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] lawg.org
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez [at] wola.org
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson [at] ciponline.org
Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly [at] usofficeoncolombia.org

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Russia strengthens ties with Latin America

Over the past month, the U.S. and regional press has been paying closer attention to Russia's relations with such Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and even Colombia.

In September, Russian Vice-Prime Minister Igor Sechin traveled to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to meet with his counterparts in each country to discuss the potential increase in economic, military, and political cooperation between each country and Russia. In September, two Russian T-160 strategic bombers visited Venezuela for a joint military exercise and a Russian navy squadron is currently en route to the Caribbean for joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy. Russia also has begun preliminary discussions with Cuba to help the country develop its own space center, has announced it will replace the Nicaraguan army's aging weaponry, and has started talks with Venezuela about developing a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Bolivian President Evo Morales recently announced that he will seek Russia's aid for the country's counternarcotics program, and Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos even traveled to Russia to discuss defense and counternarcotics cooperation.

Below are links to media coverage from the past month about Russia's renewed interest in Latin America. With the exception of the Venezuelan-Russian military exercise, U.S. officials have sought to downplay this interest in their public statements. It is apparent, however, that the U.S. government is watching these developments closely.

Analysis:

The Guardian: The cold war comes to the Caribbean

Front Page Magazine: Chávez's dangerous liaisons

Semana (Colombia): Calentando la guerra fria: Heating up the cold war

New Statesman: Cuban missile crisis II?

Venezuela:

El Universal (Venezuela): Presidente Dmitri Medvedev visitará Venezuela en noviembre: President Dimitri Medvedev will visit Venezuela in November

AP: Russia: Arms sales to Venezuela are defensive

AFP: Cooperación nuclear entre Moscu y Caracas desata la pol?©mica: Nuclear cooperation between Moscow and Caracas unleashes controversy

AP: Venezuela to build nuclear technology with Russia

New York Times: Russia loans Venezuela $1 billion for military

Reuters: Putin offers nuclear energy help to Chávez

BBC: Russia and Venezuela boost ties

AP: Putin, Chávez discuss ways to constrain U.S. power

EFE: Hablan Chávez y Medvedev de cooperación economía y militar: Chávez and Medvedev discuss economic and military cooperation

AP: Crece alianza Venezuela-Rusia: Venezuelan-Russian alliance grows

New York Times: Russia and Venezuela confirm joint military exercises

Nicaragua:

AP: Russia to modernize Nicaraguan military's arsenal

El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua): Condoleezza despectiva con Ortega: Condoleezza derogatory toward Ortega

El Nuevo Diario: Viceprimer ministro de Rusia visitará este miercoles Nicaragua: Russian Vice-Prime Minister to visit Nicaragua on Wednesday

Cuba:

Reuters: Russia to help Cuba build space center

Bolivia:

AP: Ambassador: Russia looking to boost Bolivia ties

BBC Mundo: Bolivia y Rusia, nuevos aliados: Bolivia and Russia, new allies

La Prensa (Panama): Bolivia busca apoyo de Rusia: Bolivia looks for Russian support

Colombia:

El Espectador (Colombia):Moscu propone a Colombia combatir el creciente trafico de cocaína: Moscow makes a proposal to Colombia to combat the rise in narcotrafficking

El Tiempo (Colombia): Fortalecer cooperacion de seguridad, objetivo de viaje del Ministro de Defensa a Rusia: Strengthening security cooperation, objective of the Defense Minister's trip to Russia

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A third term for President Uribe? The debate continues.

On October 16th of last year, Adam Isacson wrote a piece on the blog Plan Colombia and Beyond about the potential of a third term for Uribe. At the time, the "Party of the 'U'" had promised to collect the 1.3 million signatures necessary for a petition to amend Colombia's constitution to allow Uribe to run for again in 2010. In this post, Adam outlined how Uribe running for a third term could actually make the work of CIP, which is often critical of Uribe's policies, far easier.

Now, almost one year later, the debate continues, the "U" Party has successfully collected 5 million signatures in support of a constitutional amendment and Uribe's approval ratings have soared over 90% in the wake of recent successes against the FARC (today, an article in El Tiempo noted that Uribe's approval rating has recently dropped to 78%, due to rising inflation and perhaps discomfort with Uribe's face-off last week with the Supreme Court).

While Uribe has been tight-lipped on the re-election subject, many stories and op-eds have surfaced in the press offering their thoughts on the implications of a third term for Uribe and for Colombia. In line with Adam's blog post from almost a year ago, the common opinion, especially among the international press, is that Uribe will be doing Colombia a disfavor if he runs for a third term.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian published articles last week that touched on the reelection debate and gave reasons why Uribe should not seek a third term.

The Guardian op-ed relates a third term of President Uribe to other "doomed third-term experiments in the region - Peru's Alberto Fujimori and Argentina's Carlos Menem spring to mind." The LA Times editorial meanwhile states that changing the constitution for a second time (it was already amended once to allow Uribe to run in 2006) would "cast doubt on the president's commitment to democracy, sliding him into the same unsavory category as Hugo Chavez, who makes no secret of longing to be Venezuela's president in perpetuity." And, according to the New York Times editorial, "Colombia’s neighborhood has too many authoritarian-minded leaders. . . . The region needs democracy, underpinned by strong institutions. It does not need more strongmen — however popular they may be or indispensable they may consider themselves."

The opinion that the reelection of Uribe to a third term will undermine the democratic process was reiterated today, in a column published on the website of Colombia's Semana magazine. Mateo Samper writes that "A democratic country stops being democratic when its leader maintains power indefinitely, whether they are good or bad."

Samper adds that an Uribe re-election effort would have grave effects on Colombia's relations with the United States.

Re-election would give the necessary arguments to Uribe's critics, to say that their fears are justified. That Uribe's message is authoritarian and that his government neither respects nor protects the political minorities that the AFL-CIO labor federation likes so much, is a notion that will be much easier for them to sell."

Not only is an attempt to run for a third term deemed a threat to the democratic process, but the Uribe government's track record is questioned, despite its recent successes against the FARC guerrillas. The LA Times piece continues:

Progress against leftist rebels should not be the sole measure of Uribe's tenure. Also crucial is his ability to strengthen the governing institutions on which Colombia's struggling democracy depends. For all its improvement, the country is still rife with corruption and violence, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is not the only culprit; almost a third of the Congress, including members allied with the president, is either in jail or under investigation for links to right-wing death squads and/or narco-traffickers. Uribe's proposal to strip the Supreme Court of its power to investigate Congress only exacerbates the sense that he and his supporters intend to subvert the democratic process.

The future of democracy in Colombia seems to be the key rallying point behind the calls for Uribe not to run for a third term. However, until Uribe makes his decision to run (or not to run) public, this is all just speculation. A year after the debate began, we are still waiting to hear from the president himself.

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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

If H.H. Goes...

In May, fifteen Colombian paramilitary leaders were extradited to the United States and charged for narco-trafficking, removing them from the Justice and Peace process in Colombia and making it very difficult for them to give testimony anytime soon about the atrocities they committed.

At the time of the extraditions, human rights advocates in Colombia and in the United States urged the U.S. government to work closely with the Colombian government, in an effort to not only hold them accountable for their drug trafficking crimes in the United States, but to also create legal incentives for them to continue the process of disclosing information about the atrocities and links to government officials - a process that had just begun prior to the extraditions (and some claim were the reasons for the extraditions...that the government was concerned that too much information would be revealed about links with the paramilitaries).

Almost three months have passed since the extraditions, and even Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has expressed concern that the extradited paramilitaries will not have to carry out a sentence long enough to punish them for their crimes. On Friday, at a regional anti-drug summit in Colombia, President Uribe said: "We are concerned negotiations with drug traffickers means they are given sentences that are practically indulgent, they become a mockery."

Uribe's statement has created an onslaught of op-eds and articles in the international media expressing outrage that the extradited paramilitaries could potentially only face "months" in jail in return for intimate details about the drug trade. One op-ed in Colombia's El Tiempo by Daniel Samper Pizano stated:

The Colombian government fears that the extradited paramilitaries in the United States will negotiate sentences with the U.S. judges ... that would condemn them to less jail time than the Justice and Peace Law's sentences, which are already rather benevolent. The brief lockup of four to eight years that the authors of massacres would be subjected to in Colombia could turn into a few months in the United States. In exchange for what? That the 'narco-para' will reveal the intimacies of the drug trade to the judge....

The gringo judges consider combating domestic drug consumption more important that punishing the massacres that occur in distant places. As a result, paradoxically, for the 'narco-paras' the secrets they know as narcos could redeem them from the atrocious crimes they committed as 'paras'.

The United States has responded to these claims, saying that there has been a misunderstanding in regard to the length of the sentences the paramilitaries will face in U.S. jails. While U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield said that one of the extradited paramilitaries has received a 30 year sentence, he did not mention the length of the lowest sentence that has been awarded. And in response to President Uribe's request that the sentences not be shorter than the minimum of that which they would have been subjected to under the Justice and Peace process, Brownfield noted that "the (U.S.) Executive can not agree to minimum sentences" and suggested that current extradition requests be suspended until the two governments can come to some sort of an agreement.

That could push back the impending extradition of former paramilitary leader Hébert Veloza García, alias 'HH,' which would at least give the Colombian Justice and Peace process more time to extract important information regarding his crimes as a paramilitary leader (see Adam Isacson's recent blog post on 'HH'). However, it does not do anything to quell the concern about the length of the sentences the 15 paramilitary leaders - who have already been extradited - will receive. It also adds more confirmation to the fear that the United States is not concerned about bringing to justice the thousands of crimes that were committed by these people when they were in Colombia.

Below is a translation (thanks to intern Stephanie DiBello) of one of the recent op-eds in El Espectador, by former Colombian senator, opposition politician and regular columnist Rafael Orduz, expressing concern about the sentences the paramilitaries will receive in the United States.

If "H.H." goes...
By Rafael Orduz

Mr. H.H. killed more people than Al Qaeda on September 11th in New York, Washington, and Pittsburgh combined. Only in this case we are talking about Urabá, Valle, and Cauca.

He will be extradited in response to charges of narcotrafficking in the context of a worthless anti-narcotics policy "Made in USA" that, ten years after "now we are going to fumigate for real", has Colombia providing more than 60% of the cocaine consumed in the world, according to data consistent in all sources, whether from the United Nations or the U.S. government. Narcotrafficking continues to be rampant, with third generation leaders, more informed and, if you will, more capillary, which is to say more decentralized. The innovation lies, perhaps, in the transport and distribution processes, in which druglords from Mexico and Venezuela participate as opportunists in the business.

If H.H. goes, the pain of tens of thousands of relatives of the murdered will stay. The truth of knowing where the remains of their loved ones are located will not be bestowed upon them. There will not be justice and, of course, no reparation. They will not even have the opportunity to cope with their rage, an inevitable feeling that can either be destructive or, as happened with the Andoque, contribute to peace. How will this anger be managed?

Decades ago the Andoque, inhabitants of the jungle, were victims of a brutal massacre by the danta men (In today's language that would translate to "mountain men"). At the end of the 19th century the search for rubber and the quina tree brought the beginnings of the colonization of Caquetá. In 1890 the company Arana y Vega Limitada had forcibly recruited 12,000 indigenous people, almost double the workforce of Ecopetrol. They changed the way of life of the Andoque, from harvesters to slaves. Cremations, mutilations, castrations, rapes, destruction of their habitat and customs, the murdering of 40,000 indigenous people; it wasn't until the 1930s that the Andoque somewhat successfully defended themselves with rudimentary arms.

The Andoque "decided that before signing for peace, they had to vomit their rage. How does one vomit their rage?...The Andoque know that to pacify their anger is to arrive at peace. The Andoque acknowledge today, approximately a century later, a place in the jungle called Matanzas (Massacres) where 12,000 of them were exterminated ... by the boas and the danta men. They come to this place beneath the call of drums to recall as a society, to heal their pain, to remember the dead and to carry on with life". "To cry/To sob/To whine/To sigh/Sing and sing/To return to trace their steps" (Source: Esther Sánchez B., Resiliencia y cultura, principios y procedimientos de los indígenas Andoque de Colombia para vivir y crecer después del horror de la muerte).

If H.H. and those like him are extradited, without revealing the location of the mass graves, their sponsors and collaborators, for many there will not be truth, justice, reparation, or a space to propel their anger in any direction other than hatred.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Colombia in the "coalition"?

Afghan police training last year in Colombia. (From El Tiempo.)

Colombia's Defense Ministry has acknowledged that it is considering a request from the government of Spain to send a contingent of troops to Afghanistan. This possibility was first raised in Thursday's edition of Spain's El País newspaper, excerpted below.

If Bogotá says "yes," Colombia's would become the first Latin American military to accompany NATO forces in Afghanistan. El Salvador has maintained a small military contingent in Iraq since shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The Salvadoran military has most likely received U.S. assistance from Defense-budget accounts created to aid members of the U.S.-led "coalitions" in Iraq and Afghanistan. (We have not seen a dollar amount for such aid to El Salvador, though it is likely part of the $123.3 million that the Government Accountability Office lists, on page 11 of this report [PDF], as having been given to "other nations" operating in Iraq between March 2003 and March 2007. Until we find out how much El Salvador has received, any Iraq-related funding is not reflected in El Salvador's "Just the Facts" entry.)

If it sends a contingent to Afghanistan, would Colombia's military then qualify for some of the Defense-budget "Coalition Support" or "Lift and Sustain" funds (described in this Defense Department budget-request annex [PDF]) that have generally gone to countries like Pakistan, Jordan, Poland, and others participating in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions? Yes, it probably would. Would such funds offset recent reductions in military and police assistance to Colombia? Probably not, but the possibility cannot be dismissed.

From Thursday's El País:

Sources with knowledge of the conversations have confirmed to El País that Colombia, Spain and NATO have been in three-way negotiations for months about the incorporation of Colombian troops. While the details have still not been completed, the idea is that Bogotá would contribute a company of some 100 troops to the Spanish detachment in Qal-i-Naw, capital of the province of Badghis, in the northwest of the country.

For Spain, the arrival of the Colombian troops, foreseen for next spring, would be an unrepayable contribution, since it would allow the completion of a reduced rapid-reaction battalion with which to confront ever more-frequent incidents in a territory with 400,000 inhabitants and an area similar to that of Galicia, whose security so far depends on 200 Spanish military personnel.

For NATO, the Spanish mediation facilitates things, since Spain would provide the Colombian troops with training, infrastructure and even equipment. ...

The most interested in the operation is Colombia. Participation in the Afghanistan conflict would reinforce its role as the privileged interlocutor of the United States and its allies in Latin America. For one thing, it would participate in NATO's periodic meetings with the countries that contribute to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) but do not belong to the organization (14 of 40).

In the medium term, Colombia's aspiration is to incorporate itself into the group formed by Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, countries that, for geographic reasons, cannot aspire to join NATO but who share, according to the alliance itself, its "strategic concerns and values." With the exception of Japan, whose legislation limits its participation in foreign military missions, the other three "contact countries," as NATO calls them, have troops in Afghanistan or have been invited to send them. ...

The issue was raised last July 5 by the Defense Minister [of Spain], Carme Chacón, with her Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, whom she received in Madrid. For their part, Colombian military personnel have already visited two Spanish bases in Afghanistan: Herat and Qal-i-Naw.

In addition, in what constitutes a first step, Afghan police have received anti-narcotics training in Colombia. It is not insignificant that the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, William B. Wood, served before in Bogotá.

From the website of Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper later Thursday:

The Iberian nation's Defense Ministry indicated that the security-force members' arrival is an issue in the Colombian government's hands, and that it would take effect in 2009.

"It is under study, it is not confirmed. Details remain" with regard to "what shape the integration would take, and in what contingent," a source in the Spanish Defense Ministry told Agénce France Presse. ...

High-ranking sources in the Colombian Defense Ministry, however, assured that the scenario of Colombian soldiers in combat in Afghanistan is improbable, and that instead they have thought of sending members of the Engineers' Battalion and units specialized in de-mining. ...

The police has already trained anti-narcotics commandos from that country [Afghanistan] at the base in Pijaos, in Espinal (Tolima). The Colombian delegation in Afghanistan is headed by Gen. Gustavo Matamoros Camacho, the army's chief of commando operations.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The feud continues between Venezuelan President Chávez and Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos

The feud between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos continues after Santos returned from a five day visit to Washington. On Sunday, Chávez took time on his program "Alo, presidente" to criticize the Colombian government, taking a stab at Juan Manuel Santos, who, according to President Chávez, is "a dangerous threat to peace" in Latin America.

As can be seen in this, this and this article, the back and forth between Chávez and Santos has been going on for years, most spectacularly in October 2007, during an earlier Santos trip to Washington. At an event at the Inter-American Dialogue, during a time when President Alvaro Uribe had authorized Chávez to facilitate hostage exchange talks with the FARC guerrillas, Santos had said that the Colombian government had asked Chávez to stop trying to use his role to score propaganda points.

Since then, Chávez has called Santos a "warmonger" and has elicited Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's urging that Colombian officials be prudent in their remarks about Venezuela, according to the Associated Press.

This time Santos visited Washington, he was careful not to mention the "C-word," as he called it at an event at the Center for American Progress. According to the Washington Times, when asked about Chávez, Santos said "Every time I mention [Mr. Chávez's] name here, there's a scandal."

However, President Chávez still took the opportunity to slam Santos after the recent Washington trip. The following quotes are translated excerpts from an EFE article (printed in La Prensa (Panama)) titled "Chávez implicitly suggests that [Colombia] dismiss its minister":

Santos is "totally subordinated to Washington and this is very dangerous for the peace of this continent, very dangerous, and (nevertheless) he wants to be the president of Colombia; you can see the ambition for power in his eyes."

"The Colombian Minister of Defense is a man who says that we are enemies of Colombia. Recently, he was in Washington and he spent five days there (because) he wants to be the president of Colombia and he is the owner of newspapers, he is the oligarchy from the extreme right."

[Santos'] "total subordination to Washington . . . does harm to Colombia, does harm to South America, does harm to Latin America."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Senate committee approves the 2009 foreign aid bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee finished work last Thursday on its version of the 2009 State / Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the U.S. government budget legislation that supplies most U.S. aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Excerpts from the Senate's bill are here.
  • Excerpts from the Appropriations Committee's non-binding narrative report are here.
  • The Bush Administration's 2009 foreign aid budget request, issued in February, is here.

The House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee has also finished its version of the bill; that language is not available yet, though a brief summary press release is here [PDF].

Don't expect this bill to become law anytime soon. The U.S. Congress is only in session for six more weeks between now and the November elections. The Democratic majorities that control both houses are unlikely to hurry and send a bill for a Republican president's signature when they stand at least a 50-50 chance of being able to send a much different bill to a Democratic president in January. Still, this bill is a useful measure of the Senate's view of how foreign assistance programs should evolve.

The bill does not recommend specific aid levels for most countries. In the case of Colombia, however, there are enough recommendations to draw a pretty accurate picture of how the Senate appropriators would assign aid. As the table below indicates, aid to Colombia would remain similar to 2008, which involved a significant cut in military aid and increase in economic aid over 2007 levels. The Bush administration's 2009 aid request sought to undo those 2008 changes; the Senate bill refuses to do so.

Military and Police Assistance
Aid Program
2007
2008 estimate
2009, administration request
2009, Senate Appropriations
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement 386,869,000 247,097,704 329,557,000 241,800,000
Foreign Military Financing 85,500,000 55,050,000 66,390,000 53,000,000
NADR - Anti-Terrorism Assistance 3,395,000 3,288,000 2,750,000 2,750,000
International Military Education and Training 1,646,000 1,428,000 1,400,000 1,400,000
NADR - Humanitarian Demining 691,000
NADR - Small Arms and Light Weapons 427,000
TOTAL 478,101,000 307,290,704 400,097,000 298,950,000
 
Economic and Social Assistance
Aid Program
2007
2008 estimate
2009, administration request
2009, Senate Appropriations
Economic Support Fund 194,412,000 142,366,000 199,000,000
International Narcotics Control Economic Aid 139,166,000 39,427,296 45,000,000
Transition Initiatives 1,699,970 2,000,000
TOTAL 140,865,970 235,839,296 142,366,000 244,000,000
 
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Total 618,966,970 543,130,000 542,463,000 542,950,000
Military-Police Aid
Economic-Social Aid
Other military-police appropriations (est) 126,638,053 126,374,053 126,347,053 126,347,053
Other economic-social appropriations (est) 4,858,000 0 0 0
Total aid to Colombia 750,463,023 669,504,053 668,810,053 669,297,053

(Recall that the Foreign Operations funding bill provides most, but not all, aid to Colombia. Visit the Colombia aid page for the full picture.)

The bill also repeats conditions on the Colombia aid regarding impunity for human rights violations, and the environmental and health impacts of aerial herbicide fumigation.

The Senate bill meanwhile slices deeply into the Bush administration's $500 million request for counter-narcotics aid to Mexico under the "Mérida Initiative," granting $300 million instead. The committee's report recalls that Mexico got $400 million through the special Iraq-Afghanistan war appropriation passed last month, and that this aid will only begin to get spent when the 2009 budget year begins.

Here are some excerpts from the committee's narrative report. (Click to continue)

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