Jan 31

Picture, if you will, the following scenario:

  • Faced with a terrorist threat against his country’s citizens, a deeply conservative president scornfully dismisses calls – mainly from the left – to address the poverty, inequality, ignorance and desperation that helped to nurture the threat in the first place.
  • With patriotism and "democracy" at the center of his rhetoric, the president instead chooses to respond by launching and escalating a military campaign, limiting civil liberties, and rejecting dialogue.
  • While the gap between rich and poor increases, the president proves reluctant to require the wealthiest citizens to sacrifice either money or lives for his military campaign.
  • The president makes almost no effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the ungoverned areas where the enemy thrives. Winning the support of local populations is given a far lower priority than the ongoing military offensive. Poverty rates refuse to budge.
  • The military campaign nonetheless brings citizens a tenuous sense of security, and a sense that the government has regained the offensive.
  • This greatly increases the president’s popularity, making his re-election likely. Much of the congressional opposition cautiously decides to tone down its criticism and avoid controversy.
  • Liberals, with their complaints about human rights abuses, concerns about a "quagmire," and exhortations to address the "root causes" of the violence, end up despised in much of the mainstream media – especially much-viewed networks with a conservative bent – and in popular opinion.
  • Though its leadership is far more conservative than most of society, the military becomes the most respected institution in the country.
  • However, the refusal to demand that wealthy citizens sacrifice soon plunges the national budget into a deficit so deep that it threatens the likelihood of further progress.
  • Concerns about human rights abuses damage the country’s worldwide reputation.
  • Meanwhile, the terrorist group – though wounded – remains intact, with its top leadership unharmed, financing mechanisms largely in place, and recruitment unaffected.

Does this sound familiar? It should if you live in George W. Bush’s United States or Álvaro Uribe’s Colombia.

What comes next? Will the sense of security be sustained? Does the president further solidify his grip on power? Will civil liberties be preserved? Does the terrorist group strike back? Does the congressional opposition recover? Do the liberals’ proposals get a fair hearing?

Stay tuned.

Jan 27

Next week, Colombia’s government is hosting a meeting in Cartagena with representatives of twenty-four governments, both neighbors and donors, as well as officials from multilateral lending institutions and other international organizations. Many non-governmental organizations will also be there (CIP will not, unfortunately), because what is decided in Cartagena will guide many countries’ aid and diplomacy. This is less applicable in the case of the United States; while U.S. officials will be in Cartagena and will participate in writing the resulting declaration, the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship will no doubt take precedence.

This is the first such meeting since a July 2003 event in London, at which the Uribe government sought an explicit endorsement of its counter-terror mission and most foreign governments insisted that Colombia agree to follow the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. A year and a half later, most countries have granted the Uribe government’s request to include the FARC and ELN on their list of terrorist groups, and most have endorsed its military campaign against illegal armed groups. For its part, the Colombian government has not followed all of the UN recommendations, especially those having to do with separating civilians from the conflict.

Today, as preparations for the Cartagena meeting continue, wrangling among governments and NGOs has already begun. At stake is the wording of the final declaration that will come out of the meeting. Here are the main points that remain unresolved:

Should the declaration state that Colombia is in an “armed conflict?”
If the Uribe government gets its way, the Cartagena declaration will not recognize that an armed conflict exists in Colombia, recurring instead to other euphemisms like “terrorist problem” or “situation of violence.” (The July 2003 London declaration, by contrast, used the word “conflicto” five times.)

The difference is significant for international humanitarian law, as a communiqué released Monday by Refugees International (a group headed by former Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon) makes clear: “President Uribe denies there is a conflict in Colombia, and instead refers to the perpetuation of violence as ‘terrorist activities.’ By characterizing the conflict as a terrorist threat, the government is able to deny civilians protection guaranteed under international humanitarian law.”

Our view: of course the violence should be characterized as an armed conflict. Not just because of its effect on international humanitarian law, but because the guerrillas and paramilitaries – however brutal and murderous – have long histories and claim to have political goals. To deny that an armed conflict exists is to deny the possibility of an eventual negotiation about anything but the terms of surrender and disarmament.

Conditions for supporting the paramilitary demobilizations.
One of Colombia’s main goals at this meeting is to convince donor nations to be more generous in their support of the AUC demobilization process. The European Union has made clear a reluctance to aid the process until Colombia approves a legal framework to govern demobilizations “in accordance with Colombia’s international commitments and taking into account victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations.” The U.S. Congress made a similar call in non-binding narrative language accompanying the 2005 foreign aid bill.

Colombia has yet to adopt a law to determine what happens to those who demobilize, especially those who face allegations of crimes against humanity. Two competing proposals are under consideration by the Colombian Congress: one from the Uribe government, and one from several Colombian legislators, including former Defense Minister Rafael Pardo, that would do more to ensure jail time for abuses, reparations, return of stolen property, and the provision of information necessary to dismantle paramilitary networks.

The legislative process could take months, and the Uribe government wants donors to contribute as soon as possible. The U.S. government, for its part, seems less inclined to push for a stringent legal framework, as evidenced by Ambassador William Wood’s disappointingly negative reaction this week to a recent Human Rights Watch report supporting Sen. Pardo’s tougher proposal.

Our view: the Cartagena declaration should build upon the European Union’s call for a legal framework that respects victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations, and should specify that this framework should seek the effective dismantling of paramilitary networks of command and support.

The UN human rights recommendations.
While the Colombian government’s commitment to follow the recommendations figures prominently in the July 2003 London declaration, the Colombian government would rather not see them mentioned explicitly in the Cartagena document. The recommendations regarding the “principle of distinction” between civilians and noncombatants, as well as those calling for Colombia to respect its international human rights obligations, run afoul of some aspects of the “Democratic Security” policy.

Our view: the recommendations should appear in the declaration, and the discussions in Cartagena should use them as a framework to determine where progress has been made and in which areas Colombia still has much to do.

The loss of the UN’s “good offices” role.
The July 2003 London Declaration specifically thanked the UN Secretary-General’s special advisor for Colombia, James LeMoyne, for his contributions to the effort to seek a negotiated peace. However, we learned this week that, under heavy pressure from the Uribe government, the UN relieved LeMoyne (who was never a favorite of Colombia’s right wing) of his duties and terminated the special-advisor position.

Our view: the declaration should not ignore the very unfortunate loss of this UN facilitation role. It should at least thank the United Nations and the special advisor for its years of hard work on behalf of peace in Colombia.

Jan 25

President Bush has read a book. That book is The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, published late last year by Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik turned conservative Israeli cabinet minister. According to the Washington Post, Bush has since “been recommending the book to nearly everyone he sees, from friends to journalists to foreign leaders, telling CNN last week that ‘this is a book that … summarizes how I feel.’”

I haven’t read Sharansky’s book, but I’m intrigued by one of the ideas at its heart, what the author calls the “town square test” for democracy. Condoleezza Rice summed it up in her remarks at last week’s Senate confirmation hearing:

“The world should really apply what Natan Sharansky called the town square test. If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment and physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society. And we cannot rest until every person living in a fear society has finally won their freedom.”

This leads us to the obvious question: does Colombia pass the “town square test?”

Well, you can probably go into most of Colombia’s town squares and express your views, as long as they are not considered too pro-guerrilla (or too pro-government, if the town square is in a guerrilla-controlled zone). And you are unlikely to be arrested for what you say, though a member of the Uribe government’s informant network could consider your words evidence enough to have you arrested (you will probably be subsequently released for lack of evidence, though the local paramilitaries still might consider your arrest to be evidence enough to target you).

If you’re not a lone individual in a town square, but instead express your views as a member of an association or an author of a publication, your risks are much higher.

  • Thirty-three human-rights activists were murdered or disappeared between August 7, 2002 and August 7, 2004, the Colombian Commission of Jurists reports (PDF format).
  • Some civil-society organizations critical of current government policies, such as the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace in downtown Bogotá (MS Word document), have been repeatedly subject to warrantless searches, threats and intimidation.
  • Forty-seven labor-union members, including sixteen leaders, were killed between January and August of 2004, according to Colombia’s National Labor School (PDF format).
  • While none of Colombia’s self-censoring journalists were killed in 2004, the violence began again this month with the murder of outspoken radio host Julio Palacios in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. Death threats forced another Cúcuta journalist, Antonio Colmenares, to flee the city last weekend.

Speaking out in Colombia is very risky. So risky, in fact, that Colombia cannot be said to pass Sharansky’s “town square test.”

Sharansky does seem to offer an exception to his “test.” Again, I haven’t read the book, but the Publisher’s Weekly review indicates that the author disagrees with “liberals who he says fail to distinguish between flawed democracies that struggle to implement human rights and authoritarian or totalitarian states that flout human rights as a matter of course.”

Is Colombia, then, a flawed democracy struggling to implement human rights? The best way to measure whether a state is “struggling to implement human rights” is to determine how assiduously that state seeks to investigate and punish abuses.

Suffice it to say that there has been little or no progress on any of the abuses in the list above. Worse, as indicated in an earlier posting, State Department certification reports indicate a high level of impunity for abuses attributed to the military, with no improvement in recent years. As of September 2004, only 21 enlisted men and 10 officers were under indictment for any human rights-related crimes; of the officers, only two are above the rank of major. Meanwhile, the attorney-general’s office under Luis Camilo Osorio has come under constant fire from the human-rights community for dismissing effective human rights prosecutors and stalling cases against military officers.

Colombia fails Sharansky’s test. If the Bush administration is truly to take the “town square” precept seriously, then, it will have to make some significant adjustments to its policy toward Colombia. The State Department will have to be more forceful in its implementation of the human rights conditions in existing law that require Colombia to show real progress toward curbing impunity for abusers. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendations for Colombia should move from the periphery to the core of our dealings with Colombia. U.S. policymakers must take a more critical distance from the Uribe regime where human rights are concerned. And those few who dare to speak out in Colombia’s town squares – the human-rights defenders and peace activists, the peaceful reformers, the labor advocates, the journalists and academics who express unpopular views – deserve the support and accompaniment of the U.S. government.

Jan 23

I know that the following isn’t exactly on-topic for a Colombia weblog, but we’re at a historic moment for U.S. foreign policy and some things just can’t go unremarked.

For decades, many activists, scholars and groups like CIP have been calling for a U.S. foreign policy that promotes democracy. At the very least, we have called for a U.S. foreign policy that does not support tyranny around the world. Latin America in particular has seen far too much U.S.-supported tyranny, from the murderous military regimes of Central America, Argentina and Chile to pro-U.S. strongmen like Somoza, Trujillo, Duvalier and Fujimori.

If you take at face value the soaring rhetoric of his inaugural address, it would seem that President Bush has taken to heart at least the first part, about promoting democracy worldwide. “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” the president told us on Thursday.

Leave aside whether this is an after-the-fact justification for invading Iraq without WMDs. The idea of a U.S. foreign policy that actively supports democracy and opposes tyranny is something that we’ve been advocating for a very long time, and it’s good to hear a president say it so forcefully. When liberal internationalists like us have spoken like that, we’ve normally been rebuffed by self-proclaimed “realists” in power – usually in President Bush’s own party – who have insisted that promoting democracy (and its inseparable corollary, human rights) often runs counter to the security or economic interests of the United States. (Look no further than a touchstone document of the neoconservative movement, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards.”)

We welcome Bush’s words. But we want to see some action. Putting his words into practice would require the president to do two things that, taken together, would represent a true revolution in U.S. foreign policy. First, he would have to tolerate elected leaders who oppose the United States (there are few of these, but Hugo Chávez is the obvious test case). Second, he would have to stop aiding dictators who support the United States.

Notice that I didn’t say “actively opposing” pro-U.S. dictators; neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer has a point when he argues that we can’t undermine dictators if it appears likely that whatever succeeds them would be either chaos or an even worse dictatorship. “In friendly dictatorships we push for democracy only up to the point of instability. We dare not risk regime change—yet,” Krauthammer contends.

But there’s a big difference between “not undermining” pro-U.S. dictatorships and actively propping them up, strengthening their instruments of repression by arming them and making them more lethal. The Bush administration continues to give massive amounts of military and police assistance to dictatorships worldwide, many of them Middle Eastern.

The amounts of military aid are more than you’d expect. You can look it up for yourself – not in the works of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, but in the documents and reports published online by our own Department of State. The list below is what you get when you juxtapose military aid and arms sales data (available in the State Department’s annual Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations) with assessments of how well recipient countries honor basic freedoms and tolerate dissent (from the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices).

  • Egypt ($1.293 billion in military aid and $1.101 billion in military sales in 2003, the last year for which definitive data is available): “In 1999, President Hosni Mubarak was reelected unopposed to a fourth 6-year term in a national referendum. … The Government’s human rights record remained poor and many serious problems remain … Citizens did not have the meaningful ability to change their government. … The 1981 Emergency law, extended in February for an additional 3 years, continued to restrict many basic rights. The security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and occasionally engaged in mass arrests. Local police killed, tortured, and otherwise abused both criminal suspects and other persons. Police continued to arrest and detain homosexuals. The Government partially restricted freedom of the press and significantly restricted freedom of assembly and association. The Government placed some restrictions on freedom of religion.”

  • Jordan ($607 million in military aid and $255 million in military sales in 2003): “Citizens did not have the right to change their government. Citizens may participate in the political system through their elected representatives to Parliament [lower house only]; however, the King has discretionary authority to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and upper house of Parliament, to dissolve Parliament, and to establish public policy. Reported continuing abuses included police abuse and mistreatment of detainees, allegations of torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, lack of transparent investigations and of accountability within the security services, denial of due process of law stemming from the expanded authority of the State Security Court and interference in the judicial process, infringements on citizens’ privacy rights, harassment of members of opposition political parties, and significant restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association.”
  • Saudi Arabia (no military aid, but $842 million in military sales in 2003): “Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties. … The Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, whose agents commonly are known as Mutawwa’in, or religious police, was a semiautonomous agency that enforced adherence to Sunni-Wahhabi Islamic norms by monitoring public behavior. … Members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. … The Government’s human rights record remained poor … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. There were credible reports that security forces continued to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, and hold them in incommunicado detention. There were cases in which Mutawwa’in continued to intimidate, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners. There was no evidence that violators were held accountable for abuses. … The Government continued to restrict freedom of speech and press, although there has been an increase in press freedom over a series of years. The Government restricted freedom of assembly, association, religion, and movement.”
  • Pakistan ($226 million in military aid and $314 million in military sales in 2003): “In October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. … The National Assembly met during the year; however, no bills have been passed since 2002, with the exception of the national budget. President Musharraf, the intelligence services, and the military continued to dominate the Government. … Security forces used excessive force, at some times resulting in death, and committed or failed to prevent extrajudicial killings of suspected militants and civilians. … Police abused and raped citizens. Prison conditions remained extremely poor and life threatening, and police arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. Several political leaders remained in detention or exile abroad at year’s end.”
  • United Arab Emirates (no military aid, but $493 million in military sales in 2003): “The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates established with no democratically elected institutions or political parties. … Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The press continued to practice self-censorship. The Government restricted free assembly and association.”
  • Singapore (no military aid, but $335 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and to handicap political opposition, which it used in practice. … Caning, in addition to imprisonment, was a routine punishment for numerous offenses. … The Government continued to restrict significantly freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as to limit other civil and political rights. … The Government significantly restricted freedom of assembly and freedom of association.”
  • Kuwait (no military aid, but $334 million in military sales in 2003): “Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family, who governs in consultation with prominent families and community leaders. The Constitution provides for an elected National Assembly; however, it permits the Amir to suspend any or all of its provisions by decree. Approximately 14 percent of citizens have the right to vote (only males age 21 and over who have been citizens for at least 20 years and are not in the military or police forces). … Citizens do not have the right to change their government. … Security forces occasionally monitored the activities of persons and their communications. The Government placed some limits on freedom of speech and the press. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The Government placed some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement.”
  • Bahrain ($90 million in military aid and $97 million in military sales in 2003): “The Al-Khalifa extended family has ruled the country since the late 18th century and continues to dominate all facets of society and government. … The Constitution gives the elected Council of Representatives a role in considering legislation, but most legislative authority still resides with the King and he appoints members of the Shura (Consultative) Council. … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The Government prohibits political parties, and none exist. … The Government restricted the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association. Journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. The Government also imposed some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement.”
  • Oman ($82 million in military aid and $65 million in military sales in 2003): “The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos Al Bu Sa’id, who acceded to the throne in 1970. It has no political parties; however, the Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura) is a representative institution whose members are elected directly by voters. … [H]owever, the Consultative Council, which may recommend changes to new laws, has no binding legislative powers. … Citizens did not have the right to change their government. … The Government restricted freedom of expression and association. The Government must approve the establishment of all associations and prohibited human rights organizations.”
  • Uzbekistan ($12 million in military aid and $1 million in military sales in 2003): “Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights. … President Islam Karimov and the centralized executive branch that serves him dominate political life and exercise nearly complete control over the other branches. Following a January 2002 referendum judged to be neither free nor fair, the President’s term in office was extended by 2 years. Previous elections were neither free nor fair. … The Government’s human rights remained very poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens could not exercise the right to change their government peacefully. Security force mistreatment likely resulted in the deaths of at least four citizens in custody. Police and NSS [National Security Service, former KGB] forces tortured, beat, and harassed persons. Prison conditions remained poor. … The number of persons in prison for political or religious reasons, primarily individuals the Government believed were associated with extremist Islamic political groups but also members of the secular opposition and human rights activists, was estimated to be between 5,300 and 5,800. Police and NSS forces infringed on citizens’ privacy. The Government employed official and unofficial means to restrict severely freedom of speech and the press, and an atmosphere of repression stifled public criticism of the Government.”
  • Tunisia ($6 million in military aid, and $12 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government’s human rights record remained poor … There were significant limitations on citizens’ right to change their government. Members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. Security forces physically abused, intimidated, and harassed citizens who voiced public criticism of the Government. The Government continued to impose significant restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press. Editors and journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The Government remained intolerant of public criticism and used physical abuse, criminal investigations, the court system, arbitrary arrests, residential restrictions, and travel controls (including denial of passports), to discourage criticism by human rights and opposition activists. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association.”
  • Azerbaijan ($8 million in military aid, and $1 million in military sales in 2003): “The Government’s human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. The Government continued to restrict citizens’ ability to change their government peacefully. … Police tortured and beat persons in custody, including several opposition members, and used excessive force to extract confessions. … After the election, authorities conducted a wave of politically motivated detentions and arrests of more than 700 election officials, opposition members, and journalists; more than 100 remained in custody at year’s end. The Government continued to hold many political prisoners and infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The Government continued to restrict some freedom of speech and of the press, and police used excessive force and continued to harass journalists during the year. Government officials sued journalists for defamation. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and forcibly dispersed several demonstrations held without a permit, and law enforcement officers beat protestors at several demonstrations during the year. The Government continued to restrict freedom of association by refusing to register some political parties and harassing domestic human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).”
  • Yemen ($3 million in military aid, with much more expected for 2004, and $100,000 in military sales in 2003): “There were limitations on citizens’ ability to change their Government. Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest, detain, and torture persons. … Despite constitutional constraints, security officers routinely monitored citizens’ activities, searched their homes, detained citizens for questioning, and mistreated detainees. … There continued to be limits on freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government continued to harass and intimidate journalists despite a decline in detention of journalists from last year. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The Government at times limited freedom of assembly. The Government imposed some restrictions on freedom of religion and placed some limits on freedom of movement.”

There are other tyrannical regimes whose security forces get U.S. aid, but these are probably the largest amounts.

President Bush made quite a promise on Thursday. “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors,” he said. “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Next time you hear lofty rhetoric like this, think of the nations in the shameful list above. Those who “live in tyranny and hopelessness” in these countries are further from liberty, because the Bush administration is arming those who murder, jail and torture them.



Methodological note: I don’t include here a few smaller military-aid programs, such as Excess Defense Articles or Defense Department engagement programs, which would make military aid figures for 2003 slightly larger.

I used one government report in addition to the two mentioned above in order to estimate arms sales: the “Section 655” report available on the website of the Federation of American Scientists. This report provides data for the licensing of arms sold from U.S. companies to foreign governments. Not all of these licenses are fulfilled, so actual deliveries of weapons may be fewer; the sales figure I quote nonetheless indicates the amount of sales for which the U.S. government gave approval.

Meanwhile, this list doesn’t include dictatorships that don’t get aid but do a lot of business with us, such as China or Equatorial Guinea. Nor does it include aid to the militaries of countries that elect their leaders but routinely violate human rights with impunity, such as Israel, Indonesia, Nigeria – or, of course, Colombia.

Jan 22

I’m writing this on a delayed flight back to Washington, after spending the past two days at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the former U.S. Army School of the Americas, at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. I’d been to Fort Benning before, to the annual November protests organized by School of the Americas Watch, but this was my first visit inside the gates.

For those unfamiliar with the Institute (known by its acronym WHINSEC, though most activists still call it SOA, recalling its initials until a 2001 name change), it’s a U.S. Army school offering Spanish-language training and education specifically for the militaries of Latin America. It has a controversial history. During the cold war, a time when much of the region was ruled by dictators, the school strengthened abusive militaries. It has a long list of notorious graduates. In the mid-1990s we learned that even some torture techniques were included in course materials. After years of activist efforts to close the school and legislative questioning of its role, Congress changed its name, added new layers of oversight, required more human rights content in all training, and got rid of many (though not all) courses teaching lethal skills. Today even Canadian soldiers attend.

Reformed or not, though, you might ask why the U.S. Army feels it necessary to maintain a special school, at taxpayer expense, just to help the region’s armies. Don’t these armies have histories of human rights abuse, a questionable commitment to open societies that tolerate dissent, outsize political clout and impunity for most wrongdoing? Why would we seek to strengthen what in so many countries is already the strongest state institution?

The official answer to these questions has changed over the years. For a long time, it was anticommunism at all costs. After the cold war, the school played only a small drug-war role but placed emphasis on “engagement,” building relationships with officers from the region. Its backers argued that contact with U.S. counterparts makes Latin America’s militaries more respectful of human rights and democracy. Now, the “war on terror” is of course a defining mission, though only one specific course has been added (the “Counter Narco-Terrorism Information Analyst Course”).

These answers still do not explain why we need a special school to do all of this (in fact, the WHINSEC accounts for well under five percent of the Latin American military personnel we train each year – 857 out of 22,855 students in 2003). Nor do they explain why training and engaging Latin American military personnel is a higher priority than training and engaging Latin American judges, legislators, mayors and governors, urban planners, tax collectors, first-responders, engineers, or social-service providers.

So why did I visit? I wanted to learn more about the part of the Institute’s mission that sounds most like something CIP would support: training in human rights, civil-military relations and the military’s role in a democracy. After years of monitoring the place, I also just wanted to see it firsthand and get to know the people who run it. I’d also read in past WHINSEC “Board of Visitors” reports and been told by relevant congressional staff that the Institute’s leadership was puzzled by NGOs’ past non-acceptance of invitations to visit. Why, they asked, do they criticize us but never even come to see for themselves?

So along with researchers from Human Rights Watch and the Carter Center, I accepted the invitation extended by Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to attend a discussion of the school’s human rights and democracy programs and how they can be improved. A debate over whether the Institute should exist was not the purpose and therefore off the table.

Because of our concern that this visit could be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the Institute and its mission, the Institute’s staff agreed not to publicize it on their website or in their promotional materials. Likewise, I won’t reveal who-said-what details about the visit, but I do want to offer the following observations.

  • I was surprised by the preponderance of Colombians, even though we know that Colombia has been the number-one source of students at the SOA and WHINSEC since 1999 (if you don’t count Chilean cadets). The Institute’s deputy commandant is a Colombian colonel and its ranking guest non-commissioned officer is a Colombian sergeant. (The Colombian dominance is further strengthened by the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, a bit of Republican-inspired legislation that cuts off military aid to twelve Latin American countries that don’t exclude U.S. personnel on their soil from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. While Colombia agreed to sign one of these “Article 98” agreements granting immunity, students from the twelve banned countries may only attend counter-drug courses funded through counter-drug aid accounts, which are excluded from the ban.)

  • I did find a genuine interest in making human rights more than just window-dressing to improve the school’s image. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into developing a curriculum and trying to integrate it into all courses, and the staff and instructors we met showed a strong belief in what they are doing. The training curriculum does a good job of introducing international human rights standards and goes well beyond the little human-rights training that U.S. personnel receive.
  • However, I didn’t get a sense that the military trainees are internalizing the human rights lessons in a way that makes sense to them. The training heavily emphasizes human rights law (types of rights, past conventions), rules of engagement, proper interaction with civilian populations, and similar operational aspects – but there is less consideration of how this might play out in practice. A likely outcome is that personnel who graduate the Institute’s programs may end up with a rather compartmentalized idea of human rights.
  • For instance, individuals may leave the school able to cite the International Declaration of Human Rights chapter and verse, but still convinced that non-violent critics of the state, especially leftists, are security threats that need to be reined in through force if necessary. Though freedom of speech and the right to dissent are on the list of inalienable rights, the training doesn’t explore the importance of tolerating – not to mention protecting – those who relentlessly criticize and seek deep reforms, but do not violate the law: human rights defenders, labor organizers, investigative journalists, whistleblowers and denouncers of abuse and corruption, among others. The famous phrase attributed to Voltaire – “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” – needs to be part of the training. That includes swallowing hard and explaining that even the speech of those who express anti-U.S. views is protected.

    When covering these issues with military counterparts – whether at the Institute or in other forums – U.S. instructors have to be especially sensitive to armed forces’ interaction with non-governmental organizations. We held a very lively discussion with officers taking the year-long Command and General Staff course; the Colombian officers in particular revealed the familiar but all-too-common belief that NGOs are partial to the guerrillas, or even in solidarity with them or under their direct control. (It seems that in the minds of many, the Danish NGO that made a donation to the FARC last year is typical.)

    It is important that U.S. personnel do more to convey the message that, unlike guerrillas which seek to destroy the state, there is a peaceful left that, by denouncing abuses, seeks to improve the state. Its goals are honorable: to discourage future abuses, to advocate for victims and to align the state with values – like due process, equality of opportunity and equal justice under law – that make states worth defending in the first place. Even if they are a pebble in the military’s shoe, these groups need to be protected. Right now, it’s not apparent that the training conveys this message clearly enough.

  • The training also appeared largely to omit a common phenomenon in Latin America: the problem of armed groups that, like Colombia’s paramilitaries, are pro-government and fight the same enemy. While instructors use scenarios and hypothetical situations, including a good in-depth review of the 1968 massacre in My Lai, Vietnam, these generally center on the avoidance of direct human rights violations. Indirect violations – that is, collaboration with or toleration of other groups that do the dirty work – do not appear to be a prominent training topic.

    Though U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine claims that citizen militias can be a useful tool, the experiences of Guatemala and Colombia indicate that helping them can make the situation far worse: they are difficult to control, and they end up escalating civilian killings, engaging in criminal activity (like the drug trade) and devastating the government’s legitimacy. The Institute’s instructors need to amend the old doctrine regarding paramilitary forces: the message should be that illegal violent groups must be combated regardless of their political leanings.

  • The program has to do much more to tackle the question of impunity, which is a huge issue throughout Latin America. While it capably explains rules for operations, the program does not do enough to explain what must happen when these rules are violated – as they inevitably are, no matter how well-trained the force is. What happens to those responsible?

    Obviously, in much of Latin America, those responsible avoid prosecution, often through intimidation of, or at least non-cooperation with, judges and investigators. Impunity in turn makes much human-rights training irrelevant: if a soldier in the field knows he can commit an abuse without punishment, the mere knowledge that the abuse is “wrong” will not always be enough to deter him.

    It is essential that the Institute’s discussions of human rights abuses include the post-abuse environment. Instead of circling the wagons – the students should be told – a military that respects the rule of law collaborates fully with investigators and the justice system, even if it means giving incriminating eyewitness testimony. (The case study of the My Lai massacre – in which only one soldier, a lieutenant, was punished, and he was paroled by 1974 – is not exactly a model of fighting impunity here at home. If anything, the lesson students would draw from the My Lai case is a realization of how far even the United States has to go toward punishing crimes against humanity.)

  • Of course, the present has no shortage of “teachable moments” for human rights as well. The Institute cannot comfortably ignore, and should thus encourage, frank dialogues about Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, “Camp 6,” the “enemy combatant” category, the “Salvador Option,” the televised killing of a wounded prisoner in Fallujah, the Gonzales torture memo, and other cases in the headlines. I did not get a sense of whether such dialogues are taking place, but they should be, since they are certainly on everyone’s minds. Are they examples of the United States not practicing what it preaches? Do they show our justice system working (the conviction of Spc. Graner, the important role that JAGs have played in Guantánamo) or failing (the lack of prosecutions against higher-ranking officers)?
  • We spent much less time talking about the Institute’s training in civil-military relations and military support for democracy. As a result I don’t know how, or whether, the Institute takes on the most contentious civil-military issues in the region today. These would include where the jurisdiction of military justice ends and that of civilian justice begins; oversight, appropriations, and control of military expenditure; military investments in the private sector; or how the military is expected to function in ungoverned zones where the rest of the state is not present. I don’t know whether the Institute instructs militaries to obey elected leaders from the left (most Latin American soldiers and officers tend to be profoundly conservative, even more so than in the United States). I don’t now how instructors reinforce the idea that it is the judiciary, not the military, which gets to decide when an elected leader has violated his country’s constitutional order.

    The latter question is an important one in the current regional climate. The Bush administration – as we heard in Thursday’s inaugural speech – has placed promotion of democracy at the center of its foreign-policy rhetoric. At the same time, administration officials consider “radical populism” to be a threat to U.S. interests. The trouble is, democracies occasionally elect “radical populists” or other leaders who are openly critical of the United States. The Institute should teach that even these leaders are legitimate and must be obeyed. Does it?

  • A final suggestion, for now at least. Though it has changed its name, modified its mission and made significant improvements to its curriculum, the Institute must do still more to rid itself of the baggage of the School of the Americas. For one thing, the Army and the Defense Department have never formally admitted to any past mistakes. There has not been a public reckoning with how the school contributed to abuses and undemocratic behavior, how its graduates stopped civil-society reformers from confronting social injustice, how its excesses in fact undermined U.S. interests, and which past practices must never be repeated. Instead, in the often acrimonious debate with groups like SOA Watch, the school’s defenders have sought to play down past mistakes (“nobody condemns Harvard because the Unabomber was educated there”). This is the wrong way to go.

    A clean conceptual break with the past is needed. Without it, in some future threat environment – for instance, one in which the United States perceives a greater hemispheric terror threat – the Institute could find itself quickly backsliding into old patterns of supporting repression. A thorough review and public report, by an independent panel representing many sectors and points of view, might offer a way to identify past errors, explain how they happened, and recommend ways to ensure they don’t happen again.

The plane will be landing soon, I’ll edit and post this shortly. That’s enough for now…

Jan 18

Colombia and Venezuela are consumed by an escalating dispute over the December 13 abduction of Rodrigo Granda, alias “Ricardo,” a FARC member who clandestinely represented the group internationally. Things began to get worse quickly once the Colombian government was forced to admit last week that, despite claims to the contrary, Granda was indeed picked up in Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called back his ambassador and froze several commercial deals with Colombia, and the U.S. embassy announced “100 percent” support for Colombia.

Granda reportedly attended the “Second Bolivarian Congress of the People,” a December 8-9 civil-society gathering in Caracas at which Chávez gave an address. Days later, Granda was abducted, probably by off-duty members of the Venezuelan security forces, and taken hundreds of miles away to the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, where Colombian police announced his arrest and paraded him before reporters’ cameras. As the FARC, leftist websites and eventually the Chávez government presented evidence that Granda had been abducted in downtown Caracas, Colombia’s government spent the next four weeks insisting that he had been arrested in Cúcuta, sticking to its story even as late as last Tuesday. Eventually, on Wednesday the 12th, Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe admitted that Colombia’s government indeed paid a bounty for Granda’s capture in Venezuela.

Since then, the problem has snowballed and spiraled. Today, there is an apparent impasse. Chávez is demanding a bilateral meeting with Uribe – a formula that has reduced tensions during past crises – but is first demanding a public recognition that Colombia acted illegally. Uribe refuses to issue such an apology, wants a summit of Andean leaders instead of a face-to-face meeting, and appears to be trying to shift the debate toward long-rumored allegations that Chávez is harboring the FARC in Venezuela.

What we don’t know

It’s hard to make any definitive statements about this case, because we still don’t know exactly how Granda was captured, who was paid and when. It is clear, though, that Granda was not formally arrested in Venezuela (as FARC member Simón Trinidad was a year ago in Ecuador). The FARC representative – who lived in Venezuela, carried a Venezuelan ID card and even reportedly voted in Venezuelan elections – was abducted. Since legal channels were not used to bring Granda to justice, Chávez is probably right when he says that Venezuelan law was broken.

We still don’t know much about Granda’s captors, other than that they were apparently members of the Venezuelan security forces. Did the Colombian government recruit, bribe or pay them beforehand? (Chávez has alleged that “Colombian government agents were in Venezuela for months bribing and encouraging Venezuelan government agents.”) Did the Colombian government merely offer reward money after the fact, as it does with Colombian citizens who offer intelligence about guerrilla whereabouts? Were U.S. intelligence services involved, as the FARC and other left-wing analysts have charged without proof?

The presidents must meet

Though we don’t know all of the details, it should be obvious that this must be ended through diplomacy, and soon. Before trust deteriorates still further, communication between the two governments is necessary to determine not only what happened, but whether Colombian perceptions of Venezuelan non-cooperation have any basis in fact.

Chávez’s request for a bilateral, face-saving meeting is reasonable, and Uribe should accept it. Chávez’s pre-condition for that meeting – requiring Uribe to make a humiliating admission that Colombian police committed a crime – should be dropped. The two leaders should meet without pre-conditions. Past meetings have shown that the two leaders can work together when their positions are not filtered through the hard-liners on both sides.

All sides are wrong


So far, no party to this dispute is without blame. The Colombian government looks bad, of course, because it appears to have enthusiastically condoned a cross-country abduction of an unarmed individual, without the knowledge of the host government. Obviously, the golden rule should apply here: Colombia would be terribly offended, for instance, if Venezuela paid Colombian agents to kidnap a Venezuelan from downtown Bogotá. This scenario is not too far-fetched, since Pedro Carmona, the businessman who spent a few hours as Venezuela’s would-be president during a failed April 2002 coup, now lives in exile in Colombia.

The Colombian government also looks bad because it got caught lying. All governments lie, but this cover-up is especially damaging because the Uribe government had to admit that the FARC were telling the truth. While the government was insisting that Granda was arrested in Cúcuta, the FARC had been claiming since a December 30 communiqué that the abduction had happened in Caracas. In Washington, where Colombian government data are accepted as gospel and FARC claims generally ignored, it is a bit disorienting to see the government caught in a lie and the guerrillas on the side of truth. How far does this credibility problem extend? Is the Granda abduction an isolated case, or must we look more skeptically at other cases in which all we have is the government’s word against the guerrillas’ version of events?

An example is the “Plan Patriota” military offensive in southern Colombia. The government insists that the large-scale operation is going well but offers little information, while the guerrillas offer what appear to be wildly inflated accounts of victories and government casualties (like this one, this one, this one and this one). Are the guerrillas exaggerating, or – as in the Granda case – is there some truth to their claims of high body counts and effective repulsion of government advances?


Hugo Chávez looks bad because his relationship to the FARC is being called uncomfortably into question. The Granda case reveals what is essentially an untenable position for Chávez with regard to Colombian guerrillas in Venezuelan territory. If he helps the Uribe government to root them out and capture them, he risks condemnation from some sectors of the Latin American left whose support he seeks in order to promote his “Bolivarian” vision. If he knowingly tolerates them, though, he risks making an enemy out of a close neighbor and trading partner. (Ideology aside, you can’t expect to be friends with a neighboring government if you’re giving safe haven to those who want to overthrow it.)

While it’s not official Venezuelan government policy, Chávez seems to have settled on a piecemeal position: FARC members in Venezuela on political missions – such as attending conferences or holding informal dialogues – appear to be largely tolerated. It is less likely that Chávez encourages or allows guerrilla military operations on Venezuelan territory.

That doesn’t mean the FARC (or the ELN or the AUC, for that matter) can’t be found on the Venezuelan side of the two countries’ long, remote, largely undeveloped and ungoverned border zone. In a statement issued Sunday, Uribe cites the presence of “seven terrorist leaders and various encampments” that the Venezuelan security forces have allowed to persist in their territory. Is the armed FARC presence evidence that Chávez is providing “safe haven” for the guerrillas? Or is the situation similar to what exists in Ecuadorian, Peruvian or Panamanian border zones?

All of Colombia’s neighbors wish to avoid seeing violence spill beyond the remote frontier areas, but have also wished to avoid giving Colombian armed groups a reason to attack the usually small detachments of soldiers and police stationed near the border. The result is that most of Colombia’s neighbors have been tacitly allowing Colombian armed groups to operate in remote border zones for years. The Venezuelan case is unremarkable. (It is remarkable, though, that the two countries’ border forces coordinate and communicate so rarely, considering the length and unguarded nature of their common border.) No official has denounced that the Chávez government’s policy is to give free rein to FARC military elements; if that were true, Bogotá would have broken relations with Caracas long ago.

Meanwhile, Chávez is also wrong to take such a hard line on the way out of the dispute. It is not clear what he hopes to achieve by cutting off trade ties, recalling the ambassador and demanding that Uribe apologize publicly before agreeing to a meeting. A more skillful statesman would offer Colombia a means to recognize its wrongdoing – thus giving Venezuela a moral victory – without rubbing Uribe’s face in it by forcing him to make a humiliating admission. Some face-saving will be necessary in order to crawl out of this crisis. Otherwise, Colombia and Venezuela will be condemned to a relationship of mutual hostility for quite some time (a situation that, given the closeness of trade ties and the long border they share, neither can afford).

The United States

Meanwhile, the United States is wrong too. Our government could have played a key role in defusing this crisis and encouraging both sides to move on, or we could have concluded – correctly – that we don’t have a dog in this fight. Instead, Ambassador Wood decided to jump in on Colombia’s side, telling reporters that “we support 100 percent the declarations from [Colombia’s] presidential palace.”

If this statement was intended to help smooth things over, we have no idea how. In fact, it might be the beginning of a likely escalation of Bush administration criticism of Chávez, as part of a policy shift documented in a Washington Times piece from last week.

Next steps

Uribe will be discussing the Venezuela issue in a previously scheduled meeting on Wednesday with Brazilian president Lula da Silva, and in a special meeting on Thursday with the government’s Foreign Relations Advisory Commission, a body that includes ex-presidents and former foreign ministers.

Most observers agree that the two presidents should meet as soon as possible. For this to happen, Chávez should back down from his demand that Uribe first admit Colombian wrongdoing. Uribe must back down from his demand that the meeting in fact be a summit of the Andean region’s presidents. We wholly endorse the following series of steps recommended by the Colombian human rights group CODHES for “a political and diplomatic solution”:

  1. President Uribe should offer a public explanation of the operation that led to Granda’s capture.
  2. President Chávez should offer a public explanation of the presence of FARC guerrillas in Venezuela.
  3. Both presidents should meet in private to overcome the impasse and to develop mechanisms for joint action within the framework of the rule of law to confront crimes like narcotrafficking and terrorism. While this meeting occurs, no other government functionaries should make public statements about the issue.
  4. The two presidents should jointly announce agreements for security and police cooperation, reaffirm the economic integration process, reactivate commercial arrangements and signal the renewal of trust in binational relations.
  5. As Venezuelan officials are fired and prosecuted for accepting reward money from the Colombian government, the same should happen to Colombian officials who offered and distributed these payments.

(A note on CIP’s position regarding Hugo Chávez)

The Center for International Policy is encouraged to see that a representative of the left can win at the polls in Latin America despite the opposition of traditional elites and broad sectors of the armed forces. We are pleased by many of the policies Hugo Chávez has adopted, especially his effort to direct oil revenues toward social services for Venezuela’s poor majority. It is a sign of enormous progress for Latin America if a leftist leader can be elected, institute deep reforms, and not suffer the fate of Salvador Allende or Jacobo Arbenz.

That said, our position is not “Chávez, right or wrong.” We reserve the right to criticize what we disagree with. Along with journalists’ rights groups, we are concerned by the recent law allowing the government to shut down media outlets it perceives as threatening “public order.” We are concerned by efforts to pack the Supreme Court with Chávez loyalists. As a possible extension of political control, the Bolivarian circles worry us the same way that Álvaro Uribe’s network of informants worries us. We voice disapproval when the U.S. Southern Command encourages Latin American armies to take on internal roles that have nothing to do with defense, and we note that Chávez has similarly given the military a host of internal roles.

The Bush administration is free to express concern about perceived lapses from democracy and the rule of law, preferably in coordination with regional partners and the OAS. We absolutely oppose any illegal effort at regime change, however, whether violent or nonviolent. Though we have concerns, Chávez remains the elected (and re-confirmed) leader of Venezuela, and we must work with him. It is important that the U.S. government maintain cordial relations, even if his policies run counter to free-market orthodoxy.

Jan 13

If you wish to visit Colombia as a representative of a foreign non-profit
or non-governmental organization (for instance, to speak at a conference),
it’s not easy. You have to jump through a lot of href="http://www.colombiaemb.org/opencms/opencms/consuladodc/visas/temporal.html"

In addition to filling out a form and providing three passport pictures:

  • Your passport has to be at least 6 months old (and you have to provide
    photocopies of all used pages).
  • You have to provide a notarized copy of your criminal record.
  • You need an invitation letter from the organization that invited you,
    complete with a list of everyone you plan to interview on your trip.
  • You need proof, translated into Spanish, that your organization has existed
    as a legal entity for more than five years.
  • You need to prove your own financial solvency.
  • You need to prove that you have experience in your field.
  • If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you must pay US$175.

Then you have to wait three weeks for approval (or disapproval) of your visa.

But there’s a faster, easier way to go. When the official in the immigration
line asks what you do for a living, don’t say “I work for an NGO.” Say that
you’re a bounty hunter!

As Vice President Francisco Santos href="http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/10631537.htm" target="_blank">made
clear yesterday, Colombia’s doors will swing wide open for anybody willing
to hunt down guerrilla leaders, just like those who were paid to track down
FARC member Rodrigo Granda in Venezuela last month. “Hopefully all the bounty
hunters of the world will come here to capture these bandits. The money is here
for them and the rewards are good and can be handed out anywhere in the world.”

So there you have it: International NGO equals distrust and red tape. International
bounty hunter equals red-carpet treatment. The choice is yours!

Jan 10

Critics of U.S. drug policy often speak of the “balloon effect” – a term
that refers to squeezing one part of a balloon, only to see it bulge out elsewhere
– to describe drug crops’ constant tendency to pop up in new areas in response
to forced eradication campaigns. Indeed, the past twenty years have seen the
bulk of coca cultivation shift from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia, and then
from region to region within Colombia.

In August, Drug Czar John Walters href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/040810walt.htm">told reporters that the
Bush administration’s anti-drug program, centered on aggressive aerial herbicide
fumigation in Colombia, had finally beaten the dreaded balloon effect.

In regard to coca cultivation, for the first time, I think, in the last
20 years, the aggressiveness with which things are being pressed in Colombia
is so aggressive, it has not been able to respond by growing elsewhere. There
have basically been static rates of cultivation in Peru and Bolivia, which
have been the previous areas and still are areas of significant cultivation.

Indeed, State Department href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/cocagrowing.htm">measures showed no significant
increases in Peruvian and Bolivian coca cultivation in 2002 and 2003, even
as Colombian coca acreage appeared to be shrinking.

One reason this may have been so was a stubborn inability of coca prices
to increase. While the street price of cocaine has failed to rise (the effect
you’d expect from a shrinking supply), nor had the price of the basic paste
that campesinos make from coca leaves. As this graphic from a very
useful early 2004 UN report ( href="http://www.unodc.org.co/Publicaciones/Colombia%20coca_survey%20report_2003%20English%20Final%20print%20Version.pdf"
target="_blank">PDF format) indicates, the price of coca paste, measured in
dollars, had not budged four years into Plan Colombia.

With coca paste averaging $793 per kilogram in 2003, the UN estimates (large
PowerPoint file
), a hectare of coca offered a peasant a net income of
$199 per month, or just over $6 per day. (Meanwhile, each kilogram of coca
will be turned into hundreds of grams of cocaine, each of which will sell
on U.S. streets for roughly $100.) At those prices, it is likely that relatively
few Peruvian and Bolivian campesinos were finding the illicit crop
to be worth the risk.

That may be changing. Reuters href="http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20050107/wl_nm/peru_cocaine_dc_1"
target="_blank">reported this weekend that, for the first time in a while,
the past few months have witnessed an increase in the price of coca paste.
Fumigation, combined with the “Plan Patriota” military offensive in southern
Colombia, may be making the raw material scarcer in Colombia.

It still looks unlikely, though, that this increase will affect the price
and availability of cocaine in the United States, for a simple reason: the
balloon effect is still with us

Citing the head of Peru’s anti-drug agency (DEVIDA), Fernando Hurtado, the
Reuters story notes that Peruvian coca cultivation probably rose in 2004 and
is expected to increase again in 2005. “The rise in growing areas means some
160 tons of cocaine were produced in Peru in 2004 – 20 percent more than in
2003 – with a street value in the United States of $2 billion.”

So after years of coca cultivation rising in Colombia and falling in Peru,
it looks as though we are now about to see the reverse happen – which would
keep the region-wide cocaine supply from dropping. That, of course, is the
very definition of the balloon effect. So here we go again.

Jan 07

It’s undeniable that Colombian military involvement in human rights abuses
remains a problem. The Colombian Commission of Jurists href="http://www.coljuristas.org/sentencia.htm" target="_blank">estimates
that of civilians killed by “sociopolitical violence” in 2003, over 7 percent
were killed by members of the security forces, a higher percentage than in
the previous few years. Meanwhile, indirect responsibility for paramilitary
violations continues. Internationally-recognized human rights groups, the
target="_blank">UN, the href="http://cidh.org/annualrep/2003eng/chap.4.htm#COLOMBIA" target="_blank">OAS
and the target="_blank">State Department have all issued reports in the past year
noting that, in the State Department’s words, “some members of the security
forces cooperated with illegal paramilitaries.”

Violations and excesses inevitably happen in conflict situations. The best
way to reduce their frequency is twofold. First, improve training, ensuring
that respect for the laws of war is integrated in all instruction and doctrine.
Second, ensure that all crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted; a credible
likelihood of punishment is a strong disincentive to abuse.

Colombia, in part with U.S. assistance, has made much progress on human-rights
training. But progress on the second measure – ending impunity – has been
almost nonexistent.
Colombian military personnel are very rarely investigated,
tried or punished for violating human rights. And this has not improved.

Though most observers agree that impunity is rampant, it’s difficult to measure.
The best source right now is probably the State Department’s series of regular
human-rights certification reports to Congress. Twice every year, the foreign
aid bill freezes up some military aid until the State Department certifies
that Colombia is meeting several human-rights criteria, including the investigation
and prosecution of military abuses. The certifications come with a memorandum
justifying the decision to give the Colombian military a green light. While
these memoranda are not posted to the State Department’s website, we usually
(but not always) manage to get a copy and post it to href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/aidgovt.htm">our site.

The last three memoranda in our possession are from September 2004, July
2003 and September 2002. In these documents, State Department investigators
try to compile the most comprehensive possible listing of military personnel
under investigation or under indictment for human rights crimes. (They have
a strong incentive to show the largest possible number of personnel under
investigation, which would demonstrate that the Colombian authorities are
making a good-faith effort to end impunity.)

The memoranda show, however, that criminal investigations and prosecutions
for human rights crimes are exceedingly rare
. Despite the documented frequency
of abuses and collusion with paramilitaries, the number of military personnel
under investigation or indictment is remarkably small.

The three reports list a cumulative total of 33 military personnel
under investigation (24 enlisted men and nine officers), of which 17
(14 enlisted men and 3 officers) still had cases active in the September 2004
certification report. Of the officers, only one is above the rank of major,
and his case is no longer active.

The three reports list 36 military personnel under indictment (24
enlisted men and twelve officers), of which 31 (21 enlisted men and
10 officers) still had cases active in the September 2004 certification report.
Of the officers, only two are above the rank of major; one is a retired
general (Humberto Uscátegui, tied to the 1997 Mapiripán massacre), and the
other was a major promoted to lieutenant colonel while in preventive detention.

Most are army personnel; two of the enlisted men under investigation are
marines (a branch of Colombia’s navy) and three of those under indictment
(2 officers, 1 enlisted man) are members of the air force.

The three reports note a cumulative total of 96 military personnel facing
disciplinary investigation or punishment (like being fined, suspended or fired)
for involvement in human-rights abuses. These are not criminal investigations,
they are “internal-affairs” cases investigated by the Colombian government’s
inspector-general (Procuraduría). As the State memoranda do not name names
in this category, this figure probably includes some double and triple-counting.

The unfortunate conclusion we can draw from the low numbers of criminal investigations
and indictments is that Colombian military personnel have little to fear from
their judicial system. For a variety of reasons – judicial inefficiency, intimidation
of judges and witnesses, fear of denouncing crimes – impunity for military
abusers is still virtually assured. The Colombian government can claim
no progress here.


Data from the State Department memoranda follow.

Those in preventive detention pending investigation, not yet formally

(If not listed in the September 2004 report, the date of the last report in
which the name appears is in parentheses.)

Enlisted men:

  1. Army Soldier Marco Tulio Calderon Cegua
  2. Army Soldier Domingo Calderon Adan
  3. Army Soldier Jairo Humberto Gonzalez Cuellar
  4. Army Soldier Oscar Saúl Tuta Hernández Suárez
  5. Army Soldier Jhon Alejandro Hernández Suárez
  6. Army Soldier Uriel Olaya Grajales
  7. Army Soldier Willinton Romana Tello (7/03)
  8. Army Soldier Jose Misael Valero Santana
  9. Army Second Corporal Juan Alberto Diaz Lince (7/03)
  10. Army Second Sergeant Sandro Fernando Barrero (9/02)
  11. Army Second Sergeant Humberto Blandon Vargas (9/02)
  12. Marine Sergeant Euclides Bosa Mendoza (9/02)
  13. Army Sergeant John Fredy Cardenas Trejos Echeverria
  14. Army Sergeant Juan Carlos Castillo Rios
  15. Army Sergeant Wilson Gonzalez Echeverria
  16. Army Second Sergeant Roiber Humberto Gutierrez Montero
  17. Army Sergeant Martin Elias Humanez Silva
  18. Army First Sergeant Marciano Martinez Perdomo (7/03)
  19. Army Sergeant Manuel Antonio Mirando Mejia (7/03)
  20. Army Sergeant Gustavo Moreno Martinez
  21. Army Second Sergeant Waldo Quintero Cuervo (7/03)
  22. Army Sergeant Fredy Baldomero Rodriguez Cardenas
  23. Marine Sergeant Ruben Dario Rojas Bolivar (9/02)
  24. Army Sergeant Luis Reina Sanchez (7/03)


  1. Army Lieutenant Jhon Fredy Cadavid Acevedo
  2. Army Lieutenant Oscar Yesid Cortes Martinez (9/02)
  3. Army Lieutenant Juan Pablo Ordoñez Cañon
  4. Army Captain Yoguin Pavon Martinez (7/03)
  5. Army Major Javier Alberto Carreno Vargas
  6. Army Major Alvaro Cortes Murillo (7/03)
  7. Army Major Jaime Esguerra Santos (9/02)
  8. Army Major Cesar Alonso Maldonado Vidales (7/03) (escaped)
  9. Army Lieutenant Colonel Silvio Augusto Vallego Vargas (7/03)


Those under indictment: 

(If not listed in the September 2004 report, the date of the last report
in which the name appears is in parentheses.)

Enlisted men:

  1. Air Force Technician Mario Hernandez Acosta
  2. Army Soldier Luis Humberto Arteaga Garcia (escaped)
  3. Army Soldier Carlos Alberto Buila Bolaños
  4. Army Soldier Sergio Fernandez Romero
  5. Army Soldier Juan de Jesus Garcia Walteros
  6. Army Soldier Orbien Giraldo Sanabria
  7. Army Soldier Arnoldo Gutierrez Barrios
  8. Army Soldier Raul Emilio Lizcano Ortiz
  9. Army Soldier Carlos Alberto Perez Pallares
  10. Army Soldier Luis Salomon Puerto Acero
  11. Army Soldier Juan Carlos Vasquez
  12. Army Professional Soldier Fary Zuniga Otero
  13. Army First Corporal Floriberto Amado Celis (7/03)
  14. Army Second Corporal Pedro Barrera Cipagauta
  15. Army Second Corporal Jorge Bedoya Ayala
  16. Army Corporal Rodrigo Esteban Benavides Ospina
  17. Army Second Corporal Wilson Caviedes Saenz
  18. Army Corporal Edgar Enrique Marquez Martinez
  19. Army Corporal Arturo Alexander Pinedo Rivadeneira
  20. Army First Corporal Julio Hernando Rios (7/03)
  21. Army Sergeant Edgar Garcia Garzon
  22. Army Sergeant Hugo Moreno Pena
  23. Army Sergeant Juan Bautista Uribe Figueroa (7/03)
  24. Army Second Sergeant Arquimedes Vargas Coca


  1. Army Sub-Lieutenant Nelson Jose Granados Gonzalez (7/03)
  2. Army Lieutenant Gustavo Adolfo Gutierrez Barragan
  3. Air Force Lieutenant Johan Jimenez Valencia
  4. Army Lieutenant Mihaly Istvan Jurko Vasquez
  5. Army Captain Edgar Mauricio Arbelaez Sanchez
  6. Army Captain Jaime Quintero Valencia
  7. Army Captain Gustavo Rengifo Moreno
  8. Air Force Captain Cesar Romero Pradilla
  9. Army Captain Jorge Alexander Sanchez Castro
  10. Army Major Jesus Mahecha Mahecha (7/03)
  11. Army Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Hernando Pulido Rojas (listed as a major
    in 7/03 report)
  12. Army General Jaime Humberto Uscategui (retired)
Jan 04

Administration officials have recently begun responding to U.S. papers’ editorials
criticizing U.S. policy in Colombia. While this posting hardly qualifies as
"rapid response" – the editorials in question were published back
in October – here are our rebuttals to the officials’ letters.

January 3, 2005

Editorial Board
The Chicago Tribune
435 North Michigan Ave.
Chicago IL 60611

Dear Sir or Madam:

I write to thank you for your editorial of October 12, 2004 (“Sliding into
Colombia’s morass,” reposted href="http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/chicago.html" target="_blank">here)
regarding increasing U.S. military involvement in Colombia. “American policy
in Colombia is not working,” your editorial stated. “This nation needs to
rethink its involvement in Colombia’s civil war, rather than pouring more
money and personnel into a failing enterprise.” The Center for International
Policy completely supports this assertion, and shares your concerns about
where the United States is headed in Colombia.

I also wish to respond to some of the assertions in the letters to the editor
you received from Rafael Lemaitre, the deputy press secretary of the White
House’s drug czar’s office ( href="http://usinfo.state.gov/is/Archive/2004/Oct/28-90228.html" target="_blank">published
October 22), and from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc
Grossman (published
October 27).

“Your analysis is inaccurate on several counts,” Mr. Grossman’s letter reads.
Yet the officials’ letters themselves include several misstatements, or overstatements,
which deserve a response.

  • Mr. Grossman’s assertion that “violence in Colombia is at the lowest
    level in decades”
    is an oversimplication. Common crime may be dropping,
    but conflict-related violence persists. Interpreting data gathered by several
    prominent Colombian human-rights organizations, the Colombian Commission of
    Jurists target="_blank">reports that the drop has not been at all steep. In 2003,
    6,335 people – over 17 per day – were killed by “sociopolitical violence.”
    Corresponding numbers for past years were 6,639 in 2000, 6,641 in 2001, and
    7,803 in 2002. If anything, violence had dropped to 2000 levels, not “the
    lowest in decades.” The Colombian human-rights group CODHES meanwhile notes
    that 130,346 people were violently displaced from their homes during the first
    half of 2004, a 33.5 percent increase over the last six months of 2003.

  • Mr. Grossman observes that “drug crop eradication, interdiction and drug-related
    arrests are at record high levels,”
    while Mr. Lemaitre’s letter argues
    that “the assertion that coca cultivation in Colombia has simply ‘just
    moved from one place to another’ is false.”
    Mr. Grossman’s statement is
    true, as far as it goes; indeed, aerial herbicide fumigation in drug crop-growing
    areas has reached record levels, as have arrests and amounts of drugs confiscated.
    Mr. Lemaitre’s argument is off base: even though satellites are showing some
    reduction in coca acreage in Colombia, the product still moves from one place
    to another with astonishing frequency.

    Neither letter mentions the uncomfortable fact that, as U.S. government statistics
    show ( href="http://www.wola.org/publications/ddhr_measures_brief.pdf" target="_blank">PDF
    format), years of aid, eradication and interdiction have so far failed to
    affect the price, purity and availability of drugs in the United States. In
    dollar terms, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports ( href="http://www.unodc.org.co/Publicaciones/Colombia%20coca_survey%20report_2003%20English%20Final%20print%20Version.pdf"
    target="_blank">PDF format), the price of coca paste in Colombia’s illegal
    market has not risen either. This probably indicates that while satellite
    measurements are showing reduced coca acreage, growers are adapting. Coca
    plots are getting smaller and harder to detect, with plants sown closer together
    and even in shade. The crop is appearing in new, often very remote zones.

    Meanwhile, leaders in some drug-producing areas claim that official estimates
    of reduced coca acreage are far too optimistic. Antonio Navarro, a prominent
    senator from southwestern Colombia, href="http://www.revistacambio.com/html/columnistas/antonio_navarro/articulos/3050/"
    target="_blank">wrote of a recent meeting between police officials and local-government
    leaders in his home province of Nariño. “While the police spoke of 13,000
    hectares [33,500 acres] of coca [in Nariño], the governor’s office estimated
    that the real amount is three times greater. When results were considered
    by county, it was even more surprising. While official statistics found zero
    hectares in various counties, every one of us present who is familiar with
    the region knew that there are thousands of hectares planted there.”

  • “The Colombian economy grew by 3.7% in 2003, and is expected to grow
    by 3.8% in 2004,”
    Mr. Grossman contends. Even if the 3.8 percent target
    is reached – which may be unlikely, given a disappointing annualized third-quarter
    GDP growth rate of href="http://www.iadb.org/NEWS/Display/PRView.cfm?PR_Num=291_04&Language=English"
    target="_blank">2.43 percent – Colombia still lags far behind the Latin American
    average for 2004, which href="http://www.iadb.org/NEWS/Display/PRView.cfm?PR_Num=291_04&Language=English"
    target="_blank">according to the Inter-American Development Bank has reached
    5.5 percent. Is Colombia’s growth rate due to U.S. assistance, then, or is
    its economy being modestly buoyed by a rising regional tide?

  • Finally, Mr. Grossman writes, “you say that increasing the cap on U.S.
    personnel constitutes ‘mission creep.’ In fact the mission for these personnel
    is unchanged.”
    True, the nature of the U.S. military-aid mission did not
    expand on the day the troop cap was increased. But as your editorial points
    out, the U.S. mission has been steadily expanding since the 1990s. The latest
    innovation in 2004 was “Plan Patriota,” a large-scale military offensive in
    southern Colombia, in which over 15,000 Colombian personnel have been trying
    to conquer remote guerrilla-held jungle zones. The offensive depends in part
    on the logistical support, intelligence and advice provided by U.S. military
    and contractor personnel – a new level of involvement in counter-insurgency
    – and is a key reason why the Bush administration asked Congress to double
    the limit on U.S. troops in Colombia.

As both letters correctly note, U.S. military personnel are not involved
in combat in Colombia. That threshold has not been crossed yet. I hope that
it will not be. In order to avoid that outcome, we must keep on sounding the
alarms about “mission creep” whenever we perceive it. For that reason, your
editorial made a timely contribution to the continuing debate over where our
country is headed in Colombia.


Adam Isacson                                                                      

Director, Colombia Program                                                                       

Center for International Policy

January 3, 2005

Editorial Board
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
34 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA  15222

Dear Sir or Madam:

I write to thank you for your editorial of October 28, 2004 (“ target="_blank">Blood for oil”) regarding U.S. military aid and U.S. oil firms’
exploration in Colombia. I also wish to respond to some of the assertions
in the target="_blank">letter to the editor, published on November 3, you received
from Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega.

“Your Oct. 28 editorial about our troop presence in Colombia contains a number
of misstatements,” Mr. Noriega’s letter begins. I wish to reassure you that,
although oil is only one of many interests the United States is pursuing in
Colombia, your arguments are sound.

At the beginning of 2003 the Bush administration, having won a $99 million
appropriation from Congress, began sending Special Forces personnel to the
conflictive department of Arauca in northeastern Colombia. They have since
trained and equipped thousands of members of the Colombian military charged
with defending the Caño Limón oil pipeline from guerrilla bombings. It was
the first major non-drug military aid program implemented after a 2002 href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/02supp.htm">expansion in the mission of
U.S. aid to encompass “counter-terrorism.”

Forty-four percent of the oil in that pipeline is the property of a U.S.
company, Occidental Petroleum (or “Oxy”). “While Oxy did not push specifically
for a U.S.-funded training program,” the Los Angeles Times href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-arauca28dec28,1,6143387.story?coll=la-headlines-world"
target="_blank">reported on December 28, “it waged a far more aggressive campaign
to persuade the U.S. and Colombia to improve security for its operations than
it has publicly acknowledged.” Since the initial $99 million outlay, smaller
amounts of U.S. funds have continued to flow to the pipeline-protection program.

While Mr. Noriega’s letter accuses the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of
misstatements, his letter includes some of its own, several which deserve
a response:

  • “Thanks to the Uribe administration, Colombia’s government now has
    retaken significant portions of its national territory that criminal groups
    had once controlled and used to cultivate and transport illegal narcotics.”

    To say that territory has been “retaken” is quite misleading. Yes, military
    and police presence has been increased in town centers and along main roads
    in many conflictive parts of Colombia. In general, though, security conditions
    and a lack of funds have kept the civilian part of Colombia’s government
    from making any appearance in “re-conquered” zones, and there has been little
    change in violence levels or illegal armed groups’ activity in these zones’
    rural areas.

    This is absolutely the case in two areas that have attracted the bulk of
    U.S. military assistance. In the coca-growing province of Putumayo in the
    south, and oil-producing Arauca in the northeast, guerrillas and paramilitaries
    continue to operate freely, attacks on infrastructure remain frequent, and
    murder is commonplace. Colombia’s non-governmental Security and Democracy
    Foundation noted ( href="http://www.seguridadydemocracia.org/documentosocasionales/BalancedeSeguridad2004.pdf"
    target="_blank">PDF format) that Arauca had the country’s highest murder rate
    in 2004, and that Putumayo’s murder rate increased by 19 percent last year.
    (On New Year’s Eve, meanwhile, FARC guerrillas faced no obstacles as they
    massacred sixteen civilians just south of the pipeline in Tame, Arauca.)

    While Mr. Noriega credits the U.S. aid program with reducing the frequency
    of pipeline attacks, the cause-and-effect relationship is less clear. The
    State Department’s annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report href="http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2002/html/19980.htm" target="_blank">notes
    that pipeline bombings dropped precipitiously in Colombia from 2001 (178)
    to 2002 (41). The Special Forces training program did not even begin
    until January 2003.

  • “While more work needs to be done, the Colombian leader has made great
    progress in reforming his country’s military and political institutions, as
    well as improving the security situation for Colombian citizens, while creating
    the conditions that have spurred economic growth.”

    Military reforms have included improvements to combat effectiveness, mobility,
    logistics, intelligence and similar measures. Almost no progress has been
    made, however, on a crucial measure of military and civilian institutions’
    effectiveness: impunity. In a country where the judicial system fails to punish
    over 95 percent of crimes, it is exceedingly rare to see powerful individuals
    found guilty of human rights abuses or corruption. For instance, though the
    State Department’s regular certifications of Colombia’s human-rights performance
    acknowledge that “more needs to be done to protect human rights and to sever
    military-paramilitary ties,” the href="http://ciponline.org/colombia/0409cert.htm">latest report cites only
    three examples of judicial or disciplinary action for human rights abuses
    against military officers above the rank of captain.

    The point about economic growth is also disputable. Colombia’s 2004 economic
    growth was in fact anemic by the standards of Latin America, which saw GDP
    growth of about 5.5 percent last year, href="http://www.iadb.org/NEWS/Display/PRView.cfm?PR_Num=291_04&Language=English"
    target="_blank">according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Colombia
    likely saw its hope of reaching 4 percent in 2004 dashed by third-quarter
    results showing growth at an annual rate of just href="http://www.dane.gov.co/" target="_blank">2.43 percent.

  • “If oil fields and the pipelines are more secure, that helps Colombia’s
    economy to provide more opportunities for its citizens and resources to
    help fight the illicit narcotics trade.”

    This argument could be applied to nearly all U.S. investments in Colombia,
    which of course employ at least some Colombians and generate at least some
    income for the country (and in the case of the Caño Limón oil pipeline,
    hundreds of millions for Oxy). In the name of “providing more opportunities
    and resources,” should U.S. military aid, trainers and taxpayer dollars
    be deployed to defend all enterprises – from mines to factories – that count
    U.S. citizens or corporations among their owners?

Your editorial’s main point is on the mark. Though Mr. Noriega’s letter makes it appear that the purpose of U.S. military assistance has been to promote the well-being of Colombians, most of our military presence, and the vast majority of our over $3 billion in military and police aid since 2000, has not gone to protect Colombians. It has paid to protect drug-crop spray planes and oil infrastructure that benefits U.S. companies. Though there are exceptions, when the Colombian government has sought to protect its citizens from harm, it has had to do so with its own funds.

Thanks again for your valuable contribution to the debate over U.S. policy toward Colombia.


Adam Isacson                                                                      

Director, Colombia Program                                                                       

Center for International Policy