Here is a point-by-point response to a letter being circulated in the House of Representatives by four Republican congressmen who are considered the House’s leading proponents of the current policy toward Colombia.
The letters’ authors are:
Dan Burton (R-Indiana, the chairman of the House International Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee),
Henry Hyde (R-Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee),
Tom Davis (R-Virginia, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee), and
Mark Souder (R-Indiana, the chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources).
Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
Stay the Course in Colombia!
This week we will take up consideration of the Appropriations Foreign Operations Bill with provisions relating to Colombia and the Andean Region where critical campaigns in the Global War on Drugs and Terrorism are being waged. As we prepare to take up H.R. 5522 (Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2007), let us draw your attention to the critical need to maintain our support for the newly re-elected President Uribe and bilateral cooperation against the scourge of narco-terrorism. Below are excerpts from House Report 109-486.
Excerpts from the Appropriations Committee Report accompanying H.R. 5522 Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2007
"…It is the Committee’s view that the time has come to transition from assistance directed at counter-narcotics programs, to assistance designed to develop and promote the stable democracy that Colombia has become."
It is time to provide Colombia with assistance to develop and promote a stable democracy. But our current aid to Colombia doesn’t do that.
77.4 percent of the aid to Colombia in the Foreign Operations bill (and about 82 percent of overall aid) will go to Colombia’s security forces. This is the same as in previous years – there is no "transition" to speak of.
Over $200 million will go simply to maintain planes and helicopters given to Colombia in the past; plans to have Colombia assume more of the maintenance costs have gone nowhere. Still more will go to an aerial herbicide fumigation program that, after more than 10 years and almost 3,000 square miles sprayed, has not reduced the amount of coca grown in Colombia by one acre.
Only 22.6 percent of the aid in the foreign ops bill will pay for the kind of assistance we usually think of when we talk about "developing and promoting democracy." This includes efforts to create a legal economy in poor, violent parts of Colombia; to strengthen civilian governance where none exists; to help Colombia’s beleaguered judicial system; and to assist Colombia’s huge and growing population of victims displaced by the violence.
These needs are urgent, and they deserve far more assistance than they are getting. But the military component of the aid package continues to predominate.
"The Committee has noted the successes of Plan Colombia and the measurable improvements that have resulted in the everyday lives of the Colombian people. Some have declared Colombia the `greatest success story in Latin America.’ In fact, the Colombian Government’s success in combating the cultivation of drugs and in restoring democracy can be measured in may ways:
- Coca eradication through spraying has gone from 47,000 hectares the first year of Plan Colombia to 138,775 last year;
Eradication has increased – but has achieved absolutely no results. There is even more coca in Colombia today than there was in Plan Colombia’s first year.
In 2000, the year in which Plan Colombia began, the U.S. government measured 136,200 hectares (336,500 acres) of coca in Colombia. In 2005, the U.S. government measured 144,000 hectares (355,800 acres) – an increase of 6 percent!
(Plan Colombia’s original goal was to decrease coca-growing by 50 percent by 2005.)
- By regaining sovereignty over most of its air space, Colombia has decreased by 56 percent suspected drug trafficker flights;
- Drug flow to the United States has dropped by 7 percent;
Despite this rough figure based on coca cultivation estimates, the supply of Colombian cocaine in the United States appears to be all too stable. A key measure of that is the price of the drug on U.S. streets.
In 2000, the U.S. government estimated that a gram of cocaine sold for an average of $161.28 on U.S. streets. In September 2005, using a different methodology, the Drug Czar’s office estimated the price of a gram at about $170.
There has been no statistically significant change in the price, purity or availability of Colombian cocaine since Plan Colombia began.
- Kidnappings are down 51 percent and homicides 13 percent;
Some violence statistics are going in the wrong direction.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross found a 13.6 percent increase in forced disappearances between 2004 and 2005.
- According CODHES, the Colombian non-governmental organization that maintains data on forced displacement, the number of people forced from their homes by violence increased by 8 percent from 2004 to 2005.
- "Recorded cases of harassment against trade unionists increased" in 2005, according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported "an increase in allegations of actions attributed to members of the security forces, particularly the army," in 2005.
- All 1098 Colombian municipalities have a permanent government presence;
Unfortunately, in too many of these municipalities (or counties), that presence amounts to little more than a few dozen police or military personnel charged with securing vast areas.
Consolidating a real government presence – with civilian government officials building infrastructure, resolving disputes, guaranteeing property rights, teaching children and providing other basic services – should be the central goal of U.S. aid to Colombia. But it is not. Our main focus continues to be on military assistance and on drug-fighting methods that have proven not to work.
- Over 30,000 paramilitary have been demobilized;
To be more precise, as of April 30,150 paramilitaries had laid down 16,077 weapons (0.52 guns per person).
Their "former" leaders, who sent many tons of drugs to the United States, have no fear of being extradited to face justice here. Meanwhile, the OAS observer mission warns that new paramilitary groups are forming in areas where demobilizations took place.
- 200,000 acres of legal crops have been planted and 64,000 farm families have a `legal’ farming option;
This is an important and worthwhile program. And it needs more funding so that rural development, and rural governance, can bring permanent reductions in coca cultivation.
Today, the spray planes are far ahead of the development effort: of the nine provinces of Colombia that were sprayed the most between 1999 and 2004, only two have received more than $15 million in development assistance from all international donors during that same period.
- Unemployment has dropped from 20 percent to an estimated 11 percent;
This is an important gain. However, underemployment â€“ the percentage of workers who do not have full-time jobs in the formal economy, and thus are probably not even earning minimum wage â€“ has actually increased since 2004, from 31.8 to 32.6 percent of the workforce at the end of 2005.
Add that to the 11 percent who are unemployed, and over 2 out of 5 Colombians who want a full-time job in the formal economy are unable to find one.
- In December, implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States is expected to drop unemployment even more.
Clearly, Colombia has made remarkable progress. The Committee believes it is time to fund assistance to Colombia through the same mechanisms used to fund other strategic partners."