President Uribe will be here in Washington tomorrow, stopping by for the day on his way to the UN General Assembly in New York. It appears that he will be spending all of his time on Capitol Hill, meeting with key representatives and senators. Weâ€™ve heard that meetings include Republican leaders Rep. Dennis Hastert and Sen. Bill Frist, members of the House and Senate International Relations and Foreign Relations Committees and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittees, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other House Democrats who have an interest in Colombia.
It is doubtful that Uribe will be making specific requests for new money (such as funding for paramilitary demobilizations or $150 million for new spray planes and helicopters); it would be rather crass to come here with shopping list in hand two weeks after Hurricane Katrina. His message, though, is likely to include (1) another sales pitch on behalf of the â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law and the paramilitary process and (2) an effort to influence the House-Senate Conference Committee that will soon meet to reconcile both housesâ€™ version of the 2006 foreign aid bill.
The Senate bill would require more economic aid and less military aid for Colombia, and would place several conditions on aid to the paramilitary demobilization process; the House bill contains no such requirements. Itâ€™s likely that Uribe will be encouraging the conferees to go with the House version of the billâ€™s Colombia provisions, instead of the much better Senate language.
Here is a list of possible questions for President Uribe that weâ€™ve circulated to congressional staff whose bosses might be having brief meetings with him tomorrow. The goal of these questions isnâ€™t to play â€œgotchaâ€ â€“ no member of Congress wants to hold a hostile interrogation session with a foreign leader. But none of these are softballs, either.
Drug-crop supply and eradication
Statistics published by the U.S. government and the United Nations indicate that, despite a record amount of aerial herbicide fumigation in 2004, Colombia saw little or no decrease in the amount of land planted with coca bushes. U.S. government figures, meanwhile, show that cocaine has neither increased in price nor decreased in purity since Plan Colombia began.
- Why, in your estimation, were the 2004 eradication results so disappointing?
- Is more fumigation really the answer, or should we consider a change in strategy? Given a limited amount of available funding, should the priority instead be interdiction, alternative development opportunities, or something else?
Talks with paramilitaries
In early August, more than 2Â½ years after launching negotiations with right-wing paramilitaries, President Uribe signed into law the so-called â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law, which will govern the demobilization of members of paramilitary and guerrilla groups. This law has been widely criticized for failing to give Colombian government representatives the tools necessary to guarantee that paramilitary groups will cease to exist. â€œAccess to the truth is not guaranteed,â€ the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in June. â€œWithout this, the illegal structures cannot be confronted adequately to guarantee their real dismantlement.â€
1. Dismantlement: In most peace processes, it is safely assumed that the armed group in question will disappear â€“ or at least cease all illegal political activity â€“ after negotiations conclude. It is not certain that this is happening in the case of the AUC.
- Do you believe that paramilitary groups are truly dismantling themselves, or are their leaders maintaining their power through other means, such as demobilizing partially, keeping most of their weapons, maintaining de facto control over zones they dominate, or even continuing to recruit?
- Do you believe that demobilizing paramilitaries are truly declaring all of their ill-gotten wealth and fully dismantling their networks of crime and violence?
2. Security: If paramilitary groups are truly dismantling, is the Colombian government truly able to fill the vacuum and guarantee security in areas that the AUC formerly controlled? Is there a danger that guerrilla groups will expand their presence in these zones?
3. Naming and punishing human rights abusers: The Colombian newsmagazine Semana recently published a disturbing article about the town of Chengue in northern Colombia, where a group of 80 paramilitaries massacred two dozen people in January 2001. In mid-July, the paramilitary unit that included the 80 who carried out that massacre (the Montes de MarÃa Bloc) demobilized in a public ceremony. Of the 594 who turned in their weapons, all but nine were immediately absolved of any wrongdoing because they currently have no charges against them. These 585 individuals were sent home. Only the nine will face any likelihood of spending a maximum of eight years in jail.
- Is the Chengue case typical? Are the vast majority of those who demobilize being freed without any suspicion of involvement in serious abuses?
- Do you believe that current procedures are enough to ensure that mass murderers arenâ€™t walking free, living among their former victims?
4. The big drug selloff: The chief of Colombiaâ€™s navy, Admiral Mauricio Soto, has said that paramilitary narco-traffickers who are about to demobilize have been selling off their drug stocks as fast as possible, flooding the market with cocaine. According to Colombian press reports, this big sell-off has brought so many U.S. dollars into Colombia that it has depressed the exchange rate. How can this be happening, while the same paramilitary leaders are negotiating with the government? Are the Colombian authorities investigating this, and will arrests of paramilitary narco-traffickers result?
5. Extradition: On July 1, President Uribe told the Voice of America â€œin some cases, extraditions [of paramilitary leaders wanted for sending tons of drugs to the United States] will have to be suspended.â€ What does President Uribe mean by this? Will paramilitaries who sent drugs to our shores ever face U.S. justice?
6. The case of â€œGordo Lindoâ€: On August 27, Francisco Javier Zuluaga Lindo (â€œGordo Lindoâ€), the â€œpolitical chiefâ€ of the AUCâ€™s Pacific Bloc, demobilized. Zuluaga is a longtime narcotrafficker: he was part of the organization of MedellÃn cartel figures Fabio and Jorge Ochoa in the 1980s and early 1990s. Later, after the MedellÃn and Cali cartels disappeared, he worked with Alejandro â€œJuvenalâ€ Bernal Madrigal, one of the largest drug-traffickers of the late 1990s. Zuluaga narrowly escaped capture in 1999, when â€œJuvenalâ€ was arrested in â€œOperation Millennium,â€ a major DEA-Colombian Police sting operation. Since then, he has been a fugitive, maintaining ties to the countryâ€™s largest drug organization, the Northern Valle cartel. In 1999, a court in Fort Lauderdale indicted him for narcotrafficking. About three years ago, just as the Uribe government was beginning its negotiations with the paramilitaries, â€œGordo Lindoâ€ became a member of the AUC. Speaking on the floor of Colombiaâ€™s Senate in August, Senator Jimmy Chamorro denounced that â€œGordo Lindoâ€ paid $5 million for his paramilitary status. He â€œopened his checkbook and bought a franchise to convert himself from a narcotrafficker into a paramilitary chief. This cannot be allowed.â€
â€œGordo Lindoâ€ now hopes to avoid long jail terms, or extradition to the United States, by demobilizing. What is President Uribeâ€™s government doing to ensure that narco-traffickers like â€œGordo Lindoâ€ do not abuse the demobilization process to avoid strong punishment or extradition to the United States?
7. Senate conditions: The Senateâ€™s version of the 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill would only allow U.S. aid for the AUC demobilization process if Colombian law requires each demobilizing paramilitary member to offer â€œfull disclosure of his knowledge of the FTOâ€™s [foreign terrorist organizationâ€™s] structure, financing sources, and illegal assets.â€ Though this information is critical to any effort to dismantle paramilitary networks, the â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law doesnâ€™t require that this information be confessed, and President Uribeâ€™s administration opposed legislative efforts to include this requirement in the law. Does President Uribe regard this condition on U.S. aid to be fair? Why did he oppose any requirement that demobilizing paramilitaries (or guerrillas) reveal information about their groupâ€™s structure, financing sources and illegal assets?
Recent dynamics of the conflict
We note with concern that the frequency and scale of FARC guerrilla attacks, on both military and civilian targets, has increased in 2005. (Prominent recent examples include a month-long siege of indigenous towns in northern Cauca department in April and May; several large-scale attacks, and a month-long stoppage of road traffic, in Putumayo department in July and August; and the murder of fourteen coca-growing peasants in Antioquia department in late August.)
- After two years of reduced guerrilla activity, is a FARC counter-offensive underway?
- Why are the guerrillas still able to launch attacks of this scale so frequently, even after several years of dramatically increased military expenditures and aggressive security policies?
- Why does the security situation remain so bad in Putumayo department, where U.S.-funded operations under Plan Colombia began in 2000-2001?
Peace with guerrillas
President Uribe has taken significant steps in the past few weeks to establish dialogues with the ELN guerrilla group, and to begin talks with FARC guerrillas about the release of hostages â€“ including three U.S. citizens â€“ whom they have been holding for years. How can the U.S. government be more helpful to this effort?
 - U.S. figure: 2003 = 113,850 hectares; 2004 = 114,000 hectares. United States, White House, Office of National Drug Control Policy, â€œ2004 Coca and Opium Poppy Estimates for Colombia and the Andesâ€ (Washington: March 25, 2005) <http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/press05/032505.html>.
- UN figure: 2003 = 86,000 hectares; 2004 = 80,000 hectares. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Colombia coca cultivation survey for 2004 (Vienna: June 2005) <http://www.unodc.org/pdf/andean/Part3_Colombia.pdf>.
 Office of National Drug Control Policy data cited in Washington Office on Latin America, â€œData used in â€˜Are We There Yet?â€™ from the Drug War Monitor seriesâ€ (Washington: WOLA, November 2004) <http://www.wola.org/ddhr/ddhr_data_measures.htm>.
United States, Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2005 (Washington: February 2005) <http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs11/12620/index.htm>.
 United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights BogotÃ¡ Field Office, â€œConsideraciones sobre la ley de â€˜Justicia y Pazâ€™â€ (BogotÃ¡: June 27, 2005) <http://www.hchr.org.co/publico/comunicados/2005/comunicados2005.php3?cod=35&cat=58>.
 â€œLa ley del embudo,â€ Semana 1216 (BogotÃ¡: August 21, 2005) <http://semana2.terra.com.co/opencms/opencms/Semana/sumario.html?id=1216>.
 â€œParte de los 21.400 millones de dÃ³lares que circulan en el paÃs viene de Ralito,â€ El Tiempo (BogotÃ¡: September 10, 2005) <http://eltiempo.terra.com.co/judi/2005-09-11/ARTICULO-WEB-_NOTA_INTERIOR-2523956.html>.
 Presidencia de Colombia, â€œEl Presidente en la Voz de AmÃ©rica,â€ (BogotÃ¡: Sistema de Noticias del Estado, July 1, 2005) <http://www.presidencia.gov.co/sne/2005/julio/01/02012005.htm>.
 â€œâ€˜Parasâ€™ han convertido la extradiciÃ³n en â€˜rey de burlas,â€™â€ El Heraldo (Barranquilla, Colombia: August 25, 2005).