LAWGEF Memo: Prioritize Alternative Development and Humanitarian Aid to Colombia

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To: Foreign Operations staffers
From: Lisa Haugaard

As you consider assistance for Colombia in the foreign operations appropriations bill for FY07, we hope the following information is useful. We strongly support continued assistance for Colombia, but believe it is imperative to readjust the aid package that has been primarily focused on military aid and aerial spraying (82% of U.S. aid since 2000 has been military/police aid).

  1. Despite $4.7 billion invested by the United States in Colombia, the amount of coca planted in Colombia in 2005 was more than when funding began in 2000 (136,200 hectares at the start of Plan Colombia in 2000; 144,000 hectares at the end of 2005, according to the State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2005). Farmers whose crops are sprayed by aerial eradication who are not given adequate economic alternatives are replanting, and coca production is spreading all over the countryside. Coca production in 2005 increased in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. If the goal is to reduce drug abuse at home, resources must be redirected to treatment and prevention at home, and sustainable development alternatives abroad.
  2. Human rights violations remain grave. While there is some reduction in violence due to the demobilization of paramilitary forces, human rights violations continue to be severe in Colombia. The number of people fleeing their homes from political violence increased 8 percent from 2004 to 2005, estimated at 318,387 people displaced in 2005 by the Consultancy on Displacement and Human Rights (CODHES). Moreover, in 2005 more grave violations than in previous years were committed directly by Colombia’s security forces, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office in Colombia. The office reported “an upward trend” in allegations of extrajudicial executions of civilians and alteration of crime scenes by members of the army.
    Cases were denounced of coordinated actions in which the victims were allegedly handed over by paramilitaries, subsequently executed by members of the military, and then presented as members of armed groups killed in combat, particularly in the metropolitan area of Medellín (Antioquia). Another modality was observed in allegations regarding victims executed by paramilitaries and presented by members of the army as killed in combat, in Putumayo and in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. (United Nations’ Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia, January 20, 2006, covering the year 2005, Part I, point 29)
  3. Paramilitaries’ criminal and drug-trafficking structures remain largely intact. The demobilization of Colombia’s abusive paramilitary forces if permanent would be a very positive development, but these forces are far from completely dismantled. The OAS monitoring mission has documented the formation of new paramilitary groups and the participation of demobilizing paramilitaries in violent activities in five Colombian provinces, including committing massacres, forming new criminal bands and offering security services to drug traffickers. Paramilitary leaders have penetrated some local and national government structures; the former head of Colombia’s civilian intelligence agency, for example, is facing allegations that he colluded with a paramilitary mob boss in assassinations of civic leaders. Human rights groups and victims’ representatives have had their offices broken into and computer databases stolen, and some have received threatening messages from self-proclaimed new paramilitary groupings. The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, for example, which litigates high-profile human rights cases such as the Mapiripán massacre, received this message recently:    “This is an invitation to join our crusade against terrorism or your staff will suffer the full weight of our presence, we have the support of the government’s armed forces who always supported us… And to everyone who received a copy of this message I warn you if you don’t align yourselves with this reality it is better for you to take your humanitarian ideas and go to some other place outside of our sacred Colombian territory…”In another recent example, fifteen students, employees and teaching staff at the University of Antioquia just received a death threat from the Autodefensas Unidas de Antioquia, believed to be operating since 1999 (Amnesty International alert 23/023/2006, 16 May 2006).

How should U.S. policy and aid be improved?

In FY07, US assistance should prioritize alternative development and humanitarian aid:

  • increase focus on alternative development for a more sustainable impact on drug production, rather than pouring resources into expensive, ineffective and inhumane aerial eradication campaigns
  • increase focus on the victims of violence: humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons and Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities
  • channel assistance to efforts to strengthen justice, including funding for the Colombia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and for the Colombian government’s ombudsman’s office, inspector general’s office, and the Attorney General’s human rights unit and unit to implement prosecutions under the paramilitary demobilization law.

In addition, U.S. policy should get tougher in insisting that the Colombian government end impunity and thoroughly dismantle paramilitary and drug trafficking structures:

  • enforce the human rights conditions in law, requiring the Colombian government to make much greater efforts to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations, and greater efforts to sever all links between the armed forces and illegal armed groups; and
  • insist that the Colombian government make much more vigorous efforts to fully dismantle paramilitary groups and their financial, criminal and drug trafficking structures; confiscate their financial assets and, particularly, the vast areas of land which they have obtained through violence; return lands to Colombia’s internally displaced persons; and investigate and prosecute new illegal paramilitary groups that are being created.

Additional assistance for expensive helicopters or more military training beyond the enormous investment Colombia already receives will only drain resources from these important goals and will not help Colombia reduce drug production or provide the necessary support to the justice system to strengthen the rule of law.

For more detailed recommendations, see Blueprint for a New Colombia Policypdfwe published with the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the U.S. Office on Colombia, with input from Colombian civil society organizations.