Jun 28

Once or twice each year, conservative syndicated columnist and TV pundit Robert Novak publishes a piece about Colombia. These are written with very heavy input from House Republican congressional staffers who, over the years, have played a leading role in making U.S. policy toward Colombia what it is today.

Hence the headline of Novak’s latest missive, which appeared in the Washington Post and elsewhere: “Dems balk at support for Colombia’s drug war.” Novak filed the column from Colombia, where he is paying a visit this week to vacationing President Álvaro Uribe at his ranch in rural Córdoba department (a zone so dominated by right-wing paramilitaries that it is practically an independent republic).

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Jun 27

Colombia Program Intern Christina Sanabria attended last Wednesday’s House International Relations Committee hearing on "Democracy in Latin America." Here are highlights from her notes.

Notes on Hearing before House International Relations Committee
“Democracy in Latin America: Successes, Challenges and the Future”
June 21, 2006

Panelists:

  • Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, US Department of State (Testimony – PDF)
  • Adolfo Franco, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID (Testimony – PDF)
  • Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, US Department of State 
  • Christopher Sabatini, Ph.D., Senior Director of Policy, Council of the Americas/Americas Society  (Testimony – PDF)
  • Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador (did not attend, but submitted testimony – PDF)

Opening statement, Tom Lantos (D-California, ranking Democrat on the committee):

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Jun 24

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual Andean Coca Survey on Tuesday. It found an 8 percent increase in the amount of coca grown in Colombia in 2005. Similarly, U.S. estimates released in April found either an increase in 2005, or an adjustment to reflect more area under measurement.

If you want to know about drug-crop cultivation in Colombia and the rest of the region, this document is absolutely required reading. How much coca was grown in each department of Colombia last year? How much land was fumigated in each department? How extensively do alternative development programs cover affected populations? What prices are coca-growers are being paid for their product? For answers to these and many other questions that an informed counter-drug strategy must answer, this report is the only source available.

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Jun 20

The Colombian government’s independent internal-affairs agency (Procuraduría) last week released a very important evaluation of Colombia’s programs to demobilize and reintegrate former combatants, especially ex-paramilitaries.

The report presents several alarming statistics about the challenges that Colombia now faces. The Procurador General, Edgardo Maya, is on very solid ground when he criticizes “the lack of a systemic vision of government responsibilities for attending to the demobilized population.”

Thanks to CIP Colombia Program Intern Christina Sanabria for pulling these out of the Procurador’s speech and PowerPoint presentation.

Land:

  • Estimates of the amount of land abandoned by people violently displaced by the paramilitaries range from 2.6 million hectares (Contraloría General, the government comptroller’s office) to 6.8 million hectares (Acción Social, the presidency’s Social Action agency). That is, the estimated amount of stolen land ranges from an area the size of Massachusetts to an area bigger than West Virginia.

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Jun 16

Colombia’s security forces interdicted 48.5 tons of cocaine between January and May of this year, according to a press release that appeared Wednesday on the Colombia’s presidency’s website.

This sounds impressive, but it actually puts Colombia on a pace to interdict one-third less cocaine than it did in 2005. In 2005, Colombia seized 171 tons – a record, though merely a fraction of the 545 tons that were produced in Colombia last year, according to the U.S. Drug Czar’s conservative estimate.

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Jun 14

Last year, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee wanted to improve the balance between military and economic aid on the 2006 foreign aid bill.

Committee members like Sam Farr (D-California), who was once a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, wanted to see more U.S. investment in rural Colombia, where drug crops and armed groups are as pervasive as ever. Instead of an 80 percent military strategy, Farr and others argued, more must be done to address the total absence of civilian government from much of Colombia’s territory. Colombia’s problems will continue to bedevil us, they argued, as long as state absence continues to go hand-in-hand with very high rural poverty rates. (Colombia’s Comptroller’s Office estimated in 2004 that 85 percent of rural Colombians live below the poverty line.)

The Democrats’ appeals for more rural development aid hit a brick wall of Republican opposition. Majority-party appropriators refused to budge on aid priorities or to provide more non-military money. They had plenty of funds available, of course, for fumigation and other military efforts.

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Jun 13

(For commentary on President Uribe’s visit tomorrow, see our memo here.)

Here are translations of two more threatening e-mails recently received by human-rights groups and academic departments in Colombia. Messages like these have been arriving in Colombian human-rights activists’ inboxes for over a month now.

The May 20 message below refers to break-ins that were then occurring at human rights groups’ offices and employees’ homes. Knowledge of this makes it less likely that these messages are merely the work of some crackpot at his computer keyboard.

Email sent June 7, 2006

From: Frente Democratico Colombia Libre [mailto:contactodirectofdcl@yahoo.com]
Sent: miércoles, 07 de junio de 2006 20:03
To: 20 NGOs and left-wing news organizations
Cc:salvatoremancuso@salvatoremancuso.com, porcaminosdepaz@yahoo.es, convergencia@intercable.net.co, colombiasincomunistas@yahoo.es
Subject: <blank>

Central Office of National Director’s Office
“Colombia Free of Communists”

Memo to revolutionaries masquerading as NGOs, supposed leaders, “lawyers” and communicators camouflaged in civil society, hidden behind your columns as if we could not find you.

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Jun 12

Here is a translation of a column which appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. This version is a bit longer than what appeared in print, due to a small snafu (they had asked for 900 words, then determined that they couldn’t fit that much).

In harmony, for the moment

It shouldn’t surprise us that the Bush administration and the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress were very pleased with Álvaro Uribe’s reelection. They can now be sure that, for four more years, they can remain in harmony with one of the few unconditional allies they still have in Latin America, and one of the few loyal adherents to the “Washington Consensus.”

The State Department’s happiness was evident. Within 48 hours it announced a much-delayed “certification” of Colombia. Twice each year, the law requires a certification that the Colombian armed forces are improving their human-rights performance; each certification frees up approximately $35 million in “frozen” military aid. This process has been controversial, because it has been difficult to show improvements.

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Jun 09

This afternoon, after an hour of lively debate, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment that sought to reduce military and police aid to Colombia by $30 million. The measure, introduced by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Jim Leach (R-Iowa), and 5 other members of Congress, sought to transfer that $30 million to emergency refugee-assistance programs worldwide.

It lost by a vote of 174 to 229, with 43.2 percent of those in attendance voting in favor.

Votes on amendments similar to today’s measure have happened at least once every year since 2000 (with the exception of 2004). During this period, nine amendments seeking to cut or limit U.S. military aid to Colombia have been defeated, and a tenth seeking to increase military aid succeeded.

This gives us a list of ten votes which we can use as a rough gauge of how supportively or skeptically the House, which has been dominated by Republicans during this entire period, has viewed the U.S. strategy toward Colombia.

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Jun 08

Here is a point-by-point response to a letter being circulated in the House of Representatives by four Republican congressmen who are considered the House’s leading proponents of the current policy toward Colombia.

The letters’ authors are:
Dan Burton (R-Indiana, the chairman of the House International Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee),
Henry Hyde (R-Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee),
Tom Davis (R-Virginia, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee), and
Mark Souder (R-Indiana, the chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources).

Congress of the United States
Washington,  DC  20515
Stay the Course in Colombia!

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Jun 06

It’s that time of year again: the House of Representatives will begin considering the 2007 foreign aid bill as early as Thursday. The House bill includes $641 million in new aid for Colombia, about $496 million of it military/police assistance. (An additional $160 million or so in military/police aid will go through the Defense budget.)

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) plans to introduce an amendment that would cut $30 million from Colombia’s counter-drug military/police aid – aimed particularly at the failed fumigation program – and transfer it to refugee assistance programs worldwide. (The House rules of debate simply don’t allow a cleaner transfer specifically to aid Colombia’s displaced population.)

This is not a huge transfer of funds. The amendment’s main purpose is to send a strong signal that the U.S. Congress is concerned about the counter-drug strategy’s lack of results, and that assistance for refugees and displaced people must be a higher priority.

Here is the Latin America Working Group’s action alert on the amendment. If you are a U.S. citizen and want to send a message about the need to reconsider the current U.S. policy toward Colombia, please follow these guidelines and contact your House representative today.

There are unlikely to be any similar opportunities this year.

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Jun 05

Blogging is a medium with a short attention span. As one “issue of the moment” succeeds another with dizzying speed, unfinished narratives from past posts begin to pile up. This post seeks to tie up some loose ends from the year so far.

  • The Jamundí incident: Cautious language appeared in the May 24th account of what was then seen as a “friendly fire” incident. Two days earlier, an army patrol had killed an entire ten-man elite police counter-drug unit in the countryside south of Cali. “In the worst case,” the post reads, “the Army battalion’s members might have been protecting drug traffickers, and trying to stop the police operation.”

    What was the “worst case” has since become the leading hypothesis. Colombia’s attorney-general, Mario Iguarán, last week ordered the arrest of eight soldiers, including the colonel who heads the Farallones High Mountain Battalion, for planning and carrying out a “massacre.” Most observers now believe that the soldiers were acting in concert with powerful narcotraffickers.

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Jun 01

The State Department waited until after Colombia’s elections to announce its latest certification of the Colombian military’s human-rights performance. That is, it waited until the morning of the first working day after the elections to announce that it had made the certification decision late last week.

The Colombia human-rights certification requirement has been part of foreign aid law, in varying forms, every year since Plan Colombia began in 2000. The current version freezes 25 percent of Colombia’s military aid (not police aid, and not aid in the defense budget, leaving about $80 million frozen).

This aid can only be “unfrozen” twice each year, whenever the State Department issues a document to Congress certifying that Colombia has met six conditions having to do with progress on investigations of past human rights violations, cutting ties to paramilitaries, and respecting indigenous populations. Each time the State Department sends a certification document, half of that year’s frozen military aid (12.5 percent of the total, or about $40 million) is made available to Colombia. (To see the text of the Colombia certification requirement, read the 2006 foreign aid law here and find Section 556.)

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