Last Updated:3/21/00
Letter from Several U.S. Religious Organizations, March 8, 2000
March 8, 2000

Dear Representative:

We are writing as religious leaders in the United States to urge you to oppose the two-year $1.3 billion military aid package for the "Push into Southern Colombia" proposed by President Clinton on January 11. This aid targeting the coca growing regions of southern Colombia will escalate the violence and undercut efforts for a negotiated peace settlement to Colombia's 40-year civil war. We urge you instead to support much-needed assistance for peace, human rights, justice reform, alternative development, and humanitarian assistance to Colombia's internally displaced.

Colombia is currently the third largest recipient of U.S. military assistance. Yet reports from the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State, independent human rights organizations, and Colombian judicial authorities point to continuing ties between the Colombian security forces and brutal paramilitary groups responsible for massacres, assassinations of community leaders and human rights defenders, and over 70% of Colombia's human rights abuses. A report released by Human Rights Watch this month links half of Colombia's 18 brigade-level army units to paramilitary activity.

Colombia's internal conflict has produced 1.6 million internally displaced persons, more than in Kosovo or East Timor, and an increasing number of refugees fleeing to Panama and Venezuela. It is our fear the proposed aid package will draw the U.S. deeper into Colombia's civil war, intensify the conflict, and make the U.S. complicit in violations of human rights. Even more disturbing, the proposed aid package includes plans for intensive aerial fumigation that will displace 10,000 more people from southern Colombia, forcing them off of their lands and deeper into the fragile rainforests, causing great human suffering and incalculable environment damage.

Aerial fumigation of coca cultivation in Colombia has failed to reduce coca production in Colombia or consumption in the United States. Between 1992 and 1998 the area under coca cultivation has increased from 40,000 to 100,000 hectares despite huge increases in U.S. assistance for weapons, training, and intelligence. This proposed aid package will only expand a failed war on drugs by increasing military force, while failing to address the complex political, economic, and social inequalities at the root of Colombia's internal conflict.

On October 24, 1999, more than 10 million Colombians marched for peace. Talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest guerrilla force, have resumed. Progress is being made toward opening negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second largest guerrilla group. We ask you to honestly assess the possible negative effects on U.S. military aid on those peace efforts. It is our judgment that such aid will undermine them. We urge you to vote against increased U.S. military involvement in Colombia and instead for large scale U.S. support for:

  • A negotiated peace process in Colombia with the active participation of civil society;
  • Reform of Colombia's judicial system to overcome impunity - including the civilian prosecution of all military personnel implicated in human rights abuses;
  • Programs for the protection of human fights defenders who have been targeted by paramilitary groups;
  • Alternative agricultural and marketing development programs for coca and poppy producers;
  • Increased humanitarian and development assistance to the internally displaced;
  • Drug treatment and prevention programs to reduce the demand for drugs in the U.S.

We hope that you will vote for measures that will help build a just peace in Colombia and reduce the consumption of drugs in the United States.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Edgar, General Secretary National Council of the Churches of Christ in the US.A.

Rodney I. Page, Executive Director Church World Service

Cary Jossart, Legislative Associate Church of the Brethren Washington Office

Mark B. Brown, Asst. Director for International Affairs and Human Rights Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

John Lindsay-Poland, Director Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and Caribbean

Joseph Nangle OFM, Director Franciscan Mission Service

Joseph F. Sullivan Franciscan Washington Office for Latin America

Edward (Ned) W. Stowe, Legislative Secretary Friends Committee on National Legislation

Sister Alice Zachmann, SSND, Director Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Debra Preusch, Executive Director Interhemispheric Resource Center

Kathryn Wolford, President Lutheran World Relief

Marie Dennis, Director Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Linda Shelly, Director Latin America and the Caribbean Mennonite Central Committee

Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director Presbyterian Washington Office Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Marie Clarke, Co-Director Quest for Peace / Quixote Center

Jay Lintner, Director Washington Office Office for Church in Society United Church of Christ

Raquel Rodriguez, Program Associate Latin American and Caribbean Office Global Ministries United Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ

David A. Vargas, Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean Global Ministries United Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ

Thom White Wolf Fassett, General Secretary United Methodist Church, General Board of Church amid Society

Steven Bennet, Executive Director Witness for Peace

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