CIP was among several NGOs invited to spend a few hours yesterday afternoon in a â€œconsultationâ€ with officials in charge of USAIDâ€™s human rights program in Colombia. Part of USAIDâ€™s $20 million-per-year â€œdemocracyâ€ program area in Colombia [PDF format], the human-rights section supports Colombian government agencies, civil-society human rights groups, and a government â€œearly warning systemâ€ to prevent abuses. It overlaps closely with other USAID programs like judicial reform, physical protection of human-rights defenders, and support for displaced people and ex-combatants.
The meeting was quite detailed and frank. There was general consensus about what wasnâ€™t working â€“ the early-warning system, and especially the costly and utterly results-free work of the Colombian vice-presidentâ€™s human rights program. There was praise for what was working â€“ assistance to the ProcuradurÃa human-rights unit and the DefensorÃa, the flawed but necessary Interior Ministry protection program, and efforts to ensure that human-rights groups critical of U.S. policy may still receive assistance, despite a past controversy.
Though the meeting was positive, it was marked throughout by an air of frustration. Our frustration wasnâ€™t aimed at the USAID officials, most of whom are top-notch public servants trying to do a difficult job under very challenging circumstances. In fact, they no doubt share our dismay at a theme that kept coming up: the chronic lack of resources available to carry out these critically important programs, and the likelihood that no increases will be forthcoming.
We had a long â€œwish listâ€: more assistance to groups and government agencies fighting impunity; more aid to the DefensorÃa and ProcuradurÃa, especially in conflictive regions, as well as the human-rights unit of the FiscalÃa; funding for agencies responsible for identifying and seizing demobilized paramilitariesâ€™ stolen land and assets; more focus on gender, race, and economic, social and cultural rights; and many others.
You can guess the response our â€œwish-listâ€ items received. Thereâ€™s no money. Resources are tight. We have to make do with what we have.
There’s no money, even though for every dollar USAID gets, four go to military and police programs, from fumigation to â€œPlan Patriota,â€ most of which are yielding few if any results.
There’s no money, even though the â€œAndean Counterdrug Initiativeâ€ (ACI) account â€“ which provides USAID with all the money it gets for work in Colombia, and within which money can be moved around without an act of Congress â€“ gives USAID only about $135 million, while military and police efforts get 2 Â½ times as much (about $340 million).
There’s no money, even though just a ten percent cut in what the ACI spends on fumigation, or in what it spends to maintain aircraft given to Colombia in past years, could free up enough funding to double the size of USAIDâ€™s democracy program in Colombia, more than fulfilling the items on our wish list.
Yesterdayâ€™s meeting was very useful for us, and we hope for USAID as well, and we hope to do it again sometime soon. CIP laments the resource scarcity that became a recurrent theme in the meeting, and which forces USAID to make such hard choices.
The frustrating part is, we know that the money is actually there, itâ€™s being appropriated for Colombia already â€“ but that itâ€™s going to weapons and herbicides, not for human rights. We will continue to channel our frustration: not by complaining to USAID, but by helping those in Congress who are trying to change U.S. priorities in Colombia.