House Republicans have sought even closer relations with Uribe.
In mid-May, the House Appropriations Committee changed the structure
of aid to Colombia for 2007, transferring economic aid (about
$140 million) from the counter-narcotics program to “regular,”
non-drug economic aid. “It is time to move away from treating
Colombia as a narcostate,” said
Rep. Jim Kolbe, the committee’s Republican chairman.
Bush administration and the Republican legislative majority,
which dominate Washington right now, continue to seek perfect
harmony with Colombia, and we will hear them all singing together
when Uribe visits the United States next week.
there is a minority that has not lost the ability to express
doubts and ask questions. While it is politically difficult
to challenge someone who just won an election with 62 percent
of the vote, the message from the Democrats and some less-right-wing
Republicans is: Colombia has not been written a blank check.
the Democratic side, several important legislators are concerned
about the human-rights climate in Colombia, which they see as
worsening quickly. They have noted the serious trends documented
in the UN High Commissioner’s annual report
and other new accusations of military participation in abuses.
They have noted the increases in displacement,
and the wave of threats against unionists,
and human-rights defenders.
Key Democratic senators know about the murder of Jaime
Gómez and the massive use
of force against indigenous protests in Cauca three weeks
ago. They have strong doubts, to say the least, about the ongoing
process with the paramilitaries. And they are upset about scandals
like the infiltration
of the DAS, the torture
of recruits in Tolima, and the military massacre
of a police counter-drug unit in Jamundí.
Democrats are taking action. As I write this, Rep. Jim McGovern
is promoting an amendment
in the House to cut funding from fumigations. Three weeks ago,
three prominent senators – Patrick Leahy, Chris Dodd and Barack
Obama – wrote a strong letter [PDF]
to Nicholas Burns, the number-three official at the Department
of State, criticizing a blindly optimistic column
he wrote about Colombia in the Miami Herald. “There are
reasons to be seriously concerned about whether our current
policy can achieve its goals,” they warned.
week, Sen. Leahy disputed
the human-rights certification that had been issued after Uribe’s
reelection. As the Senate’s ranking Democrat in charge of foreign
aid, he took the unusual step of temporarily halting the military
aid that had just been “unfrozen.”
some Republicans are unsatisfied with the results of the drug
war under Plan Colombia. The revelation
in April that there was more coca measured in Colombia in 2005
than in 2000 – the year Plan Colombia began – dropped like a
bomb on the current policy. Important senators and representatives
from the moderate wing of Republicanism (Charles
Lugar, Jim Kolbe) have expressed unhappiness with the evident
failure of fumigations as the strategy’s principal axis. But
most Republicans remain firmly in support of glyphosate.
current panorama in Washington, then, involves on one side,
those who hold power and support Uribe almost unconditionally,
and on the other side, a minority that – while it does not oppose
such a popular president – is uncomfortable and wants to see
panorama could change significantly this November, when the
United States elects a new House and one-third of its Senate.
Uribe’s allies in Washington are awaiting this date with some
apprehension, because at the moment their popularity is at its
lowest point. Polls indicate President Bush’s approval ratings
at around 30 per cent, and there is a growing
possibility that the Democrats might win a majority in the
House, and perhaps the Senate, in November.
the Democrats win in November, the new speaker of the House
will be Nancy Pelosi, and the new chairman of the Appropriations
Committee will be David Obey; both are critics of Plan Colombia.
And Rep. McGovern, who tries every year to amend the law to
reduce military aid, would be one of the chief members of the
powerful Rules Committee. In the Senate, Patrick Leahy – who
is currently holding up military aid funds – would be the senator
who writes the basic draft of the foreign aid bill each year.
them in charge of the Congress would not mean an immediate end
to fumigations or Plan Patriota. But there would be much more
human-rights scrutiny and concern about the quality of Colombia’s
democratic institutions. There would be less emphasis on fumigation,
and more resources to strengthen governance and fight poverty,
priorities which today account for less than 20 percent of U.S.
aid to Colombia.
with a strengthened Democratic congressional bloc, though, Álvaro
Uribe would still be the closest U.S. ally in Latin America.
The Bush administration, which is in power through 2008, will
see to that. But the embrace would be less close, and criticisms
and conditions would be stronger.
course, it remains quite possible that nothing will change in
November. It is hard to bet against the Republicans, who have
won every legislative and presidential election since 2000.
If everything remains the same after November, Washington and
Bogotá will continue to sing the same tune, in perfect harmony.