Jun 29

Our side lost again in Congress last night – a 189-234 vote in the House of Representatives against the McGovern-McCollum-Moore amendment, a measure that sought to cut $100 million in military aid to Colombia from the 2006 foreign aid bill.

The vote margin was similar to past defeats going back to 2001. Opponents of Plan Colombia did not gain ground, unfortunately – but at least we did not lose ground in the most conservative House we have ever faced.

I take three lessons from this experience.

  1. Winning the debate isn’t enough. The speakers in favor of the McGovern-McCollum-Moore amendment dominated the debate. They had all the facts to show that the policy, five years and $4 billion later, is a failure. They were well-briefed, and had command of as many statistics and sources as a champion high-school debate team.

    They made mincemeat of the amendment’s opponents, an all-Republican team who were content merely to repeat, over and over, talking points taken from a June 27 letter from Rep. Mark Souder (R-Indiana), the über-drug warrior who heads the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Drug Policy. This letter’s points were easy to rebut, as this PDF file shows.

    So our side won the debate – but ended up with 45 percent of the vote. Why? Mainly because the Republican party remained in solid, near-unanimous opposition to the amendment. Only 19 Republican members, out of 226 present, voted with our side. (169 of 196 Democrats voted with our side – so don’t believe any claims that the current policy has bipartisan support.)

    The other 207 undoubtedly include many members who, even based on what little they know about Colombia, have doubts about the wisdom of the current policy. But the Republican House leadership, particularly Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), who traveled regularly to Colombia when he was an ordinary congressman, and who remains a strong drug warrior, made clear to the members of the party that this vote was important to them.

  2. A cutting amendment isn’t enough to convince Republican members to defy their leadership and vote against military aid. As discussed in the last posting, the restrictive rules of House debate on appropriations bills allow only amendments seeking to change aid amounts, either by shifting it from one account to another, or cutting it entirely. Several times in the past few years, House opponents of the Colombia policy have advocated “transfer” amendments, which would have cut Colombia military aid and moved it to other foreign aid priorities (such as child disease survival programs or HIV-AIDS programs). These amendments all failed in the face of an ironclad Republican majority.

    This year, the amendment’s sponsors decided to try a straight $100 million cut in aid, in the hope of peeling off votes from some bedrock-conservative Republicans who hate government spending, hate big deficits, or hate foreign aid in general. That strategy appeared to be paying off when the National Taxpayers’ Union voiced strong support for the amendment and sent an alert to Congress urging members to vote for it.

    In the end, though, only 19 Republicans cast votes in favor, and the majority stuck with Speaker Hastert. That is one of the highest Republican vote counts an anti-Plan Colombia amendment has received, and it did gain the support of Republican members known for being deficit hawks (Duncan of Tennessee, Flake of Arizona, Paul of Texas, Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin). But they weren’t enough – and they were canceled out by “no” votes from a handful of Democratic members who could not stomach any cut to a foreign-aid bill that was already pathetically small and stingy.

    The amendment’s backers made the mistake of assuming that the Republican Party still includes a lot of fiscal conservatives. Times have clearly changed. They won’t make that mistake again.

  3. As long as Republicans remain in the majority, pressure from constituents will ultimately be the only way to get more Republican members to question the current policy. If significant numbers of voters are making clear to them that they oppose the current Colombia policy, Republican members will feel emboldened to break ranks and defy their party leadership.

    More citizens contacted their representatives about Colombia aid in the past couple of weeks than we have seen do so in years. (This year, activism was not drawn off as heavily by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or by a presidential election campaign. Also, this year – with Plan Colombia “ending” – there is more of a feeling that a re-thinking of the policy is possible.) Look at the photo gallery on the peaceincolombia.org website to see how many cities hosted vigils in May to show solidarity with human-rights defenders and to protest Plan Colombia.

    However, we are still only talking about a couple of thousand calls and letters nationwide. This is an impressive achievement, but doesn’t yet qualify as a “mass movement.” And many congresspeople representing solidly Republican districts probably didn’t get so much as a postcard (not a lot of Latin America activism in Oklahoma or South Carolina.) There’s still a lot of work to be done.

    This sort of work won’t involve better research, better statistics or more policy wonkiness. It requires a lot more face-to-face involvement with activist groups around the country. It requires that we better articulate what we stand for, what we want to see happen, what our vision is for U.S. relations with Latin America and the rest of the world, and how our opposition to the current policy fits into it. (While it’s important to argue about hectares eradicated, for instance, we should be talking more about the lives of the people who live on those hectares, and how the United States can make the hemisphere safer and more prosperous by helping to improve those lives.)

    The Blueprint for a New Colombia Policy (PDF format) we and others wrote back in March was a great step in that direction, but we’ve got many more steps to take.

Jun 27

The 2006 foreign aid bill is on the House of Representatives’ calendar for tomorrow. This will be the House’s big debate for the year on aid to Colombia post-2005.

We can expect a lively debate, so keep an eye on C-SPAN or its website on Tuesday afternoon. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) and Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) plan to introduce an amendment that would cut $100 million from the $734.5 million “Andean Counterdrug Initiative” (ACI) account, which pays for both military and economic aid to Colombia and seven of its neighbors. The amendment’s proponents will make clear that they intend the $100 million cut to come from the $332 million of the ACI that is expected to go to military and police aid for Colombia.

Why are the amendment’s backers using such a blunt instrument? They have been forced into it by the House of Representatives’ very restrictive rules of debate. When considering an appropriations bill, amendments are only permitted to affect amounts of money, such as cuts or transfers to other accounts. An amendment saying, for instance, “no funds in this bill may go to the Colombian security forces” would be ruled out of order for committing the offense of “legislating on an appropriations bill.”

This rule is designed to speed debate in a chamber with 435 members. But it does leave members of the minority party with little opportunity for input into what goes in the bill. First, Democrats can try to convince the Republican subcommittee chairmen, who write the first drafts of all appropriations bills, to include their “asks” in this first draft (or “markup”).

If the chairman says no – as often happens – the Democrats’ second step is to try to get enough committee Republicans to defy their chairmen and vote with them, thus forming a majority in favor of their amendments. Rep. Sam Farr (D-California) tried to do that in the Appropriations Committee’s June 21 hearing on the foreign aid bill, introducing an amendment that would have guaranteed that a portion of funds for Colombia ($20 million more than in 2005) be economic aid. After a debate, when it became clear that he didn’t have the votes due to apparently unanimous opposition from the committee Republicans, Farr withdrew his amendment before it came to a vote.

If changes in committee prove impossible, Democrats are left with the final choice of introducing amendments when the bill goes to the full House of Representatives. When this happens, their amendments must comply with the very restrictive debate rule – which forces them to use very blunt instruments like across-the-board aid cuts.

So does the McGovern-McCollum-Moore amendment have a chance? Yes, but a slim one. Because it cuts aid, effectively shrinking the entire foreign aid budget by $100 million, some Democrats will be unwilling to support it, even though they may dislike the Colombia policy. Oddly, though, a cut may bring some support from rightwingers who hate foreign aid. Remarkably, the National Taxpayers’ Union, which disdains government spending in general, has come out strongly in favor of the M-M-M amendment and has announced that they will even include it on the list of votes they consider when they issue their annual ratings of Congress. (This has to be the only vote this year that will be scored, on the same side, by both the NTU and the United Steelworkers of America.)

Despite this incentive, it may be difficult to peel off more than a few Republican votes for the amendment. House Republicans are well aware that a hard-line drug policy is close to the heart of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), who traveled regularly to Colombia to oversee police anti-drug programs during the 1990s, when he was a regular member of Congress. Hastert took the unusual step of testifying in favor of the current policy [PDF format] in a hearing of the House International Relations Committee last month, and wrote an op-ed favoring the policy in Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper this month.

Republican congresspeople face a difficult dilemma: follow the NTU’s advice and cast a vote for small government and lower deficits, or follow Speaker Hastert’s lead and avoid defying a party leadership that has proven willing to exact retribution (passing members over for committee chairmanships, appropriating less for projects in their districts) in order to enforce discipline.

Meanwhile, we don’t know yet if other Colombia-related amendments are in the offing. There is at least some chance that key Republicans may be hatching an attempt to add $150 million more for fumigation in Colombia, in order to satisfy a request President Uribe has conveyed to them. Four Republican committee and subcommittee chairmen had sent a letter in May making that request to the Republican appropriators, but they were ultimately turned down in committee. To give Colombia this additional money, after all, would mean cutting $150 million from elsewhere in the world.

For more about what is in the foreign aid bill so far, read the detailed overview on CIP’s website.

Tomorrow will be an extremely busy day, as the Senate’s version of the foreign aid bill will simultaneously be undergoing “markup” (agreement on a draft) in subcommittee. The bill will go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, then be debated in the full Senate sometime in July. The Senate’s draft law is usually marginally better on Colombia than the House’s version, chiefly because Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, cares strongly about the issue and is able to add conditions, reporting requirements, and language requiring that a minimum of aid be non-military.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Foreign Relations authorization bills (H.R. 2601 and S. 600), which make changes to the permanent law governing several foreign aid programs. The bills, which often fail to come to a vote before the legislative year ends, have both been approved by their committees already, and are awaiting debate in the full House and Senate.

Both bills have something to say about U.S. support for the demobilization of Colombian paramilitary groups. The House International Relations Committee, whose version of the bill is still not publicly available, includes text added by an amendment from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), which restricts aid for the paramilitary process until the Secretary of State assures that (1) aid is only going to those who have renounced membership in the AUC; (2) the Colombian government is “cooperating” in the extradition of paramilitaries wanted for drug-trafficking, and (3) the “framework law” governing the demobilizations is able to dismantle the groups while “balancing both the need for reconciliation as well as the need for justice.” This provision was approved in committee with the sole dissent of its senior Democrat, Tom Lantos (D-California), who argued that these provisions are so vaguely worded that they create a loophole through which U.S. aid can go to a deeply flawed process.

The Senate version of the law includes little about the talks, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s non-binding narrative report, which accompanies the bill, has some strong words about possible U.S. support for the paramilitary process.

If the United States is to fund a significant share of the demobilization program, it should meet certain minimal standards. The committee believes it imperative that any demobilization program bring about the full dismantlement of the underlying structure, illegal sources of financing, and economic power of the AUC, which have been designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In this regard, the committee believes it is crucial that each paramilitary seeking sentence reductions or other benefits from demobilization be required to forfeit illegally acquired assets, confess past crimes, and fully disclose any knowledge of the operative structure, financing sources, and the criminal activities of the FTO and its individual members. Each demobilized AUC member’s benefits should be fully revocable if judicial authorities find that he has failed to fulfill these requirements.

The committee believes it is critical that the groups of AUC leaders who receive sentence reductions or other benefits fully demobilize and comply with the cease-fire. The committee also believes that all perpetrators of atrocities must serve a minimum number of years in prison for their crimes. The committee urges the Government of Colombia to put in place effective mechanisms to monitor demobilized individuals to prevent them from continuing to engage in organized criminal activity. Finally, the committee urges the Government of Colombia to devise a legal framework that can be equally applicable to other FTOs in Colombia, such as the FARC.

Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), a key Republican critic of the paramilitary process in its current form, gets much credit for this tough language.

The 2006 foreign aid bill, for its part, includes little money that could go to support the paramilitary process, and no money for this purpose was in the Bush administration’s aid request. If the Bush administration decides at some point that it wants to make a big push to fund the paramilitary process, it will have to go back to Congress and make the request on another piece of legislation.

Jun 24

Colombia’s Congress held its final debate Tuesday over the so-called “Justice and Peace” law to guide paramilitary demobilizations, a scandalously weak piece of legislation that ended up giving the AUC leadership most of what it wanted.

After it was over and the law passed, to universal condemnation from human-rights defenders, I actually found myself feeling sorry for Gina Parody.

That’s not easy. Ms. Parody, a vociferously pro-Uribe congresswoman from Bogotá, normally doesn’t inspire pity. A well-connected lawyer known for her elegant dress (don’t miss the glamour shots on her website), she was only twenty-eight when elected to the Congress in March 2002 as the second-highest vote-getter from Bogotá. A staunch supporter of President Uribe’s security initiatives, his failed 2003 reform referendum, and his efforts to get re-elected, Rep. Parody is the quintessential upper-class uribista.

With one major exception. She has strongly opposed the Uribe government’s disappointing insistence on giving paramilitary groups a lenient treatment at the negotiating table.

When President Uribe and his high commissioner for peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, launched their negotiations with right-wing paramilitary groups two and a half years ago, they had to present legislation to Colombia’s Congress to determine what would happen to the groups’ members after they turn in their weapons. This forced the Congress to consider the difficult question of what to do with paramilitary leaders who stand accused of ordering mass murder and sending large quantities of drugs overseas, and who probably expect to keep most of their wealth, power, and criminal organizations intact.

Legislation that Restrepo introduced in August 2003 and April 2004 was roundly condemned for seeking to grant a virtual amnesty for crimes against humanity, while failing to provide the legal tools necessary to investigate crimes, to seize and redistribute stolen assets, to pay reparations, to guarantee the right to the truth, and to dismantle paramilitary networks.

Most of the Uribe supporters who control Colombia’s Congress nonetheless got behind the government’s weak proposals almost immediately. Gina Parody, however, was among a small but influential group of legislators who dissented, even if it meant defying the popular president.

Along with normally pro-Uribe legislators Sen. Rafael Pardo, Sen. Andrés González, and a few others, plus members of left-of-center parties, Parody was part of a coalition that drew up an alternative piece of legislation. Their bill would have done much more to investigate abuses, confiscate illegally obtained wealth, and take apart the command and support networks likely to remain in place even after negotiations conclude. As the alternative proposal with the best chance of passage, by early 2005 the Pardo-Parody et.al. bill had at least the tacit support of most human rights NGOs and many donor governments.

Parody has said she even believed that President Uribe supported the bill, and blames Luis Carlos Restrepo – who as “high commissioner for peace” is the Uribe government’s chief peace negotiator – for steering the government’s position toward conciliation of the AUC leadership. Restrepo rejected such charges as “attempts to tarnish the image of the commissioner.”

As the Pardo-Parody bill began to draw attention and support, Restrepo appeared to become obsessed with Parody and the bill’s other supporters, the main opponents of his effort to secure a peace agreement at any cost. A psychiatrist who once authored a pop-psych book called The Right to Tenderness, the peace negotiator’s recent behavior toward his critics has been neither peaceful nor tender.

In fact Restrepo, whose job is certainly stressful, has appeared at times to be coming unhinged – or, as El Tiempo’s editorial Thursday put it, “He sometimes resembles a psychiatrist in need of urgent help from a colleague.”

He has repeatedly badmouthed opponents – especially Pardo and Parody – in on-the-record interviews with the media, responding to conceptual arguments with personal attacks, accusations of disloyalty to president Uribe, even “treason.”

In February, after President Uribe sought to assuage donor nations by presenting a draft bill resembling the Pardo-Parody legislation, Restrepo submitted his resignation, citing “a political ambush against the government.” The resignation gambit worked, as Restrepo was steadily able to build a larger coalition of pro-Uribe legislators behind his weaker proposals.

In April, Restrepo told an interviewer that Sen. Pardo and Rep. Parody could no longer be considered Uribe’s supporters, even though the two have supported most of the president’s other initiatives. “If he thinks he can kick me out of the uribista bloc, it won’t be easy for him,” responded Parody at the time.

(Restrepo, meanwhile, is also the author of the highly controversial set of guidelines sent to international-community representatives in Colombia, discussed in our last posting.)

Restrepo’s hard line against those who oppose his legislative proposals contrasts sharply with his soft treatment of the paramilitary leadership. Not only has the peace commissioner sought a law that treats the right-wing warlords gently, recordings leaked last September reveal that he had assured them that extradition to the United States would be unlikely, and that he had endeavored to play down reports of cease-fire violations.

Ultimately, Restrepo’s proposed legislation – which was only slightly tougher than his failed 2003 and 2004 bills – won in the Congress, as he was able to line up enough votes to eliminate nearly all of the Pardo-Parody proposals. The high commissioner’s victory was not overwhelming, however: all votes were reasonably close, indicating that there is not a broad consensus behind the legislation that passed this week.

This brings us to Tuesday night, when Restrepo was present in the Congress to defend and promote the “Justice and Peace” law during its final debate. After Rep. Gustavo Petro (a former M-19 guerrilla who in fact edged out Parody to be Bogotá’s number-one vote-getter in 2002) accused President Uribe of seeking to protect a brother with alleged paramilitary ties, Parody rose to defend the President.

She then changed the subject, however, and began to explain her opposition to Restrepo’s bill. Parody began to list some of her reservations about the weak law nearing passage.

She never got to finish. Restrepo accused her of seeking “to tarnish the Peace Commissioner, fabricating hoaxes together with those in the opposition.” Legislators from the pro-Uribe bloc, egged on by Restrepo, began banging on their desks, whistling and shouting “get out,” among other, less-polite epithets. Pro-Uribe representative Armando Benedetti, together with several representatives who openly support the AUC (Rocío Arias, Eleonora Pineda, Jorge Luis Caballero) led the catcalls.

Parody was forced to abandon the lectern and leave the chamber. Members of leftist parties and the Liberal Party opposition left with her. The eighty-eight representatives who remained – barely enough for a quorum – then quickly voted and approved the bill.

The next day, El Tiempo published a photo of a flustered Parody back in her office moments after her retreat, staring blankly with a glass of water at her side. According to Inter-Press Service, she told reporters outside the chamber that the AUC’s friends in the Congress were not just the 35 percent whom the paramilitaries have claimed are under their control, but as many as 70 percent.

What an ugly spectacle: a herd of dominant-faction politicians, most of them old men, shouting down a thirty-one-year-old female colleague trying to defend a principled position. It is in even poorer taste when the herd is doing its bullying in support of a lenient deal for the AUC. If this is a taste of what is in store for the country as the negotiations approach conclusion and the 2006 elections draw near, Colombian democracy is about to enter a very dark period.

“I worry that if they kicked us out of the Congress chamber the way they did, what will happen to the candidates who oppose the ‘paras’ in many parts of the country?” Parody said on Wednesday. She has a good point.

At these moments, it’s always worth asking where the Bush administration stands. Is the U.S. government backing Parody and her colleagues’ honorable dissent, or has it cast its lot with her attackers, the raucous and ill-mannered defenders of Dr. Restrepo’s toothless law?

For the depressing answer, look no further than Thursday’s New York Times, in which Juan Forero reminds us, “The Bush administration and its representative in Colombia, Ambassador William Wood, have strongly supported the law and Uribe.”

Luckily, this doesn’t apply to the whole U.S. government. Skepticism remains high in the U.S. Congress, making it unlikely, at least for now, that significant U.S. funds will go to this deeply flawed process.

We can expect the passage of Dr. Restrepo’s law to increase that skepticism here in Washington. And so will Tuesday’s unseemly attempt to humiliate those who dared oppose it.

Jun 21

(This posting combines dispatches from CIP Fellow Winifred Tate, who is in Colombia, and CIP Intern Marcela Guerrero.)

On June 8th, the High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, sent a directive [PDF format] to international humanitarian agencies and embassies establishing strict limits on what international agencies and diplomats are entitled to do, and what language they use to describe it.

The list reads like a Macondian effort by a beleaguered administration to impose the fiction that they maintain absolute control of the country. But it has serious consequences for the vitally important work of the United Nations, journalists and humanitarian agencies – local and international – supporting work for peace and human rights in Colombia.

First, the document prohibits any public servant or individual from establishing contact with illegal armed groups, making a single exception for the International Red Cross. Even though Restrepo assures that the press will not be subject to the new measures and that international organizations will be allowed to carry on with their programs, no exceptions are mentioned for journalists conducting interviews, other international humanitarian agencies involved in work in remote rural regions where illegal armed groups maintain almost total control, or the hundreds of people who are forced into contact with such groups in the course of their work on any given day.

Restrepo goes on to write that the government will not accept any projects intended to “commit the future action of the National government in terms of peace agreements with illegal armed groups.” This is a marked departure from President Uribe’s constant insistence that the international community offer financial support, but not critique, his current demobilization process with paramilitary groups.

The directive forbids the use of expressions like “armed actors,” “actors in the conflict” and “non-state actors.” Terms like “peace community,” “territory of peace,” or humanitarian zone” are also unacceptable. Instead of “civilian protection,” one must use “measures for self-protection of the civilian population.”

Restrepo once again attacks the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, saying that its model of non-violent resistance “generates confusion,” and that such peace and humanitarian projects cannot exclude, or question the action of, the armed forces and justice system. Ana Teresa Bernal, director of the Colombian NGO Redepaz, states that this document is mainly aimed against civil-society peace initiatives – currently more than 400 in the country. Bernal told Inter Press Service that, for the Uribe government, this document is an “integral part of the war”.

In addition, Peace Commissioner Restrepo insists that international agencies not plan “humanitarian” activities that imply contact with the armed groups. The goal of such a directive could not be more clear in a country where the main goal of international organizations is to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. As stated by Diego Pérez, a consultant to Suippcol – a network of Swiss NGOs that work with grassroots groups in Colombia, “helping the conflict’s direct victims – among whom can be found not just civilians but combatants who have been wounded or put out of combat – is impossible to do without coming in contact with the parties to the conflict.”

The repeated warnings against contact with armed groups sound more like accusations against international organizations and other NGOs. Indeed, the government’s distrust for human rights and peace organizations has never been a secret. In particular, the reports and information published by these groups often disagree with official sources; hence the addition of a new directive which “recommends” that donors only support the formulation of projects with official “true facts.” In other words, as long as the information used by NGOs coincides with government figures, the project will have complied with the guidelines. Needless to say, this is an unreasonable request when, among other examples, the government only recognizes only half of the 700 persons who are displaced every day.

In a particularly Orwellian turn of phrase, High Commissioner for Peace states that “accepting the existence of the armed conflict implies negating the proper channels of democracy,” and in effect supports the illegal armed actors in their quest for power. Notwithstanding, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ representative in Colombia, Michael Frühling, recalled at a June 13 press conference that the term “armed conflict” is part of the basic agreement between the Colombian government and his office.

The guidelines specifically state that “any kind of activity that could imply any contact with armed groups is unacceptable to the national government,” so presumably any travel or development projects outside major cities in areas where armed-group roadblocks are common is out of the question. What is more, projects already in place led by the UN and other independent international organizations become questionable under the new parameters. According to Diego Pérez, this statement ignores existing G-24 donor-country declarations (London in 2003 and Cartagena in 2005) as well as the recommendations issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and declarations by the European Council of Ministers regarding aid to Colombia.

Restrepo does not simply address international support, however, but also rules out any possibility of regional peace dialogues without the president’s authorization. Thus, local projects – such as the Nasa indigenous group’s “Life Projects” in Northern Cauca, which must inevitably require some contact with armed groups due to their heavy presence in the region – as well as other development and peace programs where leaders have no choice but to speak with armed actors in order to save lives or to preserve their projects, would clearly lose ground. Even the role of the Catholic Church in any sort of peace effort has been expressly limited.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Carolina Barco admitted at a press conference that perhaps the High Commissioner for Peace was remiss in distributing this document to embassies and international agencies, suggesting instead that he should have discussed the concerns in private meetings. She did not address the content of the directive, however.

Luis Carlos Restrepo did come forward in its defense and reiterated that the statement’s purpose was to ensure that international cooperation “speaks the same language” as the national government. Restrepo called it a “technical” document that “defines concepts and criteria to be used in projects that include the government as a counterpart.” According to the peace commissioner, many requests for projects that arrive in his office involve the direct or indirect participation of armed groups. The argument goes that contact with armed groups endangers the organizations initiating such relationships, the people in the region and – most importantly – delegitimizes the government. However, if the number of programs that fit this profile is as high as Restrepo asserts, it is worth asking whether it is possible to plan projects without taking armed groups into consideration, or whether the criteria that define “involvement” of armed groups is too broad or imprecise.

Shortly after the document was made public, several Colombian NGOs released strong responses. However, the international community was reticent to offer a public reaction. Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, resident coordinator for the UN system in Colombia, stated to the press that he had no official declarations to give. Likewise, European embassies maintained silence, and of course the U.S. embassy had nothing to say.

Only UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Colombia office director Roberto Meier expressed clear disagreement with the directives. Meier contended that the terminology in question has been in place for about 50 years, has been internationally approved, and that any attempts to change it should be addressed to the UN General Assembly. Meier states that the guidelines are “non-binding” as they have not been directed through the appropriate channels; however, he added that any attempt to enforce them may force UNHCR to pull out of the country.

Concludes CIP’s Winifred Tate, writing from Bogotá: “Reading this directive was particularly instructive having just returned from a five day trip through Putumayo, the southern state along the border with Ecuador currently under dispute between paramilitary groups and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC.

“I was lucky in my travels not to come into direct contact with illegal armed actors, but according to well-informed local sources, I ate lunch on several occasions with paramilitary commanders sitting near by table. During my trip, I met many dedicated local elected and appointed officials, as well as religious and community leaders, who would like nothing more than not to have to face daily contact with illegal armed groups in the course of their work. I’ll be writing more about my trip in the next week, but be warned: my account will include discussion of the ‘armed conflict,’ ‘armed actors’ and ‘non-state actors.’”

Jun 16

Once again, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has given us a fascinating look at current trends in coca cultivation in the Andes. The UNODC Coca Cultivation Surveys for Colombia, Bolivia and Peru released Tuesday are worth a close read.

Here are some of the most striking findings. For the most part, they do not reflect well on Plan Colombia or the current U.S. strategy.

  • Neither the UN nor the U.S. government found a significant drop in Colombian coca cultivation in 2004. While the State Department showed Colombian coca holding steady at 114,000 hectares between 2003 and 2004, UN figures indicate a 7 percent drop, from 86,000 to 80,000 hectares.

  • It is growing ever more difficult and costly to reduce each hectare of coca growing. The UN figures indicate that for every hectare of coca reduced in 2004, 22.8 hectares of coca were sprayed. This is the highest ratio since the UN began finding reductions in Colombian coca cultivation in 2001. (It’s still better than the ratio one would get from U.S. figures, since the State Department found no reduction whatsoever in coca-growing in 2004. You can’t divide by zero.)

    According to former Colombian government drug-policy advisor Alberto Rueda, “Conservative estimates establish that fumigating a hectare costs US$626.” Multiply that by 22.8 and you get the staggering figure of $14,273 spent for every hectare of coca reduced. The UNODC has reported elsewhere (big PowerPoint file) that one hectare of coca gives a farmer a net income of $199 per month. In order to eradicate that hectare, then, the United States in 2004 spent the equivalent of what the farmer would earn from it in six years.

  • UN estimates of coca-growing in Colombia continue to diverge widely from U.S. government estimates. The U.S. estimate of Colombian coca in 2004 (114,000 hectares) is 42.5 percent larger than the UN estimate (80,000 hectares). This is a remarkably large margin of error.

    While the UN’s measurements show Colombian coca dropping by 51 percent since 2000, the U.S. government’s own figures show a drop of only 16 percent from 2000 levels. (See our comparison of U.S. and UN data for the Andes.)

  • According to the UN, the “balloon effect” is alive and well. The UNODC figures found that the small reduction in Colombian coca-growing was more than offset by substantial increases in Bolivia (17 percent) and Peru (14 percent). For the first time since 2000, total Andean coca-growing increased (by 3 percent). This reduction in one country followed by increases elsewhere is another classic example of the “balloon effect” – a phenomenon likening drug-crop eradication to squeezing one part of a balloon, only to see it bulge out elsewhere.

    This contradicts U.S. figures, which found no reductions in Colombia but small reductions in Bolivian and Peruvian coca-cultivation. (This led House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde [R-Illinois] to report, in a memo to the committee last month, that “We have not seen this balloon effect on coca, as there has not been substantial replanting of coca in Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere.”) While UN and U.S. estimates diverge widely in Colombia, there isn’t even any agreement on the general trend of coca-growing in Bolivia and Peru.

  • Which leads to the point that the satellite imagery used to estimate coca-growing is only able to offer a rough guess. Limitations of satellite methods not only lead to diverging estimates, they appear to allow substantial amounts of coca to go undetected. The UNODC’s reports reveal four such limitations.

    1) In Colombia, the satellite coverage does not cover the entire national territory. As the map indicates, the satellites fail to cover much of several departments of Colombia known to have significant amounts of coca (Arauca, Meta, Vichada, Vaupés and Amazonas). They entirely miss the department of Casanare, which borders several coca-producing departments and is overrun by paramilitaries and guerrillas.

    2) The satellites cannot detect small coca plots. The latest Coca Survey recognizes that coca cultivations of less than 0.25 hectares – that’s two-thirds of an acre – are undetectable.

    3) The satellites cannot find newly planted or recently harvested coca. The 2003 Coca Survey declared that “Only productive coca plants can be identified by means of multi-spectral image analysis. Unproductive coca, i.e. seedlings, harvested stems or sprayed plants show the same spectral characteristics as bare soil or river banks, and are therefore classified accordingly.”

    4) Coca-growers are finding other ways to hide their product. The Bolivia Coca Survey notes that farmers in the Chapare region are growing the bushes among dense weeds, making them “very difficult to detect, even from the ground.” It adds that farmers are increasingly planting coca under the shade of trees, out of the view of satellites and aircraft: “Farmers clear the lower vegetation of forested areas and plant coca seeds or transplant coca seedlings under taller trees. The density of coca plants is not high, but the plants receive enough sunlight to grow.”

  • Within Colombia, the “balloon effect” continues. The UN data shows that departments that were a heavy focus of spraying in 2004, like Guaviare, Nariño, Caquetá and Putumayo, registered reductions in coca-growing. However, the reductions were almost completely negated by increases elsewhere. Coca cultivation grew by 46 percent in Meta department, 188 percent in Arauca, 21 percent in Antioquia and 23 percent in the far eastern Orinoco-basin department of Vichada.

    Interestingly, Meta (part of the zone where the U.S.-supported “Plan Patriota” military offensive) and Arauca (where U.S. aid is helping Colombian troops guard an oil pipeline) are areas of particular focus for U.S. military assistance programs.

  • 62 percent of coca fields detected in Colombia in 2004 were new. This is further evidence that fumigation, in the absence of legal alternatives, is not dissuading farmers from planting coca.
  • Not only are cocaine prices not rising in the United States – coca base prices are hardly rising in Colombia. One would expect eradication to make the product scarcer, and cause its price to rise. Yet the UNODC reports that the price of coca base – the paste that farmers make from coca leaves – has barely increased in dollar terms, and has stayed about the same in Colombian pesos.
  • Unlike the U.S. government, the UN found no decrease in opium poppy cultivation in Colombia last year. The Coca Survey reports, “Based on reconnaissance flights and spray operations conducted in 2004, DIRAN [The Colombian Police Antinarcotics Division] identified approximately 4,000 hectares of opium poppy under cultivation, a similar level compared to 2003.”

    This flies in the face of U.S. claims that, in the words of a State Department narcotics official who testified before a House committee last month, “Cultivation of opium poppy in Colombia was reduced by over 65 percent in 2004.”

  • In most of the country, UN figures show, spraying is not going hand-in-hand with alternative development. The strategy continues to be all stick and no carrot.


    The above table shows coca cultivation, spraying, and alternative-development expenditure in Colombia’s top twelve coca-growing departments over the past several years. It indicates a stark reality: in several of the departments with the most coca and the most spraying, investment in alternative development has been minimal at best.

    In Guaviare, the second most-sprayed department in the country, only $500,000 has been dedicated to alternative-development efforts. Nariño, the third most-sprayed department, has seen only $11 million, and most of that has gone to opium poppy-growing zones in the mountains. Caquetá has seen only $5.8 million, while Vichada and Arauca have seen no investment whatsoever – only fumigation.

  • The UN reminds us that alternative development – not a further increase in forced eradication – is the key to reducing coca-growing. In Tuesday’s UNODC press release, Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa declares, “This could be a turning point for the Andean region — farmers are ready to abandon coca cultivation, if legitimate means to earn a livelihood are available. … UNODC data indicates that farmers involved in its alternative livelihood programmes in the Andean region are able to earn more in actual income than counterparts involved in coca cultivation.”

CIP strongly seconds the Coca Survey’s principal recommendation:

There is a window of opportunity for the Andean region—in all three coca-producing countries, the overwhelming majority of farmers indicate their willingness to abandon illicit trade, if assisted in developing alternatives to poverty. The United Nations calls on the international community to focus even more sharply on the ways in which drugs, crime, and terrorism continue to sustain poverty and sabotage the rule of law in the Andean region. We invite greater support for alternative development, the most effective method of creating sustainable growth.

Jun 13

From May 29 to June 2, the Fellowship of Reconciliation led a delegation of NGO representatives and congressional staffers concerned about the peace community of San José de Apartadó, in the Urabá region of northern Colombia. While relatively small in population – approximately 1,000 people, the majority of them children – the San José peace community has suffered a disproportionate number of attacks because of its outspoken refusal to let armed actors into their community, as well as its criticism of the Colombian armed forces’ links with paramilitary groups in the region.

Most recently, on February 21, two community leaders, along with their families, were brutally killed; several witnesses allege that members of the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade were responsible. Eight people, including three children, were killed.

The delegation was organized to visit the community and inquire about the state of the investigations. The case has gained a particularly high international profile because of the coincidence of the massacre with the annual State Department human-rights certification, required by law for the release of 12.5% of funds for assistance to the Colombian Armed Forces. The law requires that the State Department certify, among other things, that the Commander-General of the Armed Forces is suspending officials who have been credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations, the government is vigorously investigating and prosecuting such personnel. The February 21 massacre is one of four cases that have delayed the State Department certification since early March.

San Jose in the Eye of the Hurricane

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó emerged as a response to the massive displacements generated by paramilitary violence in Urabá in the mid-1990s. Supported by a number of groups, including the Diocese of Apartadó, the Jesuit Center for Research and Grassroots Education (CINEP), and the Inter-Congregational Commission of Justice and Peace, the community declared itself a “peace community” on March 23, 1997. According to the rules they established, members must participate in communal work, may not directly participate in the war or carry arms, nor may they deliver information to either side. From the beginning, the community garnered significant international support, including accompaniment by Peace Brigades International, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, humanitarian agencies and European embassies.

The “urban center” of San José de Apartadó – really a few dirt streets lined with adobe houses – is located 12 kilometers from the municipal capital Apartadó, but is a world and almost an hour away on nearly impassable dirt roads. This region, at the foothills of the Serranía de Abibe overlooking the fertile banana fields of Urabá, has a long history as an extremely conflictive zone. A historic guerrilla presence, primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after the majority of the Popular Liberation Army (ELP) laid down their arms in 1991, was disputed by a paramilitary offensive in the mid-1990s that forced thousands to flee their lands. Today, the FARC and paramilitary forces still wrestle for control.

The paramilitary demobilizations, negotiated between paramilitary leaders and the Colombian government in neighboring Córdoba, have been a recent destabilizing force. Last November, 447 members of the most active paramilitary group in the region, the Bananero Bloc under the control of still-active paramilitary commander Hernán Hernández, demobilized in Turbo, a 45-minute drive from Apartadó. Paramilitary activity in the region has not diminished, however. The “Héroes del Tolová” Bloc, under the control of now-demobilized drug trafficker and paramilitary commander Diego Murillo (“Don Berna”) has moved into the area. The Americano Bloc, under the control of “El Alemán,” who is not participating in the demobilization talks, has also been active in the area. FARC presence in the region is reportedly also on the rise. Shifting political alliances and efforts to consolidate territorial control further endanger the civilian communities caught in the crossfire.

Since their founding as a peace community, San José residents have experienced little peace. Since 1997, over 130 community members have been killed, approximately 20 by the FARC and the rest by paramilitary groups allegedly working with military forces in the region. The community considers the paramilitary and military so closely linked that in their denuncias, the military and paramilitary are listed as a single force. In addition to these killings, the community has suffered from threats, violent incursions in which houses have been burned, theft of market goods and communal property, and the murders of public transportation drivers who travel the road to the community.

The community’s most controversial stand has been their refusal to allow members of the security forces into their community, considering them to be a party in the conflict through their direct collaboration with paramilitary forces, rather than a fulfilling a protective role. The community in turn has been continually criticized by Colombian military officials and politicians, who accuse it of sheltering the FARC. Álvaro Uribe, first in his position as governor of Antioquia (1996-2000) and now as president, has been one of the community’s fiercest critics. As governor, he argued that neutrality in the conflict meant directly supporting the Colombian armed forces, and according to community residents, offered to provide the community arms and training to become a Convivir, or rural security cooperative – structures that were later linked with the expansion of paramilitary activity in the region. As president, Uribe has repeated allegations that community members maintain links with the FARC.

Events of the massacre

News of the massacre first reached international accompaniers on Wednesday, February 23. The next day, more than one hundred community members, along with members of the FOR and PBI teams and staff from Concern America, walked more than seven hours to reach the shallow graves of Alonso Bolívar, his wife, six year old daughter and 18-month old son, and a neighbor. Later exhumations revealed that the bodies had been dismembered. Less than an hour’s walk away, the tortured and dismembered bodies of Luis Eduardo Guerra, his common-law wife and son were found alongside the river.

Authorities continue to dispute responsibility for the massacre. The community blames members of the 17th Brigade for the killings. Witnesses from the community reported military presence in the area, including soldiers threatening community members; Luis Eduardo and his family were last seen alive detained by uniformed soldiers on February 21. Witnesses from the community also report evidence linking two crime scenes. Members of the community that went to find the bodies saw soldiers tampering with evidence. A Colombian journalist and international observers saw military personnel erasing military-themed graffiti from houses. The Colombian government claims that the massacre was committed by the FARC, angered because of Luis Eduardo and Alonso’s intention to leave the peace community.

The massacre has had a devastating impact on the peace community because of the important leadership role played by Alonso Bolívar and especially Luis Eduardo. One of the founding members of the community, Luis Eduardo was the public face and community spokesman in meetings with the Colombian government and the international community. In November 2002, he traveled to the United States on a speaking tour, speaking against U.S. military aid for the Colombian armed forces at the School of the Americas Watch protest at Fort Benning. Alonso was active in organizing efforts to expand the peace-community presence into the surrounding sparsely populated rural areas through the establishment of humanitarian zones, where civilians could take refuge and seek protection during combat or attacks.

Certification and Investigation

Although community leaders have met with foreign embassies in Colombia, including the U.S. ambassador, and members of international delegations, they refuse to testify before the Fiscalía, Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office. Community leaders point to the Fiscalía’s failure to investigate the hundreds of attacks they have suffered in the past eight years. In particular, they highlight the failed efforts of a special investigative commission that was formed to investigate the June 8, 2000 massacre of six community members in La Unión (part of the larger peace community of San José), allegedly by members of the 17th Brigade. The commission gathered more than 100 witness testimonies, but no one was ever charged for the crimes and the case was closed. Witnesses in this and other cases who provided testimony to the Fiscalía faced severe reprisals, including threats and in some cases assassination. According to the Fiscalía, the testimony offered by witnesses had little value as evidence, consisting mainly of hearsay.

The community leaders have listed among their demands an evaluation commission to study why there has been no forward motion on these cases, particularly the 2000 La Unión massacre. Witnesses to the February 21 massacre will not testify until these conditions are met, including action on past cases. The Fiscalía claims to have advanced as much as possible in the collection of forensic and other physical evidence, and to have suffered attacks themselves during the course of the investigation. On March 2, a commission from the Fiscalía traveling to San José de Apartadó was attacked. Several investigators were wounded and one policeman killed.

On February 22, the day after the massacre, the U.S. State Department held a consultation with human rights groups in Washington, as required by the human-rights certification legislation at least 10 days before issuing the certification. Since then, they have not issued the certification, in part because of concern about the possible role of the Colombian military in the murders. According to U.S. Ambassador William Wood, they are “agonizing” over the decision.

The Police Post and Displacement

Controversy over the case has grown. Prior to the massacre, community leaders, among them Luis Eduardo, and the Colombian government, including the Vice President’s human rights program, had been meeting to improve the relationship between the community and the government, and to address community concerns. In part, these meetings were the result of recommendations from the Inter-American Court, a human rights body of the Organization of American States, which had ordered protection measures for the community and people working directly with them following previous attacks.

The government plan to locate a police post in the urban center of San José de Apartadó was among the most controversial issues during these meetings. According to the government, the police post was needed to guarantee security for both community members and the inhabitants of Apartadó, who feared FARC presence in the region. Community leaders rejected this plan, however, because it violated their stated refusal to allow armed people within their community, and because they feared it would make the community a military target of the FARC. They suggested that the police presence be located around the perimeter of the community and along the road from San Jose to Apartadó, where many of the most violent attacks against community members had occurred. They also repeatedly asked for an increased presence of civilian state officials in the community, including a representative of the national Defensoría del Pueblo (Human Rights Ombudsman).

Community leaders suspended their meetings with government representatives immediately following the massacre. Seven weeks later, the government established a police post in the center of town. In response to this violation of their principles, the entire community of San José de Apartadó abandoned their homes, and settled a few kilometers down the road on land previously donated to the community by the Dutch government.

According to the Colombian government, the police post is staffed by specially trained community police, who carry pistols rather than machine guns, and are carefully monitored by civilian oversight agencies. Community members claim that having such a post in the center of their town makes them a military target for the FARC, and fear devastating attacks such as that of Bojaya (when a FARC cylinder bomb hit a church and killed 119 people during combat with paramilitaries) and Toribío (when a FARC attack killed three people after the police had set up trenches and sandbags around local houses). They also claim that the police post is being used by members of the military. International accompaniers have seen soldiers from the 17th Brigade gathered with police outside the school. According to one of the UNHCR staff in the area, the police post is used to garrison counter-guerrilla forces at night.

In response to the police-post presence in San José de Apartadó, the community immediately displaced to a nearby farm known as La Holandita, in honor of the Dutch government who gave the land. As private property, the government cannot build a police post on the land.

In only a little more than two months, the community has made an impressive display of building new homes from the ground up. With some material support from Oxfam, and the collective labor of community members not just from San José but from surrounding hamlets as well, the community now includes a large open air kiosk for public meetings, and several long rows of attached single room houses. During our visit, men were busy digging trenches alongside the houses, while women washed clothes and young children in the small stream that winds between the houses and the main road to Apartadó.

Life in La Holandita, now also known as San Josesito, is extremely hard, however. The community lacks basic services, including water and sanitation. The stream is the only source of water, and the only bathroom for the entire community is a small black plastic hut perched downstream of the community. (International agencies have promised to supply collective latrines). The lack of electricity and phone service is both a nuisance and a serious danger, as the community remains cut off and in the dark. Apart from periodic visits from Doctors Without Borders, the community has no health services, and there are no schools.

The police post in San José was inaugurated with a circus sponsored by the police, and community members have reported that the mayor of Apartadó has offered hand-outs of supplies for families that have resettled in San José, whether from Apartadó and other towns, or returned there from San Josesito. Many families that originally displaced from San José have chosen to return out of concern for the health and education of their children. Those that remain in San Josesito face serious deprivations in their new homes, and worry over the fate of their abandoned property.

During our interview, Ambassador Wood concluded that “San José has not been a success story. People have died.” He went on, “It has been a source of political controversy and turmoil, more than any other random town of your choosing.”

On one level, this assessment is impossible to dispute: far too many people have died, and the experience of this small community that has attempted to carve out a space for non-violent existence in the midst of one of the most violent corners of Colombia has generated both controversy and turmoil. The Colombians and the international community that work the closest with the people of the peace community of San Jose, however, do not define their journey as a failure.

Of the numerous small peace communities that began with the support of the Diocese of Apartadó and other organizations eight years ago, San José is only one of two remaining peace communities. In villages and hamlets throughout Colombia, peasants face in silence and without support the same kinds of attacks by armed actors. Even as the current political and humanitarian crisis facing San José is one of the most intense in recent years, their collective survival, as a community dedicated to living a peaceful way in a violent land, and their refusal to remain silent, are testimony to their success.

Jun 09

I’m paying a brief visit, to speak at a conference, to Lima, Peru – a country to which we have not paid enough attention, even though it’s Latin America’s number-two recipient of U.S. military and police aid. (A distant second to Colombia.)

I can claim no in-depth expertise about Peru. And this three-and-a-half-day visit will not make me much more of an expert. Besides, this week the main focus of the region’s attention is rightly focused south of here, on Bolivia, where the poor and indigenous majority has again hit the streets and appears about to force out another president. The images on television and in the papers here show crowds of tens of thousands of mostly peaceful protesters choking the streets and shutting down business as usual.

The question that many people here in Lima are asking: why isn’t this happening here? Might it happen soon? Is Peru next?

The Bolivian protests, after all, seem to be driven by the same frustrations that are widely shared in Peru. Obviously, the people clogging the streets of La Paz and El Alto – most of them people who live one step ahead of hunger, many of whose first language is not Spanish – aren’t going to be placated by another change of presidents and a constitutional restructuring of the natural-gas sector. Instead, we’re witnessing a fierce expression of frustration and anger.

Frustration about an economic “opening” that closed mines and threw the rural sector into crisis. Frustration at a concentration of wealth over the last 20 years. Frustration about aggressive coca-eradication programs that have far outpaced development efforts. And frustration with democracy, which seems only able to produce national leaders who are out of touch, unable to improve the lot of the poorest, beholden to large economic interests, and – above all – perceived, usually correctly, as hopelessly corrupt.

We saw a similar outburst in Ecuador earlier this year, when Lucio Gutiérrez was sent packing. I am not comfortable with these extra-constitutional changes of government. But the anger and frustration that give rise to them are understandable.

Which brings us to Peru. This country has been especially battered by what has been perhaps the region´s worst transition from dictatorship to democracy. A brutal insurgency in the 1980s. The disastrous Alán García presidency, complete with hyperinflation and a costly default on foreign debt. The decade of misrule by Fujimori and Montesinos. And now Alejandro Toledo, perhaps the least popular president in all of Latin America, widely perceived as lazy, isolated from the electorate, ignoring his campaign promises to the working class, and caught up in a swarm of corruption scandals involving many of his associates.

Though Peru’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing in the hemisphere, poverty has hardly budged. Lay this on top of a de facto situation of apartheid excluding the indigenous population, and the result is a lot of angry Peruvians.

Look at the last poll from the Chile-based “Latinobarómetro” organization, which surveys public opinion in 18 Latin American countries. When asked whether they agreed with the statement “This country is governed by a few powerful interests for their own benefit,” 85 percent of Peruvians answered yes – first in the region! When asked if they agreed with the statement “I wouldn’t mind a non-democratic government, if it were able to solve our economic problems,” 64 percent of Peruvians said yes (the regional average was 55 percent).

Again, I’m not a Peru expert. I’m not in regular touch with the country’s non-elite NGOs, and I had only a few hours yesterday to wander around Lima, mainly the rather prosperous Miraflores sector.

But even in that brief time, I was bowled over by the anger I heard in the several conversations I had. All of it was voluntarily expressed, and in fact I didn’t even initiate any conversations. (It was usually, “Where are you from?” “Where in the United States?” “Ah, Washington…” – and that was enough.)

In a few hours, I spoke at length to a taxi driver, a waiter, a proprietor of a small grocery store, a teenager in a shoe store, a guy who wanted to shine my sneakers, a bookstore cashier, and a retired professor. All had a lot to say to a gringo from Washington with a little time to kill.

Though most volunteered that they don’t like George Bush (”Why did he start that war?” “Why doesn’t he do more to help us?”), their anger wasn’t directed at the United States. (In fact, two people I spoke with wanted to come to America quite badly.)

But across the board, their anger at their own leaders was so strong that the conversations instantly became emphatic and one-sided. There’s some rage here that I’ve never seen so openly and freely expressed in Colombia.

“They’re all thieves,” a few said. Democracy has been hijacked by people – “ignorant, illiterate people” in the words of one – who seek only to enrich themselves. I heard no belief that next year’s presidential elections would bring any change. (Unbelievably, the two figures currently leading the polls are Alán García and Alberto Fujimori! At least Fujimori is still exiled in Japan.)

“Toledo is supported by the same tiny group (grupúsculo) that supported Fujimori and Montesinos,” said the grocer, who was remarkably articluate. She added, “They steal from us. They are narcotraffickers. They are above the law. We can’t touch them. But if we complain, they call us terrorists (terrucos) and throw us in jail or worse. There is no terrorism here. Why doesn’t the United States realize that and help us for real?”

Again, I’m no expert on Peru and certainly wasn’t taking a rigorous measure of popular opinion. But I was still quite struck by the anger and frustration that was voluntarily expressed to me in just a few hours. A few hours in which I was just walking around, not actually seeking people’s opinions.

If this sample is at all indicative, something is clearly up here. Peru may well be headed toward an outcome similar to Bolivia’s, perhaps during the next presidential term.

Some of the Peruvian academics I’ve spoken with here share this concern, though they don’t see it as an immediate threat. While the rage is real, they point out, it is disorganized. There is no opposition leadership capable of mobilizing tens of thousands in coordinated street protests – there is no Peruvian Evo Morales, no strong indigenous movement as in Ecuador. Using populist language, old machine politicians like Alán García are having some success channeling popular frustration to their own advantage.

The may be right, though it would be hard to imagine a re-elected retread like Alán García managing to finish his term in office. This kind of anger and frustration won’t say disorganized forever.

We had better keep an eye on Peru. And the U.S. government – which has spent the last several years viewing Peru mainly as a counternarcotics issue, and which plans a deep cut in economic aid for 2006 – must end its neglect, and must abandon hard-line, punitive anti-drug and economic policies that might make life tougher for Peruvians in the short term. This is not the time to add to Peruvians’ sense of frustration.

Jun 04

In a bitter and disturbing session a week ago Thursday (May 26), the Colombian Congress debated whether to censure the minister of defense, Jorge Alberto Uribe, for failing to show up when requested to testify a few weeks earlier. Ironically, the debate was called off early – before the minister could even give his statement – because, as legislators steadily left the chamber over the course of the debate, the Congress did not have a quorum present.

Uribe (no relation to President Uribe), Colombia’s tenth defense minister in the fourteen years that civilians have occupied the position, has a difficult job. He is the head of a small civilian staff charged with overseeing more than 360,000 military and police, whose commanders have traditionally been fierce defenders of their privileges and resentful of civilian attempts to increase oversight or to guide the design of strategy and defense policy.

It is not easy to mediate between these officers’ demands and those of outsiders, including many members of the Congress, who want to see the Defense Ministry’s civilians confronting the high command on touchy issues like punishing human-rights abuse, weeding out corruption, and stopping waste and inefficiency. The most recent flare-up came in late April, when Minister Uribe was forced to resolve a debate among senior officers about whether to increase joint operations (a strong recommendation of U.S. advisors) by firing four top generals who opposed the prospect of placing Army personnel under Navy or Air Force command.

When the Congress requested that Minister Uribe report to testify about the controversial firings, he did not show up. The next step was last week’s censure hearing. If the legislators vote for censure, it is likely that Minister Uribe could be fired.

Most of the legislators who did attend last Thursday’s five-hour session were critical; critics came from both the right wing (such as Senator Jaime Canal, a retired general) and the left (including Wilson Borja, a former labor-union leader).

Many criticized the minister’s recent practice of donning a military uniform when addressing troops (Uribe, a lifelong businessman who never spent a day in military service, does not cut an imposing figure in camouflage fatigues). “It is degrading and sad to see you, Mr. Minister, costumed with our camouflage,” said Sen. Canal, the former general. Other critics lashed out against the minister’s criticisms of Venezuela’s recent arms purchases, which go against the Colombian government’s official position; against his failure to comply with 30 orders from the government internal-affairs body (the Procuraduría) to fire security-force personnel for disciplinary reasons; and of course for the firings of the four generals in April.

These criticisms in themselves hardly seem like grounds for firing Minister Uribe. What appeared to bother his congressional critics most was perhaps harder to express clearly: a feeling that Uribe, though nominally at the top of the Defense Ministry’s hierarchy, is incapable of saying “no” to the high command. Instead of standing up to the generals on questions of policy or budget, forcing them to swallow bitter medicine on occasion, the perception is that Uribe is too anxious to curry favor with them, and ends up acting as their advocate and defender more than as an enforcer of the civilian leadership’s priorities.

This means, of course, that the high command is very happy with Uribe in the defense minister’s position. So happy, in fact, that they took the very troubling step of accompanying Uribe to the censure debate. Flanking him like so many bodyguards were five generals whom one would normally expect, in a time of war, to have more useful ways to spend those five hours: Armed Forces Commander Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, Army Commander Gen. Reynaldo Castellanos, Air Force Commander Gen. Édgar Lésmez, Navy Commander Adm. Mauricio Soto, and Police Inspector-General Gen. Jaime Augusto Vera.

In a statement on the Defense Ministry’s website, Uribe expressed his pleasure that “of their own will, independently and to my surprise, all of the military and police commanders were there, accompanying not only a minister but someone who has also become their friend.”

Members of Colombia’s Congress and other observers were right to question the generals’ presence at the debate. Some accused Uribe of politicizing the armed forces by involving them in his effort to save his own job. A few brave congressmen lashed out at the officers for being present. Wilson Borja called for them to leave the chamber, as they had not been invited (they did not leave), and characterized their presence as purposefully “intimidating.” Sen. Héctor Helí Rojas called it “an undue pressure on the Congress.” This pressure may have worked; while most of the Congress was present at the beginning of the debate, they moved steadily toward the exits until a quorum no longer existed.

The whole episode was another blow to civilian control of the military, which – though military coups have been rare – has always been weak in Colombia. Humberto de la Calle, a conservative commentator for El Espectador, called the generals’ presence “ominous” in a column published last Sunday. “It smells like a political pronouncement, an undue pressure, a challenge to the Congress’s ability to carry out its constitutional role. … It is easy to perceive it as a simple act of political deliberation, something the Constitution prohibits the Armed Forces from doing.”

Postscript: The lack of a quorum forced the Congress to postpone the debate for a week. They were to meet again last Thursday, June 2. Minister Uribe had indicated that he might not be able to attend that day because he was to preside over the military academy’s promotion ceremony. I have been traveling since Thursday, and have had no Internet access. As a result, I am writing this without knowing what happened on June 2.

Jun 01

(This is the first posting from the CIP Colombia Program’s summer intern, Marcela Guerrero.)

The Paez indigenous community of northern Cauca department, in southwestern Colombia, is under fire from both the FARC and the government. While the former has continously attacked their principal towns since April 14, the latter accuses them of complicity with guerrillas and has begun a campaign of mass arrests. The 85,000-member community, known in its own language as the Nasa, is divided into 13 reservations and 2 civilian communities (individually or collectively owned lands not considered reservations) located in seven municipalities (counties) of northern Cauca (Jambaló, Toribío, Caloto, Santander de Quilichao, Buenos Aires, Corinto and Miranda). They elect their own leaders and have gained several mayoral posts in nearby towns. They govern according to “Life Projects” (Proyectos de Vida), which encompass development through participatory governance, agriculture and small enterprises. Their political and judicial procedures involve public assemblies and other participatory bodies. As northern Cauca has been a conflictive zone for decades, the community has sought to secure itself through a non-violent model rooted in centuries-old tradition: an “indigenous guard” of about 9,000 members (3,200 in northern Cauca), armed only with symbolic ceremonial staffs, that has successfully confronted armed groups’ harassment and incursions. This peaceful approach has brought national and international recognition to the Nasa and has won them the Equator Prize from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and two national peace prizes.

Indigenous people throughout Colombia have been particularly vulnerable to the conflict. Many of their leaders have been threatened and killed, their communities have been displaced and their declared position of neutrality has not been respected by either the government or armed groups. Nevertheless, the Nasa continue to demonstrate strong cohesion and resilience. Committed to a non-violent strategy, the Nasa have mobilized thousands of people to demonstrate against the conflict, human rights violations, free trade agreements with the U.S., and on September 7th of last year, to confront the FARC and successfully rescue some of their leaders who had been kidnapped.

The latest events began to unfold on April 14 when several hundred guerrillas from the FARC’s 6th Front and Jacobo Arenas Column attacked Toribío, a Nasa town of about 3,500 people. The guerrillas indiscriminately rained homemade gas-cylinder bombs on the town, damaging the police station that the Uribe government had installed, but also destroying a hospital and dozens of houses. Fighting between the FARC and government forces displaced approximately 6,000 people. As fighting continued in and around Toribío, the FARC attacked the nearby town of Jambaló on April 21st, and more people were displaced.

These events worsened a strained relationship between the Nasa and the Uribe government. Uribe refuses to accept the group’s desire to exclude all armed actors, including government forces, from its communities. In 2003, the government – which has made a great effort to place at least a small police presence in all of Colombia’s 1,092 municipalities – installed a police station, surrounded by sandbags, right in the middle of the town’s population center despite residents’ strong protests that the town would attract attacks. As predicted, the FARC attacked and troops were sent in to reinforce the police; however, it took a couple of weeks to get the FARC out of the town centers of Toribío, Jambaló and Tacueyó. These are not only the longest confrontations in many years, since the FARC usually attacks and quickly retreats, but they show that the Uribe government – which has made a big show out of installing police in all municipalities – was not prepared to defend these police, and the towns in which they were stationed, in the event of a concerted guerrilla attack.Arriving by helicopter, President Uribe paid a brief visit to Toribío on April 15, in which he called the FARC “cowards,” pledged to keep the security forces in the town, and sought to rally community support for his strategy. On April 30, Uribe presided over a community council meeting in Santander de Quilichao (Cauca); however, his words were not well received and the meeting ended as indigenous leaders got up and left the room.

While finding themselves caught in the middle of FARC attacks, the Nasa are now also subject to government accusations that some community members collaborated with the FARC. On May 22, the director of the DAS (Colombia’s equivalent of the FBI), Hector Ortíz, told Medellín’s El Colombiano that “we will prove that there are indeed indigenous people involved with subversive groups as militants, informants and combatants.” These allegations followed earlier statements by Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe, who affirmed that the attack in Toribío was facilitated by indigenous residents, and by Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, who publicly questioned the neutraility of both the Nasa and the peace community of San José de Apartadó, which also seeks to exclude all armed actors.

A campaign of massive arrests ensued. On May 19, the indigenous leadership issued a statement denouncing an operation carried out by the “José Hilario López Batallion [of the Colombian army], the DAS, the Fiscalía [attorney-general’s office] and the police.” The statement indicates that on that day, DAS searched six indigenous leaders’ residences in nearby Caldono and claimed to have found explosives. The leaders insist that DAS agents planted the items themselves in order to incriminate local indigenous political leaders. Among the subjects of the house searches was Vicente Otero, a former mayor of Caldono and a leader in the Nasa communities’ nonbinding March-6th referendum against a free trade agreement with the United States. Otero’s house was searched while he was away and only his 11 year old son and disabled brother were present. Documents and much personal information were removed.

Indigenous groups have admitted that after three decades of FARC presence it is inevitable that some members have developed relationships, though on the whole the guerrillas – whose rigid Marxism sees no role for indigenous identity – have very poor relations with the Nasa. The general perception, as expressed by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), is that the government has indiscriminately labeled indigenous communities in this region as FARC sympathizers, an excuse it uses to settle political scores against community leaders who may disagree with its policies. Furthermore, although the government charges that some indigenous members are FARC sympathizers, the weekly magazine Semana asserts that the indigenous organization has in fact been the only real obstacle to FARC control of northern Cauca.

DAS regional director Hector Ortiz claims that while 200 arrests were announced the week before the searches, they were not exclusively directed toward the Nasa. This clarification comes after his vow to find indigenous collaborators was made widely public in the Colombian media, and the Nasa leadership began to sound the alarm both nationally and internationally.Meanwhile, the Colombian government has attempted to justify its actions by emphasizing the strong presence of FARC members in the region, as well as the widespread cultivation of coca and poppies (63% of Cauca municipalities according to government figures). However, Uribe’s open defiance of the Nasa people’s expressed will has strengthened the notion that Colombian indigenous groups are being targeted politically, due to their position of impartiality in the armed conflict as well as their success in challenging government policies through peaceful demonstrations and their “Life Projects”.

The Nasa population’s non-violent defense of their sovereignty against all armed groups has brought much domestic and internatinal attention. In an interview with Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now,” former Toribío mayor Ezequiel Vitonás recalled that a resistance movement is active in his town, as well as in the rest of Northern Cauca. Civil society has put forth a movement, he asserts, that dates back to 1971 – or even 1701, when reservations were formed and lands were given to communities to be administered according to their needs and customs.Mr. Vitonás is currently on a tour of the United States to raise awareness about what is happening in his community, hosted by the American Friends Service Committee. He requests that the U.S. government stop providing military aid for Colombia’s war, and instead fund development, humanitarian and governance efforts to help his people and other Colombians.His visit achieved some success in New York, where the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People, Rodolfo Stavenhagen reiterated his concern for the situation of indigenous people in Colombia. In a report issued last year, Mr. Stavenhagen acknowledged that conditions have deteriorated, going as far as to characterize the situation of indigenous people in Colombia as “ethnocide.” Mr. Vitonás and his companion Manuel Rozental believe this recognition is a step in the right direction. However, they are calling for international presence and pressure to raise widespread awareness about their issues. They hope to see an international delegation, led by the Special Rapporteur, visit Colombia and verify the current situation. In order to reach this goal, they call for better coordination among NGOs and for a legal framework to pressure the Colombian government to change its policies and ultimately to hold it accountable.