Feb 27

Many apologies for the long silence on Plan Colombia and Beyond. I spent last week – which turned out to be a very eventful one in Colombia – on vacation with family, with what turned out to be very, very little Internet access.

Posting is likely to continue to be infrequent for another week and a half. I am going to Bogotá this weekend with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts). Then, next week, CIP and other groups will be assisting the visits to Washington of Sen. Gustavo Petro, victims’ movement leader Iván Cepeda, several relatives of FARC hostages, and several Colombian NGO representatives, all of whom will be here for the regular hearings of the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

All of this leaves precious little time at the computer keyboard. I will post as frequently as possible, but the reality is that we’re in the midst of a 3-week period in which normal Colombia Program activities – including blogging – are largely suspended.

Thank you for your patience.

Feb 18

Last Sunday’s issue (February 11) of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana ran an interesting interview with Michael Braun, who as chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration oversees the DEA’s activities at home and abroad.

Braun took a hard line on the extradition of paramilitary leaders (“we hope ‘Don Berna’ will be extradited in the near future”). In particular, he also raised eyebrows with this estimate of the FARC’s role in drug trafficking:

Nine out of every ten grams of cocaine that enter the United States have passed through the FARC’s hands at some point.

This statement was so remarkable that it got picked up by the BBC and newspapers throughout the region. The idea that any of Colombia’s armed or criminal groups – even the paramilitaries or the North Valle cartel – has a hand in 90 percent of all cocaine coming to the United States just seems wrong.

Obviously all groups’ shares, added together, will exceed 100 percent, since the same cocaine may pass between several armed groups and trafficking organizations on its journey from the coca fields to your hometown. But since it is commonly estimated that 9 out of 10 grams of cocaine in the United States comes from or through Colombia, Braun’s words indicate that the FARC had a hand, at some stage, in every single dose of cocaine sold in the United States.

If true, this would be a severe blow to the U.S. and Colombian governments, who have devoted billions of dollars to a strategy designed, in part, to reduce the FARC’s income from the drug trade. If it now has a hand in 90 percent of all cocaine available in the United States, the guerrilla group’s share of this income would have in fact increased in the past few years.

If the FARC managed to do that despite the resources and forces arrayed against it under “Plan Colombia” and “Democratic Security,” then there has been a massive policy failure that demands accountability – including investigation by the U.S. Congress.

Continue reading »

Feb 15

We’re pleased to share a new contribution from correspondent Chris Stubbert in Bogotá.

On February 3, an explosion killed 32 people in one of Colombia’s worst-ever mining accidents. It occurred near the town of San Roque at La Preciosa mine in Norte de Santander department, 580km (360 miles) north of Bogotá. Just three days later, eight more miners were killed in Boyacá department by a similar explosion at the La Capilla coal mine 177km (110 miles) from Bogotá.

Mining accidents are not uncommon around the world, but Colombia has had a particularly appalling safety record in recent memory. With the incentive of high-value deposits of coal, copper, and emeralds, some of the poorest Colombians resort to going underground, in often dreadful conditions, to earn a meager wage.

After the first accident in Norte de Santander, President Uribe quickly flew to the mine to address the local community, assuring that his government would compensate and provide social security to the families of the bereaved. He also pledged to increase the supervision of mines in Colombia.

Continue reading »

Feb 15

William Wood’s hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan will take place in the Senate this morning. Wood has been the U.S. ambassador to Colombia since mid-2003.

We make no recommendation for how the Foreign Relations Committee should vote on Wood’s nomination. He enthusiastically and energetically carried out a policy with which we disagree strongly, but he did not make the policy.

We do ask, though, that the committee not give Ambassador Wood a pass on the question of counter-drug strategy. He is, after all, leaving a post as ambassador to the largest cocaine-producing country in the world, to become ambassador to the largest heroin-producing country in the world.

The record matters here, especially since many in the Bush administration hope to export to Afghanistan the counter-narcotics model they developed in Colombia. There is a strong push to carry out the same recipe of aggressive forced crop eradication, even aerial herbicide fumigation, combined with only a trickle of development aid.

First, it would be a grave mistake to assume that the two countries are at all similar. But even if they were identical, it would be folly to repeat in Afghanistan the anti-drug strategy that Ambassador Wood oversaw in Colombia.

The results could hardly be more dismal.

1. When Ambassador Wood assumed his post in Bogotá in 2003, the State Department was measuring 113,850 hectares (281,350 acres) of coca in Colombia. By the end of 2005, the State Department had measured 144,000 hectares (356,000 acres).
[2006 coca estimates are unavailable – at least to us civilians – until April, possibly March.]

Continue reading »

Feb 13

Four years ago today, the FARC captured three U.S. civilians, working on a Defense Department contract, whose small aircraft went down over the jungles of Caquetá department in southern Colombia. We have since heard little about the health and whereabouts of Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell.

Now is not the moment to criticize the policy that put the three men on that small plane in the first place. Nor is it a moment for empty expressions of rage or solidarity. It is a good moment to ask the following:

Of the U.S. and Colombian governments: Please don’t pin your hopes on an armed rescue of the three hostages. If such an operation were to be successful, it would be a triumph equal to the Israeli raid on Entebbe or the raid on the Japanese embassy in Peru – and neither of those rescues took place in thick jungle, behind several rings of guerrilla security.

The FARC have shown in the past their cruel willingness to kill their hostages on the first indication that a rescue attempt is underway. The recent escape of hostage Fernando Araújo, under cover of darkness in an area of weak FARC influence, was a happy but rare exception.

In this case, releasing the hostages will require more flexibility on the question of negotiating a humanitarian exchange with the guerrillas. This doesn’t mean agreeing to all guerrilla preconditions, or reaching a deal that opens the door to future kidnappings or allows freed guerrillas to re-join the group. But it does mean keeping the conversation going between intermediaries and continuing to seek agreement on the thorniest details.

Continue reading »

Feb 11

In an important piece published Friday, Constanza Vieira of Inter-Press Service documents what can only be considered a campaign to intimidate victims of paramilitary violence. The following has happened during the past three weeks.

On Jan. 20, the headquarters of the League of Displaced Women near the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, where the group had built their new settlement "City of Women", was set on fire.

Freddy Espitia, head of a local committee of displaced persons in the Caribbean province of Córdoba, in northwestern Colombia, was shot and killed on Jan. 28.

On Jan. 31, in Montería, the capital of Córdoba, gunmen on a motorcycle killed Yolanda Izquierdo, a 43-year-old community leader who had gathered evidence to help 863 rural families regain their land, which had been seized by the paramilitaries. She was presenting the evidence under the reparations system set up by the Justice and Peace Law.

The murder of Óscar Cuadrado, the leader of a regional association of displaced persons, was reported on Feb. 1 in Maicao, in the northeastern province of La Guajira.

And on Feb. 7, Carmen Santana was shot to death in Apartadó, a banana-producing region in the northeastern province of Antioquia. After great hesitation, Santana had decided to pursue the truth about the 1995 murder of her first husband, a banana worker.

All along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, people are being attacked merely for demanding to know what happened to their loved ones, or for asking that their stolen property be returned to them.

Defenders of the paramilitary negotiation process point to the top leadership’s December imprisonment, or the initial confession of AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso, and contend that the system is finally working – that the "Justice and Peace" process is steadily chipping away at the paramilitaries’ enormous power and giving hope to their victims.

This wave of attacks shows, though, that it is far too early to be arguing that. Unless much more is done – quickly – to protect those victims who dare to demand what the law promises them, most will continue to be too afraid to come forward. That would deal a fatal blow to the credibility of a process that already has more than its share of skeptics.

Feb 09

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s speeches frequently include a passage in which he asserts that he has done more than his predecessors to create space for the often-threatened political opposition. Google tells us that the terms “garantías efectivas” (effective security guarantees) and “oposición” show up together in 156 different pages on the Colombian presidency’s website. Here’s an example from last October:

“The FARC said that they would not negotiate because the opposition’s spokespeople are murdered in Colombia. But in the government of Democratic Security [that is, Uribe's administration] the opposition has had unprecedented effective security guarantees. They have always had rhetorical and formal guarantees in Colombia, but in recent decades these were not as effective as the guarantees that they have had under this government, as was demonstrated by the effective freedoms that protected the opposition during the last election campaign.”

“Effective guarantees” appear only to go so far, though. When leaders of the opposition bloc in Colombia’s congress proposed to investigate why paramilitary groups expanded so quickly when Uribe was governor of Antioquia department in the mid-1990s, the president’s rhetoric about the opposition changed. Uribe had this to say on Saturday about former M-19 guerrillas who disarmed sixteen years ago and who are now key opposition politicians proposing to investigate his past.

“[The talks with paramilitary groups] are different from the past, when those who burned down the Palace of Justice, with money from narcotraffickers, simply took off their camouflage uniforms, put on a business suit and came to Congress to teach the country about morality. Some have done it very well. Others, unfortunately, simply went from being terrorists in camouflage to being terrorists in business suits.”

Senator Gustavo Petro of the opposition Alternative Democratic Pole party, a former M-19 guerrilla, wants the Congress to hold a hearing to investigate then-Governor Uribe’s actions – or inaction – during the paramilitary expansion in Antioquia ten years ago. He responded quickly to President Uribe’s outburst: “I think there are terrorists wearing ties and civilian clothes, but they are being imprisoned right now – and almost all of them are friends of the President.”

As investigations into paramilitary infiltration of Colombia’s government progress, things may become more dangerous, yet again, for Colombia’s opposition. President Uribe’s words only increase the danger and undermine the “effective guarantees” to which he so often refers.

There is nothing terroristic about calling for an investigation into the president’s past. If there is nothing behind Senator Petro’s allegations, then President Uribe has nothing to fear and Senator Petro’s credibility will suffer. To call the senator a terrorist, though, is out of line, deserves strong condemnation – and in the end, it only increases the public’s curiosity about what Petro proposes to investigate.

Feb 06

Here are a few interesting things about the Bush administration’s proposal for U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean next year. These are the result of moving all the information from the official request into one big spreadsheet. (Feel free to download a copy of that spreadsheet, but be warned it’s not very user-friendly.)

All numbers below are in thousands of dollars. Also, keep in mind that additional military assistance comes through the defense budget, particularly its counter-drug funding. While amounts of defense-budget aid are not made available right now, the amount of military aid the hemisphere receives could be significantly larger (as much as $200-$300 million more region-wide).

1. Aid to Latin America and the Caribbean would decline by 6 percent from 2007 to 2008, but the cut would come entirely from military – not economic – aid.

Western Hemisphere 2007 (continuing 2006 levels) 2008 Change
Military and Police Assistance $687,031 $588,309 14%
Economic and Social Assistance $1,015,347 $1,017,737 0%
Total Aid $1,702,378 $1,606,046 -6%

Continue reading »

Feb 05

About an hour ago, the State Department released the broad outlines of its 2008 aid request. Its so-called “Function 150″ document gives us a rough, but pretty fair, estimate of what the Bush administration is asking Congress to give Colombia next year. (See the PDF file available here, and scroll down to the tables at the very end.)

The result is very disappointing. After weeks of talk about a new “social” approach to aid to Colombia, the aid request for next year looks almost exactly the same as the past several years.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said this to the Colombian daily El Tiempo:

It’s important to understand that the strategy that President Uribe’s government is presenting now understands that the social side has to stand out in the second phase of Plan Colombia. Therefore, our aid will probably follow that line.

This simply did not happen.

U.S. aid to Colombia in the foreign operations (foreign aid) bill totaled $587.1 million in 2006, of which 77.9 percent went to Colombia’s security forces. The request for 2008 moves only $10 million from the military to the economic category; the military-police share falls only slightly, to 76.2 percent of a total of $586.0 million.

That’s right – instead of a shift in priorities, we see a shift of 1.7 percent. There is nothing new about the 2008 request, at all.

Military / Police Aid 2006 and 2007 2008
Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) $334,861 $366,968
ACI – Air Bridge Denial $13,860 $0
ACI – Critical Flight Safety $17,700 $0
Foreign Military Financing (FMF) $89,100 $78,000
International Military Education and Training (IMET) $1,673 $1,500
Subtotal $457,194 $446,468
Percentage of Total 77.9% 76.2%
Economic / Social Aid 2006 and 2007 2008
Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) $129,920 $0
Economic Support Funds (ESF) $0 $139,500
Subtotal $129,920 $139,500
Percentage of Total 22.1% 23.8%
(Aid in the 2006 budget supplemental) (2006)  
(International Narcotics and Law Enforcement) $16,300  

(Congress did not pass an aid bill for 2007, so the 2006 amount is simply repeated this year. Still more military aid – probably about $150 million – goes through the Defense Department budget, so the real percentage of military assistance is significantly higher. See this table.)

In 1999, the Colombian government (with U.S. input) developed “Plan Colombia,” a plan for new aid and spending that would be 25 percent military. In 2000, the United States responded with an aid package that was the exact reverse: 75 percent military and police assistance. Now, the Colombian government has issued a “Plan Colombia 2″ that is 86 percent non-military – and the Bush administration’s response is a package of 76 percent military and police assistance.

Nothing is different – unless the Democratic Congress takes the initiative to make the changes the Bush administration was unwilling to implement in this budget request.

Feb 02

We now know that the Colombian government has begun to circulate a 77-page Spanish document called "Strategy of Strenghtening Democracy and Social Development (2007-2013)." This alone is a step forward from the 30-page document that presented the first "Plan Colombia" in September 1999, which was available in English for months before someone got around to translating it.

The "Strategy of Strengthening…" – whose title is so long that everyone is just going to call it "Plan Colombia 2" – calls for $43.8366 billion in new investment over the next six years. That money fits into six categories:

  • Social: $20.6614 billion, 48%
  • Economic internationalization (probably trade capacity-building): $12.0066 billion, 27%
  • Fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking: $6.1724 billion, 14%
  • Strengthening of justice and human rights: $2.7492 billion, 6%
  • Attending to the displaced population: $1.2013 billion, 3%
  • Reintegration (of ex-combatants): $1.0457 billion, 2%

That’s what we know – an overall six-year plan that would be only 14 percent military or police funding.

Before we view this as a sea change in Colombia’s approach to violence and narcotrafficking, let’s recall the makeup of the original Plan Colombia. While the U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia has been more than 80 percent military and police aid over the years, U.S. and Colombian officials always insisted that the overall six-year, $7.5 billion Plan Colombia – which was to include investment from the Colombian government and aid from other countries – was only a 25 percent military and police proposal.

Moving from 75 percent to 86 percent is not a dramatic change, though the overall increase in investment appears significant. Also significant is that the first "Plan Colombia," in practice, ended up becoming a mostly military endeavor. By 2006, according to the Colombian government, only 43 percent of Plan Colombia funds actually ended up going to non-military, non-police programs. Moving from 43 percent to 86 percent – if it actually happens – would an important change.

At this point, the answers we have heard only raise more questions, especially about the expected U.S. contribution.

  • How much of this $43.8366 billion is expected to come from Colombian funds, and how much from foreign donors?
  • Of this 86 percent economic-aid investment, how much is actually "civic action" construction projects and other military-led endeavors?
  • How much is expected from the United States specifically?
  • Of the money requested from the United States, is Colombia’s government expecting Washington to move away from the lopsided 80-20 split in military versus economic aid? Is Colombia asking, for instance, for a 50-50 package?
  • Will this new plan, with new proportions between types of aid, be reflected in the Bush administration’s 2008 foreign aid budget request to Congress, which will be released Monday? (Watch this space and this space to find out.)
  • Once we get more details, will the "new" plan look much different from the old plan, or is this a "shell game," using new categories to make a heavily military package palatable to a Democratic Congress?

Much will be revealed, starting Monday.