The Pentagon’s military aid role keeps growing Paramilitaries in their DNA
Jan 262010

Three Senate Democrats on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. aid to Colombia sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton on January 21. The letter calls for a changed U.S. approach to Colombia: a reduced military focus, greater support for civilian governance including the judicial system, a stronger priority on human rights and democratic institutions, and increased openness to facilitating a negotiated end to the conflict.

The three senators are:

  • Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee;
  • Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee; and
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate Appropriations State/Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

Here is a brief excerpt. Or download the whole 3-page letter as a 1.3-megabyte PDF file.

Reports suggest further deterioration of the rule of law and basic rights in Colombia in other areas as well. The well-documented abuses of the presidential intelligence agency, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), are particularly troubling. … Colombia’s highest officials continue to publicly denigrate human rights defenders in ways that jeopardize their safety. Additionally, a possible third term for the current president threatens to further erode the checks and balances that help protect Colombia’s fragile democracy.

In light of these trends, the State Department’s September 8th decision to certify that Colombia has met the human rights conditions in U.S. law was very disappointing, as were statements indicating that the Administration’s new base-access agreement with Colombia is intended to deepen relations with the Colombian military. President Obama’s words of concern about human rights abuses during President Uribe’s June 2009 visit were welcome and helpful. But it is also essential that the administration send an unambiguous signal that these abuses are unacceptable and that stopping them is a priority and a prerequisite for our continued partnership with the Colombian government.

One Response to “Senators: “reorient U.S. assistance and diplomacy to our Colombian partner””

  1. Camilo Wilson Says:

    The letter by the three Senators is strong. But another letter, signed by fifty-some U.S. Representatives, was sent to Secretary Clinton early last December. What came of it? What will come of the present letter? What reason is there to believe that anything will change as a result of either?

    President Obama is proving to be a great disillusionment to many of my American friends, some of whom are now distancing themselves from him. If he’s not careful, he will lose his support base, and the Democratic party will also lose its base, as the disillusioned leave the party and become Independents. The tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Washington’s Colombia policy is a policy foretold. When the Democrats convened in Denver and selected Obama, Arturo Valenzuela, Dan Restrepo, and Colombia’s fashion-conscious ambassador to the U.S., Carolina Barco, were there, and they met often in tête-à-têtes. One of our watchful people was also there and told us about this.

    Valenzuela is now Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Restrepo occupies the Latin chair on the National Security Council (NSC). While on the NSC under President Clinton, Valenzuela strongly supported U.S. military aid to Plan Colombia in 2000—and according to reliable recent reports, still defends it.

    Restrepo is the grandson of a Colombian ambassador to Washington, and the son of a Colombian economist at the OAS (Restrepo likely holds dual citizenship, despite being on the NSC). And Barco is the daughter of a former president. She and Restrepo are clearly from Colombia’s political elite. And one senses that Valenzuela, a Georgetown (how different the Georgetown Jesuits from those we know here!) academic, delights in such company.

    This cozy relationship says much about the way politics has for too long worked in Washington. And it speaks to why the U.S. relationship to the rest of the world is on a downward slope.
    It’s said that someone once advised President Kennedy to think less about Harvard and more about Boston. By the same token, one might advise President Obama—who despite his eloquent rhetoric about change, falls well within the Washington establishment—to think less about Harvard and more about the disenfranchised in Chicago, whom he once organized. This would certainly help him understand Latin America in the way that some of us had fervently hoped for.

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