Academic journal article Social Justice

Plan Colombia: Rhetoric, Reality, and the Press

Academic journal article Social Justice

Plan Colombia: Rhetoric, Reality, and the Press

Article excerpt

IN JUNE 2000, THE U.S. SENATE OVERWHELMINGLY PASSED A ONE BILLION DOLLAR aid package for the Colombian government that was purportedly designed to fight the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics. In view of the fact that the biggest beneficiary is the Colombian army, which has been implicated in extensive human rights violations, the package -- Plan Colombia -- was strongly opposed by human rights groups and many social and nongovernmental organizations in Colombia and the United States. Pointing to the Colombian army's documented complicity with rightist paramilitaries who have been guilty of roughly 75% of human rights violations in Colombia's civil conflict, human rights groups were even further aghast when negotiations between the Senate and House resulted in an increase in this package to $1.3 billion. Perhaps the most disturbing result of the House-Senate negotiations was the addition of a waiver allowing the secretary of state to skip human rights certification if doing so was deemed to be in the "national security interest." The human rights conditions in the Colombia package, most of which were inserted by the Senate Appropriations Committee, call upon the secretary of state to demonstrate the Colombian government's progress in rooting out army complicity with paramilitaries. These conditions also call for the prosecution in civilian courts of human rights abusers within the Colombian army, which has a history of shielding human rights abusers from such prosecution. In August 2000, President Clinton waived five of the six human rights conditions, making a virtual mockery of the administration's pronounced concern for human rights. Although most of the mainstream press in the United States has unquestioningly accepted the Clinton administration's claims about its objectives, the underlying implication of the "national security" waiver is that the "counternarcotics" pretext for military assistance is largely a cover for a counterinsurgency strategy.

Opposition of the Clinton Administration to Human Rights Conditions

Since the Clinton administration first announced its proposed aid package to Colombia in January 2000, it has consistently opposed conditions on military aid for Colombia. Its opposition to human rights conditions and its contradictory pronouncements about its aims in Colombia have been very frightening to those who are genuinely concerned about human rights. One Clinton administration official who is renowned for making contradictory and questionable claims is Assistant Secretary of Defense Brian Sheridan. Back in September 1999, before the Colombia package had been announced, Sheridan and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey were pushing for huge increases in military aid for Colombia. In a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Sheridan praised the Colombian state, pointing to reports indicating that the Colombian military's involvement in human rights violations had "dropped dramatically, from half the total in 1993 to less than three percent" in 1998 (Senate Caucus on International Narcot ics Control, 1999). Sheridan neglected to point out that atrocities by paramilitaries increased while the military's abuses dropped, suggesting a trend whereby army units effectively contracted others to carry out abuses on their behalf.

In an effort to cast the administration as supportive of human rights, Sheridan went on to imply support for a "military justice reform bill" that was passed by the Colombian Congress. He stated that this new law would "require military personnel accused of human rights violations to stand trial in civilian courts" (Ibid.). He also claimed that this legislation was "expected to be signed into law by President Pastrana shortly" (Ibid.). This law, designed to prosecute human rights violators more effectively, was actually vetoed by the Colombian President in December 1999. Pastrana objected to an article in the bill that called for a maximum 60-year jail term for anyone involved in killings aimed at the partial or total destruction of a political group. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.