Sep 30

Álvaro García Romero is a Colombian senator widely alleged to have strong ties to the paramilitaries who
dominate much of his home department of Sucre, on the Caribbean coast. Four Sucre provincial legislators tied to Sen. García were recently arrested on charges of working with paramilitaries.

Note how Thursday’s El Tiempo describes Sen. García:

García, a mysterious senator

Álvaro García is one of the most enigmatic senators in the Congress. He rarely speaks on the floor, his attendance is scarce, and he has no relations with the press.

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Sep 28

The text below is a translated transcription of a recent interview with a governor of a Kogi indigenous cabildo in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a beautiful but highly conflictive region on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There, four indigenous ethnicities, incorporating thousands of people, have been struggling to defend their way of life – which places a strong value on protection of the ecology – amid a steady onslaught from armed groups, narco-traffickers, and misguided anti-drug strategies.

This text was sent to us by a European colleague who travels often to this zone. The translation is ours.

I recall that in 2003 there was a fumigation (the government planes dumped chemical products) in the high part of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. It is there that we indigenous people – the Kogis, Arhuacos, Wiwas, and Kankuamos of the Sierra – live, where we share natural resources, fauna and flora, and animals. We live like this, because this is how our Mother Earth and our ancestral fathers ordered us to live. We have a law of origin that does not allow us to mistreat the Earth, the Sierra Nevada; it does not allow us to knock down trees, burn them; we should protect everything, because the lives of human beings depend on nature. We sustain the equilibrium of the world; this is part of our responsibility as older brothers. When the younger brothers, the "civilized" as they call themselves, mistreat the earth like this, it hurts us not just because it damages the crops, but also because it harms the lives of all types of animals, of plants. Afterward we must make a greater effort, do more work to make payments, to "pay" for all this mistreatment by our younger brothers.

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Sep 28

Dare we say it? Today’s Robert Novak column is actually worth a read:

The situation is summarized in a Sept. 19 memo by a well-informed source: ”The Colombian Army is hemorrhaging with problems. The chief problem is that we took a very mediocre barracks-bound military force, gave it some little amount of training and lots of equipment but never demanded the structural reform like we did with the Colombian National Police some 12 years ago . . . Everyone seems incapable of seeing the ‘elephant in the room’ and realizing that years of cooperation with the paramilitary forces have corrupted the Colombian Army officer corps all the way up, and the institution requires a dramatic house cleaning and structural reform . . .”

Sep 26

We’ve just posted a big and long-overdue update to our estimates of U.S. aid to every country in Latin America. To see aid broken down further, with explanations of what each program does, visit

In 2005, these were the top five overall recipients of U.S. aid in the Western Hemisphere:


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Sep 25

These pictures are undeniably shameful:

President Franklin Roosevelt with allied dictator Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, May 1939.Vice-President Richard Nixon with allied dictator Carlos Castillo Armas of Guatemala, 1955.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with allied dictator Augusto Pinochet of Chile, June 1976.President Ronald Reagan with allied de facto dictator Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez of Honduras, 1982.
Special envoy Donald Rumsfeld with allied dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq, December 1983.Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey with allied de facto dictator Vladimiro Montesinos of Peru, April 1998.


But these pictures are shameful too:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with allied dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq, August 2000.Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with allied dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, October 2005.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with allied dictator Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, July 2006.Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with allied dictator Bashar Assad of Syria, September 2006.

Take care, President Chávez, lest you become what you criticize. "You will be known by the company you keep" applies just as much to Venezuela as it does to the United States.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez with allied de facto dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, September 2006.

Sep 24

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee considered the nomination of Vice Admiral James Stavridis to be the next commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which governs the U.S. military’s activities in nearly all of Latin America and the Caribbean. (Adm. Stavridis, today’s New York Times informs us, has been a regular squash partner of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)

On Thursday, meanwhile, two House subcommittees met jointly to discuss "The Need for European Assistance to Colombia for the Fight against Illicit Drugs."

CIP Intern Mariam Khokhar attended both hearings. Here are her notes.

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Sep 22

This is a follow-up to last night’s post about the e-mail threat sent last Friday to several Colombian human-rights groups. It was the seventh such threat since May. We’d like to direct this message to the individual or individuals, claiming to be former paramilitaries, who have issued these threats.

Dear Sir(s):

In your last message to our friends in Colombia’s community of human-rights defenders, you promised to begin carrying out your threats on this date. "Starting next Friday, September 22, our men will arrive in your cities to look for you, and we know very well where to find you."

Before you do something so cruel, hateful and anti-democratic, please consider one thing. Keep in mind that support for Plan Colombia, and for President Uribe and his policies, is not strong in the United States, or in Europe for that matter.

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Sep 21

Last Friday, several Colombian human-rights groups received another e-mail threat from someone claiming to represent an organization of ex-paramilitaries. The threat, the seventh since May, is more explicit than the previous six. It reads:

… [T]he cease-fire we granted you – so that you could get lost from our territories liberated by communism – has now expired. Starting next Friday, September 22, our men will arrive in your cities to look for you, and we know very well where to find you.

It ends with "September 22, don’t forget!!!"

That is tomorrow.

Let’s hope that these e-mails are just the work of a lone sociopath who has no intention of actually carrying them out. Because almost nothing has been done to investigate their origin and find out whether this is the real thing.

Sep 21

Here, courtesy of the News Hounds weblog ("we watch FOX so you don’t have to") is this exchange yesterday between Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and FOX News personality Neil Cavuto:

Cavuto [in his first question]: "Do you think Hugo Chavez is a nut?"

Uribe: "Is a…?"

Cavuto: "A nut? Crazy?"

Uribe: "No. Ah, excuse me. You do not ask this question of a president who is the president of a sister nation of Venezuela. Colombia and Venezuela are sister nations. We have had a historic brotherhood. We have a common present and of course we need a joined future. Any expression I admit on Venezuela should be a friendly expression."

Good for him.

Sep 20

In a conversation today, a House staffer preparing for tomorrow’s Colombia hearing asked, "wouldn’t it be nice to see the following information side-by-side on a map?"

Yes, it would. Here are four graphics showing poverty levels, coca-growing, fumigation and alternative-development spending by department in Colombia. To see all four on one page, download this PDF file (106KB).

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Sep 19
The map below shows the locations of the vetted recipient units from Colombia’s army, navy and air force.

The so-called "Leahy Law" is a provision that has appeared in the U.S. foreign aid bill every year since 1997. Named for its principal proponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), its purpose is straightforward. It states that if a foreign military unit includes people who have committed gross human-rights violations, and they are not being credibly investigated, tried or punished, then that unit cannot receive U.S. assistance.

The Leahy Law is not frequently invoked, though it has on occasion forced the U.S. government to refuse aid to army units in Colombia, or to cut off aid to units already receiving it (as happened in January 2003, when an air force command saw its aid cut off for non-cooperation with authorities investigating the 1998 Santo Domingo massacre).

In order to comply with the Leahy Law, the U.S. embassy in Colombia (and, presumably, in every country that gets military aid) must keep a database of individual military personnel who face credible allegations of human rights abuse, and must ensure that none of these names appear on the roster of a military unit being considered for U.S. assistance. This process is called "vetting" the unit.

We had never seen a list of which units had been vetted and approved for U.S. aid – until now. Thanks to the efforts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Program, we now have recent lists of all Colombian military and police units:

A few quick notes about these lists:

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Sep 18

Álvaro Uribe committed a grave error three years ago when he told a military audience that some Colombian human-rights groups are "spokespeople for terrorism."

The word "terrorism" should not be used lightly. It refers to individuals or groups who deliberately kill – or conspire to kill – civilians for political reasons. States must use all legal means at their disposal to stop anybody who fits that description.

But states must also respect and protect those who do not. Critics and political adversaries, however relentless or unfair their arguments may seem to be, have a critical role to play in any democracy. Tarring them as "terrorists" threatens to become a pretext for eliminating that role.

Álvaro Uribe has deservedly faced strong criticism for his use of the "T" word to describe non-violent adversaries. Now Bolivia’s Evo Morales deserves similar criticism.

A few days ago Morales, in Havana for the meeting of non-aligned nations, told an interviewer that Bolivia’s media are a main obstacle to his proposed reforms because they practice "journalistic terrorism." AFP reports:

"The resistance comes from the media," Morales indicated, denouncing "a journalistic dictatorship, a journalistic terrorism" that seeks "to satanize this process of changes" and "to confuse the Bolivian people and the whole world."

This is not the first time that Morales has used this term, though it is the first time since he was inaugurated that he has used it to describe the entire media.

Morales is correct that much of Bolivia’s mainstream media is tied to wealthy economic interests and political blocs that oppose his reforms, and that its reporting often favors his political adversaries. The president is free to criticize their biases, their accuracy and their credibility at every opportunity.

But to use the word "terrorism" is to move beyond politics. It carries an implicit threat of violence: a state’s response to terrorism is very different from its response to legal political opposition. The Cochabamba daily Los Tiempos put it well in an editorial yesterday: "The President would do well to reflect on his inappropriate accusation, so that this does not imply a threat to the freedoms of expression and information, as in times of dictatorship."

Sep 17

Here is a translation (thanks to CIP Intern Mariam Khokhar) of a column published over a week ago in Medellín’s El Colombiano. The author is Moritz Akerman, one of the five "civil society guarantors" of the Casa de Paz, a space on the outskirts of Medellín where an ELN guerrilla representative has been allowed to meet with people to discuss an eventual agenda for negotiations.

The ELN dialogue process has received little attention, which is a good thing. Outside the impatient gaze of the media and the general public, relations are being forged, consensuses are being built, and progress is slowly being made. Akerman’s column provides a useful, concise view of the risks and opportunities the process currently faces.

September 8, 2006
Window of Opportunity for Negotiation
Moritz Akerman
El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia)

In my last column I emphasized the opportunities and the risks – as seen from "this side" – for the political negotiation of peace with the guerillas. But, just as it takes two to dance, I believe that an analysis should be done of the guerillas’ level of commitment, focusing this analysis for now on the ELN. The methodology of opportunities and risks will again be useful.

Let’s start with the opportunities.

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Sep 15

Human rights cases involving Colombia’s military face a frequent obstacle. Often, the armed forces seek to have allegations of abuse tried in their own justice system, arguing that the crime in question was an "act of service" or a breach of military discipline. The military justice system, conservative U.S. columnist Robert Novak reminds us, "has a conviction rate of only 4 percent." The likelihood that victims will see justice narrows dramatically when the military justice system gets jurisdiction.

This is not supposed to happen in cases involving murdered civilians, according to a 1997 Constitutional Court decision, which ordered all such cases to go directly to civilian prosecutors. It does happen less than it used to, but it still sometimes occurs. One recent example are the civilians allegedly killed by the Medellín-based 4th Brigade, their bodies passed off as guerrillas killed in combat. Of twenty-nine cases, only eight have entered the civilian system.

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Sep 14

Thanks to CIP Intern Mariam Khokhar for this quick summary of the latest (seventh) quarterly report from the OAS mission (MAPP-OEA) that is observing and verifying the paramilitary demobilization process in Colombia. The full report is available here as a Microsoft Word (.doc) file in Spanish.

International support for MAPP-OEA has increased. Governments that have contributed, or may soon contribute, financial or in-kind support to the OAS mission now include Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States. The mission now has a total staff of eighty-five people.

Number of demobilized paramilitaries and weapons turned in. Since the initiation of dialogue with AUC in 2003, there have been 37 collective demobilizations involving 30,915 members of the group. From February to May 2006, there were 8 collective demobilizations which included 8,625 members. Groups that have yet to demobilize formally include parts of the Élmer Cárdenas bloc (Urabá) and the Cacique Pipintá bloc (Antioquia and Risaralda), and the entire Casanare Self-Defense Forces. The demobilized groups have turned in about one weapon for every two combatants. Sixty percent of the demobilized are concentrated in four northern Colombian departments: Antioquia (29%), Córdoba (14%), Cesar (9%) and Magdalena (8%).

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