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Last Updated:3/6/02
CIP position on resolution before U.S. House of Representatives, March 6, 2002

Some notes on the proposed resolution, from the Center for International Policy. (Feel free to cite any information here.)

Though the language is much improved over earlier drafts, CIP is quite concerned about the vague recommendation on page 5 that the President "without undue delay" submit legislation to provide additional anti-terror and anti-drug aid to Colombia. We agree with the Bush administration's decision last week (see Washington Post article) that it is too early to embark on a major policy change.

The situation is so serious, and the FARC's offensive so shocking, that perhaps some U.S. aid might be in order. But in today's debate, it is important to make clear that new aid would only help - or even make a difference - if two very hard-to-meet conditions are satisfied:

  1. Condition 1: Colombia must decisively break all links with paramilitaries, and launch a serious effort to combat them as well.
    - The Colombian Commission of Jurists and other human rights NGOs credit Colombia's security forces with less than 5 percent of all non-combatant killings. The paramilitaries, however, commit over 75 percent, and the State Department human rights report issued Monday indicates that "members of the security forces sometimes illegally collaborated with paramilitary forces" last year. U.S. and Colombian NGOs continue to document a disturbing pattern of military-paramilitary collaboration, as well as a failure to investigate or prosecute military officers charged with such collaboration.
    - On a trip to Colombia during the second half of February, the Center for International Policy heard numerous testimonies from elected officials, local leaders and ombudsmen, and human rights defenders about a continuing - or even increasing - pattern of military-paramilitary collaboration, especially in the provinces of Cauca and Nariño, where the AUC first gained a foothold in mid-2001.
    - At current levels of military-paramilitary cooperation, we fear that U.S. "counter-terrorism" assistance on a national level may benefit units and officers who collaborate with the paramilitaries.

  2. Condition 2: Colombia must dramatically increase its own contribution to both the war and peace effort. Counter-insurgency aid - particularly to a country the size of Colombia (40 million people, 53 times the size of El Salvador) - is doomed to failure if the local leadership does not share our commitment to the fight. Colombia is simply too big, and its defense needs are too great, for U.S. aid alone to make a difference.
    -
    By most estimates, the army would need to at least triple in size in order to take on the FARC effectively. (Currently, the Army has about 130,000 members, but only 40,000 of them can be deployed into battle. The rest are at desk jobs or tied down to guarding static infrastructure like pipelines and power lines.) The United States cannot fill this need alone, and would be foolish to try.
    - There are strong reasons to doubt Colombia's current commitment to make the sacrifices necessary for a real war effort.
    • The law excludes high school graduates, meaning all but the poor, from serving in combat units.
    • The World Bank's figures show that Colombians pay only 10.1 percent of GDP in taxes - half the U.S. figure and lower than most of Latin America (during World War II, the U.S. figure was more than 40 percent). Colombia's National Association of Financial Institutions (ANIF) reports that Colombia spends only 1.97 percent of GDP on defense - lower than most of Latin America - despite having been at war for decades. This level of contribution makes a serious war effort impossible.
    • Worse, much of the funds that are raised are lost to corruption. (Transparency International's "corruption perceptions index" ranks Colombia 50th on a list of 91 countries.)

- It is doubtful that U.S. funds and personnel could or should make up the difference. The need goes beyond more defense spending, too: Colombia's long-running war is deeply rooted in historical social and economic causes that must also be addressed if any peace is to stick. The United States and Colombia's leadership must also commit to a dramatic expansion in provision of basic services to the Colombian people, especially in long-neglected rural areas. Most U.S. aid should be non-military.

Our fear, however, is that Colombia will satisfy neither of these conditions, and in fact will choose a cheaper, possibly quicker course of action: giving free rein to the paramilitaries. If this happens, we may see a level of violence and human rights abuse on a scale the hemisphere has not seen for decades.

There are strong reasons to fear that Colombia may indeed be turning to the paramilitaries as its main anti-guerrilla strategy.

  • The AUC had about 4,000 members in 1998; today it has nearly 15,000 and its leaders, riding a wave of increased drug profits and donations from wealthy Colombians, are pledging to double the group's size in the coming year.
  • Paramilitaries' approval ratings have been rising in opinion polls (though still far from a majority), as their media-savvy leaders have instructed their fighters to avoid headline-grabbing massacres in favor of selective killings.
  • Meanwhile, the candidate leading polls for the May presidential elections, hard-liner Alvaro Uribe, rarely criticizes the paramilitaries and in fact is promising to arm 1 million Colombian civilians if elected. The Center for International Policy has heard several reports of paramilitaries gathering residents of villages and neighborhoods under AUC control and instructing them to vote for Uribe.

The paramilitary option clearly looks tempting to many Colombians. It may promise victory over the guerrillas - but only after a bloodbath of shocking proportions. And the peace it would bring would be very short.

What the United States does will depend on what the Colombians do. If Colombia embarks on a good-faith war effort and takes on all armed groups, right and left, then U.S. support could make a difference. If, however, Colombia unleashes the paramilitaries, the United States should not offer a cent.

We must wait and see what Colombia intends to do before considering any new aid packages.

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