Jul 31

Ingrid the ingrate?

Íngrid Betancourt endured inhuman treatment as a FARC hostage in Colombia’s jungles for nearly 6 1/2 years. Though it’s hard to imagine, after her miraculous July 2 rescue there were people out there – people able to publish their views in widely read media – who apparently asked themselves, “how long until we can start attacking her?”

The answer, we now know, is 26 days.

In a July 28 posting to the online version of National Review (which alexa.com puts within the 6,000 most-visited sites on the Internet), Bogotá-based analysts John R. Thomson and Dorotea LaSerna decided that Íngrid’s honeymoon had gone on long enough.

Does Betancourt deserve all the attention lavished upon her, even after six and a half years in confinement?…

Ingrid spent less than 24 hours in her country, and only briefly thanked President Uribe before leaving for France on Sarkozy’s airplane. …

Betancourt’s behavior problems go beyond ingratitude, though. Since her release, she has repeatedly called for an international effort to liberate the estimated 2,000 remaining hostages through negotiations. …

She has bathed in the glow of soporifically soft questioning, including appearances on CNN’s Larry King Live and the BBC’s Hard Talk (with the normally hard-nosed Stephen Sackur).

Nearly a month since her escape, the question must be asked: Is Ingrid of Paris and Bogota a reincarnated Joan of Arc, or is she suffering from Stockholm syndrome? It seems incredible that having endured numberless indignities by her FARC captors during more than six years’ jungle confinement, she could speak so naively. So far, to the chagrin of her Colombian rescuers, the record suggests Ingrid Betancourt is sadly deluded.

It is hard to say exactly what the authors expected to gain with this piece, which even if it were accurate wouldn’t reflect well on them. But it’s not even accurate – it’s riddled with misstatements and innuendoes. If the authors’ goal was to stretch the bounds of taste and publish a vicious armchair attack on someone who has just gone through hell, could they at least have gotten the facts right?


“Ingrid Betancourt was captured by the FARC during her fringe-leftist 2002 presidential campaign”

Betancourt’s politics could be described as social-democratic, and her small political party bore the lefty name “Green Oxygen.” But this patrician politician had few ties to Colombia’s left. Most Colombians knew her as a one-issue candidate, that issue being opposition to corruption – presumably a non-ideological platform. They recall the withering, nationally televised tirade to which she subjected FARC leaders when she visited the demilitarized zone along with other presidential candidates (excluding Uribe) in January 2002. Betancourt, meanwhile, was hardly a “fringe” figure: her strong stance on corruption made her the number-one vote-getter in Colombia’s 1998 Senate elections.

“President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government took up the cause and paid a reported $500,000 in ransom, which the FARC leadership kept, together with Ingrid Betancourt.”

An incredible claim like that needs a footnote, a hyperlink, or at least an “according to” clause to back it up. (”A reported $500,000?” Reported by whom?) This may have been a reference to a July 2003 incident discussed in deceased FARC leader Raúl Reyes’s computer files (recounted by Semana columnist Alfredo Rangel) in which Villepin, fooled by a third-party hoax, allegedly made a ransom payment and sent an aircraft to Brazil to pick up Betancourt.

It is far from clear whether any payment – even to grifters posing as guerrillas – was actually made. But no matter – Thomson and LaSerna are convinced not only that it happened, but that the payment was made by Nicolás Sarkozy’s government. Even though Sarkozy didn’t actually take power until nearly four years later, in May 2007.

“[O]nce freed and safely in Bogota, Ingrid spent less than 24 hours in her country. … She showed no interest in returning to Colombia for the joyous celebration on July 20 of the country’s independence and the hostages’ release, instead watching the proceedings on a giant television screen in Paris’s Trocadero Park.”

Betancourt has made clear that she’s avoiding Colombia for now because she fears a FARC attempt on her life. But Thomson and LaSerna chalk it up to ingratitude.

“Nearly a month since her escape, the question must be asked: Is Ingrid of Paris and Bogota a reincarnated Joan of Arc, or is she suffering from Stockholm syndrome? It seems incredible that having endured numberless indignities by her FARC captors during more than six years’ jungle confinement, she could speak so naively.”

The “naiveté” the authors refer to is Betancourt’s expressed support for a negotiated end to the conflict. In their view, does anyone uncomfortable with the idea of prolonged war really suffer from “Stockhom syndrome?” And are they talking about the same Betancourt who has effusively praised the Colombian military and President Uribe, and who has recorded messages calling on guerrillas to desert and turn over hostages, which the army now blasts from loudspeakers on helicopters flying over Colombia’s jungles?

OK, enough, this is more analysis than Thomson and LaSerna’s screed deserves.

Perhaps what is most surprising about it, though, was where it was published. In its 53-year history, National Review has been a mainstay of the American right, galvanizing the conservative movement during the 20th century’s second half, because its writing was so often substantive, research-based and intent on making contributions to the public debate.

Thomson and LaSerna’s piece is none of these. It’s more Coulter than Buckley. National Review’s readers should expect better, and American conservatives will have to look elsewhere for ideas about how the United States can best support Colombia.

Jul 29
Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” is now awaiting trial in New York.

At 3:00 yesterday Antonio López (alias “Job”), one of the most vocal spokespeople for Medellín’s demobilized paramilitaries, was shot to death in the steakhouse where he was having a late lunch. (The U.S. Treasury Department incidentally identifies the “Angus Brangus” restaurant, scene of the crime in Medellín’s Las Palmas neighborhood, as a property of extradited paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jiménez or “Macaco.”)

López was a leading member of the Corporación Democracia, a Medellín-based non-governmental organization formed to represent demobilized members of the city’s “Cacique Nutibara” paramilitary bloc. Headed by feared drug lord and paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” the Nutibara Bloc was the first paramilitary unit to demobilize when, in a hastily arranged November 2003 ceremony in Medellín, 868 purported members turned in weapons to Colombian government authorities.

The Corporación Democracia leadership openly declared their continuing allegiance to Don Berna, even as he was jailed for allegedly plotting the murder of a provincial legislator, moved to a jail outside Medellín last September, then extradited to the United States in May to face drug charges. López, the leader murdered yesterday, had frequently represented the former Nutibara Bloc members at public events, and was a vocal defender of their demobilization and reintegration process. According to Semana magazine’s account, he was “one of the people closest” to Don Berna.

Semana contends that yesterday’s killing is the latest signal that, in Don Berna’s absence, a “rearrangement of mafias” is underway that directly threatens the relative peace that Medellín has enjoyed during the past few years.

Since the end of last year, Antonio López had decided to lower his profile in the Corporación and dedicate himself to consolidating the National Movement of Demobilized Self-Defense Group Members, which would require him to spend more time in Bogotá. Semana.com was able to establish that his decision was also motivated by the rearrangement of mafias that Medellín is currently experiencing, which has originated a new wave of violence, from which the demobilized paramilitaries and their leaders have been unable to escape.

This is terrible news for Colombia’s second-largest city, which since about 2004 has enjoyed a remarkably steep drop in violent crime.

In the past few years Medellín, a place whose fame for violence rivals that of Beirut or Sarajevo, saw its murder rate drop below those of Washington, Baltimore or Atlanta. With improved security, the economy boomed. Mayor Sergio Fajardo, who left office at the new year, enjoyed approval ratings near 90 percent. Visiting delegations from the U.S. Congress, their trips organized by the Bush and Uribe administrations to sell the merits of the Free Trade Agreement, traveled to Medellín’s formerly murderous marginal slums to witness the “miracle.”

These gains are now in trouble. The number of murders in Medellín during the first half of 2008 (326 through June 21) was 14 percent higher than the same period in 2007, El Tiempo reports. In a July 17 piece, the Bogotá daily adds:

It is not just the war between mafias that keeps Medellín residents up at night. There is also the confrontation between ex-”paras” and between “combos” (neighborhood gangs that do drug business and extortion rackets), which have left 69 dead this year.

Last year, the authorities arrested 810 members of these gangs, which has set off an internal dispute to determine the new leaders. …

The “reinserted” AUC members are more fuel for the fire: 151 have died [184 according to Semana], 350 have been arrested (37 for homicide); 20 were expelled from the reinsertion program and 112 have joined emerging “para” groups.

Cambio magazine notes that the new violence bears the hallmark of a free-for-all among organized crime groups.

According to a report from the Violence Observatory of the Popular Training Institute [a Medellín-based NGO whose website is highly recommended], the majority of crimes were committed with handguns – revolvers and 9mm pistols – many of them with a silencer. “Much of these cases occurred in the city’s east and north, and it is still difficult to determine if there is a common motive,” the investigators say. “What is certain is that there is a group of hitmen killing people and throwing bodies into the Medellín River.”

The Metropolitan Police contend that the deaths are the product of a war between narcotraffickers and revenge killings among men who used to be at the service of Diego Fernando Murillo, “Don Berna” – extradited to the United States on May 13 – and who today are at the service of “Rogelio,” who is disputing with the “Black Eagles” and other groups the control of some zones and illicit businesses. “Hitmen are being paid well to kill people who appear on a list,” a police source told Cambio, adding that he does not dismiss the possibility that the situation could worsen, since “just as in the era of Pablo Escobar they paid for dead police, today they pay for [dead] demobilized paramilitaries.”

On a trip to Medellín two years ago this very week, I asked everyone I met why they thought that their city had become so much safer so quickly. I was told about President Uribe’s “Democratic Security” and an increased state presence in the city’s violent slums, and greater social investment from Medellín’s city government. But most interviewees also acknowledged a third, more sinister factor: the monopoly on criminality that “Don Berna” had managed to consolidate through extremely brutal tactics, and that he continued to enforce from his luxurious suite in the Itagüí prison just south of the city. As I noted two years ago:

Continue reading »

Jul 25
  • Former paramilitary leader Éver Veloza, alias “H.H.,” has given prosecutors a USB memory drive that once belonged to top paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño, killed by his own men in 2004. Messages from Castaño signal that collaboration existed with the Colombian military, that Castaño was angry about the “narcotization” of several paramilitary blocs, and that he planned the formation of a “United Self-Defense Forces Venezuela Bloc” to target Hugo Chávez and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, who today is Chávez’s interior minister.
  • Former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, a close Castaño associate extradited in May to the United States, may have negotiated a plea deal with U.S. authorities that ties sentence reductions to his cooperation in revealing illegally acquired property in Colombia, which would be distributed to the paramilitaries’ victims.
  • For aficionados of Latin American defense ministers’ visits to Washington (you know who you are), two from this week: video of Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos at the Center for American Progress and audio of Ecuador’s Gustavo Larrea at CSIS. Perhaps CSIS will post multimedia of Uruguay’s José Bayardi and make it three.
  • In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, saying that his country’s armed forces are in “a disastrous state,” announced that “in response to the March 1 Colombian military incursion,” Ecuador will buy 24 Super-Tucano aircraft from Brazil and six unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as renovating its Israeli-made Kfir fighter aircraft.
  • Only 34 percent of 12,401 people interviewed around the region for the “Iberobarómetro” poll gave the United States a positive rating, compared to 48 percent for the European Union and 41 percent for China.
  • In Peru, the Christian Science Monitor asks why President Alan García’s approval rating has fallen to 26 percent. It’s not “the economy, stupid,” which is booming.
  • An inauspicious beginning: as Colombia’s Congress begins a new legislative session, the newly seated vice-presidents of Colombia’s Senate and House are both facing Supreme Court investigations for corruption or collaboration with paramilitaries.
  • Did FARC leaders Iván Márquez, Pablo Catatumbo, Pastor Álape and Rodrigo Granda pay a visit to Nicaragua last weekend? It’s not clear, but Colombia’s OAS ambassador, former defense minister Camilo Ospina, had strong words for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at yesterday’s Permanent Council meeting.
  • Meeting in La Paz at 5:00 AM Wednesday with Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, Bolivian President Evo Morales showed the U.S. official transcripts of personal e-mails from USAID officials, which he presented as proof of the agency’s “conspiring” with the country’s rightist political opposition. Bolivia’s ambassador to the United States, Gustavo Guzmán, said he had no idea how President Morales obtained the e-mails.
  • Mexico has voiced discomfort with the U.S. military’s recently established Northern Command, whose “area of responsibility” includes Mexico’s national territory. However, a delegation of Mexican congresspeople from all three major parties visited Northcom’s Colorado headquarters this week, where they attended a course “to familiarize [them] with the U.S. Northern Command and Southern Command, as well as to emphasize the strong cooperation association with Mexico, which is critical for the security of both countries, North America and the hemisphere.”
Jul 23

Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos is here in Washington today. We’re hearing that he is using his post-”Operation Jaque” victory lap to press congressional Democrats to restore the 25 percent of military and police assistance that they cut from Colombia’s aid package late last year. (As we explained when it happened, most of the trimmed-back military aid went to new development, humanitarian and justice-sector programs.)

Santos repeats the call for continued security assistance in today’s joint New York Times op-ed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Colombian government must strengthen its authority in areas previously controlled by terrorists. Remnants of these bandit armies could continue their murderous ways as smaller, independent groups. That is why it is so important that American security assistance not be reduced — at least not until Colombia has control of its borders, and police departments, municipal governments and other government services are firmly established in all areas.

The Santos-Gates op-ed argues that U.S. security assistance has helped weaken Colombia’s armed groups and improve security, and we agree that a fraction of this aid has indeed helped. But by pointing out that Colombia’s armed groups no longer pose a serious threat to the state, their column makes more sense as a pitch for a turn away from the majority-military approach of the past.

For the reasons they cite – improved security and the need to improve delivery of government services – now is the moment for a more balanced U.S. aid package, one that seeks to help Colombia’s state serve citizens in long-neglected areas. Does it really make sense to make a pitch for more security assistance and a bigger Colombian defense budget at a time when the FARC is rapidly losing membership? At a time when even in the relatively wealthy province of Cundinamarca, which surrounds Bogotá, 70 percent of counties have no potable water? At a time when children in the northwestern department of Chocó are actually dying of hunger?

What difference, meanwhile, would another $150 million in military-police aid make, compared to the difference it can make in Colombia’s delivery of state services?

In 2002, Álvaro Uribe’s first year in office, U.S. military and police assistance to Colombia totaled $388.6 million. In 2008, it is a bit higher, at $433.7 million. While the aid amounts are similar, the U.S. contribution has shrunk rapidly as a proportion of Colombia’s own defense effort. In 2002, U.S. aid was equivalent to about one eleventh of Colombia’s defense budget. This year, thanks to a doubling of defense spending and the weak dollar, U.S. aid is equal to only about one twenty-eighth of Colombia’s defense budget.

Dollars Pesos
Table used for the above charts, with links to sources:
  2002 2008
US Aid Dollars 388,550,141 433,664,757
Colombian Defense
Budget Dollars
4,186,135,410 12,328,723,355
Multiple 11 28
  2002 2008
US Aid Pesos 1,002,438,075,118 779,445,926,600
Colombian Defense
Budget Pesos
10,800,000,000,000 22,160,000,000,000
Multiple 11 28
(2002 peso conversion data2008 peso conversion data;
2008 defense budget takes into acount small expected budget cut.)

The annual foreign-aid budget is always tight, since foreign aid is not particularly popular in most congressional districts. If Washington only has a bit more to give to Colombia, does it make sense to use these scarce resources to make a very minor contribution to a bloated defense budget in a time of improved security? Or is it time to accompany Colombia’s underfunded civilian state institutions as they seek to establish themselves in long-neglected territories?

For more perspective on Colombia’s skyrocketing defense budget, read this excellent column in today’s El Espectador from José Fernando Isaza, rector of the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá. Here are some translated excerpts. If anybody knows how to find the comptroller-general’s report referenced in the text, please post a link in the comments.

To Talk About Money, What a Shame!
José Fernando Isaza

Colombia is not a rich country, it belongs to the middle class of countries. As a result, though it may be an inopportune moment, the money destined for the Army should be examined. Note that I don’t say for the “war,” because according to the government there is no internal armed conflict.

The Comptroller-General of the Republic’s January 2008 magazine is dedicated to defense and security expenditures, and indicates that this is a useful debate. At the risk of being called a “self-plagiarizer” I am going to cite some results from a study that I carried out with Professor Diógenes Campos.

In 2007, defense and security expenditures reached 6.32% of GDP. To put this statistic in context, it can be compared with the value of the coffee harvest, which represents 1.1% of GDP. That is, Colombia is not a coffee-growing country, it is a military country. The United States devotes  4% of GDP to its defense budget, including the Iraq war; in European countries the defense expenditure is 2% of GDP. [Note: while Colombia's defense budget includes police expenditures, the U.S. defense budget does not, so the comparable U.S. percentage should be higher. I have not seen a good estimate of how much additional GDP the United States spends on federal, state and municipal police.]

In the 20th century, military spending in Colombia peaked at 3% [of GDP] during the war with Peru [1932-33]. During the “La Violencia” period [1948-1953] this indicator grew from 1% to 2.2% of GDP. It is interesting to mention that during the military regime [1953-1958] it decreased from 2.% to 1.5% of GDP. During the 1926-1998 period the average military expenditure was 1.8% of GDP, less than one third of the current proportion.

If we compare ourselves to neighboring countries, Colombia’s war spending is double Venezuela’s and almost six times Ecuador’s. The mere growth in pension liabilities for the armed forces represents 1.7 percent of GDP, 60% greater than the value of the coffee harvest. Military pension liabilities grew to 15% of GDP in 2006.

As the irregular armed groups diminish, paradoxically, the troop strength increases. During the 2002-2007 period 160,000 soldiers fought 16,900 FARC guerrillas, 3,700 from the ELN, and – according to official declarations – they also fought 12,175 from the AUC. That is, 4.9 soldiers for every irregular combatant. By the end of 2007, with the AUC’s demobilization and the guerrillas’ reduction, there were 15.5 soldiers for every guerrilla. Counter-insurgency theories consider a ratio of 10 regular combatants to each irregular combatant to be appropriate.

In 2008, according to the Herald Tribune, troop strength increased to 254,300 soldiers, without including the police, while the number of guerrillas at the end of 2007 was 12,499, which brings us to a statistic of 20.34 soldiers to fight each guerrilla.

The counter-insurgent results of the first half of 2008, according to the Defense Ministry, were 5,065 guerrillas demobilized, captured or killed. If these results continue for the rest of the year, if the recruitment of irregulars diminishes as a result of the democratic security policy, the guerrillas will be nearly finished, and a process of reducing military expenditure can begin.

Obviously, we should not be excessively optimistic. During the 2002-2007 period, according to official statistics, 50,464 guerrillas were taken from the scene – killed captured and demobilized – but the guerrillas were reduced by only 8,101 members, passing from 20,600 to 12,499. That is, they were able to recruit double the number of members they originally had.

The conclusion is clear: it is better to remove incentives for guerrilla recruitment.

Jul 22

The Senate Appropriations Committee finished work last Thursday on its version of the 2009 State/Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the U.S. government budget legislation that supplies most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Excerpts from the Senate’s bill are here.
  • Excerpts from the Appropriations Committee’s non-binding narrative report are here.
  • The Bush Administration’s 2009 foreign aid budget request, issued in February, is here.

The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee has also finished its version of the bill; that language is not available yet, though a brief summary press release is here [PDF].

Don’t expect this bill to become law anytime soon. The U.S. Congress is only in session for six more weeks between now and the November elections. The Democratic majorities that control both houses are unlikely to hurry and send a bill for a Republican president’s signature when they stand at least a 50-50 chance of being able to send a much different bill to a Democratic president in January. Still, this bill is a useful measure of the Senate’s view of how foreign assistance programs should evolve.

The bill does not recommend specific aid levels for most countries. In the case of Colombia, however, there are enough recommendations to draw a pretty accurate picture of how the Senate appropriators would assign aid. As the table below indicates, aid to Colombia would remain similar to 2008, which involved a significant cut in military aid and increase in economic aid over 2007 levels. The Bush administration’s 2009 aid request sought to undo those 2008 changes; the Senate bill refuses to do so.

Military and Police Assistance

Aid Program

2007 (approved by Republican-majority Congress)

2008 estimate (approved by Democratic-majority Congress)

2009, administration request

2009, Senate Appropriations

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement 386,869,000 247,097,704 329,557,000 241,800,000
Foreign Military Financing 85,500,000 55,050,000 66,390,000 53,000,000
NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance 3,395,000 3,288,000 2,750,000 2,750,000
International Military Education and Training 1,646,000 1,428,000 1,400,000 1,400,000
NADR – Humanitarian Demining 691,000      
NADR – Small Arms and Light Weapons   427,000    
TOTAL 478,101,000 307,290,704 400,097,000 298,950,000
Economic and Social Assistance

Aid Program


2008 estimate

2009, administration request

2009, Senate Appropriations

Economic Support Fund   194,412,000 142,366,000 199,000,000
International Narcotics Control Economic Aid 139,166,000 39,427,296   45,000,000
Transition Initiatives 1,699,970 2,000,000    
TOTAL 140,865,970 235,839,296 142,366,000 244,000,000
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Total 618,966,970 543,130,000 542,463,000 542,950,000
Military-Police Aid
Economic-Social Aid
Other military-police appropriations (est) 126,638,053 126,374,053 126,347,053 126,347,053
Other economic-social appropriations (est) 4,858,000 0 0 0
Total aid to Colombia 750,463,023 669,504,053 668,810,053 669,297,053

(Recall that the Foreign Operations funding bill provides most, but not all, aid to Colombia. Visit our “Just the Facts” Colombia aid page for the full picture.)

The bill also repeats conditions on the Colombia aid regarding impunity for human rights violations, and the environmental and health impacts of aerial herbicide fumigation.

The Senate bill meanwhile slices deeply into the Bush administration’s $500 million request for counter-narcotics aid to Mexico under the “Mérida Initiative,” granting $300 million instead. The committee’s report recalls that Mexico got $400 million through the special Iraq-Afghanistan war appropriation passed last month, and that this aid will only begin to get spent when the 2009 budget year begins.

Here are some excerpts from the committee’s narrative report. Continue reading »

Jul 21

Yesterday’s marches in Colombia and around the world are the third massive outpouring in just over a year of rejection of the FARC and its practice of kidnapping. (Large-scale rallies took place on July 5, 2007; February 4, 2008 and July 20, 2008.)

These emotional events are proving to be a very effective way to weaken the guerrillas. If the goal is to make the FARC feel isolated and besieged – thus complicating recruitment, encouraging informants and deserters, and discouraging international solidarity – these marches are more effective than military operations.

They are the biggest demonstrations Colombia has seen since 1998-1999, when the guerrillas were at the height of their military capacity. Then, hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets calling for the government and the FARC to negotiate peace. Now, millions of Colombians are calling on the FARC simply to go away, freeing their hostages in the process.

The marches reflect a national mood in which only a minority of Colombians are willing to support negotiations with the FARC, beyond terms of surrender. They rest appear to prefer to pay the cost – which could total several years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars – of a continued military campaign.

Of course, the FARC have made that choice easy, as they have given very little evidence of flexibility on peace talks or even the terms for negotiating a hostage exchange. It appears that the FARC wants to continue fighting.

All of this benefits President Álvaro Uribe, whose hard line that seemed so radical in 2001 is now Colombia’s conventional wisdom.

Where, though, does that leave Colombia’s democratic opposition? What is left for people who support neither Uribe nor the FARC?

Those who believe that the war should be brought to a negotiated, political end are in a bind, because the FARC themselves do not appear to be interested yet. How, then, do they join in efforts to exert political pressure on the FARC without appearing to boost a president whose policies they oppose? How to express anger at the FARC, but also express anger at a president who defends the military’s hardest line, has numerous political supporters tied to paramilitaries, picks ugly fights with the justice system, routinely attacks human rights groups, and calls his political opponents “terrorists”?

Colombia’s opposition has not figured out how to square this circle. The main left opposition party, the Democratic Pole – whom columnist Daniel Samper this weekend compared to a bunch of hippies who take an hour to argue about what drink to order in a restaurant – is on the ropes.

After some internal debate about unduly supporting the president, the Pole decided to participate in yesterday’s marches, but their statement revealed the contortions they had to perform in order to justify doing so. “While the Humanitarian Accord, in the view of Polo President Carlos Gaviria, is still a valid option, ‘the guerrillas must take note and be conscious that the citizens are asking for kidnappings to stop and the conflict to cease.’”

The Democratic Pole’s message continues:

It is important that these citizen protest marches against such abominable acts as kidnapping become institutionalized, but also for causes like forced disappearances, unionist killings, the rule of law, peace and the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Broad-based citizen marches for these causes would be a wonder to behold. But in the current climate they are sadly unlikely.

In his last column for El Espectador, former Bogotá mayor Luis Eduardo Garzon, a founder of the Democratic Pole, aimed his frustration at the FARC.

The only successful blow they [the FARC] have dealt is to weaken the opposition. Every day it is harder to exercise opposition, not just for lack of security guarantees, but because the guerrillas’ actions end up giving Uribe more to work with. Those who oppose re-election, those who defend the justice system’s decisions, those who want to warn about the economic and social catastrophe that awaits, those who believe that this must end in a political negotiation and those who wish to humanize the war, among other issues, end up being seen as accomplices of the FARC.

Yesterday’s marches illustrate the opposition’s dilemma. The FARC have left the opposition with no ability to dissent from President Uribe. “Ni con uno, ni con el otro” is not a message that resonates with most Colombians.

Colombia’s non-violent left is being asphyxiated, but right now the FARC are sucking away more oxygen than Uribe is.

Jul 18
  • All those international diplomats who worked to facilitate a humanitarian exchange or a peace agreement in Colombia? “Generally speaking, they had always been a nuisance,” President Uribe’s ever-quotable top advisor, José Obdulio Gaviria, told the Associated Press. (The Colombian government has once again “de-authorized” the role of outside mediators.)
  • In what looks like a novel use of Microsoft Word’s “mail merge” feature, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield has authored a cookie-cutter pro-FTA op-ed apparently tailored to every state in the union. Compare the versions for Alabama, Indiana and Minnesota.
  • By a 414-10 vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution praising “intelligence and other cooperation by the United States” to Colombia.
  • The U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet, a new component of Southern Command responsible for operations in the Western Hemisphere, was officially reestablished on July 12th. Curiously, the press release notes that “Fourth Fleet’s reestablishment will not involve an increase in forces assigned in Mayport, or result in any permanently assigned ships or aircraft.”
  • Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper seems to think that a delegation from the FARC Secretariat, possibly including Alfonso Cano himself, will actually be in Managua tomorrow to help Daniel Ortega celebrate the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. (Don’t count on it.)
  • El Tiempo ran an interesting description of how coca-growers in Cumaribo, Vichada save their plants after the U.S.-funded fumigation planes spray them.

    After the aircraft discharge their glyphosate over the coca plantations, the growers act within a few minutes to save their plants from the chemical.

    In Cumaribo, the coca-leaf producers use the word “soquear” [probably from "soak"] to describe the tricks they use to save the plants that are fumigated.

    The campesinos’ trickery has shown them that once the planes spray the plantation, there are less than 18 hours in which to avoid having the chemical reach the root and kill the plant.

    That is why they choose to cut the leaves and stem at about 10 centimeters [4 inches] above ground level. Later, they apply molasses and large quantities of fertilizer to the stump to stimulate and strengthen regrowth.

  • Bloomberg’s Joshua Goodman reports in depth on the Brazil-Colombia defense accord likely to be signed when Lula travels to Colombia this weekend. Lula, Álvaro Uribe and Peru’s Alan García will meet in Leticia, Colombia’s Amazon River port bordering Brazil and Peru, on Sunday, which is Colombia’s Independence Day.
  • All week the Los Angeles Times website has run an interesting exchange between the New America Foundation’s Andrés Martínez and Angelo Rivero Santos of the Venezuelan embassy.
  • Most of the testimonies at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela were quite thoughtful.
  • The State Department will send a high-level delegation to Bolivia next week to deal with what the U.S. ambassador calls “serious problems” in the bilateral relationship.
  • Costa Rica’s security minister complained that his country’s portion of the “Mérida Initiative” aid package (US$4.2 million) is “not enough.”
  • Another Government Accountability Office report questions the awarding of contracts for U.S. government broadcasts to Cuba.
  • 15 years ago, Emmanuel Constant was perhaps the most feared person in Haiti, master of the brutal FRAPH death squad. Today, he is on trial in Brooklyn for mortgage fraud. That he was free on U.S. soil to begin with is one of the greatest, but least noticed, scandals in recent U.S.-Latin American relations.
  • Colombia’s Special Forces extended to four years their winning streak in the U.S. Southern Command-hosted “Fuerzas Comando” tournament of Latin American Special Forces skills. Uruguay was second and Panama third at the event at Camp Bullis, Texas.
Jul 17

This blog has never before approvingly excerpted the words of a Bush administration secretary of defense. But there’s a first time for everything.

The speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave on Tuesday hits a lot of important notes about the need to halt the “militarization” of U.S. foreign policy by dramatically increasing our non-military resources worldwide.

For some, this speech may recall Dwight David Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” speech, given three days before he left the presidency in 1961. These are the words of an official from an outgoing administration – an administration whose White House and State Department have not echoed them. (Nor have these concerns been expressed so clearly by top congressional leaders, who of course make the final funding decisions.)

Still, Gates’s warnings and prescriptions deserve even more attention than the significant amount they have attracted this week. Here are the most thought-provoking excerpts. Emphases are ours.

In the campaign against terrorist networks and other extremists, we know that direct military force will continue to have a role. But over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory. What the Pentagon calls “kinetic” operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies and among the discontented from which the terrorists recruit. It will take the patient accumulation of quiet successes over time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideology.

We also know that over the next 20 years and more certain pressures – population, resource, energy, climate, economic, and environmental – could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability. We face now, and will inevitably face in the future, rising powers discontented with the international status quo, possessing new wealth and ambition, and seeking new and more powerful weapons. But, overall, looking ahead, I believe the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from ambitious states, than failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs – much less the aspirations – of their people.

In my travels to foreign capitals, I have been struck by the eagerness of so many foreign governments to forge closer diplomatic and security ties with the United States – ranging from old enemies like Vietnam to new partners like India. Nonetheless, regard for the United States is low among the populations of many key nations – especially those of our moderate Muslim allies.

This is important because much of our national security strategy depends upon securing the cooperation of other nations, which will depend heavily on the extent to which our efforts abroad are viewed as legitimate by their publics. The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al-Qaeda, but rather through the steady accumulation of actions and results that build trust and credibility over time.

Much of the total increase in the international affairs budget has been taken up by security costs and offset by the declining dollar, leaving little left over for core diplomatic operations. These programs are not well understood or appreciated by the wider American public, and do not have a ready-made political constituency that major weapons systems or public works projects enjoy. As a result, the slashing of the President’s international affairs budget request has too often become an annual Washington ritual – right up there with the blooming of the cherry blossoms and the Redskins’ opening game.

As someone who once led an agency with a thin domestic constituency [the CIA], I am familiar with this dilemma. Since arriving at the Pentagon I’ve discovered a markedly different budget dynamic – not just in scale but the reception one gets on the Hill. Congress often asks the military services for lists of things that they need, but that the Defense Secretary and the President were too stingy to request. As you can imagine, this is one congressional tasking that prompts an immediate and enthusiastic response.

It has become clear that America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long – relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world. I cannot pretend to know the right dollar amount – I know it’s a good deal more than the one percent of the federal budget that it is right now. But the budgets we are talking about are relatively small compared to the rest of government, a steep increase of these capabilities is well within reach – as long as there is the political will and wisdom to do it.

Overall, even outside Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations – perhaps including many represented here tonight – about what’s seen as a creeping “militarization” of some aspects of America’s foreign policy.

This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment. As a career CIA officer I watched with some dismay the increasing dominance of the defense 800 pound gorilla in the intelligence arena over the years. But that scenario can be avoided if – as is the case with the intelligence community today [clearly, he had to say that] – there is the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and understandings of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together.

Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, you probably don’t hear this often from a Secretary of Defense , it is important that the military is – and is clearly seen to be – in a supporting role to civilian agencies. Our diplomatic leaders – be they in ambassadors’ suites or on the seventh floor of the State Department – must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy.

Jul 16

Congratulations are due to the group of Colombian non-governmental organizations that published a report last week on an April 2008 mission to the department of Putumayo in southern Colombia. The report [PDF available on the website of the human-rights group MINGA] details the human-rights situation in this conflictive zone, based on “open dialogue between people, communities, organizations and local authorities, in meetings with approximately 400 people.”

Understanding what happened in Putumayo is critical for a full appreciation of the lessons of Plan Colombia. It was in Putumayo, during the 2000-2003 period, that Plan Colombia basically got underway, as U.S. funding underwrote a mostly military “Push into Southern Colombia” in the department, a major coca-cultivation zone along the border with Ecuador. Just as the U.S. effort was getting underway, paramilitaries were pouring into Putumayo’s main towns, massacring hundreds, with no opposition from the U.S.-supported security forces. The true extent of the human-rights disaster that took place during this period – which also involved increased guerrilla abuses – is still unknown because the guerrillas and paramilitaries still dominant in the zone deal harshly with those who denounce past violations.

This report takes a big step toward learning the truth about what happened in Putumayo. It is highly recommended. Here is a translation of the executive summary.

Report on the Observer Mission of the Human Rights Situation in Bajo Putumayo [PDF]
Bogotá, June 2008
Texts compiled by Marcela Ceballos and Carlos Duarte
Final text edited by Marcela Cebalos, María Isabel Casas and Carolina Rojas

This report indicates the main current risk factors for the inhabitants of the department of Putumayo, and concludes by identifying three different types of factors: (1) An absence of guarantees of legal security, for a dignified existence, for the exercise of individual liberties and the defense of human rights; (2) Impediments to communities’ ability to remain in their territories; (3) Direct persecution of residents and community leaders, and the “invisibilization” of the armed conflict’s victims.

In the first aspect we found a situation of generalized fear. The majority of victims of sociopolitical violence, and of inhabitants in general, abstain from making public denunciations for fear of possible retaliations from the victimizers. This fear is mediated by distrust of institutions that have been under pressure from, and in some cases infiltrated by, members of illegal armed groups. This situation reaches critical levels in San Miguel municipality [in Putumayo's southwest corner, across the river from Ecuador], and results in a context of impunity and precariousness of the protection of fundamental rights. The presence of illegal armed groups – guerrillas and paramilitaries – worsens the situation. The national government’s Democratic Consolidation policy, based on the Integrated Action Doctrine and implemented through the Strategy of Social Recovery of Territory, increased the civilian population’s risk levels, since it dilutes the distinction between civilians and combatants. In addition, it is concentrating state intervention and humanitarian aid within the armed forces, weakening local governance and militarizing relations between the state and civil society.

In the second aspect, forced displacement and the militarization of indigenous reservations and protected areas, as well as regions with abundant exploitable resources, favor unregulated economic intervention in the department. The presence of oil companies that have been granted concessions, as well as the campesinos’ incorporation in the productive chain, have deepened without any corresponding investment in social needs or infrastructure. Nor does it respect the principle of previous consultation, and goes against the “life plans” of the social organizations and indigenous peoples that inhabit this territory. THe absence of alternatives either to this development model or to coca-growing affects the ability of towns, communities, families and inhabitants in general to survive with dignity. This situation presents itself from the towns of Teteyé to Puerto Vega (in the rural zone of Puerto Asís municipality) and in indigenous territories (the Siona people’s Buenavista reservation and others, such as Santa Rosa del Guamuéz, that make up the Cofán people’s “Permanent Table”). Intense fumigation and forced manual eradication are affecting health, the environment and food security for the population in general, without mechanisms of compensation or reparation for damages caused by this strategy’s indiscriminate effects. Women are victims of diverse strategies of the armed groups, who convert their bodies into a “spoil of war” and a “resource for war.” Young people find themselves amid multiple pressures and before the absence of opportunities to develop their life projects; their futures are uncertain.

In the third aspect, we find a situation of permanent stigmatization of leaders who oppose the models of economic and military intervention described above; to guerrilla pressures for recruitment and the incorporation of young people in their ranks; to threats and murders by groups that, it appears, are in a process of rearmament in the zone around San Miguel municipality and some areas of Valle del Guamuez municipality. These factors impede the “visilibization” of the armed conflict’s victims, while the government’s reparations policy, though it has not yet established itself, proposes an economic dimension – a small one – but not a clarification of what happened nor any advance in justice. In this sense, the existence of a large number of mass graves in the department, without a process of identification of remains or identification of those responsible, shows the need to consider this dimension to be part of a policy of strengthening justice in Colombia.

Despite all of this, the organizations we interviewed insist on resisting their disappearance and their forced displacement. They have decided to remain in the territory that belongs to them and they have chosen civility and the peaceful way to resolve their conflicts, even though they find themselves in a context in which war is habitual. They have build life plans and projects that aim for integral and human development (Cofán people’s Life Plan, Integral Plan for Campesino Development of the Departmental Table of Social Organizations, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Plan of ACSOMAYO, among other initiatives). They continue defending autonomy and liberty as bases for the building of conditions for a dignified life, and they persist in a dialogue with the national government, although in their relationships with institutions, on occasion, they have been stigmatized, silenced, ignored and even harassed. We dedicate this document to them and manifest our admiration. We hope that the international community’s support will also take into account this universe, because from below and from civil society are built the bases of democracy and peace, as well as the long-lasting conditions for human rights protection.

Jul 15

Here is a translation of an eloquent column posted to Semana magazine’s website yesterday, written by the magazine’s former editor María Teresa Ronderos.

Let’s hope she’s right – she may be overstating the extent of the Colombian military’s generational change, but it is certain that its more moderate officers are far more influential than ever before, and the July 2 hostage rescue reinforces their position within the institution.

Ronderos’ column doesn’t put it this way, but it does raise the interesting question of whether the military’s move toward a lighter touch puts them out of step with Colombia’s President. Between his rhetoric about NGOs and his arguments with the justice system, Álvaro Uribe appears to adhere to the old ways, including a belief in the “attorney-general’s syndrome” and an inability to distinguish between human-rights defenders and guerrilla supporters.

Why history was divided in two

The celebrated rescue of Íngrid, William Pérez, Lieutenant Malagón, Keith Stansell and the other souls who spent so many years captive in the jungle marks a definitive rupture in the history of Colombia’s war.

First, because the Army had the hard evidence, the strongest ever obtained, that it can deal decisive blows to its enemy, that it can win the war, obeying national and international legal precepts.

During several decades the Army and, in general, the Colombian armed forces jealously guarded the secret conviction, as though it were part of its identity, that the war against the guerrillas cannot be won by obeying all norms of democracy.

In the past – that is, 15 years ago – the officers spoke of the “attorney-general’s syndrome,” because it was this entity [Procuraduría] that called them to account every time a violation was committed. So they said that as long as they had the Procuraduría breathing down their necks, it would be impossible for them to defeat the guerrillas. And more recently, since the 1990s, they used the “guerrilla” epithet to describe non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and journalists who denounced them when their men committed violations.

Many soldiers went still further. Responding to the interests of businessmen and large landowners, and sometimes of narcotraffickers, they allied with paramilitary groups, so that these might fight the guerrillas without ethical or legal limits. We have borne witness to this today in Colombia thanks to the mass confessions of paramilitaries in the Justice and Peace processes, the product of the demobilization of the largest paramilitary organization the country ever had, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The “paras” are telling of how colonel so-and-so gave them the arms, this other general trained them, the other captain who was their accomplice, etcetera. Not all of what they say is true, but when the trials end, we will surely find that many truths were said.

These have not been the only soldiers. Because of course there have been brave officers and soldiers, who have given an enormous sacrifice to preserve democracy from terror, while abstaining from using its methods.

But this culture that reigned so long among the military – nurtured by the civilians who commanded them – is changing, and the hostages’ rescue marks a point of no return. Finally, years of human rights courses, pressure from Colombian civil sectors, inquisitions from foreign organizations and governments, from civilians and, above all, soldiers who from within the armed forces, with great bravery have dedicated themselves to the difficult security mission that society set for them, have produced the cultural transformation that the Colombian military forces needed. It is meaningful that today Freddy Padilla de León, a general who throughout his career has been a member of this legitimizing faction, now heads the armed forces.

An important factor in this organizational change has been the United States. Paradoxically it was a professor of dirty wars during the Cold War, but since the Clinton era, since it gave $5 billion dollars to the Colombian state to recover the lost monopoly of force, and the government and Congress have permanently conditioned its aid on compliance with international human rights standards. Since it gave the money, it imposed the philosophy.

It is not that this tendency to win unholy victories is extinct within the security forces. There is still complicity between soldiers and paramilitaries; and extrajudicial executions are still committed (there were 127 denunciations of possible extrajudicial executions in 2006 and 73 in 2007); that is, campesinos are killed and made to appear as guerrillas killed in combat, in order to demonstrate effectiveness to the commanders. But these practices now do not reflect the dominant thinking in the armed forces, and an institutional effort is being made to avoid their repeat. Best of all, they are beginning to be viewed badly by many soldiers, above all the youngest.

In this sense, the rescue of Íngrid Betancourt and the other 14 kidnap victims is a tipping point in the Colombian Armed Forces’ cultural transformation. That July 2, they registered a great success, perhaps a mortal blow to the guerrillas, but equally importantly they did it while following the law. Operation Check, as the rescue was called, is the harvest reaped from this new mentality, and at the same time it is a lesson for those who still think that the means used do not matter (lies, human rights violations, persecution of critics), that the only important thing is to achieve results. Now it is clear that it is the other way around: the better things are done, the greater the legitimacy and, as a result, the larger is the military and political success.

Ethical means are what led to the triumph of the democratic state.


The second thing that changed forever is that the FARC have been exposed in all of their weakness.

Continue reading »

Jul 14

We have just added a big new section to the “Just the Facts” online database of U.S. military programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. It lists all U.S. facilities that have offered training and education to personnel from the region over the past several years.

The database reveals 127 different facilities and installations that hosted trainees and from Latin America and the Caribbean since 1999. We’ve listed below the 20 that provided the most training, and the number of trainees from the region at each. To see the entire list, visit the new page.

There, you can click on each institution to find out how many students came from each country in the region. Clicking on the resulting page reveals what courses they took and what units they belonged to.

This information comes from more than 25,000 lines of data painstakingly compiled from the State and Defense Departments’ annual Foreign Military Training Reports.

Institution 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 TOTAL
Inter-American Air Forces Academy, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas 609 580 477 575 721 766 984 654 5,366
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, Fort Benning, Georgia 452 433 705 514 748 821 575 679 4,927
Coast Guard Training Center, Yorktown, Virginia 61 56 66 64 642 482 505 692 2,568
Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies 154 217 224 269 273 234 425 379 2,175
Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama 109 99 145 221 147 119 96 117 1,053
Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School, Stennis Space Center, Mississippi 4 50 61 109 215 144 317 134 1,034
12th Flying Training Wing, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas 78 195 152 175 130 251 981
Defense Language Institute English Language Center, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas 123 121 91 67 86 87 67 88 730
Army Aviation Logistics School, Fort Eustis, Virginia 72 69 30 107 94 83 94 87 636
Security Assistance Training Field Activity, Fort Monroe, Virginia 385 85 470
Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, California 26 43 19 38 101 51 83 35 396
Air Force Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama 43 42 25 21 34 20 38 39 262
Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 27 40 30 28 35 9 15 34 218
Army Engineer School, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri 28 19 13 22 39 12 18 24 175
Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia 28 18 8 24 28 12 12 13 143
Army Medical Department Center and School, Fort Sam Houston, Texas 17 19 10 7 22 10 25 20 130
Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island 16 30 6 18 9 9 12 26 126
National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington DC 7 13 1 13 29 23 24 110
Army Logistics Management College, Fort Lee, Virginia 28 23 18 15 13 4 4 2 107
Army Ordnance Corps, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland 18 16 11 10 18 10 12 11 106

Many visitors to “Just the Facts” come seeking information about the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, the successor to the U.S. Army School of the Americas).

Here, from the new “Just the Facts” WHINSEC page, is a country-by-country breakdown of WHINSEC students since 1999. Clicking on a country or a number reveals courses and students’ units.

Country 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 TOTAL
Colombia 95 80 235 105 304 323 220 214 1,576
Chile 8 2 159 31 82 128 52 11 473
Bolivia 57 23 48 57 35 78 4 47 349
El Salvador 7 7 13 39 36 77 75 94 348
Honduras 44 11 16 10 39 62 73 90 345
Peru 64 66 25 21 33 35 2 49 295
Ecuador 46 47 45 24 45 23 4 41 275
Dominican Republic 18 4 32 51 20 13 22 47 207
Paraguay 17 25 22 36 26 5 20 6 157
Costa Rica 22 23 23 41 22 5 3 3 142
Venezuela 8 12 35 29 26 7 117
Argentina 20 8 12 19 11 16 19 1 106
Mexico 26 12 18 5 29 3 6 99
Suriname 78 1 3 3 3 88
Panama 1 1 5 13 10 17 39 86
Nicaragua 12 2 10 10 21 13 11 79
Uruguay 8 21 18 15 7 1 70
Guatemala 8 1 13 10 8 20 60
Jamaica 2 16 16 34
Antigua and Barbuda 5 1 6
Belize 2 2 4
St. Kitts and Nevis 1 1 2 4
St. Lucia 1 3 4
Guyana 1 1
Trinidad and Tobago 1 1
Dominica 1 1
TOTAL 452 433 705 514 748 821 575 679 4,927

This is pretty cool, we don’t mind saying.

Many, many thanks to CIP Intern Stephanie DiBello for her hours of tireless work helping to get this extensive training database in working order.

Jul 11
  • In the aftermath of the FARC hostage rescue, we are alarmed that Luis Eladio Pérez, the former senator and hostage whom the FARC released in February, was forced to leave Colombia this week by threats that probably came from the FARC. We note that Ingrid Betancourt also has no plans to return to Colombia soon, for fear of FARC reprisals.

The Post explains that the idea of a guns-blazing military rescue was only abandoned in June, when a Colombian Army major hatched the “Operation Check” plan, and that the Colombians did not alert U.S. officials immediately.

Although the Americans and Colombians work together closely, Colombia’s Defense Ministry does not always tell the American Embassy what plans are in the works. U.S. officials discovered on their own that a rescue plan was taking shape.

In June, the Americans noted that three FARC units, all of them known for holding hostages, began moving together into a region southeast of the Guaviare capital, San Jose.

Brownfield said he and his team deduced that the Colombians, using fake communications, were executing a deception plan aimed at freeing the hostages. Later that month, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told Brownfield about Operation Check, as in checkmate.

AP describes “Operation Alliance,” a crafty U.S. plan, with heavy FBI involvement, to infiltrate more than 5,000 guerrilla communications by providing the FARC with wiretapped telecommunications equipment.

U.S. law officers arrested the Miami contacts, who in exchange for promises of reduced sentences put [guerrilla supply chief Nancy] Conde in touch with an FBI front company, according to a U.S. law enforcement official involved in the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Over more than four years, that company provided wiretapped satphones and other compromised telecommunications equipment that threw the rebels off balance and eventually helped authorities strangle their supply lines.

  • Congratulations to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) for a far-seeing letter [PDF] to President Uribe that calls for creative steps to end the conflict at the negotiating table.

With the FARC on its heels for the moment, I encourage you to press for its disarmament and its renunciation of drug trafficking and extortion in exchange for a seat at the negotiating table. In this regard, I applaud Colombia’s decision to seek direct talks with FARC rebels to explore further hostage releases; these steps could lay the groundwork for broader gains in the interest of peace for the people of Colombia. In addition, I would urge you to consider including the National Liberation Army (ELN) as part of future talks to end the violence. Lastly and more generally, I would encourage you to consider Brazil, a country with a record of bridging ideological divisions and displaying an awareness of regional sensitivities, as a possible mediator for any discussions.

  • The hostage rescue has meanwhile inspired some right-wing commentators to get back on the old “human rights NGOs love the FARC” hobbyhorse. The Wall Street Journal’s Mary A. O’Grady is back at it again. And don’t miss this informed exchange between the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes and NPR’s Juan Williams that took place on Fox News a few days ago:

Barnes: [Y]ou have a kind of iron triangle. I’m calling it an iron triangle, of the human rights groups in Colombia, and organized labor in the United States, and then Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Fox host Brit Hume: But why did the Colombian guerillas not smell a rat?

Barnes: Well, one, because the military guys were all dressed up as guerillas, but particularly the helicopter was one they thought was from one of these non-government organization which they thought with — it was perfectly normal for those organizations to actually be on very friendly and supportive terms with the FARC guerillas.

Hume: Do you agree with that, Juan?

Williams: Well, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I don’t think the facts can be disputed here left or right.

… Now the point at which I think Fred goes too far is to say, listen, of course Americans have every legitimate right to be concerned about human rights and the way people are treated, but what the FARC had become, in the midst of its disarray, was involved with cocaine smuggling and trying to undermine the legitimate government of Colombia.

And at that point, you would have hoped that somehow these human rights groups and labor in the United States would have taken a step back. Apparently it didn’t happen.

Take a step back from what exactly, Mr. Williams? Do these journalists really believe that non-governmental organizations, including U.S. groups like ours as well as labor unions, sympathize with the FARC? That we’ve somehow managed to ignore their horrific atrocities, including hostage-taking, committed over so many years? Or are they just cynically employing the hostages’ rescue to score cheap political points?

Anyone who chose to do a bit of homework and investigate would find a community of groups that supports Colombia’s state – not the violent groups that confront it – as well as the idea of U.S. support to Colombia’s state. A community that wants this state – and U.S. aid to it – to improve the quality of its governance and its accountability to its own citizens.

It is highly irresponsible – and very dangerous, given the frequency of attacks on human-rights defenders in Colombia – to use heavily-viewed forums like the Journal and Fox News for these uninformed “terrorist sympathy” slurs. If these news outlets value their credibility at all, they will publish rectifications.

  • A post earlier this week linked to this article, but it’s worth highlighting again because, as it was written at the height of the “Baby Emmanuel” fracas late last year, it didn’t get much attention. Semana magazine’s security editor, Marta Ruiz, provides a very helpful overview of the shifts in strategy that have done so much to weaken the FARC over the past year and a half. Ruiz notes that success required the Colombian military, in 2006-2007, to break with its own super-hard-line approach.

The true change that the armed forces required had to do with doctrine. The visions inherited from cold-war counterinsurgency, which regarded the civilian population as an enemy or “the water in which the insurgents swim,” began to be left behind. This sort of vision predominated at the outset of Democratic Security and Plan Patriota. Mass arrests, “rehabilitation zones” and the absurd criminalization of coca-growers did nothing more than deepen distrust of the government among the inhabitants of regions controlled by the guerrillas. Questions remained about the sustainability of a model that achieved the control of much territory through purely military means, with all that this implied with regard to keeping troops in each locale, and with regard to the financial effort required. What would happen next?

The Consolidation Plan, although far from perfect, hits the nail on the head of the crucial problem that the state confronts in this war: its legitimacy in the eyes of the inhabitants of remote regions. An important sector of the military high command has begun to understand that counting bodies is not the road to defeating the FARC. Even though in its first few years Plan Patriota fought the guerrillas fiercely, and there were many dead on both sides, the losses did not have a significant impact on the FARC. That combat, while carrying a big human cost, would have little effect if the government did not launch a plan for these marginal zones where war is a part of everyday life.

  • The widely cited Colombian human-rights NGO CODHES (Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement), the go-to organization for information about the country’s internal-displacement crisis, estimates that a horrifying 113,473 Colombians were displaced during the first three months of 2008. [PDF] This is the highest quarterly figure that CODHES has counted since 1999.

The reasons for the displacements were, mainly, the aerial spraying of illicit crips within the framework of military operations; forced recruitment [mainly by guerrillas]; the planting of landmines [mainly by guerrillas]; the presence of paramilitary groups in 17 departments [out of 32] in the country; intense combat between the army and FARC guerrillas, which included bombardments and use of arms with indiscriminate effects; as well as confrontations between the FARC and ELN in some regions of the country.

  • The OAS verification mission in Colombia released its eleventh report [DOC format] on the paramilitary demobilization and reintegration process at the end of June. As usual, the summary and recommendations are neutral and general (demobilization is a good thing; the process faces challenges). But the region-by-region overview of reintegration programs and re-arming paramilitary activity is indispensable.
  • In a column in Wednesday’s Guardian, Richard Gott has a suggested Latin America policy memo that the next U.S. president, in his view, should write after assuming office. It includes the following appointment:

I have asked Wayne Smith, our oldest former US state department official with an intimate knowledge of Cuba, to come out from academic retirement to become the chief of our embassy in Havana, the so-called US Interests’ Section of the Swiss Embassy. Smith is a former member of the US Marine Corps, and he held this post between 1979 and 1982. He will work toward the normalisation of our diplomatic relations with Cuba.

To Wayne Smith, a CIP senior fellow since 1991 whose office is two doors down from mine: We’ll miss you!

Jul 10

Colombia’s Jesuit-run Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP) maintains a database of human rights violations committed by all parties in Colombia. In June, they finished analyzing numbers from 2007.

Their data revealed that the problem of “false positives” – Colombian military personnel killing civilians and presenting them as guerrillas killed in combat – continued unabated through the end of last year. CINEP found 132 cases of these extrajudicial executions in 2007, though their frequency was less intense during the second half of the year than during the first half.

Here is a translation (thanks to CIP intern Stephanie DiBello) of the introduction to CINEP’s report [PDF] summarizing its disturbing findings.

The Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) is aware of the international community’s great interest and concern for helping Colombia find peaceful alternatives. In our interest in monitoring diverse aspects of the country’s human rights situation, we wish to share a new report with you about cases of “false positives” [civilians killed outside of combat and presented as insurgents killed in combat], which were brought to our attention through the consolidation of our organization’s database.

Units of the security forces have reported these cases as positive results of operations against illegal armed groups. Although these deaths were reported in official accounts as “killed in combat”, denunciations by social organizations, human rights defenders, victims, families of the victims, and regional and national press revealed them to be actions against the civil population outside of combat, thus making them violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian law.

Along with the update of the cases that we presented in October of last year, we consolidated a total of 132 occurrences of “false positives” between January and December of 2007. We reiterate the need to pave a way towards peace with respect for human rights, and we demand lawful actions from the security forces in Colombia.

Based on the information that was brought to our knowledge we point out the following aspects which we have presented in this report:

  • In the first six months of 2007, 85 cases involving a total of 150 victims were reported, while in the second six months 47 cases with a total of 87 victims were reported.
  • In general, during both periods of time the social group most victimized were campesinos, representing around 60% of the victims; among others, independent workers, indigenous people, and manual laborers were also victimized.
  • With respect to geographic location of the cases, it is worth noting that in the first period of 2007 the “false positives” occurred in 18 of the 32 departments of the country; in the second period they occurred in 15 departments.
  • According to department of incidents (see map), in the first half of 2007 the greatest number of cases were reported in Meta, particularly in the town of Vistahermosa; the second greatest number of cases was in the department of Huila, with the largest number in the town of Garzon; and the third greatest occurrence was in Norte de Santander. During the second half Norte de Santander had the greatest number of cases, with the town of Teorama reporting the most incidents; Antioquia was in second place with the department of Tolima in third.
  • In relation with the previous period, July 2006 – June 2007, cases appear in new departments such as Tolima, Bolivar, Quindio, Cordoba, and Risaralda.
  • During the second half of 2007, a considerable increase in cases was reported in the department of Huila (13 in total), which only had reported two cases in the July 2006 – June 2007 report. This is due to the fact that in the aforementioned report the information of the 11 cases in Huila was not available, but were later announced and published as updates in the journal Noche y Niebla 36, pages 25-28.
  • It is important to note that in the department of Meta, where 24 cases were recorded in the period between July 2006 – June 2007, only two more cases were reported in the second half of 2007. On the other hand, the department of Antioquia, which had reported three cases in the first report, reported nine new cases in the second half of 2007, while the department of Norte de Santander increased by three cases in the same period of time. However, although Norte de Santander went from having 8 reported cases to 11, the number of victims was reduced from 17 to 11.
Jul 09

Using information on our “Just the Facts” military aid database (www.justf.org), here is a functional breakdown of the nearly $600 million in aid that the United States provided to Colombia’s military and police forces in 2007.

Using this information, this post attempts to estimate how much U.S. military/police aid goes to the “drug war,” with its well-publicized disappointing results, and how much is going to non-drug military programs. The non-drug programs include initiatives that appear to have contributed to some of the Colombian military’s recent military successes against the FARC, principally intelligence, mobility, and programs to improve Colombians’ own security. Non-drug programs also include efforts whose results have perhaps yielded less “bang for the buck,” such as big military offensives and oil-pipeline protection.

According to this exercise, we estimate that about 35 percent of U.S. military aid in 2007 went to non-drug missions. The remaining aid – nearly two-thirds – has gone to the drug war, which – as is now general knowledge – has not affected the amount of coca grown, or cocaine produced, in Colombia and the Andes.

Caveats: (1) There is not much transparency over many of these programs, and we have had to estimate percentages. For larger estimates, our reasons are explained in the notes. (2) Sometimes the drug vs. non-drug question is very hard to estimate: how often is a helicopter used for drug versus non-drug missions? We have tried to give the benefit of the doubt to non-drug missions, though we understand that U.S. officials still generally give priority to using equipment for counter-drug missions.

Funding Program
Estimated Percent Not Drug-Related
Estimated Subtotal Not Drug Related
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Army Aviation Support) $104,080,000 50% $52,040,000
Foreign Military Financing Foreign Military Financing $85,500,000 75% $64,125,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Support For Eradication) $81,950,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Aviation Support) $69,000,000 25% $17,250,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Critical Flight Safety $61,035,000 25% $15,258,750
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Counter-Narcotics OperationalSupport $46,178,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Carabineros $18,650,000 100% $18,650,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Support For Interdiction) $16,500,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Air Bridge Denial Program) $15,800,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Hemispheric Radar System $14,808,000 25% $3,702,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Section 1033 Support $12,437,000 25% $3,109,250
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Counter-Narcotics Intelligence Programs $11,204,000 25% $2,801,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Colombia Airborne Surveillance $10,623,000 100% $10,623,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SOF Counter-Narcotics Support $9,924,000 0% $0
NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance $3,395,000 100% $3,395,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Detection and Monitoring Domain Awareness $3,300,000 25% $825,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Counter-Narcotics Command Management System $3,267,000 25% $816,750
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Counter-Narcotics Joint Planning Action Teams $2,240,000 25% $560,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Army Counterdrug Mobile Brigade) $2,200,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding USARSO Support – SouthCom $2,140,000 100% $2,140,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding USMC Counter-Narcotics Training Support $2,004,000 25% $501,000
International Military Education and Training International Military Education and Training $1,646,000 100% $1,646,000
Non-Security Assistance – Unified Command Non-Security Assistance – Unified Command $1,609,148 100% $1,609,148
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding MilGroup Augmentation $1,589,000 100% $1,589,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Tactical Analysis Teams $1,169,000 100% $1,169,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Administrative Support) $1,000,000 25% $250,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Navy Maritime Interdiction Support) $1,000,000 25% $250,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding CNT Technology $1,000,000 100% $1,000,000
NADR – Conventional Weapons Destruction NADR – Conventional Weapons Destruction $691,000 100% $691,000
NADR – Humanitarian Demining NADR – Humanitarian Demining $691,000 100% $691,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SOUTHAF Support – Southcom $601,000 100% $601,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System $599,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South $399,000 25% $99,750
Service Academies Service Academies $227,725 100% $227,725
Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program $222,659 100% $222,659
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Command Support $177,000 100% $177,000
Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies $96,750 100% $96,750
Aviation Leadership Program Aviation Leadership Program $59,383 100% $59,383
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Bilateral Maritime Collection/Reporting $35,000 100% $35,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding ONI Maritime Intelligence Support $35,000 100% $35,000
Asia-Pacific Center Asia-Pacific Center $2,388 100% $2,388
    $589,085,053 35% $206,248,553


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Jul 08

Colombia’s miraculous hostage rescue comes at an interesting moment for U.S. foreign policy. The United States is in the midst of an election-year debate about the use of military force and the role our country should be playing in the world. “Counter-insurgency” is the buzzword of the moment in Washington, as policymakers – faced with debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan – cast about for a model that shows some hope of actually working.

In this context, last week’s news revealing the FARC’s steep decline is leading some U.S. commentators to hold up Plan Colombia, especially the $4.8 billion in military and police aid granted since 2000, as a model of how the United States can undo a “terrorist” threat without having to commit large numbers of troops. (Examples – among many others – 1 2 3 4)

Are they right? Does Plan Colombia offer a handy off-the-shelf template for U.S. policymakers facing a perceived non-state threat in Country X?

Certainly not, if by “Plan Colombia” you mean a package of 80 percent military aid, the vast majority of it dedicated to a failed crusade to reduce cocaine supplies. But the Plan Colombia experience, both its successes and its failures, does offer some guidelines for future U.S. aid to countries facing internal security crises.

  1. Ensure that facing the threat merits the risk and expense. When “Plan Colombia” began eight years ago, almost nobody in Washington questioned the necessity of U.S. aid to Colombia. The country was in the midst of a severe humanitarian and governance crisis. There was strong disagreement about the aid’s heavily military emphasis, but there was consensus about the need to help.

Future aid endeavors should ensure that such a consensus exists. Does the mission in Country X respond to a real threat to U.S. security or a very compelling humanitarian imperative? Or is it merely an imperial adventure aimed at projecting “hard” power overseas?

    1. Ensure that the insurgency being targeted has little or no social support. One reason the FARC have declined so much faster than the Taliban or the Iraqi insurgents is that they are so unpopular at all levels of Colombian society. Years of predatory behavior like threats and extortion, attacks on defenseless people, and (above all) kidnapping have fed widespread rejection of the FARC. By contrast, a violent group that is supported by a larger sector of a country’s population will prove far more resilient, and the “Plan Colombia” model may not be appropriate.
    1. Ensure that the state has at least some legitimacy among the population. Having freely and fairly elected leaders is a good start. So are indicators that an increased state presence would actually be welcomed by the population in “ungoverned” areas under insurgent influence. Despite severe problems with corruption and infiltration by narcotraffickers and paramilitaries, Colombia meets these conditions. Even at the same time they complain about government abuse and neglect, Colombians in conflict zones usually demand a greater state presence and turn out to vote whenever they are able.
    1. Minimize the strategy’s impact on the poorest and weakest. Plan Colombia has often failed to meet this standard. The aerial herbicide fumigation strategy, for instance, has targeted tens of thousands of rural families so wretchedly poor that they see coca-growing as a rational choice for generating income. Insufficient pressure on – or even encouragement of – paramilitary abusers also took its toll, measured in hundreds of thousands of victims. It has taken a while for the United States to learn this lesson in Iraq, as it has gradually moved away from tactics like kicking in doors in the middle of the night. Colombia’s military and police have also begun to develop a lighter touch, but there is much room for improvement.
    1. Put a priority on protecting citizens, not treating them as suspects. This is a basic, but repeatedly ignored, tenet of counter-insurgency theory. Medals and promotions are given out for dead and captured insurgents, not for numbers of people made to feel safer. But few strategies work better than making the population believe that you are there to help them worry less about their security, insted of being just another factor of insecurity.

    The Colombian security forces have had much success with citizen security during the past five years. However, the protection of Colombians has been the focus of only a small portion of U.S. aid to Colombia. Efforts like building police stations, setting up carabinero units, and improving mobility to respond to threats have been vastly overshadowed by big-ticket items like fumigation and shock-and-awe military offensives like “Plan Patriota.”

      1. Similarly, aim intelligence efforts at the insurgent leadership, not citizens working “within the system.” The cold-war “national-security doctrine,” which instructed security forces to root out communist “subversion” within the population, did nothing to weaken the FARC, though it did make life very frightening for labor leaders, leftist politicians, and human rights defenders. (And many on the right still insist, completely mistakenly, that these sectors are the FARC’s main support.)

      This doctrine should not be revived anywhere. Instead, intelligence efforts aimed at the top FARC leadership have been a recent addition to U.S. support for Plan Colombia, a relatively cheap strategy that has yielded strong results by disrupting guerrilla communications and sowing distrust and fear of “infiltrators” among the FARC leadership.

        1. Encourage desertion, not body counts, among the insurgent rank and file. It seems like common sense given the inexhaustible supply of poor, unemployed recruitable youth. But Colombia only began encouraging desertion in earnest a few years ago, rewarding ex-guerrillas with job training and paying them for information, instead of locking them up on “rebellion” charges. This was never a significant focus of U.S. support for Plan Colombia – to the contrary, aiding people who until recently were “terrorists” appeared to risk running afoul of the Patriot Act.
        1. Recall that governance is far more than military occupation. Territories cannot truly be considered “liberated” until the entire state is able to function in the previously abandoned zone. This includes the judicial system and ministries charged with issues like land tenure, education, health, transportation and infrastructure.

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