Last Updated:7/21/03
Memo from four U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations, July 21, 2003
The U.S. Office on Colombia

Vote Yes on Amendment to Cut Colombian Military Aid & Transfer Funds to Global HIV/AIDS

Reps. McGovern and Skelton will offer an amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill that will transfer $75 million in Colombian military aid to global programs for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.  The amendment cuts only a small portion of military aid to Colombia, leaving in place over $350 million in aid to Colombia's police and military in the foreign aid bill, in addition to more than $100 million in the defense bill, not to mention the $105 million Colombia just received in the Iraq 03 supplementalHowever, it will send a message that Congress requires a more defined US game plan and exit strategy in Colombia; believes respect for human rights is essential; and is committed to addressing the AIDS pandemic. Vote YES on this amendment for the following reasons.

1.  Counternarcotics programs to the Andean region are notoriously ineffective—and Plan Colombia is no different.

  • Coca production in the Andes has increased since Plan Colombia was enacted.  Coca production in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia rose to 205,400 hectares in 2002 from 184,900 hectares in 2000 (State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports for 2000 and 2002).  (A drop in coca production in Colombia in 2002 did not bring Colombia’s coca level down to what it was in 2000, and was partially offset by increases in Peru & Bolivia.)
  • Eradication efforts in Colombia are shifting coca production back to Peru and Bolivia.  After a decade of declines in cultivation in Bolivia and Peru, coca cultivation rose in Bolivia (from 14,600 hectares in 2000 to 24,400 in 2002), and rose slightly in Peru (from 34,100 hectares in 2000 to 36,000 hectares in 2002). 
  • Coca production in the Andes has remained virtually stable since 1988 despite over $5.6 billion dollars in eradication and interdiction efforts spent by the US (see bar graph).

2.  The Colombian army has resolutely refused to cut enduring ties between the army and the paramilitary forces involved in gross human rights violations.

  • Officers credibly alleged to have committed abuses continue to remain on active duty and in command of troops (Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Certification under public law 108-7, July 8, 2003).   Only a handful of lower level officers, few above the level of sergeant, have been suspended (listed in the State Department’s July 8th, 2003 memorandum to the Congress). 
  • “In case after case, the armed forces ignore credible evidence gathered against officers, taking advantage of the country’s slow, partial and often impotent judicial system to evade accountability ….  Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio has slowed down or blocked investigation into military support for and tolerance of paramilitary activity.  In many regions, prosecutors are simply too afraid to aggressively investigate, fearing both the military and lack of support for their investigations from the Attorney General.” (Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Certification under public law 108-7, July 8, 2003). 
  • “Impunity for military personnel who collaborated with members of paramilitary groups remained common.” (State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, March 2003)
  • Army collaboration with paramilitaries raises questions about its commitment to the war on drugs--- paramilitaries now control some 40% of the drug trade in Colombia (Washington Post, "Colombian Fighters’ Drug Trade is Detailed,” June 26, 2003).
  • Direct violations by the Colombian military increased in 2002 (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2003 annual report).
  • The State Department has failed to use the leverage Congress granted in the form of human rights conditions, repeatedly certifying Colombia has met the conditions despite failure to suspend, investigate and prosecute military officers involved in collaboration with paramilitaries.  The latest round of certification was termed “shameful” by Amnesty International and “a perverse signal” by Human Rights Watch.

3.  There is no clear end in sight, no exit strategy, to ever-deeper US involvement in Colombia.

  • “Nearly 3 years [after Plan Colombia started], the Departments of State and Defense have still not developed estimates of future program costs, defined their future roles in Colombia, identified a proposed end state, or determined how they plan to achieve it.” “Neither the Colombian Army nor the Colombian National Police can sustain ongoing counternarcotics programs without continued US funding and contractor support for the foreseeable future.”   (GAO, Financial and Management Challenges Continue to Complicate Efforts to Reduce Illicit Drug Activities in Colombia, June 3, 2003.)
  • “The United States cannot fill in for wealthy Colombians who neither pay the cost of their own war nor serve in their own military," according to the Center for International Policy's Adam Isacson. “Though supposedly fighting for its very survival, Colombia's government spends less on defense, as a percentage of GDP, than the US does (4.5 % vs. 4 percent - and the Colombian figure includes all police spending).  The Uribe government did charge a "war tax" that added 1% of GDP.  But this was a one-time levy, and there are no plans to sustain it. Colombian law continues to exempt those few recruits with high-school educations from combat. Though legislation to broaden recruitment is regularly introduced in Colombia's Congress, it never seems to get anywhere.  Moreover, the Colombian government has failed to fund adequately economic development programs that are an essential component of addressing the roots of conflict.”

4.  Additional funding for global HIV/AIDS programs is imperative.

  • The House foreign aid bill contains only $1.43 billion, less than the $3 billion per year anticipated when President Bush pledged $15 billion over five years in the State of the Union address.
  • President Bush expressed the urgency in his trip to Africa and made promises that should be kept.  "This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced, and you will not face this enemy alone.” “The first thing I wanted the leadership in Africa to know is the American people care deeply about the pandemic that sweeps across this continent, the pandemic of HIV-AIDS," Bush said. "We're not only a powerful nation, we're also a compassionate nation."  --Dana Milbank, “Bush Pledges Help on Deadliest Foe,” Washington Post, July 11, 2003.
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