Colombia: U.S. Calls for More Aid with Less Restrictions
The administration of US President George W. Bush has asked Congress for more military aid for Colombia and has called for significant changes to the rules governing how that aid can be used. Toward that end, the administration folded its Colombia policy into the "war on terrorism." In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell has certified that the Colombian military has made significant improvement in human rights. Some lawmakers and several prominent human rights groups have said there is no evidence to back up either the certification on human rights or the alleged links between Colombian guerrillas and international terrorist groups.
Until now, US military aid to Colombia has been restricted to anti-narcotics activity, but on March 21 the Bush administration requested authorization from Congress to broaden the use of such assistance to also combat terrorism.
The policy change is found in one sentence buried inside the request for emergency anti-terrorism aid. Superseding existing restrictions, it says that all previously approved and future aid "shall be available to support a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking, terrorist activities, and other threats to [Colombia's] national security."
Although the administration has said it will not send combat troops to Colombia nor extend the US military mission beyond training and supplying military equipment, Colombia would have no restrictions on its use of US equipment and US- trained troops.
Advocates for expanding US role go to Congress
After almost four years of calling for a negotiated settlement to Colombia's decades-old conflict, in February President Andres Pastrana broke off talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Since then he has joined the Bush administration in calling the FARC terrorists. In mid-April, Pastrana went to Washington to lobby for increased aid with less restrictions to "fight terrorism."
Bush praised Pastrana, saying, "President Pastrana has taken on a huge task in his country. One is to defend democracy and the institutions the democracy, and he's done a great job of that. Secondly is to fight narcotrafficking."
Bush said he and Pastrana discussed changing the focus from counternarcotics to include counterterrorism. "These aren't 'so-called terrorists,' these are terrorists," said Bush. "They've captured people. They're after Andres."
But as members of Congress debate the administration's request for increased aid, they are looking at what has been done with the US$1.7 billion they have given to Colombia during the last two years. Many find little return.
The White House announced in March that coca production actually rose by about 25% last year. Colombia has denied this, saying its statistics show a 16% decrease. A US-funded study released in February found serious problems with efforts to promote crop substitution, saying that few campesinos who had agreed to abandon coca had done so.
Lawmakers also ask why the administration proposes spending more money to defend Colombia, when Colombia is spending less. Although Pastrana increased defense spending in 1998, it has declined as a percentage of GDP every year since then. Colombia now spends slightly less than 2% of its GDP on the army, and 3.3% for all security forces combined.
"We're talking about a lot of money going to a very small area that is making zero progress," Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-AL) said at a House subcommittee hearing.
The administration sent a parade of advocates for increased aid to Congress in mid-April who warned that continued instability in Colombia could lead to more drug trafficking and more terrorism.
On April 10, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman told a House appropriations subcommittee that the administration is seeking US$35 million in supplemental counterterrorism funding for Colombia through Sept. …