Jul 27

It’s been hard to figure out President Uribe’s strategy for freeing the fifty-nine hostages whom the FARC has been cruelly holding, for several years now, to pressure for a prisoner exchange. At times, Uribe bares his teeth, ordering the military to attempt armed rescues, refusing to negotiate with “terrorists” unless a cease-fire is declared, or insisting on negotiating only by e-mail. At other times, Uribe softens his bargaining position, making offers to release 50 FARC prisoners in advance, suggesting that negotiations occur at a foreign embassy in Bogotá, and even releasing 23 low-ranking guerrilla prisoners last December as “a show of good faith.”

Whether Uribe is playing an elaborate game of chess or merely improvising, two things are certain. His efforts haven’t succeeded in freeing any hostages. And – until yesterday, perhaps – none of his offers has accepted the FARC’s main pre-condition for talks: a demilitarized zone.

The FARC seeks the Colombian military’s exit from an area where talks are to take place, on the pretext that guerrilla leaders need guarantees of safety. More specifically, last fall the FARC asked for a temporary military pullout from two counties, Florida and Pradera in the southeastern corner of Valle del Cauca department, near Cali.

To agree to such a demilitarized zone carries a high political cost for Uribe. The military, which finds it humiliating to pull out of an area where the government is supposed to be sovereign, will complain loudly. Other observers will recall the bitter experience of Uribe’s predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who demilitarized five counties between 1998 and 2002 for a peace process that failed. (Of course, Uribe has already done something like this: the “location zone” in Santa Fe de Ralito, where talks are taking place with paramilitaries, is a demilitarized zone. In his defense, Uribe can respond that Ralito is a far smaller zone than the FARC got, and that he granted it only after the paramilitaries declared a cease-fire. Declared, if not honored.)

Uribe had firmly refused the FARC request to demilitarize Florida and Pradera, or any other square inch of Colombian territory. Yesterday, though, it appeared that Uribe was giving in, at least partially, to this FARC pre-condition.

Peace negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo said that President Uribe – using powers granted in a little-noticed section (chapter 11) of the controversial “Justice and Peace Law” [PDF format] – had instructed him to meet with the FARC immediately, wherever they want, and at the date and time they want, to talk about a prisoner exchange. When asked whether he had a demilitarized zone in mind, Restrepo answered in a roundabout way: “Call it what you want to call it, a security site, a mutual-confidence site, a meeting site. What is important is that it fulfills the function of giving them enough trust to sit and converse with the government about the issue of a humanitarian exchange.”

The FARC have been clear about what “gives them enough trust”: a temporary military pullout, ideally from Florida and Pradera. Though this is a very tough pill for the government to swallow, it does reflect the expressed will of most of the hostages’ relatives, and it is a less-bad option than an armed rescue attempt, as the FARC has shown no reluctance to kill hostages when such attempts are made.

But even if this step is taken, the real hard part still lies ahead.

  • It will be very difficult for Colombia’s government to accept a prisoner-exchange agreement that allows guerrillas freed from Colombian prisons to return to the conflict. (The government of France has offered to receive any guerrillas freed through an exchange.)

  • The agreement must include guarantees that the FARC will never again take hostages to pressure for an exchange. These will be nearly impossible to enforce, however: if the guerrillas take new hostages, the past few years have shown that there is little that the Colombian government can do about it.
  • Both sides will have to take the difficult step of removing from the table some related, and emotionally charged, issues. For instance, there will be strong pressures to get a FARC guarantee not to kidnap for any reason, including ransom. The guerrillas, however, are unlikely to give up this brutal but lucrative practice just to free a few dozen prisoners. For its part, the FARC will demand, as it has done already, that “Simón Trinidad” and “Sonia” – two mid-level guerrilla leaders extradited to the United States on drug charges – be among the prisoners to be freed. There is zero likelihood that the Bush administration – which “does not negotiate with terrorists” – will give in to this demand, even if it means sacrificing the three U.S. citizens in FARC custody. If talks to free the fifty-nine hostages are to succeed, then, these larger, deal-breaking issues will have to be put off.
  • The negotiations must not end with a prisoner exchange. The dialogue created through these talks should be seen as a first step toward more fluid communication, confidence-building, and movement toward more substantive negotiations.

Given all this, can "humanitarian exchange" talks work? Yes, but it won’t be at all easy. Satisfying these requirements is absolutely necessary if negotiations are to free the fifty-nine hostages without rewarding the FARC for their actions. But it will be an extremely difficult needle to thread.

Jul 26

“Hand over the coca and take the cash, similar to a country fair: Hand over the pig, take the cash,” President Uribe said on Saturday, announcing a government initiative to buy farmers’ illegal coca harvests. According to AP’s coverage of Uribe’s surprise statement, coca-growers in southern Meta department “should approach the nearest police or army commander without fear of arrest and hand over their crops of coca or poppy, which is used to make heroin. The price would be negotiated at the point of sale.”

This proposal – which may have been a bit of presidential rhetorical improvisation – is likely to die a quiet death. Either way, it’s a strange about-face for a president who has repeatedly promised to “spray and spray” all coca in the country, and to expropriate all lands with coca planted on them. And it is interesting that he would propose it in Meta, the department of Colombia that, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, had the most coca in 2004.

Never mind whether paying farmers for their coca is even legal in Colombia. Can something like this work?

It certainly does have some advantages over anonymously spraying herbicides from above. It’s more humane. It encourages contact between citizens and government officials (unfortunately, not civilian government officials) in areas that have known little government presence. It helps to break down mistrust of the government in zones that have spent decades under guerrilla or paramilitary control.

But coca buybacks on their own are unlikely to do much to reduce coca-growing. A 2002 report [PDF format] from the U.S. General Accounting Office discusses a somewhat similar program that USAID funded in Bolivia for eleven years.

Between 1987 and 1998, the U.S. embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section funded a Bolivian program to pay individuals cash for not growing coca. The Bolivian National Directorate for Agricultural Reconversion paid $2,000 per hectare to peasant farmers who voluntarily reduced their coca plantings. The directorate’s operating costs and the compensation paid to farmers came from U.S. cash transfers to Bolivia. U.S. officials in Bolivia estimated that the Bolivian government spent the equivalent of approximately $100 million.

U.S. officials told us the program was poorly implemented and failed to produce net coca reductions. USAID officials told us that individuals were paid to not grow coca in particular areas, but they continued to cultivate coca in other areas, thus defeating the purpose of the program. In addition, two U.S. audits by the USAID inspector general found several material weaknesses in the program’s management, including inadequate verification procedures and ineligible beneficiaries.

Ultimately, partial measures like fumigation and coca buybacks are gimmicks. They are poor substitutes for an on-the-ground presence of government representatives, who can both create the conditions for a legal economy (land titles, dispute resolution, credit, farm-to-market roads, etc.) and verify that illicit crops aren’t being replanted.

In a place like southern Meta, where the only government presence is the military or police post where farmers are to bring their coca harvest, a buyback program will create a perverse set of incentives. Residents of southern Meta who do not grow coca will feel cheated, as their coca-growing neighbors get a big handout from the government. Meanwhile, with no access to markets for legal crops, coca-growing farmers will be sorely tempted to re-plant the crop after selling their harvest to the government. Since the government lacks the ability to verify that they are not replanting, it will be all too easy to give in to this temptation.

Jul 25

Whenever Fernando Londoño publishes a column in Colombia’s newspapers, it’s always worth a thorough read. Not because we agree with a word he writes, nor because he’s a gifted essayist (which he is). It’s that nearly all of his columns offer an unflinching glimpse into what many members of Colombia’s governing class, and perhaps many members of the Bush administration, are actually thinking – even if they won’t say it in public.

Londoño is a man of the extreme right; his writings go so far as to reveal an occasional hint of paranoia. But he is not a fringe figure in Colombian politics. For the first year of Álvaro Uribe’s term in office, Fernando Londoño was Uribe’s minister of interior and justice – and thus one of the most powerful people in the country.

Londoño was driven out of office after fifteen months, consumed by scandals about shady investment deals and embarrassing misstatements (such as suggesting that Uribe, if denied a chance to run for re-election, would resign, call new elections, and run again). But he has not disappeared from public view. Almost every week, a column bearing his name appears in one of Colombia’s main newspapers.

Last Thursday’s column in El Tiempo was classic Londoño. If it is at all indicative of what many in the Uribe and Bush administrations really believe, the column shows how far Colombia has to go to become a democracy ruled by law, and how vital and necessary is the role of the country’s human-rights defenders.

Londoño begins by praising the sacrifice of the troops and police who marched in Colombia’s Independence Day parades on July 20. “Those men are not afraid of death,” he writes. But by the second paragraph it is plain that Londoño’s praise is merely a preamble to another attack on human-rights defenders. “While they do not fear hatred, bullets, bombs, or cowardly landmines, they have asked themselves more than once if anyone remembers them when they fall into the talons of political persecutions, infamous legal processes, falsified investigations, and vile calumnies.”

Londoño then offers a remarkable defense of military personnel facing prosecution in some high-profile recent human-rights cases.

  • “Nobody will remember the second lieutenant who killed three ELN guerrillas in Arauca, who were disguised as union leaders like all the guerrillas who break the law in that zone. Now, in prison, he pays the price of his burning love for Colombia.”

    When members of the Colombian Army’s 18th Brigade killed three unarmed union members last August in Saravena, Arauca, the military’s initial version of events claimed that the three were guerrillas who had fired on them first. A month later, though, Colombia’s attorney-general’s office found that story to be false, and arrested a second lieutenant and two soldiers for murder. “The evidence shows that a homicide was committed, we have ruled out that there was combat,” said Deputy Attorney-General Luis Alberto Santana. Fernando Londoño, however, has apparently not ruled out that there was combat.

  • “Nor the corporal who commanded a small group of soldiers, which in the midst of the thick fog of the high plains of Cajamarca shot at who he thought were bandits but were in fact modest campesinos.”

    Londoño refers to the April 2004 incident in Cajamarca, Tolima, when a military patrol killed five people, including two children, in a car that was approaching them in foggy conditions. Threats have forced several witnesses in the case to leave their homes. Yet Londoño is indignant that the case is being tried at all.

  • “Nor the marines who tried to do something to avoid a massacre in Chengue, and who received in payment the destruction of their lives.”

    This is an especially novel interpretation of events surrounding the 2001 Chengue massacre, in which paramilitaries massacred twenty-six people with no interference from the marines operating nearby. Washington Post reporter Scott Wilson heard a much different account from the massacre’s survivors when he visited Chengue shortly after the carnage:

    “In dozens of interviews, conducted in small groups and individually over three days, survivors said military aircraft undertook surveillance of the village in the days preceding the massacre and in the hour immediately following it. The military, according to these accounts, provided safe passage to the paramilitary column and effectively sealed off the area by conducting what villagers described as a mock daylong battle with leftist guerrillas who dominate the area.”

  • “Nor will anyone know who is César Maldonado, the most decorated major in the Colombian Army, fodder for the hatred of the extreme left, and the trophy that Wilson Borja needed to change his case from a paramilitary crime to a government crime.”

    Maj. Maldonado was in preventive detention while investigators slowly investigated his role in a 2000 assassination attempt that seriously wounded union leader Wilson Borja, who is now a member of Colombia’s Congress. Last November, Maldonado somehow managed to escape from the military brig where he was being held. Note that Londoño’s “defense” of Maldonado doesn’t refute the charges against him; nor does it respond to Borja’s speculation that the major may in fact have been “disappeared” to keep him from incriminating other officers.
  • “Nor the worthy army officers condemned without trial or the right to a defense for the death of the contrabandists in whose memory, by order of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, Colombia will construct a monument.”

    Londoño refers to the July 15 finding of the San José, Costa Rica-based court, which declared the Colombian government to be responsible for the 1987 paramilitary murder of nineteen merchants in Puerto Boyacá, Boyacá. Londoño’s charge that the victims were involved in contraband is neither proved nor an adequate justification for their murder.

“At some difficult moments,” concludes Londoño’s column, “there is no choice but to feed some prisoner to the hungry wolves. Nothing easier than to ask forgiveness and to condemn without law, before the sentence arrives. … For the beasts, a second lieutenant is sometimes enough. But they always come back for the rest.”

In Fernando Londoño’s world, the “beasts” – human-rights groups both here and in Colombia, whom he believes to be allied with Colombia’s guerrillas – are always on the prowl, trying to bring down the brave members of Colombia’s security forces.

He’s got it exactly wrong. By putting them up on a pedestal, and attacking all who would dare to criticize them, Londoño is actually doing harm to Colombia’s armed forces, and to the future health of Colombia’s democracy.

Though perhaps it seems counterintuitive, Colombia’s military is better served by those who criticize its violations, abuses and excesses. Its critics are doing the institution two enormous favors.

1. By calling for swift punishment of human rights abuses and corruption, they are helping to professionalize the military. When abuses happen – and they always do in war – they must be fairly investigated, judged and punished. That accountability is what distinguishes a democratic government from the irregular groups it is fighting. When Londoño opposes such accountability, he is holding the military to the same standards as the guerrillas and paramilitaries. By promoting this accountability – by seeking to punish those whose actions damage the military’s reputation – the so-called critics are in fact strengthening the institution.

2. By calling for more investment in civilian governance, development assistance, and humanitarian aid, critics support a strategy that would in fact make the military’s job easier. Colombia has been trying a mostly military approach for years, and has yielded nothing but a repeated pattern of military offensives that manage to hold on to territory only for as long as the troops remain present. Those of us who support a more balanced strategy want to guarantee that soldiers who risk their lives to re-take territory leave behind judges, doctors, teachers, roads and a viable economy – and thus have not risked their lives in vain.

Those like Londoño, who would blindly defend the military institution and uphold the present strategy, are doing a disservice to the Colombian military. By finding abusers blameless and portraying those who disagree as “wolves” and “beasts,” Londoño helps to cement in place a status quo that has failed. If Londoño and those who agree with him get their way, Colombia’s military will continue to be an institution with a severely blemished reputation, following a strategy that has yielded only marginal gains, measured either in territory or in enemy captures.

“We don’t understand why nobody defends the defenders,” writes Londoño. While he may seek to be the Colombian military’s defender, Londoño is in fact a poor ally.

Jul 20

“We have got a war against drugs and you are standing here saying, okay, let us not do this, let us not do this, but the drug problem exists so what do you want to do about it?” asked Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton during last month’s House debate on foreign aid, addressing Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) and others who were seeking to cut $100 million in military aid to Colombia. “Unless you have got some constructive alternative, I think you ought to take a hard look at what has been talked about here today by the colleagues on our side of the aisle.”

Rep. McGovern and his colleagues have a “constructive alternative,” of course; it runs along the same general lines as the recommendations laid out in the Blueprint for a New Colombia Policy that CIP co-published earlier this year (PDF format). But they had no opportunity to present it during the debate on the foreign aid bill.

Since it is an appropriations bill, the rules of the House only allowed them either to cut funds or to move funds between accounts (as we’ve explained elsewhere). And since most Colombia aid in that particular bill goes through one account – the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI), which includes both military and economic aid – there was nowhere to transfer it. Any attempt to specify how exactly the ACI money could be spent would have been against the rules, and thus found to be “out of order” and thrown out. So they were stuck supporting a cut in military aid – and facing Dan Burton’s unfair charge that they have no proposals of their own.

This year, however, the House International Relations Committee has managed to produce a Foreign Relations Authorization bill (HR 2601), which actually seeks to set policy, guidelines and amounts governing State Department and foreign aid programs. This bill, which went to the House floor for debate yesterday, is not an appropriations bill. It doesn’t carry the same strict rules of debate that would keep amendments from being introduced.

As a result, two Democratic Representatives had planned to introduce amendments:

  • Rep. McGovern was to add conditions on U.S. support for paramilitary demobilizations identical to those on the Senate’s much better version of the foreign aid appropriations bill. McGovern’s conditions would have superseded some very vague, easily fudged conditions that Rep. Burton had added to HR 2601. In a dissenting opinion added to the International Relations Committee’s report on the bill, the committee’s ranking Democrats, Tom Lantos (D-California) and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), warned that the Burton conditions “should be strengthened in a meaningful way before this Committee authorizes assistance to a process that could cost the U.S. taxpayer an estimated $80 million over three years and could establish a lenient precedent for future processes through which terrorists around the world could shield themselves.”

  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) was to add a requirement that 40 percent of aid to Colombia through the Andean Counterdrug Initiative account be non-military aid for economic and social needs (alternative development, aid to the displaced, judicial reform and similar efforts). This would have boosted economic aid to Colombia by about $40 million more than the current $152 million.

While these two amendments should have been perfectly acceptable under the rules of debate for HR 2601, they still had to pass through one obstacle: the House Rules Committee, a powerful body that meets before every bill is debated on the House floor, and decides which amendments may be introduced. Members of Congress had submitted 90 amendments for consideration in yesterday’s debate, and on Monday night the Rules Committee met to whittle that number down.

In the end – even though Rep. McGovern is a member of this committee – neither Colombia amendment survived the Rules Committee’s axe. With no pretext beyond “we don’t want to discuss that,” the committee’s Republican majority prohibited both the McGovern and the Lee amendments from getting any hearing in the full House.

House opponents of the current policy toward Colombia were denied an opportunity to answer Rep. Burton’s charge that all they do is criticize without offering alternatives. Meanwhile (para colmo, as they say in Colombia), the Rules Committee gave Mr. Burton a green light to introduce an amendment authorizing $25 million to buy new aircraft for Colombia’s Navy. (This amendment, likely to be approved by voice vote, doesn’t mean that the aircraft are on their way – money for them still has to be appropriated in an appropriations bill.)

HR 2601 was introduced yesterday and probably will come to a vote today. Yesterday, at the outset of the debate, Rep. McGovern vented his very justified anger at the silencing of dissent on Colombia policy. Let’s quote him at length.

Last night the Republican leadership decided to refuse this House the right to debate U.S. policy towards Colombia. Out of the 90 amendments submitted to Rules, only two dealt substantively with U.S.-Colombia policy.

I offered an amendment to match language approved by the Senate that would strengthen the accountability over U.S. funds for Colombia’s demobilization of right-wing paramilitary forces.

The gentlelady from California, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, offered another amendment to ensure that 40 percent of U.S. aid to Colombia would be used for alternative economic development, human rights, rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions.

Well, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to strengthening democratic institutions, the Republican leadership certainly doesn’t believe in teaching the Colombians by example.

At the end of June, I stood here on the House floor, during debate on military aid to Colombia, and was criticized by Republicans for not talking about what kind of policy I stood for.

But here we are today, taking up a bill that only comes to the House floor every two years, and is one of the only bills where an amendment on U.S.-Colombia policy can actually be offered – and both the Lee and the McGovern amendments are banned from debate.

Mr. Speaker, once again, the Republican leadership has rejected any attempt to bring some kind of accountability to our policy on Colombia.

Once again, the Republican leadership is serving as the chief apologist for the Colombian government.

When it comes to Colombia, the Republican leadership continues to engage in a policy of see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

Once again, the House is being asked to look the other way — to sit down and shut up – as Colombia moves towards carrying out what appears to be a deeply flawed plan for demobilizing the right-wing paramilitary forces, forces that are on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The State Department estimates it will cost about $80 million to carry out the demobilization.

Who do you think the Colombian government is going to ask to bankroll this process? The American tax payer, that’s who.

Well, before we spend one more single solitary U.S. tax dollar on this demobilization process, I for one want to make sure that my tax dollars are not paying for some sweetheart deal for Colombian drug lords, terrorists and killers to escape extradition to the United States or serve a couple of years under house arrest on their country estate.

These are the paramilitary masterminds and commanders who have flooded our streets and neighborhoods with cocaine and heroin. Yet, on July 1st, President Uribe told the Voice of America that their extradition warrants would have to be suspended.

If Colombia wants to stand in the way of these drug lords facing U.S. justice, then that’s Colombia’s decision – They can just do it without U.S. tax dollar support.

I want to make sure that my constituents hard-earned tax dollars are not paying for a process that will allow paramilitary money-laundering and organizational structures to remain intact – so that they can transform themselves into mafia-like political, social and criminal networks.

The OAS has denounced the Colombian law on the paramilitary demobilization. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced it. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has raised grave concerns about it.

So, why then, Mr. Speaker, is it so hard for this House to even have a debate over having some accountability if the Colombian government asks us to fund this process?

That’s all I want, Mr. Speaker, is a little bit of accountability.

Quite frankly, the majority on the Rules Committee and the Republican leadership should be ashamed of themselves for running away from this debate – and for being complicit in a policy that will very likely end up protecting drug lords, terrorists, killers and their profits from facing any kind of genuine justice.

Jul 19

Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos and Foreign Minister Carolina Barco are in Washington right now, trying to win U.S. support for the paramilitary demobilization process despite last month’s passage of an extremely lenient law for dealing with former AUC leaders (the so-called “Justice and Peace” law).

Santos is clearly frustrated by the reception he’s getting here. On his way out of a meeting with the State Department yesterday afternoon, he told reporters that he blames the non-governmental organizations (like us) who have been opposing U.S. support for the process since the law was passed. “No doubt led by José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, they are on a crusade that seems jihadist to us, an obtuse and misguided attitude, and we will say that to them tomorrow when we meet with them.”

I don’t know which charge I find more insulting: the idea that we are on some sort of ideological “holy war,” or the notion that we are being led by Human Rights Watch!

The meeting Santos mentions – which takes place in a couple of hours – should be interesting. In order to prepare, we’ve been closely studying the new “Justice and Peace” law and the many criticisms that have been leveled against it. We drafted this response (PDF format) to a letter the Colombian government had sent last week to the U.S. Congress (PDF format).

We’re not on a jihad, Mr. Vice-President. Nor, for that matter, are the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Our opposition to U.S. support for the paramilitary process is based on rational thought, not ideology.

This brief thought experiment should help explain why we feel our view is eminently reasonable. Walk through these four hypothetical scenarios, all of which could easily play out several times as the “Justice and Peace” law is implemented.

Scenario 1. Let’s say I’m fourth-in-command of the AUC’s “Héroes de Dóndequiera” Bloc. Over the years, I’ve ordered and participated in several massacres and extrajudicial killings. I have several cattle ranches and African palm plantations that I’ve stolen by displacing their former occupants, and I keep them in others’ names.

  1. When I demobilize, I’m required to confess to what I did wrong. In the hope of getting the most minimal sentence – five years, minus up to 18 months spent negotiating, or 3 ½ years – and of being liable for the smallest amount of reparations, I leave out of my statement several massacres, killings, tortures, displacements, and illegally obtained assets.

  2. Government prosecutors have only 36 hours to decide whether I should be charged for the crimes to which I confessed. The “Justice and Peace” law authorized a team of only 20 prosecutors, however, and they are incredibly overburdened. In 36 hours, they must decide whom to pursue among the 700 members of my paramilitary bloc that demobilized today. And they’re already busy with the cases of thousands more who demobilized in the past two months. My top leadership made a brilliant decision when they chose to accelerate the pace of demobilizations; while it played really well in the media, it also overwhelmed the small team of prosecutors, thus assuring that more of us would slip through the cracks.
  3. I am to be charged for the crimes for which I confessed. Let’s say that – perhaps because I’m a high-ranking commander – the prosecutors claim that I might be responsible for several other cases of murders and stolen property. I have two choices:
    1. I can lie and say that I had forgotten to disclose these additional incidents when I confessed. The “Justice and Peace” law states that if I deliberately left these out of my original confession, my right to a light sentence is stripped away, and I must go into Colombia’s criminal justice system. But the prosecutors and investigators have no way of proving that my lack of disclosure was intentional; I left no written record of my intention to deceive, nor did I mention to anyone that I deliberately left anything out. The “Justice and Peace” law says that if I recognize that I committed the newly revealed crimes too, I can add them to my confession, and at worst a few months are added to my sentence. (Of course, any victims of those additional crimes can now sue me for reparations.)

    2. I can deny any responsibility for these additional crimes. If I do, my case is added to the already large caseload of one of the 20 prosecutors, who assigns it to one of 150 investigators (the amount authorized by the “Justice and Peace” law) who is already trying to look into the background of several other recently demobilized paramilitaries. Though they are working day and night, they can uncover little new information about their many assigned cases before the 60-day deadline mandated by the “Justice and Peace” law. In the past, Colombia has seen very, very few examples of human-rights investigations that are successfully concluded within only 60 days. I stand an excellent chance of avoiding being found responsible for these unconfessed crimes – though at any time, I may confess, say it was unintentional, and remain eligible for a lighter sentence.
  4. The 60 days are up. I turn myself in to the authorities to begin serving my sentence. They give me six years, which is really 4 ½ years because I claim that I spent eighteen months in the zone where negotiations were taking place. (Even if I didn’t, they cannot prove that I wasn’t there.) I don’t go to a normal prison, but instead enjoy comfortable house arrest, along with many of my former companions, at a rural estate in a zone that the AUC has long controlled.
  5. I still have most of my stolen lands, and I still haven’t been officially connected to many massacres and killings. I must give up the illegally obtained assets to which I confessed ownership, and these are used to pay reparations to victims of the crimes to which I confessed. I get to keep the rest.

Scenario 2. Let’s say I’m in charge of the Bloque de los Libertadores de Fulano. I command 300 men active in ten municipalities. My bloc controls the local drug trade, is guaranteed a share of all local-government contracts, and no local politician rules without my permission.

  1. When I confess, neither I nor my men are required to reveal anything we know about our command, support and financing networks, or the structure of our organization. Although many members of Colombia’s Congress had sought to add this requirement to the “Justice and Peace” law, they were defeated by the pro-government majority.

  2. As a result, my control over local politics and drug activity is undiminished. Though I no longer command an army of 300 heavily armed, camouflage-clad men headquartered in rural encampments, I still have dozens, if not hundreds, of hired killers a cell-phone call away. Even from the rural estate where I am serving my short sentence, I can do drug business and keep out competitors, guarantee that I get a percentage of government contracts, persuade unapproved political candidates not to run for office, intimidate union leaders and human rights defenders, and order “social cleansing” campaigns against street children, petty criminals, and drug addicts in slum areas.

    While there is no shortage of mayors, military officers and judges in the zone where my unit operated, I still maintain de facto control. My paramilitary unit has not been dismantled, it has just taken a new form.

  3. What of the wealthy local landowners and businessmen who helped to found my paramilitary unit, and who willingly supported it? What of the military officers who aided and abetted my unit, even after 1989 when it was declared illegal? Neither I nor my men are required to mention them in our confession. They will not only go unpunished – they will go unnamed.

Scenario 3. Let’s say I was displaced after a massacre killed my wife and child. I left behind my 5 hectares of plantains and cattle pasture six years ago, and have been living on the outskirts of Cartagena ever since.

  1. I know the name of the paramilitary comandante who ordered the operation that killed my family members, and who now controls my land. However, he has not confessed to the crime that took my family and land away. The prosecutors and investigators were unable to uncover anything new in just 60 days. And a third-party figurehead, believed to be close to the comandante, now occupies the land that was mine.

  2. According to the “Justice and Peace” law, I have little or no means of securing reparations. Crimes for which nobody has admitted responsibility, or been found guilty, are not subject to reparations. I may never get my old land back.
  3. Even if the comandante admitted to the massacre that led to my displacement, the “Justice and Peace” law does not make him liable for reparations unless I take the proactive step of suing for them. I am a powerless individual from the slums of Cartagena, and he is a powerful ex-comandante who is still believed to control the zone where I used to live. Though suing for reparations may anger the ex-comandante, the “Justice and Peace” law does not require the government to provide me with extra security measures. I would have to be quite brave to proceed with my petition for reparations.

Scenario 4. I was a prominent drug trafficker whose name had long appeared on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of “Specially Designated Nationals.” In the hope of avoiding prosecution and extradition, I joined the AUC in 2002, paying millions for the right to call myself Comandante so-and-so and to be the titular commander of a 200-man bloc of fighters. In 2004, a Miami court indicts me on charges of shipping tons of cocaine to the United States.

  1. During most of its transit through Colombia’s Congress, the “Justice and Peace” bill included a provision would have disqualified me and other paramilitary leaders who had dealt drugs before joining the AUC, thus forcing me to face Colombia’s criminal-justice system or even extradition to the United States. Luckily for me, this provision was quietly removed from the bill shortly before final approval. Either way, though, the AUC leadership would probably have stuck up for me, insisting that I had been a clandestine member of the group long before 2002.

  2. The “Justice and Peace” law claims that, as a member of the paramilitaries, I have committed sedition, which is a “political crime.” Under Colombia’s constitution, political crimes are not subject to extradition.
  3. My well-paid lawyers and I argue that my past narcotrafficking was fundraising for the paramilitary cause, and thus intimately connected to the political crime of paramilitarism (sedition). Since the “Justice and Peace” law does not define which crimes are subject to the lighter sentences, my drug-running is admitted as a “connected” crime, and applied toward my five-to-eight-year sentence.
  4. Once I have served my light sentence at a rural estate within Colombia, I cannot be extradited to the United States for my past narcotrafficking – to do so would be double jeopardy (punishing me twice for the same crime).

It is our view that no people of good will can abide by results such as these, and no foreign government should support a process that makes these outcomes likely. Is that attitude “obtuse and misguided?” We certainly don’t think so, Mr. Vice-President.

Jul 16

We’ve been hearing rumors for a while, but it looks like a State Department certification of the Colombian military’s human rights performance – the first since September 2004 – may finally be imminent.

I don’t make this prediction based on any Washington gossip I’ve heard. Instead, like waiting for the groundhog to emerge from his hole, we’ve been watching for sudden signs of progress in human-rights prosecutions of Colombian soldiers.

After a long time without any significant movement on military human-rights investigations, we suddenly have two examples. On July 1st Colombia’s Attorney-General ordered the arrest of a corporal and five privates for the April 2004 killing of five campesinos in Cajamarca, Tolima. On Tuesday the 12th, the Attorney-General filed homicide charges against a second lieutenant and three privates for the killing of three unionists in Saravena, Arauca.

These sorts of “breakthroughs” – however minor – are quite rare in Colombia, where it is very difficult to punish human-rights abusers in the security forces. If two high-profile cases move forward in two weeks, the U.S. certification process almost definitely had something to do with it.

For those unfamiliar with this complex but necessary semi-annual ritual, U.S. foreign aid law mandates that every year, 25 percent of aid to Colombia’s military be frozen until the State Department can certify that the Colombian armed forces’ human rights performance has improved. This 25 percent of aid to Colombia’s military (not police) in the foreign aid bill (not the defense budget) adds up to approximately $70-80 million being held up each year.

The law requires two certifications per year, each of which frees up 12.5 percent of the frozen military aid (about $35-40 million). After consulting with “internationally recognized human rights groups,” the State Department must submit to Congress an official certification that the following is happening:

  1. Colombia’s armed forces are suspending members who face credible allegations of committing gross human rights violations, or of aiding or abetting paramilitaries.
  2. These members of Colombia’s armed forces are being vigorously investigated and prosecuted, and promptly punished if found guilty.
  3. Colombia’s armed forces are making substantial progress toward cooperating with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities working on these human rights cases, including providing requested information, access to witnesses, relevant military documents, and similar information.
  4. Colombia’s armed forces are making substantial progress in severing links with paramilitary organizations (including denying access to military intelligence, vehicles, and other equipment or supplies, and ceasing other forms of active or tacit cooperation).
  5. Colombia’s government is dismantling paramilitary leadership and financial networks by arresting commanders and financial backers.

While the Colombian government often releases statistics indicating improved human-rights performance (such as numbers of paramilitaries killed or captured), the U.S. aid conditions focus on the Achilles’ heel of the Colombian military’s human-rights performance: impunity. The Colombian government can muster no statistics to show progress toward punishing abuses after they happen. In fact, as past State Department certifications have acknowledged, indictments and successful prosecutions for military human-rights abuses are exceedingly rare, especially for high-ranking officers.

To its credit, the State Department has been taking the certification requirements seriously. While their threshold for approval is far lower than where CIP and human-rights groups would place it, U.S. diplomats have shown themselves willing to hold up aid for a long time when they feel they lack enough evidence to issue even an embarrassingly lukewarm certification. (Part of the reason for their fortitude, of course, is an unwillingness to anger the congressional authors of the certification requirement, whose support is necessary to keep the entire aid program flowing.)

State issued a certification only once in 2004 (in September), which means that 12.5 percent of fiscal-year 2004 military aid is still “in the freezer” along with 25 percent of 2005 aid.

As far as we can tell, the certification ritual has tended to play out as follows:

  1. U.S. diplomats indicate to the Colombians that they need to be able to demonstrate progress in order to free up aid.
  2. Nothing happens – or consultations with congressional staff indicate that whatever “progress” may have occurred is nowhere near enough.
  3. Months pass. Pressure for certification builds as military-aid programs start to feel the pinch (in some cases – we’ve heard but can’t confirm – contracts even get postponed, and fuel and spare parts become scarce).
  4. Exasperated, U.S. diplomats ask the Colombians to “throw them a bone,” naming a few high-profile cases of abuse in which a sign of judicial progress might help them to certify. Sometimes, the atmosphere for certification is poisoned by a new abuse – such as the August 2004 Arauca unionists’ murder, or the February 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre – which rises to the top of the list of cases. More months pass.
  5. Finally, the Colombian government grudgingly allows a few arrests, indictments, or other judicial processes (probably not convictions) to move forward. The State Department issues a certification, the 12.5 percent of aid is delivered, and all human-rights groups complain.
  6. Go back to (1.)

With the recent news on the Cajamarca and Saravena cases, we seem to be moving into step (5.) Nonetheless, it is our strongly held view that these two minor “breakthroughs” are nowhere near enough to merit a certification.

It is imperative that the State Departmetn hold out longer, because – perversely – the U.S. certification process has become the main bit of leverage available to those seeking to end impunity in Colombia. Lately it seems that arrests or judicial breakthroughs in high-profile human-rights cases do not happen on their own in Colombia. High-profile cases either languish or are dropped. Forward movement only seems to result from U.S. government pressure, as diplomats seek evidence necessary to prove that Colombia’s human-rights situation is improving, thereby freeing up frozen military aid.

Evidence of improvement is still sorely needed on several high-profile cases. There has been no movement, for instance, in the investigation of the San José de Apartadó massacre. The Colombian government has been blaming the residents of the “peace community” there for this lack of progress, as they have proved to be too fearful and distrustful to speak to investigators from the attorney-general’s office. The community’s members have told other investigators (like these, these and these) that they believe the army killed eight of their neighbors in February. President Uribe, however, continues to insist otherwise, telling the Voice of America on July 1, “The security forces and the citizens of Apartadó have said that this massacre, unfortunately, which cost the lives of so many citizens, was committed by the FARC terrorist group.”

Meanwhile, the trial of Gen. Jaime Uscátegui continues to drag on for his alleged role in allowing paramilitaries to massacre dozens of people in Mapiripán, Meta, in July 1997. There have been no reports of progress in this case since we wrote this update in early February.

In a July 1 letter to Secretary of State Rice [PDF format], 22 senators – mostly Democrats – ask her not to certify yet because of a lack of progress on key cases. In addition to San José de Apartadó and Saravena, they cite:

  • The March 2004 dismissal of the case against Gen. Rito Alejo del Río for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups.
  • The January 2005 dismissal of the case against Rear Admiral Rodrigo Quiñónez for the 2001 Chengue massacre.
  • The November 2004 escape of Major Cesar Alonso Maldonado, convicted for trying to kill union leader-turned congressman Wilson Borja, from a military brig.
  • The lack of trials or sentences for the 1998 Santo Domingo bombings.
  • The lack of progress in investigating “Operación Dragón,” an intelligence operation targeting union organizers and human-rights defenders in Cali.
  • Reports of continued military-paramilitary collaboration in Chocó department, and failure to prevent paramilitary massacres in zones of heavy military presence in Arauca and La Guajira.

“We believe it is time for the State Department to make clear to the Colombian government that further progress regarding its own security forces is necessary prior to certification,” the senators conclude. That’s exactly right. We congratulate the State Department for waiting ten months as they hold out for signs of progress. We ask, though, that they wait a bit longer.

Jul 13

Madrid, July 11. Here comes the setup. Near the end of a question-and-answer period after a long speech, President Uribe clearly wants to confront somebody from Amnesty International and make headlines back home.

Álvaro Uribe: They had told me there would be a question from Amnesty International.

Moderator: No, I summarized them in two or three questions [presented earlier].

Uribe: That was it? I thought that Amnesty International was going to be tougher. I would give a spokesman from Amnesty the right to ask again, because I felt that the questions were very soft.

The Spanish Amnesty rep asks two low-key, non-confrontational questions.

Amnesty International representative: Thank you, Mr. President. And yes, the summary was a bit over-summarized. There were two questions, one about the Justice and Peace law which you have answered; we do not agree, we believe that the law encourages impunity. And the second, which the moderator was unable to ask, was whether you are going to comply with the UN human rights recommendations, and the human rights action plan in your country.

Uribe: I want to ask you a question: I responded that there is no impunity in our law. Tell me the reasons why you consider that there is impunity. 

AI rep: Well, in the first place since the cease-fire was declared, at least 2,200 people have been documented as killed by paramilitaries. That is the first question. The second, I want to say that war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture are imprescriptible, and thus cannot be amnestied, whether committed by guerrillas or paramilitaries. 

Uribe: Regarding the second part, I ask that you correct your information. In the law there are no terms of exception for crimes against humanity, they are still imprescriptible. Second, there are no amnesties or pardons for crimes against humanity. And I call on you and all members of the institution of Amnesty International, to undertake the intellectual exercise and prepare yourselves to respond to the other sector, to the guerrillas, the ELN and the FARC, who demand total amnesty, total pardon, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes.

Three points about this response, which the Amnesty rep wasn’t given a chance to follow up:

1. The Amnesty rep’s question made clear that he was talking about guerrillas and paramilitaries. Why, then, did Uribe insist on advising Amnesty International to “undergo an intellectual exercise” of imagining the same standards applying to guerrillas? Either Uribe wasn’t listening to the question, or he was determined to use this opportunity to imply, once again, that Amnesty International harbors a fondness for Colombia’s guerrillas.

2.Uribe never answered the charge, documented [PDF format] by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, that the paramilitaries have killed over 2,200 people since they declared a “cease-fire.”

3. Uribe is technically right that “there are no amnesties or pardons” in the new “Justice and Peace” law for crimes against humanity. Earlier in his speech, though, he admitted that “there are [maximum] sentences of between 5 to 8 years for those crimes. Yes, they are reduced: this is a cost of peace processes.” Uribe conveniently neglects to mention that, with credits for good behavior and time spent negotiating, paramilitary perpetrators of crimes against humanity could end up spending less than three years in confinement – and it is possible for them to serve these terms at “rural estates” instead of regular jails. This seems like a rather big point to leave out.

The President went on to respond at length to the question about the UN recommendations, going off on numerous tangents (“you believe wrongly that the Colombian Army is a ‘murderous’ force”; “when the High Commissioner visits me, she says ‘you’re doing well, it’s just that we’ve given you high standards’”), without referring specifically to any of the recommendations. He handed that off to Foreign Minister Carolina Barco, who assured him that most unmet recommendations “have to do with process, with procedures, or have budgetary requirements that have to be taken into account.”

This is inaccurate. “Special and urgent measures to defend indigenous communities at risk of extinction,” “full observance of the humanitarian principles of limitation, distinction, proportionality and protection of the civilian population,” or “confronting the problem of impunity … advancing in the examination of selected cases” are not “process” recommendations. But they are far from satisfied [PDF format].

The Colombian daily El Tiempo called this exchange an example of “hand-to-hand combat between President Uribe and Amnesty International.” The playing field was far from level, however. From the time the Amnesty rep began speaking to the next time the moderator intervened, this was the word count:

  • Amnesty rep’s questions and clarifications: 140 words
  • President Uribe’s responses: 1,114 words
  • Foreign Minister Barco’s responses: 302 words

(This is the hundredth posting to the PC&B blog since we began it in October. We’re pleased with the traffic it has received and we’ve found it to be a useful way to get ideas out in rapid, “rough draft” form. We look forward to our next 100 posts.)

Jul 12

On May 16th, funeral wreaths arrived at the offices of three Colombian journalists known for their critical stance toward the Uribe government. They came with cards inviting the recipients to their own burials. One of the three, Daniel Coronell, received a separate floral arrangement bearing the names of his wife and six-year-old daughter.

Coronell directs Noticias Uno, an independent news program on Colombia’s Canal Uno cable network, and writes a weekly column for Semana magazine. Canal Uno also broadcasts the documentary show Contravía, hosted by Hollman Morris, who also received a funeral arrangement on May 16th. Contravía had produced two programs about the February 2006 massacre in the San José de Apartadó peace community, presenting much evidence that pointed to possible military responsibility for the massacre (view the programs as an .avi file in Spanish).

Coronell had begun to receive threats at the end of April. “Some anonymous coward called to say, amid horrible namecalling, that he would kill my daughter, my wife and me,” Coronell wrote in his column. “Since then he has called again with information about where we lived, my daily schedule and my family’s routine.”

Coronell received several other threats via e-mail, and colleagues received e-mails threatening him as well. They came from somebody identifying himself as “Zarovich” (the name of a prince of imperial Russia), from the e-mail address ojrana2000@yahoo.com (the Ojrana was the name of the czar’s secret police).

With help from technicians, Coronell tracked the e-mails back to their source. They came from a computer in the Bogotá mansion of Carlos Náder Simmonds, a former congressman and large landowner from the paramilitary-dominated department of Córdoba in northern Colombia. The 59-year-old former politician – who, according to Coronell, “is such a Russian history enthusiast that his son is named Dmitri” – admitted that the threats came from his computer, but denied that he had sent them.

Náder has a shady past. In 1983, while a member of Congress from Córdoba, he was arrested and later found guilty by a New York court of trying to sell cocaine to a DEA agent. He spent at least three years in a U.S. prison. He was close enough to Medellín Cartel chief Pablo Escobar that, in 1990, recordings of phone conversations surfaced in which Náder calls Escobar “brother” and “compadre,” they discuss threats against César Gaviria (then a presidential candidate) and the daily newspaper El Tiempo, and Náder expresses support for the 1989 assassination of popular presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán (“better dead than a son of a b***h”).

This has not kept Náder from being close to those in power in Colombia, including President Álvaro Uribe himself. Journalist Fernando Garavito – who left Colombia in 2002 after publishing allegations that Uribe has ties to Colombia’s criminal underworld – calls Náder “one of the links between the country’s rulers, the corrupt politicians and the capos of the drug trade.”

Náder has sought to defend himself from charges of threatening Coronell by pointing out that as many as 40 people, including President Uribe’s two sons, have used his computer while visiting his house in the recent past.

While neither Coronell nor Colombia’s Attorney-General, Luis Camilo Osorio, think that Tomás and Jerónimo Uribe – both teenagers – are suspects, the episode revealed uncomfortable details about Náder’s friendship with President Uribe. The two men have known each other since the mid-1970s, when both were young Liberal Party activists. “He is very nice, fun to be with, he has always been kind to me, with my sons, my sons have been fond of him,” President Uribe told Colombia’s RCN radio network in June.

According to Náder himself, President Uribe even celebrated the 2004 New Year together with the convicted former narco-trafficker in the town of Ríonegro, just outside Medellín. “It is difficult to understand why the President shares his family with someone who served a prison term in the United States for cocaine trafficking, without this being seen as a moral impediment,” notes El Espectador columnist Ramiro Bejarano.

The Lord of the Shadows, a very unauthorized biography of Uribe that Fernando Garavito co-wrote in 2002 with Newsweek reporter Joseph Contreras, points out that Náder cannot enter the United States because of his past drug conviction. “But his wife, Ana Trejos, who is a gringa, hosts the candidate [Uribe] and his family during their visits to Miami, and Náder himself is their host in a luxurious apartment that he bought in Madrid, thanks to the illegal multi-million-dollar commissions he gained by skimming funds from the construction of the Urrá dam [in Tierrralta, Córdoba, the same municipality as Santa Fé de Ralito, where paramilitary leaders are currently negotiating with the Colombian government]. Náder is a man of the dark side, who knows many episodes of Uribe’s past and who guards them closely in his memory to use them when he believes them to be useful for his own interests.”

Náder continues to insist that he did not send the threatening e-mails to Coronell. He called the journalist and told him “I have nothing against you, you seem all right to me, I don’t like your anti-Uribism but I respect it.” El Tiempo columnist (and brother of the former president) Daniel Samper is skeptical. “I had a chance to examine a list of the e-mails, and this argument doesn’t hold up, unless a battalion sleeps in Náder’s house. Some of the e-mails were sent at hours that seem too early for entertaining friends at home: 5:08 AM, 6:29 AM, 9:23 on a Sunday.”

Whether the former politician sent the messages or not, says Coronell, “Náder is not the only responsible party, but a link in a chain of threats against people who criticize the government.” If Coronell is correct, the atmosphere is likely to grow still more threatening in the runup to the May 2006 elections.

Álvaro Uribe is probably the big loser from this Náder episode, as his critics in Colombia get more mileage out of the argument that the President should be known by the company he keeps.

“I get the impression, not just from the Náder example but from those of several of the government’s ministers, functionaries, partners and interlocutors, that President Uribe enjoys being in poor company,” wrote Semana columnist Antonio Caballero, a leading Uribe critic. Added El Espectador columnist Felipe Zuleta, “Though the President gets angry when forced to answer about his past and his dangerous friendships, the point is that indications of mafia infiltration of the government’s highest levels matter more than rude words and threats.”

Jul 08

The annual foreign-aid budget bill (H.R. 3057) continues to move through Congress, a bit ahead of schedule this year. The House passed its version of the bill on June 28, and gave the Bush Administration exactly what it wanted where Colombia is concerned, despite the best efforts of the policy’s many opponents.

Now it’s the Senate’s turn. Sometime in July, that body is likely to debate its version of the bill. Before they left for the July 4 break, the Senate Appropriations Committee drafted its text, whose Colombia provisions are unlikely to change much when the full Senate considers the bill.

As usual, the Colombia provisions in the Senate’s version are significantly better than those that come out of the House of Representatives. While of course they’re far from the strategy that we think would work, they at least do a much better job of reflecting the challenging reality faced by U.S. aid programs in Colombia.

Two elements in the Senate text are especially noteworthy: a slight improvement in the balance between military and economic aid, and an excellent set of conditions that must be met before any U.S. funds go to support paramilitary demobilizations.

Aid amounts: toward a better balance

While aid to Colombia flows through several different accounts in the foreign aid and defense budgets, the biggest single source of aid is the “Andean Counterdrug Initiative.” Overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics Control, the “ACI” provides both military and non-military aid to Colombia and six of its neighbors. It pays for fumigation and alternative development, helicopter maintenance and aid to the displaced, patrol boats and aid to the OAS verification mission. In fact, the ACI supplies Colombia with almost all the non-military aid that it gets, most of it passed directly to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Since Plan Colombia began, U.S. aid to Colombia has been heavily weighted in favor of Colombia’s security forces. For every dollar in economic and social aid to Colombia, the United States has given four dollars to Colombia’s armed forces and police. Improving this balance would require a change to the amounts of military and non-military aid in the ACI.

The Senate bill makes an effort to do this. For the first time, it puts a “ceiling” on the amount of ACI aid that can go to Colombia’s military: “not more than $278,450,000 shall be made available for assistance for the Colombian Armed Forces and National Police.” That is over $53 million less than what the Bush Administration’s ACI aid request for 2006 (PDF format) had anticipated giving to the Colombian security forces.

The bill also raises a “floor” for economic aid that first appeared (thanks to the Senate) in the 2005 bill. It specifies that “not less than $149,757,000 shall be made available for alternative development/institution building in Colombia, which shall be apportioned directly to the United States Agency for International Development.” This is $24 million higher than the similar “floor” for USAID assistance to Colombia in the 2005 foreign aid bill.

A bit more ACI non-military assistance – for “rule of law” programs – does not go through USAID, and is in addition to this “floor.” If the Senate language passes, then, non-military aid to Colombia in 2006 could total $177.15 million, $25 million more than the Bush Administration’s request.

If this ceiling-and-floor language were to pass, it would not bring an earth-shaking change in aid amounts. Considering expected 2006 funding from all aid programs, it would merely shift the overall ratio of military to economic aid from 80-20 to 75-25. Nonetheless, it would be a big step in the right direction after five years of mostly-military anti-drug programs that have failed to affect drug supplies in the United States. Most significantly, it would get some badly needed funding to worthy, resource-starved efforts to expand rural development aid to new areas, to help displaced people, and to help Colombia’s civilian institutions improve their ability to govern.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, led by Rep. Sam Farr (D-California), sought to improve the balance between military and economic aid in the ACI. Their effort was shut down by the unyielding opposition of the committee’s Republican leadership. Since the House bill includes no ceiling-and-floor language whatsoever, the aid ratios will no doubt be a subject of much debate later this year, when a House-Senate Conference Committee meets to resolve the differences between both chambers’ versions of the bill.

Military and police aid

(All amounts in thousands of US dollars)

2004 funding
(source – PDF format)

2005 estimate
(source – PDF format)

2006 – administration request
(source – PDF format)

2006 – Senate Appropriations Committee

ACI military / police assistance: interdiction





ACI military / police assistance: airbridge denial





Subtotal: ACI military / police assistance





Military /police assistance from other programs (see our summary table)





Total military / police assistance

546,621 (79%)

629,305 (81%)

590,150 (80%)

536,750 (75%)

Economic and social aid

(All amounts in thousands of US dollars)

2004 funding
(source – PDF format)

2005 estimate
(source – PDF format)

2006 – administration request
(source – PDF format)

2006 – Senate Appropriations Committee

ACI economic / social assistance: alternative development / institution-building (USAID)





ACI economic / social assistance: rule of law





Subtotal: ACI economic / social assistance





Economic / social assistance from other programs (est. – see our summary table)

Small amounts of economic assistance (well under $10 million total per year) have come from regional funds of the State Department’s Migration and Refugee Affairs program and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives.

Total economic / social assistance

149,279 (21%)

152,073 (19%)

152,150 (20%)

177,150 (25%)

Conditions on aid for demobilization and reintegration

Two weeks ago, Colombia’s Congress passed a so-called “Justice and Peace” law giving very lenient treatment to demobilizing paramilitary leaders (something an editorial in Monday’s New York Times called a “capitulation” to the AUC). Widespread criticism of this law had made significant U.S. funding for the AUC demobilization process much less likely, despite the Uribe government’s appeal for aid and Ambassador William Wood’s inexplicable support for the “Justice and Peace” law.

As indicated in Thursday’s New York Times, the Senate version of the foreign aid bill includes a lengthy section with a list of very specific, common-sense conditions that Colombia’s process must meet in order to merit U.S. support. No similar conditions appear in the House of Representatives’ version.

Aimed at preventing U.S. aid for a bad process, the conditions – meant to apply to any future demobilization of guerrillas as well as the current paramilitary process – probe some of the glaring weaknesses in the “Justice and Peace” law.

The Senate language states that funds for demobilizations may only pay for “limited activities,” and only then after the State Department certifies that the following conditions have been met

The Senate conditions (Section 6110 of H.R. 3057)

1. The Colombian government has not adopted any law or policy that inhibits extraditions of “members and former members” of Colombian terrorist organizations.

This condition is unlikely to be met, even though U.S. prosecutors have sought to extradite several AUC leaders. A week ago, President Uribe told the Voice of America that “in some cases, extraditions will have to be suspended.”

2. Colombia’s “legal framework” for demobilizations “provides for effective investigation, prosecution and punishment, in proportion to the crimes committed, of gross violations of humanitarian law and drug trafficking.”

This condition is unlikely to be met, unless a few years of house arrest in rural haciendas is considered a punishment “in proportion” to crimes like ordering massacres, disappearances and displacement. Meanwhile, many crimes will go unprosecuted because of a sixty-day limit for prosecutors to initiate cases.

3. Colombia’s “legal framework” for demobilizations conditions sentence reductions “on a full and truthful confession” of each demobilizing individual’s “involvement in criminal activity; full disclosure of his knowledge of the FTO’s structure, financing sources, and illegal assets; and turnover of the totality of his illegal assets.”

This condition is unlikely to be met. While some Colombian legislators had sought to put this “full disclosure” mechanism in the “Justice and Peace” law, their efforts were blocked. Colombian Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said, incredibly, that to require such “full disclosure” would have made the law into a “snitch law” risking bloodshed and endangering informants’ security. This is an odd argument to hear from a government that has set up a network of tens of thousands of civilian informants to help fight its war.

4. Colombia’s “legal framework” for demobilizations requires that, in order to get reduced sentences, each demobilizing commander ceases “illegal activity by the troops under his command” and turns over all of his group’s illegal assets.

This condition is unlikely to be met. As we argue elsewhere, the “Justice and Peace” law leaves a high probability that paramilitary groups may continue to exist in another, powerful form – something akin to mafias – and to continue their illegal activity.

5. Colombia’s “legal framework” for demobilizations provides for revocation of sentence reductions if demobilizing individuals “are subsequently found to have withheld illegal assets, lied to the authorities about their criminal activities in the group, rejoined the same or another FTO, or engaged in new illegal activities.”

This condition is unlikely to be met. The “Justice and Peace” law allows paramilitaries to confess later to crimes they had neglected to admit earlier.

6. “An inter-agency working group consisting of representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice, and the Departments of State and Defense” must consult with a wide variety of experts and authorities and report to Congress that:
a. The group that is demobilizing “is not violating any ceasefire and has ceased illegal activities, including narco-trafficking, extortion, and violations of international humanitarian law.”
b. The group’s “criminal and financial structure is being destroyed” and the group, “or any part thereof, is not regrouping to continue illegal activities.”
c. The Colombian government “is conducting effective investigations and prosecutions” of the group’s commanders for crimes, including human rights and international humanitarian law violations, “and, when appropriate, extraditing them to the United States.
d. The Colombian government “is aggressively implementing an effective procedure to locate and confiscate illegal assets, held directly or through third parties.”
e. The Colombian government is enforcing ceasefires by barring ceasefire violators from receiving reduced sentences or other demobilization benefits.

The “working group” is likely to be unable to say that these five things are happening, because the “Justice and Peace” law does not give the Colombian government effective tools to make them happen. Letter (e) alone will be impossible to certify if paramilitary leader Diego Murillo (“Don Berna”) benefits from lighter sentences – as is likely – even though he was arrested in late May for ordering the murder of a provincial legislator.

While the Bush Administration 2006 aid request asked Congress for very little funding to support paramilitary demobilizations, the Senate conditions could stop even that small trickle from flowing.

One significant thing to note about these conditions: human rights and the “balance between justice and peace” is not a main concern. The importance of proportional punishment appears in the second condition only. Most of the conditions have to do with dismantling paramilitaries, and keeping them from continuing to exist as powerful mafia / death squads after they “demobilize.” This focus on dismantlement is right on the mark, because there is strong reason to believe that the current process is likely to leave the paramilitaries’ structures intact.

Since the House has no such conditions in its version of the bill, will the conditions survive the House-Senate Conference Committee that will reconcile differences in the two chambers’ bills? Last year, a more basic set of four conditions appeared in the Senate’s bill, but the Conference Committee stripped them out, moving them to its narrative report on the bill, which is non-binding. (See the texts of the various versions of last year’s bill on this page, which I admit is a bit difficult to read.)

This year, though, the Senate conditions are unlikely to disappear. Their specificity and extensiveness indicates that some serious bipartisan thought went into them, and the Senate won’t just lie down in the face of House opposition – if there is any. If anything, the conditions may be pared down a bit, but they will still likely be strong enough either to encourage Colombia’s government to do more to dismantle paramilitarism, or to keep U.S. aid from flowing at all.

At some point, though, several House Republicans (especially Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee) will fight for a pet project that the Senate’s language would make impossible to fund. This group wants to help the Colombian government to employ hundreds (or even thousands) of demobilized rank-and-file guerrillas and paramilitaries as manual coca-eradicators, flying throughout the country on U.S.-donated DC-3 aircraft to cut down coca and poppy plants.

(My view about this proposal: it’s far more humane than fumigation, and it does provide at least a short-term income stream for former combatants. But it must meet three conditions in order to be worthwhile. (1) Those who participate must be rigorously investigated, including full confession requirements, to ensure that major narcotraffickers or war criminals aren’t being hired as coca-cutters. (2) Any abuses or human-rights violations committed in conjunction with eradication activities must be promptly punished – if they are not, the U.S. must pull the plug on funding. (3) All farmers whose crops are eradicated must immediately receive significant assistance in meeting short-term food needs and moving to legal crops or employment. If conditions are safe enough for manual eradication, they’re safe enough for infrastructure-building, education, healthcare, agricultural assistance and marketing support. If these three conditions are met, then hiring former combatants as manual eradicators could work. If they are not, the result will be marauding gangs of thugs who abuse campesinos while destroying their livelihoods and leaving nothing behind, thus pushing them into the arms of the guerrillas and paramilitaries.)

A few other good things in the Senate bill

Several other provisions in the Senate bill, making smaller contributions, do not appear in the House bill.

  • Human rights certification: the Senate and House bills both repeat the five human-rights conditions on military aid that have appeared in the law for years. The Senate, however, adds a sixth condition: that “the Colombian Armed Forces are respecting the legal, cultural, and territorial rights of Colombia’s indigenous communities.” The Senate bill would also require the State Department to consult with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia before certifying.
  • Earmarks: The Senate bill would require that a minimum of $8 million be devoted to judicial-reform programs in Colombia. At least $10 million would go “to the United States Agency for International Development for organizations and programs to protect human rights.” At least $2 million would “be made available through nongovernmental organizations for programs to protect biodiversity and indigenous reserves in Colombia.”
  • Fumigation certification: The Senate bill renews language, which has been in each bill since 2003, holding up all but 20 percent of funding for herbicides until the State Department certifies that aerial fumigation of drug crops is occurring within a series of guidelines for health, environment, compensation for those unjustly sprayed, and availability of alternative development. The fumigation conditions do not appear in the House bill.
  • Fumigation in national parks: The Senate bill specifies that “funds appropriated by this Act may be used for aerial fumigation in Colombia’s national parks or reserves only if the Secretary of State determines that it is in accordance with Colombian laws and that there are no effective alternatives to reduce drug cultivation in these areas.” This is a weak provision, unlikely to stop an eventual restarting of fumigation in parks. But even this doesn’t appear in the House bill.
  • Bolivia conditions: The Senate bill renews language, which first appeared in the 2004 bill, establishing human-rights conditions on military aid to Bolivia. Before this aid can be delivered, the Secretary of State must certify “that the Bolivian military is respecting human rights, and civilian judicial authorities are investigating and prosecuting, with the military’s cooperation, military personnel who have been implicated in gross violations of human rights.”
  • Report language: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s non-binding narrative report includes several interesting provisions with regard to Colombia:
    • Fumigation: “The Committee is increasingly concerned … that the aerial eradication program is falling far short of predictions and that coca cultivation is shifting to new locations. Since the start of Plan Colombia, over 525,000 hectares of coca crops have been sprayed, yet coca cultivation has decreased by only 7 percent. Last year alone, 136,555 hectares were sprayed, but the total area under cultivation, estimated by the State Department at 114,000 hectares, remained essentially unchanged from the previous year. There is no indication that the quantity of cocaine entering the United States has decreased. … The Committee directs the Secretary of State, in consultation with the EPA and appropriate Colombian authorities, to submit a report not later than 180 days after enactment of the Act, with the following information: the results of a GIS analysis of the proximity of small, shallow water bodies to coca and poppy fields and of tests to determine the toxicity of the spray mixture to Colombian amphibians; and, an assessment of potential impacts of the spray program on threatened species, including in Colombia’s national parks.”
    • Afro-Colombians: “The Committee is aware that Afro-Colombians face many difficult problems, including poverty and discrimination. The Committee recommends assistance to address the economic and social needs of Afro-Colombians, particularly IDPs in the Choco region, through the Afro-Latino Development Alliance.”


    Why the Senate’s bill is better

Why is the Senate’s Colombia language consistently so much better than the House’s? One key reason is that the senior Democrat on the subcommittee that writes the foreign aid bill – a position that offers heavy input into what goes into the bill’s draft – is Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Leahy and his staff know Colombia and closely follow what happens there, and have made a priority of ensuring that the policy includes some economic assistance and human-rights safeguards.

That’s not to say House members (mainly the Democrats, though there are some Republicans) aren’t equally committed to human rights and more economic aid to Colombia. But they have been shut down by a much more ideologically driven Republican leadership, which limits debate and strongly discourages dissent within the Republican party. No doubt acting on orders from the party leadership – Speaker Dennis Hastert is a major supporter of Plan Colombia and has traveled to Colombia many times – the chairman of the House subcommittee that drafts the foreign aid bill, Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe, allowed no changes at all to the Bush Administration’s aid request. The Senate – for now at least – doesn’t face similar rigidity from the Republican majority on this issue. And where aid to the paramilitaries is concerned, there seems to be a basic consensus that the process is rotten.

The next step for the foreign aid bill is approval in the full Senate (a debate on Colombia is not anticipated). Then representatives of both the House and Senate will form a “Conference Committee” to resolve differences between the two versions. There could be some intense debate and bargaining in the Conference Committee on the bill’s Colombia provisions, given the sharp differences outlined here. Let’s hope that the Senate stands firm.


Meanwhile, a human-rights certification decision could be coming from the State Department at any moment. It’s long overdue – the failure to be able to certify has held up 12.5 percent of aid from 2004. The arrests in the Cajamarca case last week indicate that the Colombian military is reluctantly throwing a few bones to give the illusion of progress against impunity. (Other investigations and prosecutions, however – such as the February 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó, the 1997 massacre in Mapiripán, and the August 2004 massacre of three union leaders in Arauca – have made little or no progress.) A large group of mostly Democratic Senators has sent a letter to Secretary of State Rice asking her not to certify yet; I hope to post that letter and list of signers to our site later today. Stay tuned.

Jul 04

“Colombia’s relations with Ecuador are ‘Venezuelanizing,’” proclaimed Sunday’s edition of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. This is an overstatement, but things have definitely changed in Quito since an uprising forced President Lucio Gutiérrez to resign and leave the country in April.

His replacement, former vice-president Alfredo Palacio, has taken a much more critical stance regarding U.S. policy toward the Andes.

Though he ran as a leftist-populist in 2002, Gutiérrez had angered Ecuador’s left by taking a highly compliant attitude toward the Bush administration. Palacio has been more willing to challenge the U.S. government.

He promised closer oversight of the Manta naval base, where U.S. military and contract personnel maintain a presence under a 10-year counter-narcotics agreement. (The Defense Department has changed the name it gave to the Manta base from “Forward Operating Location” (FOL) to “Cooperative Security Location” (CSL).) His government refused to exempt U.S. military personnel in Ecuador from the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, thus sacrificing all non-drug military aid, under U.S. law, for the foreseeable future. The Palacio government has taken a stronger line on aerial herbicide spraying in Colombian coca-growing areas near the Ecuadorian border, alleging that it is causing damage in Ecuadorian territory. The Ecuadorians have increasingly criticized Plan Colombia, which Gutiérrez had supported. “Plan Colombia, which is coming to an end after five years, has not achieved its desired results, and the situation remains as it was before,” said Interior Minister Mauricio Gándara in mid-June.

Relations with Colombia flared up last week, after the FARC staged a massive attack on military units guarding oil wells in Teteyé, a town just across the San Miguel river from Ecuador in the municipality of Puerto Asís, Putumayo. About 300 FARC guerrillas killed nineteen Colombian soldiers, making June 25 the deadliest day of Álvaro Uribe’s term in office. This was the third large-scale attack on a Colombian military target in Putumayo since February. Though the other two attacks were ambushes instead of a planned strike like Teteyé, many observers asked, as an El Tiempo article read, “How far has the government’s security policy really gone in Putumayo, a department which had been one of the central objectives of Plan Colombia?”

Some Colombian observers pointed their fingers at their neighbor to the south, arguing that the guerrillas used Ecuadorian territory to launch the Teteyé attack, and that the guerrillas avoided the army’s counterattack by crossing back into Ecuador. The mayor of Puerto Asís, Jorge Coral, argued that the guerrillas always “commit crimes here and go to hide over there (in Ecuador).” Visiting the site of the attack, President Uribe added that the guerrillas “take advantage of the nearness of our brother country.”

Ecuador then escalated the war of words. Interior Minister Gándara speculated about the possibility of repatriating Colombian citizens in Ecuador illegally (a number that, by most estimates, exceeds 400,000 people). In an Ecuadorian radio interview late last week, Quito’s foreign minister, Antonio Parra, insisted that “there is a civil war” in Colombia – a position the Uribe government emphatically rejects – adding that Colombia “has abandoned its sovereign duties along its southern border,” and that Ecuador “is neither with Uribe nor with the FARC.” He added further, “We are not going to get involved in the problem. We are going to limit ourselves to defending our own sovereignty, and we ask Colombia to do the same on its side of the border.” For his part, President Palacio said that he would do everything possible to maintain order in Ecuador without getting involved “in anybody’s warmaking process.”

President Uribe warned Palacios to use more “verbal prudence,” and the Colombian Foreign Ministry responded with a communiqué warning Ecuador that “No government can be neutral before a terrorist aggression against a democracy.” Scandalized, Semana magazine wrote, “In as many words, [Minister] Parra declared himself neutral toward the internal conflict. Even Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, had been forced to rectify a similar declaration.”

The Ecuadorian point of view, of course, is different. Columnist Grace Jaramillo, writing in yesterday’s edition of Quito’s El Comercio, noted that “Álvaro Uribe’s government, instead of lowering tensions, insists on pressuring the Ecuadorian Government to make a decision, much in the style of George W. Bush: ‘You’re either with me or against me.’”

While Uribe and Palacio will both be at a coffee-producers’ meeting next week in Costa Rica, the only interaction between both countries’ officials so far was a rather unproductive meeting last Thursday between the heads of both countries armed forces (Colombian Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina and Ecuadorian Vice-Admiral Manuel Zapater). While the Ecuadorians agreed to do what they could about armed-group activity on their side of the border, they refused to consider joint operations, which could involve Colombian troops on Ecuadorian soil and a much greater likelihood of combat between Ecuadorian troops and the FARC.

Though it only seems to be controversial now that Ecuador’s government has grown more critical, the FARC’s ability to operate on the Ecuadorian side of the two countries’ 400 mile-long border has long been common knowledge. Guerrillas, usually unarmed, have taken routine rest and relaxation in Ecuador for at least twenty years; border towns have an inordinate number of health clinics, pharmacies, grocers, bars and brothels catering largely to such “visiting Colombians.” According to Putumayo’s governor, Carlos Palacios, “For years, this entire border has been a corridor of FARC activity. They constantly go to Ecuador, that is where they do all of their logistics, their stockpiles of food, and where they have some encampments. In Ecuador the comandantes and low-ranking combatants are even getting health care.”

Analysts have long spoken of a “gentleman’s agreement” between the FARC and the Ecuadorian military: if the guerrillas do not harm Ecuadorians, the military will not fight them. Governor Palacios goes further: “Instead of permissiveness or complicity there is terror: the Ecuadorian Army is simply afraid of the FARC.”

Whether this is true or not, it is certain that combat is rare between Ecuador’s military and Colombian guerrillas (or paramilitaries, for that matter). Ecuador has another important reason for avoiding the ire of the guerrillas: its border zone, especially the province of Sucumbíos across the border from Putumayo, is Ecuador’s oil heartland, with numerous wells and a new pipeline going to the coast. To provoke the FARC into bombing Ecuadorian oil infrastructure would be to deal a strong blow to Ecuador’s economy.

The FARC have made clear that they will retaliate, as in a recent missive by Swedish journalist Dick Emanuelsson, who frequently interviews FARC leaders: “It could be that the war will cross the borders and the FARC will assist the first guerrilla presence [in Ecuador] if the Quito government takes part in Colombia’s internal war. It would be a historic error that could have fatal consequences for Ecuador.”

Meanwhile, Ecuadorian officials have a good point when they say that Colombia has not done enough to secure its side of the border. Speaking of his own department of Putumayo, Governor Palacios points out that “The guerrillas’ activity is strong, especially in rural areas because the urban areas are 90 percent controlled by the paramilitaries.” When asked what this leaves for the Colombian armed forces in Putumayo, Palacios responds, “If we compare the 18,000 men who are operating in Plan Patriota with the 2,500 that are today in the department to cover 25,000 square kilometers [about the size of Maryland] along the border with Ecuador and Peru, we can conclude that we don’t have the ability to respond today.”

Clearly, Ecuador has some strong incentives not to pick a fight with the FARC. And it has not done so, even though most U.S. military aid to Ecuador under Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative has been aimed at strengthening the Ecuadorian armed forces’ presence at the northern border. Under Lucio Gutiérrez, this meant the opening of new military posts, lots of new vehicles and equipment, and the deployment of 8,000 troops and police to the border region (many of whom had been stationed at the Peruvian border since the brief 1995 Peru-Ecuador war). Nonetheless, this beefed-up presence doesn’t seem to have brought a major increase in Ecuadorian activity against Colombian armed groups.

Beyond possible “gentlemen’s agreements” or “fear” of the FARC, another reason is the lack of continuity in Ecuador’s own government and military. Ecuador has had six presidents in the last nine years and, complains Colombia’s Gen. Ospina, three armed-forces chiefs since he assumed command of Colombia’s military in late 2003. The change of presidents in April, though, is the one most strongly felt in Colombia. Though most Ecuadorians strongly disliked him, Lucio Gutiérrez was a favorite of the Uribe government, as he had deployed troops to the border and oversaw the capture of high-level FARC commander “Simón Trinidad” in Quito in January 2004.

The Uribe government and the United States will be campaigning hard, then, to keep Palacio from “going neutral” on them. It’s not clear, though, that they will have any influence. Ecuador’s new stand-offishness is largely the result of internal politics. Neither current U.S. policy toward the Andes nor Plan Colombia are popular with broad sectors of Ecuadorian society. They are especially disliked by Ecuador’s left and its well-organized indigenous movement, whose opposition to Lucio Gutiérrez was a strong factor in his removal. If he is to avoid that fate, Palacio, who comes from a center-left background anyway, will have to take those sectors into account, and this will mean keeping his distance from Plan Colombia and saying “no” to the United States more often.

Ecuador’s government is probably likely to choose its words more wisely in the future. Instead of “civil war,” its leaders are likely to say “internal conflict.” Instead of “neutrality,” they will speak of “avoiding military involvement.” The words will change. But the actions will not. For the foreseeable future, do not expect Ecuador to be an enthusiastic partner in President Uribe’s U.S.-supported hard-line military effort and fumigation campaigns in the border zone.