Mar 30

The municipality of San Miguel, Putumayo, along the border with Ecuador, is one of the most violent and dangerous in Colombia. So things must be very urgent for hundreds of people to gather in the town center for a multi-day protest.

On March 18, 50 people from the municipality’s rural zone gathered in the county seat, La Dorada; their numbers continued to grow until, on March 26, 3,000 people from 30 villages had converged, and were marching through the town’s streets.

The protesters say that following the wave of intense U.S.-funded aerial herbicide fumigation that took place in December and January, they have been left with nothing to eat, and that levels of hunger have reached crisis proportions.

San Miguel has been subject to regular fumigations since late 2000, when “Plan Colombia” got underway with a large-scale spray campaign in Putumayo. The December-January fumigations are the same ones that caused the Ecuadorian government to lodge high-profile protests with Bogotá, in a diplomatic spat that is still not fully resolved.

The San Miguel protesters are demanding humanitarian aid to address their immediate food needs, and a commitment to fund projects to help them abandon coca, achieve food security and grow legal crops.

About 400 of the protesters remain, at least as of three days ago, in La Dorada’s main school, according to the Bogotá-based human-rights group MINGA. They promise to remain there until Putumayo’s governor and representatives of the central government meet with them.

The U.S. government, which funded the spraying that killed the farmers’ food crops, now has an obligation to help these people feed their families. Even those who see the San Miguel farmers as criminals who got what they deserved – there are plenty of such people here in Washington – should recognize that killing the population’s food crops, then refusing relief, is no way to run a counter-insurgency campaign.

Here is a translation of a letter that the San Miguel farmers sent last Friday to Colombia’s human-rights ombudsman, or defensor del pueblo.

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Mar 28

When the fourth-most-circulated newspaper in the United States makes serious charges in a story on the front page of its Sunday edition, the response over the next few days is crucial. So far, how has the Colombian government sought to dispel allegations in a leaked CIA document, which claim that the chief of Colombia’s army, Gen. Mario Montoya, has worked closely with paramilitary groups?

1. Deny the charges and demand to see the proof. Reasonable enough, and that is what Gen. Montoya and President Uribe said in their first public statements.

The government of Colombia asks of foreign intelligence agencies that any accusation based on evidence against members of Colombian institutions be presented to the competent justice and administrative agencies.

Some of the subsequent steps have been much less effective, though.

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Mar 27

One of the most severe recent indictments of U.S. drug policy in the Andes comes from an unusual source: a fashion magazine.

In September 2006 (old news, but CIP doesn’t have a subscription), “W” magazine – one of the most-circulated fashion publications in the United States, ran a six-paragraph article contending that “cocaine is fast regaining its status as the party drug of choice for the young and fabulous.”

Coke is back, and everyone–from the staffs of major fashion houses and the young social set to underage celebrities and their hangers-on–is hoovering it. “It’s like smoking a cigarette; nobody cares,” says one fashion insider. … In the last year, such casual use has become so prevalent that the country’s high-end rehabilitation centers are already feeling the effects. As Richard Rogg, the CEO of the upscale Promises treatment facility in Malibu, California, points out, “It’s definitely on the rise in New York We are getting some pretty high-functioning people out of the city who are addicted to cocaine.”

We have known that cocaine supplies have been unaffected by “Plan Colombia” and other militarized, supply-side strategies in the Andes. The price of cocaine is lower now than it was when Plan Colombia began; “W” magazine notes that “the going rate for a gram of coke in New York has dropped from $100 to $60.”

The United States has at least had the luck of seeing demand for the drug remain flat over the past ten years or so. Cocaine has been out of style among the drug-consuming public, who have turned of late to marijuana, heroin and synthetic drugs like Ecstasy and methamphetamines. Cocaine has been relatively passé, associated with the ’70s disco culture, the ’80s greed decade, and the devastating crack plague of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

When a top U.S. fashion magazine forecasts a coming boom in cocaine use, though, it can only be good news for Colombia’s guerrilla and paramilitary groups (as well as other powerful Colombians who benefit from the drug economy).

If “W” is correct – and if more Americans follow the example of their more fabulous fellow citizens – there will be more money for weapons, more money for murder, and more money to dismantle the rule of law in Colombia.

This latest tidbit comes from an unorthodox source of information. But it offers further evidence that Plan Colombia has failed as a counter-drug strategy. The need for a new direction is becoming ever more urgent.

Mar 25

The front page of today’s Los Angeles Times has a huge piece of news.

The CIA has obtained new intelligence alleging that the head of Colombia’s U.S.-backed army collaborated extensively with right-wing militias that Washington considers terrorist organizations, including a militia headed by one of the country’s leading drug traffickers.

According to the story, a U.S. intelligence document accuses Gen. Mario Montoya of collaborating closely with paramilitaries in one of the signature military operations of President Uribe’s first term.

The intelligence about Montoya is contained in a report recently circulated within the CIA. It says that Montoya and a paramilitary group jointly planned and conducted a military operation in 2002 to eliminate Marxist guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin, a city in northwestern Colombia that has been a center of the drug trade.

The 2002 Medellín military offensive, "Operation Orión," took place when Gen. Montoya headed the army’s 4th Brigade in that city. It involved weeks of intense house-to-house fighting in one of Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods, and ended up ejecting guerrilla militias from the zone.

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Mar 23

On Wednesday, while I was in Miami, CIP Intern Alessandra Miraglia attended a House Armed Services Committee hearing. There, the head of U.S. Southern Command, Admiral James Stavridis, gave his annual "Posture Statement" about the security situation in Latin America and the Caribbean. He then answered questions from the assembled members of Congress.

The admiral’s prepared testimony is available here as a PDF file; Ms. Miraglia’s thorough and quite interesting notes are below.

The commander in charge of U.S. military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, Admiral James Stavridis, testified on Wednesday March 21 before the House Armed Services Committee about “the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Budget Request.” Also on the panel were General James E. Cartwright, the Chief of U.S. Strategic Command, General Norton A. Schwartz, USAF Commander from the U.S. Transportation Command, and Admiral Timothy J. Keating, U.S. Commander for NORAD and USNORTHCOM.

Committee Chairman Ike Skelton’s (D-Missouri) opening statement: 

“Although the challenges which we face in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere consume much of the energy, resources, and attention of our nation and our Committee, we ignore other parts of the world and other issue areas at our peril.  For the sake of brevity, I will mention only a few key issues in each COCOM.

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Mar 22

I’m on a plane back from Miami, where I spent the last two days at a conference, sponsored by Southern Command, on “The Observation of Human Rights Standards in Non-Traditional Military Operations.” I was one of a few non-governmental participants; everyone else was mostly military officers from Central America, the Dominican Republic and the Andes.

I was asked to give a talk entitled “An NGO perspective on human rights and security in the Western Hemisphere.” Given that rather vague outline,  I tried to make two points.

- I argued that the main human rights challenge right now is impunity: while good human-rights training can make abuses less frequent, the best way to minimize violations is to judge and punish them swiftly and transparently. I’m not sure how well this went over, but it had to be said.

- I spent more time, though, talking about the whole issue of “non-traditional military roles.” This is something that has us worried lately, and I was concerned that Southern Command had devoted a whole conference to it.

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Mar 21

In May 2004, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands announced that it had voluntarily told the U.S. Justice Department about payments that its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, had made to unspecified Colombian terrorist groups.

At the time, the story made few headlines beyond wire-service reports and a piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer. It was soon all but forgotten. It looked like Chiquita had performed a masterful bit of “scandal management,” the branch of public relations that contends, “The cover-up is always worse than the crime, so get it all out as soon as possible.”

Yet since the announcement late last week that Chiquita and the Justice Department had agreed on a $25 million fine in exchange for a guilty plea, the Chiquita story has only drawn more attention and debate in both the United States and Colombia. Why is this?

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Mar 20

A few days before George Bush visited Colombia, correspondent Chris Stubbert sent me this post, with a few “man on the street” comments from Bogotá residents about the upcoming trip. I apologize for taking twelve days to post it – we’re way behind on everything right now – but it’s a great read.

On Sunday, March 11th, U.S. President George W. Bush will make his first ever visit to Bogotá. Greeting him will be President Uribe, hoping to secure “Plan Colombia 2.” On his 5-stop tour of Latin America, Bush will discuss the usual issues: trade, security, and ‘development’.

Security, as one would imagine in this city, will swell with 7,000 extra police and thousands of soldiers, complementing the normal 13,000 officers already stationed here. 700 U.S. security forces will also accompany Bush on his one-day visit.

If any one citizen had that many people protecting him, wouldn’t his vision be blurred too? Wherever Bush visits there is always increased security. Even in Manhattan at the UN, presidential visits are always traffic nightmares, but Colombia has something to prove to this most important financial benefactor. President Uribe will try to show how security has ‘improved substantially’.

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Mar 18

CIP has mostly stayed out of the debate over the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. Our longtime focus on security, conflict resolution and human rights doesn’t leave us well-equipped to debate issues like intellectual-property provisions, side agreements, “fast track” expiration, “chicken hindquarters,” and the like.

While accompanying Colombian opposition Senator Gustavo Petro during his March 5-9 trip to Washington, though, we heard him make an anti-FTA argument that was new to us, sounded plausible, and had strong regional security implications.

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Mar 14

Updating a post from November, here is our most current list of Colombian government officials and congresspeople facing accusations of assisting or associating with paramilitary groups.

Some are in prison, some are under investigation, and some are facing accusations from witnesses in formal investigations. All are members or supporters of the government of President Álvaro Uribe.

Corrections and additions are welcome. It’s not easy to keep score.

Sentenced and in prison:

  • Rafael García, former director of information services for the presidential intelligence service, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), who has since become a star witness against other officials.

Charged by the attorney-general’s office, and in custody:

  • Trino Luna, governor of Magdalena department.
  • Jorge Noguera, director of the DAS, later the Uribe government’s consul in Milan, Italy.

Charged by the attorney-general’s office, and suspended from duty:

  • Col. Hernán Mejía, who upon suspension was commander of the Colombian Army’s 13th Mobile Brigade, based in Larandia, Caquetá

Under investigation by Colombia’s Supreme Court, and currently in prison:

  • Senator Álvaro Araújo of Cesar department (brother of former Foreign Minister María Consuelo Araújo).
  • Representative Alfonso Campo of Magdalena department.
  • Senator Álvaro García of Sucre department.
  • Senator Dieb Maloof of Magdalena department.
  • Senator Jairo Merlano of Sucre department.
  • Representative Erick Morris Taboada of Sucre department.
  • Senator Mauricio Pimiento of La Guajira department.
  • Former Representative Muriel Benito Rebollo of Sucre department.
  • Senator Luis Eduardo Vives of Magdalena department.

Arrest warrants issued, still fugitives:

  • Salvador Arana, former governor of Sucre department and the Uribe government’s former ambassador to Chile.
  • Alvaro Araújo Noguera, former congressman from Cesar department and former minister of Agriculture, father of arrested Senator Álvaro Araújo and of Consuelo Araújo, who was forced to resign her post as foreign minister in February 2007.
  • Representative Jorge Luis Caballero of Magdalena department.

Under investigation by Colombia’s Supreme Court:

  • Senator David Char Navas of Atlántico department.
  • Senator Miguel de la Espriella of Córdoba department, a member of Colombia Democrática, a small pro-Uribe political party headed by the president’s cousin, Mario Uribe. De la Espriella says he is one of 40 politicians who held a secret meeting with paramilitary leaders in 2001.
  • Representative Lidio García Turbay of Bolívar department.
  • Representative Zulema Jattin of Córdoba department.
  • Senator Juan Manuel López Cabrales of Córdoba department.
  • Senator Reginaldo Montes of Córdoba department.
  • Senator William Alfonso Montes of Bolívar department.
  • Representative José de los Santos Negrete of Córdoba department.
  • Senator Ciro Ramírez of Boyacá department.
  • Representative Salomón Saade of Magdalena department.
  • Representative Oscar Wilches of Casanare department.

Under investigation by Colombia’s attorney-general:

  • Former Senator Vicente Blel of Bolívar department.
  • Former Representative Jorge Castro.
  • Former Representative José Gamarra.
  • Hernando Molina, governor of Cesar department.

Forced to resign by allegations of paramilitary ties:

  • Luis Carlos Ordosgoitia, director of the National Concessions Institute (INCO) in the Ministry of Transportation, former representative from Córdoba.

Fired by the Procuraduría (internal-affairs agency):

  • Jorge Luis Alfonso López, mayor of Magangué, Bolivar. López’s mother, Enilce López (“La Gata” or “The Cat”), who dominated lotteries and other gambling along Colombia’s north coast, is currently in custody for assisting paramilitaries. President Uribe has admitted receiving a donation of about $40,000 from “La Gata” for his 2002 campaign.
Mar 12

Seven members of the U.S. Congress have just sent a letter endorsing three European governments’ proposal for a demilitarized zone, where eventual "humanitarian exchange" negotiations would take place to secure the release of FARC hostages.

This is the clearest expression to date of members of Congress expressing a willingness to help end the FARC hostages’ long ordeal.

(PDF version)

March 8, 2007

His Excellency Philippe Douste-Blazy
Minister of Foreign Relations
French Republic

His Excellency Miguel Ángel Moratinos
Minister of Foreign Relations
Kingdom of Spain

Her Excellency Micheline Calmy-Rey
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Swiss Confederation

Dr. Luis Carlos Restrepo
High Commissioner for Peace
Presidency of the Republic of Colombia

Your Excellencies:

We write out of concern – a concern that all of you demonstrably share – about a tragic situation that has gone on for far too long in the nation of Colombia.

In an act of cruelty that violates international humanitarian law, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgent group has been holding fifty-seven military and civilian individuals hostage, in some cases for as much as ten years. The FARC insists that it will only
release its hostages after the Colombian government negotiates an
agreement to release hundreds of guerrilla prisoners.

Most of those being held are Colombian citizens, though three are U.S. citizens, employees of a Defense Department contractor whose aircraft went down in guerrilla-held territory more than four years ago. Most of the Colombian civilians are prominent individuals, including former legislators, governors, and one former presidential candidate (Ingrid Betancourt, a dual citizen of Colombia and France).

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Mar 11

[Update 3/12: Bush did say the words "human rights," but only in the context of effusive praise for Álvaro Uribe.

We believe strongly in human rights and human values, just like you believe in them. We're two strong democracies and we've got a lot in common and a lot of values that we share. So this visit advances those values. ...

The Plan Colombia recognizes the importance of protecting human rights. I appreciate the President's determination to bring human rights violators to justice. He is strong in that determination. It's going to be very important for members of my United States -- our United States Congress to see that determination. And I believe, if given a fair chance, President Uribe can make the case.

The upshot is that President Bush clearly refused Rep. McGovern's request "to publicly recognize the human rights challenges in Colombia - and acknowledge the work that those in the human rights community have been doing at great personal risk."

Unsurprising but still deeply disappointing.]

On the occasion of President Bush’s visit to Bogotá, here is a letter from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), with whom we traveled to Colombia last weekend. Let’s hope President Bush takes this modest but important piece of advice.

(PDF version)

March 5, 2007

George W. Bush

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

Having just returned from a visit to Colombia, I am writing to urge that you publicly express our government’s strong and unequivocal commitment to human rights when you make a brief stop there later this week.

Your upcoming trip can provide an important opportunity to remind all sectors of Colombian society that human rights, respect for victims’ rights and truth are important to the United States.

Continue reading »

Mar 08

Update 3/9: Needless to say, we are very pleased with the coverage of this issue in today’s Washington Post.

As George Bush heads to Latin America, we keep hearing U.S. officials make the following claim as they read from their talking points.

From Associated Press:

"The American taxpayer has been very generous about providing aid in our neighborhood, and most of that aid is social justice money — in other words, it’s money for education and health," Bush said in an interview with CNN En Espanol. Since he took office, U.S. aid to Latin America has gone from $800 million (euro609 million) to $1.6 billion (euro1.2 billion), the president said.

"And yet we don’t get much credit for it," he said.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Hadley [Stephen Hadley, the White House's national security advisor] said that the United States has nearly doubled aid to the region since President Bush took office to $1.6 billion annually, although he acknowledged that figure was slated to drop next fiscal year.

We’d like to ask the Bush administration to please stop making this argument. Anyone who bothers to look at the actual numbers will quickly realize that it is misleading and cynical.

Here are the aid totals, from an upcoming report CIP is releasing together with WOLA and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund.

(Click to enlarge)

Notice that sharp dip in 2001? That was an artificially low year, since in late 2000 the "Plan Colombia" bill added almost $1.2 billion in additional aid to Colombia and its neighbors. After that, there was no way those countries could absorb the usual amount of aid, so the appropriation for 2001 was abnormally small.

But 2001 is the year that the Bush administration is using as a baseline for its claims that it "doubled" aid since taking office. That’s sort of like me having $10 on Tuesday, $5 on Wednesday, $10 on Thursday – and claiming that I doubled my money since Wednesday. A perfectly true statement, but leaving out a lot of information.

Here is the reality:

  • When you include the "Plan Colombia" money, Latin America got just as much aid in 2000 as the Bush administration has requested for the region in 2008 – though of course the dollar bought more in 2000 than it does today.

  • Since 2003, aid to Latin America has stagnated or declined for all but five countries in Latin America. Those who have seen increases since 2003 are the three countries chosen for the "Millennium Challenge" program (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the two countries chosen for the Global HIV-AIDS initiative (Guyana and Haiti).

    Everyone else – even Colombia – has seen aid levels either remain the same or cut back since 2003. Taking Millennium Challenge and HIV-AIDS money out of the picture leaves economic aid to Latin America 15% lower in the Bush administration’s 2008 request than it was in 2003.

  • Recall that the administration’s aid estimate includes military assistance as well as development aid. Don’t get the impression that the aid increase since 2001 is all roads, schools, and healthcare programs. There are a lot of helicopters and guns in there too.