Mar 28

There was little surprising about last week’s indictment of fifty FARC leaders for drug trafficking. It is not news that the FARC raises much of its funds by processing and transshipping cocaine, and that many of its top leaders have played a role in it, or at least explicitly approved it. If you don’t understand that much of the fighting in Colombia lately has been concentrated in drug-producing areas and drug-trafficking corridors, then you don’t understand Colombia’s conflict.

So it’s not surprising that the U.S. government would eventually get around to indicting more than the handful of FARC leaders already accused of sending cocaine to U.S. shores. As in the case of paramilitary leaders who face similar indictments and extradition requests, the argument can be made that these individuals conspired to violate U.S. law on U.S. soil.

Some elements of the indictment were surprising, though.

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Mar 15

I’m going to Puerto Rico later today, for the Latin American Studies Association conference in San Juan and a week of vacation. If I have decent access to the Internet, I will endeavor to post to the blog occasionally. If Internet access proves to be elusive, this will be the last post until March 25 or 26.

Mar 13

The lead story from yesterday’s legislative elections in Colombia was the strong showing of the approximately nine pro-Uribe parties, who will dominate the Congress with a roughly 70 percent majority for the next four years. Beyond this further shift to the right, here are a few other interesting things about yesterday’s vote results. 

1. With a few notable exceptions, candidates believed to have paramilitary ties did quite well. One of the biggest issues in this election was the growing political power of paramilitary groups, and the belief that in many parts of the country, only candidates with explicit paramilitary approval would be able to run for office. Indeed, the results for the House of Representatives, where people vote for candidates according to their own geographical district, show seven of the eleven candidates with the highest vote count – indicating that they ran with little or no opposition – coming from northern Colombian departments known for significant paramilitary influence.

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Mar 10

Colombians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Congress. Pro-Uribe parties are expected to do quite well, as are candidates supported by the paramilitaries (there is some overlap between these two categories). Candidates from the Polo Democrático Alternativo, a unified leftist third-party, are expected to make a stronger showing than the left has ever done before. However, they will still be far behind the pro-Uribe parties and the Liberals, a “traditional” party opposed to Uribe from a more centrist perspective. 

Here is an excellent overview of who is who, focused on Colombia’s Senate elections, put together by Gabriel Bustamante Peña, an analyst for the Bogotá-based INDEPAZ think-tank. I found it to be so useful that I’ve translated it into English.  

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Mar 08

A few weeks ago, we noted that no money for Colombia was in the White House’s latest supplemental funding request to Congress [PDF format] for Iraq and the “war on terror.” Once again, the Colombian government had failed to get Washington to say “yes” to its year-old proposal for as much as $150 million worth of new spray planes, helicopters and other military equipment.

We weren’t the only ones to notice this “oversight.” Yesterday’s Washington Times reports that some of the House Republicans’ leading drug warriors plan to add almost $100 million in new military and police aid to Colombia when the supplemental budget bill comes under consideration.

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Mar 07

I’m testifying in a Senate subcommittee hearing tomorrow about the impact on Latin America of the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, the law that cuts off some military and economic aid to twelve Latin American countries that do not give U.S. soldiers immunity from the International Criminal Court.

Since I’m still not finished preparing my testimony, don’t expect any new postings to this blog today or tomorrow…

Update as of 5:30 March 8: The hearing was short but I think very constructive (kudos to Sen. Coleman for wanting to explore this issue). I finished the testimony on time, and it’s available here in HTML format and here as a PDF file.

Mar 03

In 2002, at the Bush administration’s request, the U.S. Congress broadened the purpose of U.S. military assistance to Colombia (despite an unsuccessful 192-225 House vote to stop it). Ever since then, each year’s foreign aid bill has included a sentence permitting all aid given through counter-narcotics programs – including helicopters, boats, and other lethal equipment – to be used in a “unified campaign” against both drugs and the three Colombian groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (the FARC, ELN and AUC).

This year, the Bush administration wants to expand the military-aid mission yet again. And this time it appears to have more than just drugs and guerrillas on its mind.

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Mar 02

Continuing the theme of yesterday’s post:

  • March 4, 2005: “[T]he balloon effect, the notion that somehow, when you win in one country, which we saw over the last 15 years — I’ve watched this evolution up and down and when we won in Peru and Bolivia, to a large extent, it somehow moved us over into Colombia. What’s fascinating on the metrics is that we are really not seeing the balloon effect. In terms of the entire region in 2003, there was an overall regional reduction of 16 percent of cultivation. That’s a remarkable thing by itself.”
    – Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert Charles

  • March 2, 2006: “Tony Arias, director of the Americas program at the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told The Miami Herald the balloon effect is ‘frankly … evident.’
    ‘You’re successful in one part and then the traffickers will look wherever they can to continue their business,’ he said.”
    – The Miami Herald
Mar 01

The State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released today, includes some seriously bad news about drug production in the Andes.

While data for Colombia are still forthcoming, the report shows a sharp increase in the production of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, elsewhere in the Andes last year.

  • Bolivia: “Overall coca cultivation increased 8 percent from 2004 to 2005, to 26,500 hectares.”
  • Peru: “The USG estimates there are 38,000 hectares of coca cultivation in Peru, including 4,000 hectares in new areas.” This represents a stunning 38 percent increase from 2004 to 2005. The combined one-year increase in Peru and Bolivia was 12,400 hectares, or 24 percent.
  • Ecuador: “Ecuadorian security forces located and destroyed about 36,160 cultivated coca plants in small, scattered sites in 2005. While not commercially significant, the extent of cultivation was about double that of 2004. Together with the discovery of a small, partially harvested opium poppy plantation, they suggest that growers are testing the feasibility of drug crop cultivation in Ecuador.”

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