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NGOs Send Letter to Members of Foreign Operations Subcommittee on FY08 Aid to Colombia

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Dear Honorable Representative or Senator,

We are heartened to see the improvements made in U.S. policy towards Colombia in both the House and Senate FY08 foreign operations appropriations bills. The increased emphasis on rural development and the justice sector will help Colombia more effectively conduct counternarcotics efforts while strengthening its democratic institutions and the rule of law. As you meet to reconcile the two bills, we urge you to advocate for the greater allocation for rural development  and the improved balance between military and non-military assistance contained in the House bill and to support the new direction both bills present.

While rule-of-law programs are sometimes referred to as part of the “soft side” of the package, these programs will help the Colombian government get tough on drug traffickers and human rights abusers. Vigorous investigation and prosecution of paramilitary leaders who have committed gross violations or who continue to traffic drugs and foster violence are essential if the demobilization process is to reduce violence and weaken organized crime. Expanding victims’ access to justice, strengthening victim and witness protection and improving oversight and human rights performance of government security forces will build confidence in the rule of law and contribute to conflict resolution.

The increased resources for rural development, including for programs to help small farmers turn away from illegal drug production, are a sensible and much-needed improvement. While the aerial spraying program is perceived as tough—and indeed it is tough on the small farmer families whose food crops have been destroyed along with illegal drug crops—it has not worked. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in 2006 Colombia produced slightly more coca than at the start of the United States’ $5.4 billion investment in 2000. Aerial spraying has moved coca production from one area of the country to the next, with intensifying conflict and environmental damage following the expansion of coca into new areas. After seven years of spraying, it is time to focus on a more sustainable approach. While rural development programs with voluntary manual eradication require time and patience, if devised and implemented with close cooperation from local communities, they can provide a more permanent solution to illicit drug production, as well as reduce the factors that fuel the conflict.

We also greatly appreciate the specific dedication of development assistance and human rights safeguards for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, which have suffered disproportionately from poverty and conflict. Finally, we ask that the final law contain the maximum funding possible for programs to benefit Colombia’s internally displaced population.

These adjustments to the aid package represent continued strong support for Colombia. Indeed, these changes will help the government of Colombia consolidate the comprehensive presence of the state in areas long abandoned, where coca and poppy production has expanded, armed groups of the left and the right have shown absolute disregard for human rights, and the conflict has brutally raged. We would also note that the increased revenues approved by the Colombian government available this year from its “war tax” were limited to military and police support, making it even more important to focus U.S. assistance on underlying rule of law, economic and social justice concerns.

We urge you to include the substantial allocation for rural development included in the House bill.  And as you consider future directions for U.S. policy towards Colombia, we ask you to prioritize support for rural development and strengthening the rule of law, and to increase emphasis on programs for the victims of the conflict.

John Arthur Nues
President and CEO
Lutheran World Relief

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli

Senior Associate for Colombia and Haiti
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Ken Hackett
President
Catholic Relief Services

Kenneth H. Bacon

President
Refugees International

Mark L. Schneider
Senior Vice President
International Crisis Group*

Raymond C. Offenheiser
President
Oxfam America

George Vickers
Senior Policy Analyst
Open Society Policy Center

Rev. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J.
National Director
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory

Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Adam Isacson
Director of Programs
Center for International Policy

John Walsh
Senior Associate for the Andes and Drug Policy
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Melinda St. Louis
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Nancy Lindborg
President
Mercy Corps

Rev. Dr. John R. Deckenback
Conference Minister
Central Atlantic Conference
United Church of Christ

Theo Sitther
Legislative Associate for International Affairs
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

T. Michael McNulty, SJ
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Robin Buyers
Colombia Team Support Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams

James R. Stormes, S.J.
Secretary, Social and International Ministries
Jesuit Conference

Heather Hanson

Executive Director
US Office on Colombia

Stan Hastey
Minister for Mission and Ecumenism
Alliance of Baptists

Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Liaison
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Angela Berryman
Interim Assistant General Secretary for Peace and Conflict Resolution
American Friends Service Committee

Cristina Espinel
Co-coordinator
Colombia Human Rights Committee


Marty Jordan

Co-Director
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC)

To respond to this letter, please reply to: Lisa Haugaard; Executive Director; Latin America Working Group; 424 C Street, NE; Washington, DC 20002; email: lisah@lawg.org; fax; 202.543.7647.

*Organization given for identification purposes only.