Colombia: U.S. Releases More Military Aid & Resumes Controversial Crop Eradication Program

Article excerpt

The administration of US President George W. Bush has certified that Colombia is meeting the required human rights standards for release of US$42 million in military aid, despite strong disagreement from human rights organizations. In an equally controversial decision, the US resumed aerial spraying of coca fields, despite reports from Colombian governors in the affected areas and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the spray causes health problems and destroys legitimate crops.

Before the State Department released its report on human rights, three leading human rights organizations said the US should withhold more military aid to Colombia because its armed forces failed to meet the congressionally imposed conditions on delivery of the aid.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) said the Colombian military had failed to suspend officers responsible for serious rights abuses or cooperate with civilian authorities in prosecuting or punishing them. They also said the military had not ended its support of right-wing paramilitary groups.

In addition, the Colombian government has backed an effort by Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio to dismiss pending investigations and prosecutions of military officers accused of serious human rights abuses.

"Not only has Colombia, once again, failed to meet even the minimum standard necessary to satisfy the human rights conditions, but its level of compliance has deteriorated markedly," the letter said. "We urge you to deny the human rights certification to Colombia and instead insist that it make convincing and demonstrable reforms before receiving any additional funds."

The US is providing Colombia with almost US$400 million in military aid this fiscal year, of which US$104 million was subject to the conditions. In a controversial decision last May, the State Department certified that the conditions were met to disburse about US$63 million, or 60% of the total.

On Sept. 9, the Bush administration cleared the release of the remaining $42 million after the State Department certified that Colombia had met the conditions and was doing enough to prevent abuses of human rights.

Colombian Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez underlined the importance of the State Department's recognition of progress and said the money would allow the military to more effectively combat the guerrillas.

"This certification for the security forces in Colombia clears the way for us to use Plan Colombia resources not only in anti-drug trafficking operations, but also in operations against terrorist groups," Ramirez said.

The certification was assailed by William Schulz, AIUSA executive director. "To say that Colombia has complied with human rights conditions is nothing short of a farce," Schulz said, adding that the ties between the Colombian military and the paramilitary groups persist.

"These brutal groups have ties to Colombian military and units that have benefitted from US funding in the past, making the US party to the injustices suffered by Colombian civilians on a daily basis," Schulz said. "By continuing to provide military aid to Colombia, the US is once again sending the dangerous message that human rights are niceties that are completely dispensable when the going gets tough."

"Providing additional funds at this point is particularly dangerous," said Schulz. "President Alvaro Uribe, only one month into his term, has created an environment that further empowers a military force already acting with impunity."

Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of HRW/Americas, said, "All the evidence we have been able to collect consistently shows there has been a deterioration in human rights in Colombia since May."

As evidence of the lack of progress, human rights organizations point to army Gen. …