Last Updated:7/23/03
Statement from four U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations, July 23, 2003
The U.S. Office on Colombia

For Immediate Release: July 23, 2003

US Congress Sees Colombian Military as “Weak Link in Fight Against Terrorism”

Congress Divided over Aid to Colombia, Citing Links Between Colombian Military and Terrorists

Washington, July 23— Military aid to Colombia continued to be one of the most controversial issues on the foreign aid bill, as a sharply divided Congress today debated the human rights record of Colombia’s military and the efficacy of US anti-drug policy. Deriding US policy toward Colombia as “immoral and inexcusable,” House Democrats led a charge to reduce Colombia’s military and police assistance for next year, an effort that garnered bipartisan support despite a last-minute push by Secretary Powell and House Speaker Dennis Hastert to derail the vote.

On July 17th, the Senate Appropriations Committee reduced the amount of funding for the Andean Counternarcotics Initiative, which includes aid to Colombia, by over $30 million. Senate report language accompanying the bill noted that "The Committee views the Colombian military as a particularly weak link in the fight against terrorism and narcotics."

The House amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill would have cut $75 million of the over $430 million in military and police assistance for Colombia in the bill and transferred the money to global HIV/AIDS programs. In 2001, Congress voted on a similar measure which gained the support of 179 members. Despite the absence of many members of Congress at the 1 am vote today, 195 members supported a cut to Colombia’s military and police aid. 226 voted against.

Since 2000, Colombia has received over $2.5 billion dollars from the United States, most of it military and police assistance for anti-drug and anti-terrorism activities. Among the 9 representatives who spoke on the floor in favor of reducing the aid were the amendment’s co-sponsors, Reps. McGovern (D-MA) and Skelton (D-MO). Both questioned continued funding for a policy they say has failed to reach its stated goals.

Members of Congress sharply criticized the Colombian government’s failure to break ties between its armed forces and right-wing paramilitary groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. House Democratic Whip Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) condemned the policy as “giving more money to a military known to collaborate with a group the Bush Administration says are terrorists” and then asked, “Why would any member of this body want to make the mission of terrorists and criminals easier?”

The amendment’s supporters also argued that US anti-drug policy in Colombia has failed to stem net drug production in the Andes, instead moving coca cultivation back into Bolivia, Peru, and other areas once lauded as drug eradication successes. Citing a study by the ONDCP of US high school students, Representative McGovern noted that “the availability of cocaine in the United States actually increased in 2002.”

The amendment reflected growing unease over escalating US involvement in Colombia's armed conflict, despite efforts by the Colombian government to extend US military aid beyond the five years envisioned in Plan Colombia. Members made it clear they did support US aid to Colombia, but wanted to see a serious rethinking of the current policy. They echoed concerns raised in a recent report by the US government’s General Accounting Office, which found that the State and Defense Departments “have still not… identified a proposed end state [to involvement in Colombia], or determined how they plan to achieve it.”

The amendment also reflected congressional conviction that President Bush should live up to his State of the Union promises to provide $15 billion over 5 years for the AIDS pandemic.

The following analysts are available for comment on today’s Colombia vote:

  • Neil Jeffery, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia (202-232-8090; neil_jeffery@usofficeoncolombia.org): “This vote is a clear indication of the widespread and growing concern in Congress about continuing links between the Colombian military and right-wing paramilitary death squads. For three years now Congress has been asking the Colombian authorities to break ties between the armed forces and known terrorist paramilitaries, and there has been no progress. Congress has shown that it is still not convinced of Colombia’s will to reform, and is demanding concrete progress.”
  • Adam Isacson, Senior Associate, Center for International Policy (202-232-3317; isacson@ciponline.org): "Every year since Plan Colombia was passed, we've seen military aid levels increase, the presence of U.S. soldiers and contractors in Colombia increase, and the scope of our mission increase. Both Congress and the administration need to be clear about where we are headed in Colombia. We can't afford to sleepwalk into a major new military commitment."
  • Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director, Latin America Working Group (cell 301-537-3387; office 202-546-7010; lisah@lawg.org): “This close vote reflects growing public alarm about the direction of US involvement in Colombia. The Bush Administration has painted Mr. Uribe and Plan Colombia in glowing terms, but many concerned citizens, unions, and churches have refused to buy into this particular foreign adventure. The policy is supposed to be about security, but it has done nothing to stop the tide of violence in Colombia or the flow of drugs into the United States. When rhetoric doesn’t match reality, members of Congress will hear from their constituents.”
  • Kim Stanton, Deputy Director, Washington Office on Latin America (202-797-2171, kstanton@wola.org): “US policy in Colombia claims to support the rule of law, but there has been only backsliding on this issue since Plan Colombia began. Violence and forced displacement have increased. Human rights violations attributed to the military have increased. The government insists that security forces be allowed to carry out searches, wiretaps and detentions without warrants and seeks to weaken judicial oversight of states of emergency. And now, under the guise of peace negotiations, the government wants to grant immunity to paramilitary leaders responsible for atrocious crimes. Democracy cannot exist without accountability. The debate today sends that message.”

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