As Colombia enters 2002, the country remains caught up in an array of social and political conflicts with civilians increasingly displaced or killed by armed actors. Human rights abuses by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, the Colombian military and criminal networks are well documented. Although the conflict has an extensive history spanning more than forty years, it is sustained by the profits from drug trafficking that the armed actors receive. 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.
This January, Colombia narrowly averted the collapse of the peace talks with the FARC, which would have led to a dramatic escalation of violence in a country already enduring the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere. The negotiations have been criticized for their limited progress, but the participation and mediation of diplomats from 10 nations, UN representatives and the president of the Colombian Bishops' Conference have pushed the process forward. A level of hope has been renewed, although tempered, that a negotiated peace remains possible and clear goals and time-lines were established for expected advances between now and April. A second peace process with a smaller guerilla organization, the ELN, is also restarting, again with Church representatives playing a key role in the process.
In 2000, the U.S. approved a $1.3 billion, three-year aid package as part of the Colombian Government's 'Plan Colombia' proposal. The U.S. was the primary contributor to this plan, with major proportion of the U.S. aid (80%) dedicated to military support for counter-narcotic activities. The remaining funds were to go towards alternative development, judicial reform, and aid to the internally displaced. The centerpiece of the U.S. contribution was an anti-narcotic program to create and train new battalions, providing helicopters and intelligence aid, focusing largely on the southern coca-growing region of the country.
Under the present Administration, the FY 2002 Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill approved $625 million for the Andean Regional Initiative which more extensively funds anti-narcotic activities in neighboring countries and increases the percentage of funds for humanitarian aid. However, U.S. funding in the region, particularly for Colombia, continues mainly to provide military aid, and relies on fumigation as the principal means for eradicating coca and poppy production.
This year's legislation includes several important human rights and fumigation-related conditions on U.S. aid. The Administration must certify that the Colombian military is taking effective steps to sever ties to paramilitary organizations prior to the release of each aid allotmentsignificant as paramilitary groups are considered responsible for nearly 80% of the human rights violations. The new legislation also requires the Administration to demonstrate that fumigation does not pose undue risk to human health and the environment, is conducted in compliance with U.S. and Colombian laws, and provides compensation to local farmers for any loss of legal crops or health problems due to fumigation. Also, alternative development plans are to be enacted where fumigation has occurred and where it is planned in the future.
The Administration recently released its budget request for 2003, including a substantial increase of $731 million in aid to the Andean region. Foreign Operations appropriations request would give Colombia close to $374 million in military aid and $164 million in social and economic aid. This does not include additional anticipated Defense budget appropriations.
For the first time since the Cold War, Colombia may receive a significant amount of military assistance not directly related to counter-narcotic activities, a significant shift in policy. If approved, the Foreign Military Financing program would provide Colombia with $98 million to support the establishment of a new Colombian brigade to protect economic infrastructure; particularly oil pipelines.
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.
In any meetings with Members of Congress, please stress the following criteria for a just and sensible policy toward Colombia:
- U.S. aid to Colombia must include basic standards for the protection of human rights. Considerable information is available on the extent of human rights violations occurring by all of the armed actors. Links between the military and the paramilitary are well-known, and acknowledged by both the U.S. and Colombian Governments. It is essential that established human rights standards are applied and closely monitored on current and future aid as intended in current legislation.
- Finding a peaceful and negotiated settlement to the internal conflict is absolutely necessary. The Colombian Bishops' Conference has repeatedly emphasized the importance of continuing on the path to a negotiated peace process between the Government and the two principle guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN). While there is limited attention or funding provided in the U.S. aid package to support the peace processes, the large amount of aid for military purposes may be hardening the positions on all sides.
- More of the U.S. aid should be directed toward addressing the root causes of the conflict and meeting the needs of the victims through humanitarian and development aid, not the present disproportionate emphasis on military funding. Even funds targeted for alternative development, judicial reform and other areas have largely not been delivered. It is essential that the non-military aid arrive in a timely manner and alternative development strategies developed and funded in communities where coca eradication is occurring. This latter provision is outlined in the recent legislation, but its application will need to be monitored and implemented.
- Opposition to aerial fumigation, as damaging to health and environment. Aerial fumigation of coca fields has come to be one of the most criticized aspects of the anti-drug campaign. The Colombian Bishops have stated their opposition to fumigation, and bishops in the zones most affected have been vocal in denouncing the aerial spraying. There are ongoing reports of legal food crops and livestock destroyed (threatening food security), water source contamination and increases in health problems, both in Colombia and nearby Ecuador. The long-term impact in terms of coca eradication is also in question as production moves to new areas. Although the stated goal is to halt fumigation; the new legislation requires greater health and environmental scrutiny and compensation for local communities. These provisions are important advances but also contain a number of loopholes and will need to be closely monitored and rigorously applied.
Update (2/01); Statement (3/16/00); Letter (7/26/99) http://usccb.org/sdwp/international/colomind.shtml
CRS In Solidarity with Colombia link http://www.catholicrelief.org/where/Colombia/index.cfm ;
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org