Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Compass for Colombia Policy

Download:(PDF, 3.78 MB) A Compass for Colombia Policy

(PDF, 3.95 MB) Un nuevo rumbo para la política estadounidense hacia Colombia

October 22, 2008

New Report Outlines a Just and Effective Foreign Policy toward Colombia

(English PDF, 3.78 MB) | (PDF en español, 3.95 MB).

During their final presidential debate, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy toward Colombia, an important partner in Latin America. Yet the next U.S. president won’t just be debating policy, he will be making it—and in the case of Colombia, he will need more than minor changes along the margins. He will need a new approach.

The Compass for Colombia Policy, written by some of Washington’s top Colombia experts, offers a better way forward for one of the main foreign policy challenges that the next administration will face. This report makes a detailed, persuasive case for a new U.S. strategy that would achieve our current policy goals while ending impunity and strengthening respect for human rights. Instead of risking all by placing too much faith in a single, charismatic leader, the United States must appeal to the aspirations and needs of all Colombians by strengthening democratic institutions, such as the judiciary. In particular, the United States must stand by and empower the human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, union leaders, journalists and others who are the driving forces towards a more just and peaceful Colombia.

The Compass details seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.

1. Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

2. Actively Support Overtures for Peace

The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

3. Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.

4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.

5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.

6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement. The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region. The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities. Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers. Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

“The next administration should use diplomatic pressure to hold Colombia to much higher standards on human rights, labor rights, and protection of the rule of law.”–Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

“The United States must recognize the magnitude of the human rights crisis for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lands and livelihoods to violence. –Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America

“Nine years after the launch of Plan Colombia, the production of cocaine remains virtually unchanged. The United States simply cannot afford to continue to pursue this costly and failed counternarcotics policy. The next President must change course.” –Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

“In the last decade, Colombia’s conflict has taken 20,000 more lives and displaced more than 2 million citizens. Now is the time to make renewed efforts for peace.” –Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia

For more information:
Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, (202) 546-7010; lisah [at]
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez [at]
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson [at]
Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly [at]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bolivia's Crisis

Protests and demonstrations in Bolivia grew increasingly violent this week. Opponents of President Evo Morales in the resource-rich eastern provinces are pressing harder with autonomy demands after a recent recall referendum ratified both Morales and regional governors who oppose him. The latest protests have resulted in numerous casualties and significant property damage.

President Morales’ reaction has included lashing out against the United States, including Tuesday’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, who had met with one of the opposition governors several days earlier. Venezuela followed suit by expelling its U.S. ambassador, and the U.S. government responded by sending home both countries’ ambassadors to Washington.

The week ended with dramatically worsened relations between Bolivia and the United States and increasing speculation about the possibility – still remote – that Bolivia’s political violence could come to resemble civil war.

Links for More Information:

Analysis of the Protests

Information on Casualties and Damages

Regional Responses to the Protests:

The European Union’s Response:

The Bolivian Response:

The Venezuelan Response:

The United States’ Response:

Potential Resolution or Dialogues:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Foreign Military Sales in 2007

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Program, we now have data about weapons and equipment that the U.S. government sold to the rest of the world through the Foreign Military Sales program in 2007.

Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is one of two programs through which military equipment is sold from the United States to the rest of the world. FMS is the means through which the U.S. government sells items directly to other governments. U.S. corporations can sell directly to other governments as well; those sales are licensed by another program, Direct Commercial Sales (DCS).

A total of $348,056,000 in military equipment was sold to Latin America and the Caribbean through FMS in 2007. Another $846,274,296 were licensed that year through DCS, but the U.S. government does not track how many of those licenses end up being fulfilled and resulting in actual equipment deliveries.

The FMS figure maintains levels reached in 2005 and 2006, when Chile took delivery on high-tech F-16 fighter planes. Purchases from Colombia are the reason why the regional total remains high. Colombia bought $231,384,000 worth of military equipment through FMS in 2007, almost exactly two-thirds of the regional total.

Here is how FMS deliveries have evolved in the region between 1996 and 2007.

And here is how all arms sales, from FMS and DCS combined, have behaved during that time period. Keep in mind that a significant portion of the DCS licenses have not ended up as actual deliveries of equipment.

Finally, here are the top 10 types of items sold to the region through FMS in 2007:

1. Helicopter, UH-60: $148,712,000
2. Aircraft Spare Parts: $42,372,000
3. Aircraft Cargo C-130 Series: $29,805,000
4. Repair and Rehabilitation: $20,225,000
5. Other Weapons and Ordnance Equipment: $14,753,000
6. Other Services: $12,332,000
7. Logistics Management Exp: $8,070,000
8. Training: $6,992,000
9. Supply Operations: $5,522,000

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The military's growing foreign aid role: a bibliography

Over the past few years, Congress has acceded to several Defense Department requests to use its own budget to provide military assistance, something that it was not legally able to do on its own after 1961, when the Foreign Assistance Act became law.

The result has been a profusion of Pentagon-budget programs that provide military aid very similar to what is already provided through the foreign aid budget. The difference is that these new Defense Department programs have less (or sometimes no) involvement from the State Department; little or no oversight from the congressional foreign relations and foreign-aid committees; fewer legal restrictions on their use, including human rights restrictions; and greater obstacles to obtaining information about their use, due to lighter public reporting requirements.

Examples of such Defense Department programs on the "Just the Facts" website include "Section 1004" Counter-Drug Assistance (begun in 1991, the second-largest source of military and police aid to the region this year), the Regional Defense Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program (begun in 2003, the fourth-largest trainer of personnel from the region), and the "Section 1206" Train and Equip Authority (begun in 2006, the fourth-largest source of aid this year). (See a full list.)

The Defense Department has made clear its desire to increase these programs' scope and to make them permanent. The result in the past two years has been an increasing debate about the Pentagon's greater role in foreign assistance, and about the military's growing foreign policy role in general.

Here is a bibliography of links to some of the key documents in what is still a very new debate.


  • July 31, 2008: Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "Defining the Military's Role Towards Foreign Policy"

    • Rough hearing transcript (voice-recognition, from CSPAN)
    • Audio [MP3] and Video [streaming]
    • [PDF] Statement of Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware)
    • [PDF] Statement of Committee Ranking Minority Member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana)
    • [PDF] Testimony of Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte
    • [PDF] Testimony of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman
    • [PDF] Testimony of George Rupp, CEO and President,
      International Rescue Committee
    • [PDF] Testimony of Reuben E. Brigety II,
      Director of the Sustainable Security
      Program, Center for American Progress
    • [PDF] Testimony of Mary Locke,
      Former Senior Professional Staff,
      Committee on Foreign Relations
    • [PDF] Testimony of Robert M. Perito,
      Senior Program Officer,
      Center for Post-Conflict Peace
      and Stability Operations,
      United States Institute of Peace
  • April 15, 2008: House Armed Services Committee hearing on "Building Partnership Capacity and Development of the Interagency Process"

    • Audio [MP3] Part 1, Part 2
    • Statement of Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri)
    • [PDF] Testimony of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
    • [PDF] Testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates

Defense Department:

State Department:

Other U.S. Government:

Non-Governmental Organizations and Think-Tanks:


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nicaragua's SAM-7 missiles

Since the end of the Contra war in 1990, the United States has regularly prodded Nicaragua to destroy a large trove of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that the Sandinista government received from the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Nicaragua is still believed to possess as many as 1,000 SAM-7s (probably less). Since the missiles can be used just as easily against commercial jets as against military targets, U.S. administrations have been concerned about the possibility that they could end up in the hands of terrorists. This concern grew after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Nicaraguan governments have responded to U.S. pressure over the years by destroying about half of the 2,000 Soviet weapons. The government of Sandinista-Party President Daniel Ortega, elected in late 2006, has been far less willing to go along, however.

When it first assumed office, the new government argued that the missiles were necessary to deter neighboring Honduras, which has been slowly upgrading its aging fleet of U.S.-supplied F-5 fighter planes. Since March 2008, though, President Ortega has chosen a new hypothetical enemy to deter: Colombia.

It was in that month that Ortega joined Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in angrily rejecting the Colombian raid on Ecuadorian soil that killed Raúl Reyes, a top leader of Colombia's FARC guerrillas. Relations between Nicaragua and Colombia had already been poor; in December the World Court ended a long-running dispute about sovereignty over the Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia by finding in Colombia's favor. In the months after the Ecuador raid, Ortega has angered Colombia's government further by speaking fondly of the FARC and granting asylum to FARC members who were injured in the attack.

Here are translated excerpts from an article posted yesterday to a Sandinista party website. They show that the SAM-7 issue has now become entangled with Nicaragua's worsening relations with Colombia. They also show, however, that the Nicaraguan government remains willing to bargain with the United States to get a better deal in exchange for the missiles' destruction.

Nicaragua will keep SAM-7s

Nicaragua will keep the SAM-7 missiles in its military defense system, due to the reiterated threats from Colombia's government, which is maintaining its warships on the 82nd parallel even though that is not the maritime border between both countries, according to the findings of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

President Daniel Ortega indicated that the counter-proposal to exchange the missiles sent by the U.S. government was shameful. …

The comandante mentioned the counter-proposal sent by the U.S. government in exchange for the destruction of the SAM-7 missiles, which he considered "shameful."

Nicaragua requested, in exhange for the destruction of these apparatuses, US$32 million in medical equipment to be installed in public hospitals to benefit the population.

"Our proposal is 32 million dollars in medical equipment, because we consider it to be fundamental to improve conditions in the hospitals. They have improved, we have managed to advance in that sense, but it is still not enough because the demand is increasing," he said.

"We consider the counter-proposal that they made to be shameful: They offered us 5 million dollars in medical equipment, when they are spending billions of dollars on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they are spending billions of dollars on the famous Plan Colombia," he criticized.

He recalled that during the presentation of the U.S. counter-proposal, relations between Nicaragua and the Colombian government became tenser.

"Here we have no other choice but to keep the missiles, because it is the only defensive weapon we have, and we must hope that we finally come to find an attitude on Colombia's part that respects what the International Court of Justice decided," he assured.

"When Colombia respects what the Court resolved, there will be [appropriate] conditions. When Colombia is no longer a threat to Nicaragua, we will once again take up this negotiation with the U.S. government," he explained.

He revealed that a recent poll carried out by the "Government of Citizen Power" reveals that 77 percent of the population agrees with Nicaragua's position with respect to the defense of sovereignty.

He indicated that a small minority exists that disagrees, and that they even do propaganda work for the Colombian government through the media. …

He rejected the Colombian president's proposal that Nicaragua, upon granting asylum to the young Colombian women who are now in our country, should first demand that they reject their principles and ideals.

Ortega said that this proposal was like blackmail. "I believe that the President of Colombia does not believe in Christian precepts, he only believes in the doctrine of hatred and confrontation. Can you believe that he asks us to condition asylum on the renunciation of principles, this is called blackmail, this doesn't reflect well on President Uribe to be using the language of blackmailers, we cannot understand why he would be competing with his minister of defense [the outspoken Juan Manuel Santos] to see who is the biggest killer," Daniel said, suggesting that the Colombian government work seriously for peace.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One year of news

A year ago today - August 19, 2007 - we took the first step in the top-to-bottom overhaul of the Just the Facts website. The domain came to life with a prototype of what is now the News Links page, with links to relevant media coverage organized by date, country and topic.

At the same time, we posted a rather complicated-looking form allowing visitors to search our database of saved news links. This was the first time in the then 9-year history of the "Just the Facts" site that anything in our database was publicly searchable.

On that August 19, 2007, we entered our first news links into our brand-new database. That day's links are here - no idea how many of them still work.

We have since entered a remarkable 12,194 articles, transcripts, reports, speeches and other relevant outside coverage into the database. And it is all searchable by using this form. It's still pretty complicated-looking, but there is a lot of information behind it.

Select a country or countries:

Select below, or enter the countries - or just their 2-letter domain codes - separated by commas:

  • Entire regions:

  • Other territories:
Date of article (yyyymmdd):
Start from earliest possible date (August 19, 2007)
Language (English, Spanish, or just shorthand like eng or sp):
Article Title Includes This Text:
Author's Name Includes This Text:
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Wire Service Includes This Text:
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