Congress Sends Mixed Signals on Colombia Military Aid

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In March, the House of Representatives made a strong statement of concern regarding lack of human rights progress in Colombia—and added several aircraft to the Colombian police and navy's drug interdiction efforts. Representatives Sam Farr and James McGovern sent a letter signed by 59 members of Congress to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urging the secretary to withhold certification that Colombia is meeting the human rights conditions established in law. The letter urged progress on specific cases and improvements in the human rights record of the 17th Brigade of the Colombian army (Reps. Shays and Bean also sent similar letters). The State Department is currently withholding a portion of FY2005 military aid from the Colombian government due to lack of progress in investigating cases of human rights abuses. Your actions asking your members to sign helped make this a significant letter.

See the letters and signers at:
See LAWGEF memo on certification at:

"Certification is our only congressional oversight tool for urging the Colombian government to comply with international human rights norms," stated Congressmen Farr and McGovern. The certification process mandates that in order for the Colombian military to receive 25 percent of each year's military aid budget, the State Department must certify that significant progress is being made on cases of human rights abuses by Colombian security forces. Currently, the Department of State is withholding 12.5 percent of the approximately $640 million in police and military aid from FY2005.

The House of Representatives approved $26 million in additional assistance for Colombia's police and military last week in an amendment to the Iraq supplemental bill. Proposed by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), the sudden amendment was passed in the House by a margin of 250 – 172. The funds will add to the approximately $600 million in aid that Colombian security forces are already scheduled to receive this year from the United States.The amendment will fund marine patrol aircraft for the Colombian navy and helicopters for the Colombian national police. While intended for drug interdiction, these aircraft could be used for protecting spray planes and for the war effort more generally.

The original version of the amendment intended to send nearly $100 million to Colombian security forces, but Rep. Burton reduced it to $26 million in an effort to gain support. The final version of Rep. Burton's amendment was especially difficult to oppose because it did not simply add $26 million to the Iraq supplemental bill, but took the money from a program to construct more prisons in Iraq. Members were forced to choose between sending money to the Colombian security forces or sending it to Iraq for building prisons—neither a very attractive option.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member on the foreign operations subcommittee, spoke on the House floor just before the vote. Ms. Lowey had recently returned from a trip to Colombia and called for a new approach to U.S.-Colombia policy focusing on alternative development in lieu of drug crop eradication. "I think it is time that we look at a different mix for funding for Colombia, one that boosts spending on alternate development and interdiction programs and reduces funding for eradication programs which I think are ineffective at best," Lowey stated.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reported that despite the largest drug crop spraying campaign ever in Colombia in 2004, there was no change in the amount of coca produced, and similar figures are expected for 2005. The drug problem is fundamentally one of supply and demand, and in order to stop it money should be put into drug prevention and treatment programs at home in order to reduce demand, and into alternative development abroad in order to reduce supply.

This skirmish was not the major vote for aid to Colombia this year, which will still take place as the FY 2007 foreign operations appropriations bill comes to the House floor in May or June. Congress is expected to request that Plan Colombia continue as it has for the past six years, with 80 percent of the aid going directly to Colombian security forces. We support amendments to this bill that transfer aid from military assistance to humanitarian needs; we would like to see the United States prioritize aid for those most negatively affected by Colombia's conflict, including internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and the rural poor.

View the roll call for the vote on Rep. Burton's amendment.

Also, thank your member of Congress if they signed the Farr-McGovern letter and/or voted NO on Rep. Burton’s amendment.