LAWGEF: “So far to go” on human rights in Colombia The “nuclear response”
Apr 082008

Here is an interactive Google Map of the Colombian military and police units approved for receipt of U.S. aid as of July 31, 2007. The data comes from a recent State Department memo (PDF) and the map was put together by CIP Associate Abigail Poe.

Click the images to view the map and list of units in each municipality.

22 Responses to “Colombian military units cleared for U.S. aid”

  1. LFM Says:

    I came late to the whole FTA discussion but here’s a minor point worth making because, apparently, it is getting traction among the right-wing propaganda machine. It’s the “factoid” that union leaders get killed at lower rates than the rest of Colombians. It’s a pretty simple fallacy that can be easily debunked and, since we’ll be hearing it over and over again, I thought it was worth commenting, even if it is off topic.

    Here’s the way the fallacy works: Suppose there’s a country with 100 000 people, of which 1 000 belong to group A. Of those A, 30 get killed. That’s 3%. Of the remaining 99 000, 4950 get killed, that is 5 %. So, the Novaks of the world would say: “See? Those A’s are actually having it better than the rest!” The problem? This assumes that the entire population is partitioned only between As and not-As. But imagine that there also is another group B made up of 20 000 and that of all the 4950 casualties, 4000 are Bs. That is, Bs are slaughtered at a rate of 20% and neither-A-nor-Bs are killed at a rate of 1.2 %. Say that B is, I don’t know, human rights activists, peasants that happen to be sitting on top of lucrative land, whatever. Then it’s not that As are having it better than the rest, it’s simply that somebody else (B in this case) is having it even worse. Bottom line, it’s not that in Colombia union leaders are safer than the rest of Colombians. They aren’t. It’s simply that other groups are killed at even higher rates. A small piece of reasoning that somehow gets suppressed as the spin doctors keep working this story.

  2. LFM Says:

    After posting this, I was checking the inefable (thanks for the tip, Camilla) and it links to what may be the genealogy of the fallacy above. It’s in an article by George Will (no party complete without him)…

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Statistics, a beautiful science, have been made stoop down low to nasty politicians interests by circumscribing it to percentages. Now everything I read, if it wants to convey a certain feeling of seriousness, must not lack the citation of at least one percentage – that is a fib of course.

    LFM, well put, other thing that comes to mind that it’s really mean to take political advantage of the tragically dead, by calculating if the corpses are appearing at a lower rate than the month before, as these sultans of swing masters of puppets and dogs of war are specialized in.

    As for this article it’s extremely distressing that in plain XXI century a country is delivering warfare to another, in such industrial amounts, with the pretext of boosting democracy and other misleading semantic turd.

  4. Golden Boy Says:


    Perhaps your formulation is correct, I didn’t really digest it, but whatever. Perhaps you should figure out who exactly “B” is, and then you’ll have a thesis.

    The unassailable “factoid” is that overall, kidnappings, unionist assasinations, and general homicides have dropped quite dramatically since Uribe was elected (even Colombian union statistics document this.) And the A’s, B’s, C’s,D’s, etc., collectively look upon him quite favorably.

  5. jcg Says:

    Good and informative map, though I wonder if being cleared for aid automatically means that aid is actually being received by all those units at any one time. I’d guess not always, but still…

    LFM: That’s an interesting observation, but I fear that swords cuts both ways, considering one can find that taking political advantage of the tragically dead, as Jaime Bustos puts it, through the use and interpretation of statistics is not exactly the monopoly of a certain side of “dogs of war” or what have you. Though it must be nice to think it is.

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcg, “dogs of war” is only an euphemism for turd eaters, and yes it’s not a monopoly of any group, as the habit is well spread around. :lol:

  7. Kyle Says:

    Good map. I saw the list released by FOR but that state dept memo link doesn’t work. Also, it’s nice to know I can get directions to and from places like Larandia, Zaragoza and Vista Hermosa.

  8. Camilla Says:

    LFM: The source is President Uribe’s Web site and it’s information that’s been out for several months now. It’s been sinced picked up powerfully by respected Harvard economist Edward Schumacher-Matos, who gave the real story in a March 29 2008 NYT piece.

    He showed it was no fallacy. Check his statistics. Your ‘fallacy’ is the fallacy.

    The fact that the population is being killed at a higher rate than union members is how Big Labor chooses to divide it. It’s not our division, it’s Big Labor’s division. The fact is that it’s much safer to be a labor union member than it is to be a member of other subgroups, or a member of the population as a whole. You may come up with a B group to show a higher ratio, but you haven’t, you only offered a theoretical group of peasants and human rights activists without proof. Big Labor has divided it into Labor versus nonlabor, and they’re the ones who are losing the statistics war as the facts come out that it’s far safer to be a union member than to not be one.

    According to Fielding’s Guide to the World’s Most Dangerous Places published several years ago, the subgroup MOST likely to be killed in Colombia, is common criminals. Take up the dope trade, see the ratio of killings in your subgroup rise and your chances of making it to old age diminish. Is Big Labor going to go to bat for the fact that criminals are killed at higher rates than the population as a whole? The fact is, they are, and I am sure that stat remains valid. Is that something the US should hold up free trade for? Should everyone be killed at the same rate for Colombia to be qualified for free trade? There will always be imbalances based on personal choices.

    The problem I see is that the Left desperately sees a conspiracy against organized labor when there is none – they so want the country to be Guatemala under Rios Montt, they just love that template. However, Colombia’s labor union members are killed at a lower rate than the population as a whole and there is no getting around that fact.

    Read Schumacher-Matos’ article here:

  9. LFM Says:

    OK. Something remotely resembling a rational discussion! And I didn’t get attacked with ad hominems! I can’t miss that one out.

    Yes, I haven’t offered a proof of my statement before. As several of you pointed out, a full proof would need coming up with the “B” group which I haven’t. But my logical point stands. If you want to conclude that it’s safer to be a union member than an ordinary Colombian, the statistics people blandish will not do it. You still have to prove that you are choosing a meaningful partition. And this “union vs. non-union” partition is pretty stupid, regardless of who came up with it.

    In fact, even considering unions as a whole might be useless. Not all unions operate in the same economic sectors, or in the same geographic areas. You could have a vicious killing spree of union activists in one region and still have a pretty low murder rate for unions as a whole.

    In fact, the international comparison, warts and all, may be more revealing. If union members in Colombia get killed at higher rates than those of other countries, that may constitute circumstantial evidence of something. It shouldn’t be dismissed off hand.

    My broader point is quite simple: stats only quantify phenomena, but do not tell you anything about their nature. If you want to establish if a country is going through an anti-union killing spree, you have to look at the individual cases, hear the stories, investigate them and, yes, establish if they are related to a broader campaign or to other causes.

    Incidentally, murder rates are not a very good indicator of political intimidation. In some circumstances, say, if a group is tightly-knit, just one murder may send shock waves across all its members in ways that a higher number of random murders in other segments of society would not. And this is not to mention death-threats and other practices.

    To hear it from the right-wing spin machine, Colombians should start joining unions by the thousands. Most Colombians know otherwise; they realize that that is a path for trouble.

    By the way, in my case this has nothing to do with the FTA.

  10. Golden Boy Says:

    “In fact, the international comparison, warts and all, may be more revealing.”

    Only if you’re trying to distract from the overall trend under Uribe, which you obviously are.

    By the way, you can break the “A” group(A = union members) down further, if you want to play this game. How many union members were guerillas in disguise, how many paramilitary, how many were killed by criminals on their way to get a hamburger, etc..

    “In fact, even considering unions as a whole might be useless.”

    Then why do you discuss it?

    “You could have a vicious killing spree of union activists in one region and still have a pretty low murder rate for unions as a whole.”

    And you could have a declining overall trend of assasinations since 2002, as Colombia does, but you want to take our eyes off that football.

    “Colombians should start joining unions by the thousands. Most Colombians know otherwise; they realize that that is a path for trouble.”

    Alot of them also don’t have the cash to pay off the union officials. Alot of them also realize it is a path to higher unemployment, at least in the private sector.

  11. Golden Boy Says:

    Oh, here’s another subgroup for “A.” Union workers who favored the FTA.

  12. LFM Says:

    I’m not trying to distract anybody from anything. You can focus on whatever trends your merry heart desires. All I’m trying to do is to dispel bogus claims. I focused on union stats because the bogus argument I’m trying to debunk here does so. Honestly, I think I don’t need stats to tell me that in certain places in Colombia people get killed for expressing their views or for agitating legally for their rights as workers. I’ve come across enough of those stories to state the case convincingly. All this stats game is a bunch of smoke and mirrors and I only get to it because I happen to know a little bit of how these things go. (It’s related to what I do for a living…)

    Do union members cheat on their spouses at higher rates than the rest of Colombians? I have no idea, but apparently that’s the theory some people are proffering now to explain the stats.

    Declining murder rates, declining murder rates, declining murder rates. I know, they are a fact. Again, I’m not trying to hide it. But while you’re at it, here’s an intriguing thought: we know from other places that murder rates often decline simply because the killers ran out of victims. It is happening in Iraq where some areas have already been so successfully “cleansed” that there are no more Shiites (or Sunnis, depending on the area) left to kill.

    Could it be that the paramilitary already established its control over some areas so thoroughly that it no longer needs to kill people there and can instead turn in the bulk of the weaponry (while maintaining the intelligence network)? Just curious…

  13. Golden Boy Says:

    “I’m not trying to distract anybody from anything. ”

    Yes, you are.

    “I focused on union stats because the bogus argument I’m trying to debunk here does so. ”

    No, it’s not bogus.

    “Again, I’m not trying to hide it.”

    Yes, you are.

    “But while you’re at it, here’s an intriguing thought: we know from other places that murder rates often decline simply because the killers ran out of victims. ”

    And all this just so happens to coincide exactly with Uribe’s time in office, as even union stats show. His Democratic Security plan had nothing to do with it, or the decline in kidnappings. It’s all just a huge coincidence, along with his almost universal approval rating among Colombians.

  14. fandango Says:

    LFM, you’re piling on the rhetorical sleights of hand. First, there was the bogus use of statistics (if they are “related to what you do for a living I think you’re living on borrowed time) along with an appeal to consider that peasants opposed to the FTA or Uribe or your bogeyman del dia are being killed at a higher rate.

    After several posters rightly called you out on this utter bogusness, you shifted the argument with a new brand of unfalsifiable bogusness that reminds me of the worst claims of the architects of the Iraq war (attacks on US forces going down? That means we’re winning! Wait, they’re going up? Well, that means the enemy is desperate because … we’re winning?).

    What’s wrong with Ocham’s Razor? That is, that the simplest explanation is probably right? In this case, unionists appear to be dying at a far lower rate than in the past … is it that hard to believe that maybe they’re safer than in the past? It seems to me that that’s a much more plausible hypothesis than the total extermination of union activists in Colombia, unless you simply cannot accept that good things might have happened in Colombia under Uribe – in which case no statistics or empirical observations could convince you to abandon your existing beliefs.

  15. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Fantoche, whether you don’t live in Colombia and you don’t know it’s in deep trouble, or you don’t read newspapers, or you happen to be one mesmerized uribist who thinks the Lord has come back in the figure of a lilliputian narcotrafficker in the swamps of South America, or you are a paid lobbyist or paid shill like someone we all know.

  16. lfm Says:

    Silly me! I thought I could debate this point without the usual ad hominems rearing their head. Fandango: Don’t worry about me. I’m not living on borrowed time, I can assure you. Let’s just say that my career is very likely to outlast by far Uribe’s with all his reelections, thank you very much.

    Now for the substance. Just stating that I’m wrong will not make it so, Golden Boy. You have to try harder than that.

    I’m not “shifting” my argument, Fandango. To my mind, I successfully disposed of the whole statistical mumbo-jumbo and nobody has done anything in this thread to persuade me otherwise. So, I moved on to another topic, the one of the “declining murder rates” and suggested one explanation that I don’t hear often. Is it a “miraculous coincidence”? Well, don’t get me started in what might the paramilitary have concluded after the results of the 2002 election and what effects that might have had on their behavior.

    Occam’s razor? Occam’s razor cuts when you can demonstrably show that your explanation is simpler than the rest. Yours isn’t. The alternatives at hand have an identical number of premises and assumptions. So, yes. Case not proven. I agree. That was exactly the point of this whole debate: you cannot prove anything with this stats. I’ll keep disliking Uribe in spite of these half-baked, would-be “proofs” and you’ll keep liking him. Good for you, just don’t disguise your “uribismo” as “science.”

  17. Golden Boy Says:

    “Jaime Bustos Says:
    April 9th, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    blah, I hate Uribe, blah, blah. Don’t come at us with facts and figures that invalidate our hate, blah, blah..”

  18. Golden Boy Says:

    “Just stating that I’m wrong will not make it so, Golden Boy. You have to try harder than that.”

    You’ve already been proven wrong above. Why duplicate what has already been done?
    “So, I moved on to another topic,..”

    Translation:” After being thoroughly, embarrassingly, refuted, I tried a different angle; any angle other than to give Uribe any credit.”

    “That was exactly the point of this whole debate: you cannot prove anything with this stats.”

    Especially when they overwhelmingly favor Uribe! On the other hand, you were trying to do just exactly that with your B=??? equation. You really are quite entertaining, lfm!

    “Good for you, just don’t disguise your “uribismo” as “science.”

    Facts that favor Uribe mean nothing!!

  19. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Ebony lad, I don’t hate Uribe, I simply think this guy along with the mafia he grew up with and which he represents has caused the most atrocious possible scenario for the already deteriorated image Colombia had, and any international respect the developing country might have acquired in a near future.

  20. Paul Says:


    I don’t know where you get that idea. True, the international Left hates Uribe, but tourism is up dramatically in the past few years as it has gotten safer to travel there, thanks in part to Uribe’s policies.

  21. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Paul, just a random example:

    # We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia because of the high threat of terrorism and criminal activity. Terrorist, insurgent and paramilitary groups are active throughout Colombia and there is a high risk of kidnapping, including of foreigners.
    # Government buildings, public transport and commercial and entertainment centres are potential targets for terrorist attacks. Places frequented by foreigners could be targeted by groups.
    # We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the provinces of Cesar and La Guajira, the cities of Cali and Popayan and most rural areas of Colombia because of the uncertain security situation.
    # We advise you not to travel to the departments of Santander, Putumayo, Arauca, Cauca (excluding Popayan), Caqueta, Guaviare, Valle de Cauca (excluding Cali), Antioquia (excluding Medellin), Narino (excluding Pasto), Norte de Santander (excluding Cucuta), southern parts of Meta and the city of Buenaventura due to very high threat of terrorism from guerrilla organisations and drug related criminal activity. There is a high risk to your personal safety in these areas.
    # If you do decide to travel to these “Do Not Travel” areas, you should exercise extreme caution. If you are in these areas and concerned for your safety, you should consider leaving.
    # Australia has a Consulate in Bogota, headed by an Honorary Consul, which provides limited consular assistance. The Australian Embassy in Santiago, Chile provides full consular assistance to Australians in Colombia.

  22. Golden Boy Says:

    And this is a recent phenomena? By all accounts, Colombia has made tremendous progress under Uribe in nearly every category.

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