient.

The bill would guarantee victims’ "right to the truth" about what
happened. While no "truth and reconciliation commission" is contemplated,
the bill would require the government to maintain an archive of all cases and
guarantee public access.

Compared to the two previous "alternative punishments" bills, the
proposed legislation would make a more serious effort to dismantle paramilitary
structures. Upon demobilizing, all paramilitaries would have to provide a thorough
accounting of their background in the organization, their stolen land and other
assets, and their understanding of the group’s command and financial structures.
Those found to be hiding information would be transferred to the criminal justice
system to face stiffer sentencing.

The Pardo bill, written with input from mainstream Colombian NGOs like the
Fundación Social and Fundación Ideas para la Paz, has gained the stated href=""
target="_blank">support of such critical voices as José Miguel Vivanco, the
Americas director of Human Rights Watch.

Though a dramatic improvement, though, the bill could use some improvements.
One of the most glaring omissions is the failure to hold accountable those who
participated in paramiltiarism and aided serious crimes, but need not demobilize
– especially the military officers who facilitated the groups’ growth and activities,
and the landowners, drug dealers and other wealthy individuals who contributed
funds. While many of their names may appear in the public archive of cases,
they will not stand accused or even named by an impartial truth and reconciliation

Meanwhile, the commitment to have the government pay reparations could become
a huge "unfunded mandate" requiring the state to cough up millions
of dollars each year from a budget that is already deeply in deficit. At the
same time – as shown by the decade-old effort to untangle the true holdings
of Medellín and Cali cartel leaders – it will be very hard to verify that paramilitary
members have truly given up all of their stolen assets, dismantled their command
structures, and broken up their networks of drug trafficking and death-squad
activity. The bill will have to provide a long mandate, a big budget, and extensive
security protections for employees of the proposed Prosecutor for Truth, Justice
and Reparations. Finally, the idea of ten years or less in jail may not satisfy
many victims, though victims’ groups have yet to offer a public evaluation of
the proposed bill.

In fact, the legislation’s most vocal opponents have been the paramilitaries
and, to a lesser extent, the Colombian government. The AUC’s muscular Central
Bolívar Bloc, in a href=""
target="_blank">statement full of veiled threats against Wilson Borja, rejected
the bill as "a series of mortal traps set against peace, into which no
organization outside the law would allow itself to fall."

For its part, the Uribe government favors a law covering demobilization on
an individual basis, not the collective demobilization foreseen in the Pardo
bill. This means that the government does not wish to require those demobilizing
to reveal the details of their organization’s command and support structures.
The government would not require commanders who demobilize to guarantee that
their entire blocs demobilize as well. The government also opposes the creation
of a separate tribunal to judge crimes, preferring to keep this function under
its control in the executive branch. It also opposes the idea of denying the
bill’s protections to paramilitaries who fail to comply fully with their commitments.

It is not clear why the government would reject such common-sense provisions
that aim to dissolve paramilitary structures permanently. The upshot, however,
is that agreement is unlikely before the Colombian Congress ends its session
in about a week and a half; legislative debate will have to wait at least until

Conditions for donor-nation support

The Pardo bill – if it goes anywhere – represents a big step forward compared
to what came before. Is it not quite enough, though, to assuage would-be donor
countries’ concerns about human rights, victims’ rights and the need to do away
with paramilitarism once and for all. To merit significant international support,
the talks should meet the following minimum requirements, some of which the
Pardo bill does address.

  • The agreement must seek to dismantle paramilitary structures, not just
    demobilize individuals.
    A peace process is a waste of time if it leaves
    paramilitaries controlling territory through fear, violence and criminality
    – even if out of uniform, without the AUC label, and not based at rural camps.
    Paramilitarism is becoming a significant political and economic force in Colombia,
    and undoing it will not be easy. The structures of territorial control, and
    the lucrative linkages to the drug trade, are unlikely to disappear without
    a concerted, well-funded, and well-protected government effort to eradicate
    them. This means requiring demobilizing paramilitaries – at risk of losing
    their benefits – to reveal the nature of their organizations’ structures and
    assets. It also means giving the government the resources and tools it needs
    to verify that paramilitary activity truly stops.

  • The agreement must involve victims in the design of an appropriate settlement.
    A negotiation between two groups with a history of collusion is extremely
    suspect if victims and their organizations are denied meaningful opportunities
    to participate and if their concerns are clearly ignored by the resulting

  • At a bare minimum, the agreement must require paramilitary human rights
    abusers to make a public admission of their crimes and to return all of their
    ill-gotten assets.
    Beyond this bare minimum, jail sentences, financial
    reparations, and prohibitions from holding public office would lend a great
    deal more credibility to the process. The land issue is of critical importance:
    the Colombian human rights group CODHES estimates that 4.7 million hectares
    of agricultural land (11.75 million acres, about the size of Vermont and New
    Hampshire combined) have been abandoned due to illegal armed-group activity.
    A peace process that ends up legalizing stolen landholdings would be worse
    than none at all, as it would virtually guarantee a future explosion of violence.

  • The agreement must not let the paramilitaries’ material supporters remain
    unnamed (or, ideally, unpunished).

  • The agreement must include a financial plan, indicating how much resources
    will be available for such costly commitments as reparations, demobilization
    and verifying the commitment to dismantle paramilitarism.
    This plan should
    make clear how much is expected to come from foreign donors.

  • The agreement should make clear that ex-paramilitaries will not be admitted
    into the Colombian armed forces while the conflict continues.
    As long
    as fighting against the FARC and ELN persists, "recycling" paramilitaries
    into the security forces is a recipe for trouble. Demobilized paramilitaries
    who join the security forces would find themselves carrying out the same mission
    they performed before: fighting guerrillas (and, perhaps, those whom they
    feel are guerrilla collaborators). The likelihood of abuses would greatly
    increase. After years of alleged military-paramilitary collusion, merging
    the military with former paramilitaries would severely damage the credibility
    of the Colombian armed forces, which have been endeavoring to portray themselves
    as professional and respectful of human rights. The same prohibition should
    apply to inclusion of ex-paramilitaries in other security structures, such
    as the Uribe government’s network of paid informants or the "peasant
    soldiers" program.

Coming soon: (6) Extradition and the U.S. role

Dec 03

Say what you want about Álvaro Uribe – he’s certainly not predictable. Yesterday
evening, the hardliner who got elected by promising not to give an inch to Colombia’s
guerrillas announced a move that even "appeasers" like his predecessor,
Andrés Pastrana, had never contemplated. Uribe pardoned twenty-three low-ranking
FARC prisoners in Colombian jails, granting them a unilateral release, with
no strings attached.

Uribe’s move seeks to encourage the FARC to release approximately fifty-nine
– captured military officers, kidnapped political figures, and three
U.S. citizens who were working on a Defense Department contract when their plane
went down in FARC-held territory in February 2003. Though the guerrillas probably
have over 1,000 kidnapped people in their custody at any given time, the group
considers the fifty-nine to be "political detainees": instead of
a ransom, it is demanding a reciprocal release of prisoners in Colombian jails.

The FARC wants to win the return of dozens of mid-ranking leaders whom Colombian
authorities have captured over the years; the group’s leadership no doubt believes
that the reincorporation of such experienced cadres would improve command of
its far-flung fronts and help it on the battlefield. The guerrillas also are
pushing for the return of the few "big fish" in government custody,
among them "Simón Trinidad," a high-ranking guerrilla who was one
of the FARC’s most visible faces during the 1998-2002 peace talks; "Sonia,"
who ran the finances of the FARC’s Southern Bloc; and perhaps "Julián,"
the second-in-command of the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column.

("Julián" still faces prosecution, incidentally, even though two
weeks ago President Uribe put him up for two nights in a suite in Bogotá’s five-star
Tequendama Hotel. This was an odd ending to a bizarre episode: the hotel stay
was a reward for the FARC comandante’s decision to turn himself in to
authorities, less than two weeks after a remarkable (and no doubt expensive
– lots of guards had to be paid off) escape from his detention cell in the headquarters
of Colombia’s attorney-general (Fiscalía), a heavily guarded fortress
across the road from the U.S. Embassy.)

For its part, the Bogotá government is under pressure to do something – or
at least to appear to be doing something – about the military and police officers,
senators, congresspeople, local legislators and governors, and U.S. personnel
in FARC custody. The list includes former senator and presidential candidate
Íngrid Betancourt, an internationally known figure. Most of the detainees have
been imprisoned at FARC jungle camps for years – as many as six or seven years
in the case of several military officers.

Both sides’ positions on a possible prisoner exchange have been evolving. The
FARC initially insisted that the government pull troops out of the departments
of Putumayo and Caquetá before it would agree to talks. The government automatically
rejected that request: those two departments, the initial focus of Plan Colombia,
are a vast coca-growing area far larger than the zone ceded to the FARC during
President Pastrana’s failed peace talks. Though it has since agreed to use the
Catholic Church as an intermediary and has named its representatives to eventual
talks, the FARC still insist on a demobilized zone for discussions; their most
recent demand has been a troop pullout from a smaller zone: the municipalities
of Cartagena del Chairá and San Vicente del Caguán in Caquetá, which lie at
the geographic heart of the months-long "Plan Patriota" military offensive
occurring in southern Colombia.

The Uribe government – already wary of a prisoner exchange, which could establish
a precedent that would encourage the FARC to kidnap more civilian officials
– refused that request as well, since complying would cripple Plan Patriota.
Uribe’s position has nonetheless evolved over the past two years. The president
arrived in office refusing to engage in direct talks with any group that did
not first declare a cease-fire. Though the FARC have kept fighting, he has since
sought contacts with the guerrillas through intermediaries – first the UN, then
the Catholic Church – but has made no progress on securing any hostage’s release.
While Uribe has refused to demilitarize territory for talks, he has more recently
offered to host FARC negotiators in the Vatican embassy in Bogotá or a third
country. He has even offered to carry out negotiations over the Internet. The
FARC has rejected all of these proposals, insisting on a demilitarized zone
for talks.

The decision to begin letting prisoners go unilaterally is a new evolution
(erosion?) in Uribe’s position. But it is not brand-new: the president in fact
announced this policy in a href="" target="_blank">speech
back on October 1.

We have sent a proposal via the Swiss government: we are willing to free
a number of FARC guerrillas, before the FARC free their hostages, to show
the government’s seriousness. … We have proposed that only guerrillas found
guilty of rebellion (treason) can be freed. We cannot free anyone jailed for
atrocities. … And a second condition: that those who leave jail do not return
to the guerrillas. Do you think we would be doing any good if we released
everyone from jail only to see them committing crimes again? What of the security
forces’ sacrifice in capturing them? … We have offered two options: that they
go to another country, like France, or that they enter the government "reinsertion"

I have no idea whether the FARC sent back a positive reply via the Swiss government;
in fact, I don’t know whether the FARC responded at all to this proposal. It
would be surprising indeed, however, if the guerrillas expressed any interest.
It would mean yielding on two of their main goals: reincorporating experienced
mid-level leaders, and benefiting from a temporary demilitarized zone.

If Uribe carried out the unilateral release without any expression of interest
from the FARC – as is likely – he has overwhelmingly ratified critics’ charges
that he and his peace team have no coherent negotiating strategy, that they
are wildly improvising and simply hoping for the best. (This charge, of course,
has also been href="">leveled
at his government’s talks with the paramilitaries.)

While Uribe’s hard line toward negotiations stood almost no chance of working,
improvising and unilaterally releasing prisoners is likely only to embolden
the FARC. The timing of the release will not be lost on the guerrilla leadership.
From their jungle hideouts, they no doubt see a president who, having just won
a legislative fight to seek re-election, is trying to show progress in advance
of the 2006 campaign. With hostages in custody for years, the guerrillas have
shown that they can wait a long time; if they believe that President Uribe will
keep loosening his position according to a political timetable, they will be
content to wait a bit longer to get a better deal.

So why did Uribe authorize the prisoner release, which seems so strange on
the surface? Probably because it’s a brilliant piece of domestic politics. The
president has been under fire from relatives of FARC "detainees,"
as well as from several ex-presidents, for failing to do enough about the hostage
crisis. A botched mid-2003 rescue attempt resulted in the guerrillas’ killing
of the governor of Antioquia and a former defense minister; he has since abandoned
the military route and either done nothing or made only halting steps toward

In Colombia’s political arena – the arena that matters most to a president
about to seek re-election – the unilateral prisoner release essentially "inoculates"
Uribe on the hostage issue. He now has a ready response to family members and
ex-presidents who were pushing for action: "I’m doing all I can, I even
pardoned twenty-three prisoners, but I haven’t received a response."

The release also places the ball in the FARC’s court, politically at least.
Will the FARC respond positively by releasing some of those in its custody?
I would be surprised if they did, since the release is not happening even remotely
under the circumstances that they have demanded. There’s little reason for optimism.
The FARC even said in April that a prisoner exchange will be impossible while
Álvaro Uribe is president; if Uribe is re-elected, this would close the door
until 2010.

I could be wrong, and I hope I am. How wonderful it would be if Uribe’s gamble
paid off, even a little bit. A reciprocal prisoner release could be a foot in
the door – a toe in the door, really – toward more substantial contacts between
the government and the guerrillas. If the door stays open even a crack, a bare
minimum of mutual trust could be established, after two years of total distrust.
Channels of communication opened through this process could stay open. The result
could be the embryo of a new attempt to negotiate peace.

Even though it is probably the product of a rash improvisation, we encourage
the FARC – whom so many have written off as "narcoterrorists" who
have jettisoned their ideology – to seize this opportunity to re-engage in a
political discussion.

But don’t get your hopes up. While the ball may be in the FARC’s court, it
is unlikely that the guerrillas – notorious for their imperviousness to political
pressure, public and international opinion – will hit it back.