The Issue. Colombia is enduring the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere today. Some 3,000 civilians die of political violence every year; and more than 1.8 million people have been displaced since 1985, with more than 300,000 last year alone. An array of armed actors, including paramilitaries, guerilla groups, the military and criminal networks have all been cited for various levels of involvement in human rights abuses (including massacres, kidnaping and displacement). This spiral of violence is the result of a complex array of social and political conflicts spanning decades, however it has recently intensified due in part to substantial drug-related profits received by the armed actors on all sides.
Much of the U.S. debate on aid to Colombia has focused on the high levels of coca production and drug trafficking from Colombia to the U.S. market. In recent years, Colombia has become the major Latin American source of the cocaine and heroin (90% of all cocaine) arriving in the United States, replacing the role previously played by Peru and Bolivia. Earlier counter-narcotic efforts in those countries produced significant reduction in the production and processing of illicit crops, albeit with noteworthy social costs, and much of the production/processing moved to Colombia, with overall drug production in the region greater today than ever.
U.S. Policy. On July 13, 2000, President Clinton signed legislation for a $1.3 billion U.S. contribution over three years to the $7.5 billion 'Plan Colombia' proposal (a plan designed to be funded by Colombia, the U.S. and European donors). The strategy of the Colombian Government focused on five areas: a counter-drug strategy, economic recovery, democratization and social development, reform of the justice system including protection of human rights, and the peace process.
Thus far, the U.S. is the primary contributor to this plan with a significant proportion of U.S. funds (80%) dedicated to military aid for counter-narcotic activities. The remaining 20% is to be directed towards alternative development, judicial reform, and aid to the internally displaced. The package additionally includes resources for counter-narcotic activities in neighboring countries.
The centerpiece of the U.S. contribution is a program to create, train and arm new battalions of the Colombian army, providing helicopters, transport and intelligence assistance, to push into the southern coca-growing states that are also the historic stronghold of the largest of the guerrilla groups, the FARC. While the aid is defined as counter-narcotic assistance, it is believed that its utilization will spill over into the larger conflict occurring in the country. Additionally, there has been significant documentation of linkages between paramilitary groups (responsible for over 70% of human rights abuses in recent years) and the Colombian military.
Cardinal Law's March 16, 2000 Statement on Colombia lays out the basic position of both the U.S. and Colombian Episcopal Conferences. What is required is (1) an essential balance between assistance to the armed forces and aid that more directly addresses the root causes of the conflict and assists the victims; (2) conditioning all aid on human rights criteria; (3) major support for programs that advance the peace process, including (4) alternative crop development, (5) judicial reform, and (6) humanitarian aid to the displaced.
While the contours of the new Administration's policy towards Colombia are not yet determined it is expected that President Bush will request significant additional funds for counter-narcotic aid (for military and humanitarian purposes) both for Colombia and the surrounding countries of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. In 2001 it is expected that such a funding request will be presented as part of the regular foreign aid appropriations and defense appropriations bills rather than as a specific Colombian or Andean bill. This legislation will be shaped and debated in subcommittees during February-April and should reach the floor of Congress between May-July. Concerns to stress to Members include:
- U.S. aid to Colombia must include basic standards for the protection of human rights.
Human Rights Certification. Under the current U.S. legislation the President is required to certify each year of the program that basic human rights conditions have been met by the Colombian Government. Although it was widely acknowledged that most of the conditions have not been met, and the overall human rights situation in the country is deteriorating, in August of last year President Clinton waived the certification requirements on the grounds that U.S. national security interests were at stake. A principal argument is that the flood of illicit drugs into the United States constitutes a threat to national security.
- Support for the absolute necessity of finding a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the internal conflict.
The Colombian Bishops' Conference (CEC) has consistently emphasized the importance of continuing on the path of a negotiated peace process between the Colombian Government and the two principle guerrilla groups (the FARC and the ELN). The CEC President is part of the negotiations with the FARC and several additional Bishops and Church leaders participate in the negotiation process with the ELN. These processes are arduous and long-term. Concern has been expressed that there is limited attention or funding provided in the U.S. aid package in support of the peace process while the large amount of aid available for military may be hardening the positions on all sides.
- Opposition to policies that will increase vulnerability of the civilian population and increase the ranks of the forcibly displaced.
Colombia currently has the third highest number of internally displaced people in the world. A central aspect of the US contribution to Plan Colombia, the counter-narcotic 'push into southern Colombia', will forcibly displace an estimated 10,000 people (an estimate considered to be conservative) according to the plan itself, (though there is limited funding allocated to meet the needs of some of those to be newly displaced).
- Opposition to aerial fumigation, as damaging to health and environment.
While the full complement of U.S. military aid is yet to be deployed, aerial fumigation of coca fields has come to be one of the most criticized aspects of the anti-drug campaign. The Colombian Bishops conference has stated their opposition to fumigation, and Bishops in the zones most affected have been vocal in denouncing the frequent mishaps due to the imprecise nature of aerial spraying and the close proximity of coca plants to other crops and dwellings. Concern is also expressed about the long-term effects on the ecology and on human and animal health.
Statement on Colombia (3/16/00) http://usccb.org/sdwp/international/lawcolombia.shtml
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); email@example.com