Last Updated:11/9/01
Statement of U.S. non-governmental organizations on President Andrés Pastrana's visit to the United States, November 9, 2001

November 9, 2001

The undersigned organizations welcome the president of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana, on his visit to Washington and New York from November 7 to 11.

This visit, which includes meetings with members of Congress and President Bush, is one of the last for Pastrana, whose term ends next August. But it is certain to be one of his most important. Two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. policy toward Colombia is in transition. This visit offers an opportunity to take stock and lay the groundwork for U.S.-Colombian relations in a post-September 11, post-Pastrana period.

  • At this key moment, we are concerned by the possibility that the global “war on terrorism” may include U.S. support for military operations against Colombia’s armed groups. While Colombia hosts three groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, we note that the FARC and ELN guerrillas and the AUC paramilitary group resemble armies more than shadowy terrorist cells. Combating them in the name of counter-terrorism would in fact require an enormous counter-insurgency effort. In a country fifty-three times larger than El Salvador, such an effort would cost many billions of dollars and carry a nightmarish human cost, dramatically escalating a conflict that killed 4,000 people in 2000. A U.S.-funded counter-insurgency campaign in Colombia was a bad idea before September 11, and it still is today.

  • We applaud President Pastrana’s persistent effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to its conflict with the FARC guerrillas. We note that the talks are making little progress at the moment: the FARC appears content to occupy its zone and continue the war, while the government appears unwilling to negotiate structural changes or commit wholeheartedly to stopping the paramilitaries. We call on both sides to heed Colombians’ pleas to negotiate a cessation of hostilities, so that future talks can take place outside a climate of violence. We call on both to invite an international third party, perhaps a United Nations representative, to mediate future talks.

  • We are gravely concerned with indications that the Colombian government’s commitment to human rights protection is wavering:
    • Two generals accused of helping the paramilitaries, by omission or commission, have been released from state custody within the last five months.
    • Several other officers who face serious accusations were recently promoted.
    • In a report last month, Human Rights Watch documented continuing close ties with paramilitaries in several of the country’s most conflictive regions, including Putumayo department, the destination of most U.S. military assistance.
    • By several accounts, the section of the Chief Prosecutor’s office charged with investigating official human rights abuses has been greatly weakened in recent months.

  • We are very concerned by continuing threats and attacks on human rights defenders, labor leaders, activists, journalists and members of Colombia’s Congress. The pace of these threats and attacks appears to be increasing this year, and perpetrators remain at large in virtually all cases.

  • We applaud President Pastrana’s recent calls for a global summit to re-evaluate global drug policy. We recognize that the United States continues to place insufficient emphasis on its own demand for illegal drugs, though most studies find treatment of addicts at home to be the most effective way to take drugs off the market. We call for stronger worldwide curbs on money-laundering, a crucial element in curbing both the drug trade and international terrorism.

  • We also recognize that after nine years, the U.S.-imposed policy of aerial herbicide fumigation has fallen far short of its objectives. It has done little more than move drug-crop cultivations from place to place, while net acreage of coca and heroin poppy continues to increase and street prices for drugs continue to fall. It has increased the misery of peasant cultivators who lack other viable economic choices. And it has produced claims of health and environmental damage that our organizations find to be credible.

  • We are concerned about the slow pace with which the economic and social component of the U.S. assistance program is being implemented. We are concerned by reports that key human rights and judicial reform programs are barely underway, and that signers of “social pacts” for alternative development in drug-producing areas are very dissatisfied with what has been done so far. Without these programs in place, we fear that drug cultivation will continue to spread across Colombia’s neglected rural areas. We urge the U.S. and Colombian governments to speed these programs’ implementation, to increase recipient communities’ participation in their design, and to dedicate more resources to these needs. We recommend that these additional resources be drawn from reductions in military assistance.

  • Finally, we applaud the U.S. Senate’s inclusion of several important provisions in its 2002 aid bill. The Senate bill includes human rights conditions on military aid to Colombia, based on Colombia’s compliance with its own laws regarding impunity and collaboration with paramilitaries. The Senate bill would also condition future fumigations on certifications that they pose no undue risk to human health and the environment, and on the existence of working alternative development programs in zones where herbicide spraying is to occur. We strongly urge the House-Senate conference committee to retain these protections when it meets to reconcile both houses’ versions of the bills.

Kevin Koenig
Oil Campaigner
Amazon Watch
Topanga, California

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Adam Isacson
Senior Associate
Center for International Policy
Washington, DC

David Alper
Chicago Colombia Committee
Chicago, Illinois

Barbara Gerlach and Cristina Espinel
Colombia Human Rights Committee
Washington, DC

Marjorie Childress
Colombia Solidarity Committee of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Maria Hope
Colombia Special Interest Group
Iowa City, Iowa

John Laun
Colombia Support Network
Madison, Wisconsin

Cathy Crumbley
Father Gerry Kelly
Colombia Vive
Boston, Massachusetts

Philip McManus
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean
Nyack, New York

Kathy Thornton, RSM
NETWORK National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Washington, DC

Grahame Russell
Rights Action
Washington, DC

School of the Americas Watch
Washington, DC

Wes Callender
Voices on the Border
Washington, DC

Gina Amatangelo
Colombia Fellow
Washington Office on Latin America
Washington, DC

Steven Bennett
Executive Director
Witness for Peace
Washington, DC

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