This is an August 2007 copy of a website maintained by the Center for International Policy. It is posted here for historical purposes. The Center for International Policy no longer maintains this resource.

Home
|
Analyses
|
Aid
|
|
|
News
|
|
|
|
Last Updated:3/3/01
Letter by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), February 26, 2001
February 26, 2001

U.S. Policy Towards Colombia

Dear Colleague:

This week President Bush will meet with President Andres Pastrana of Colombia in Washington, D.C. I am writing you to sign a letter to President Bush regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in Colombia, and to urge him to review our government's current policy towards that country.

Since the passage of the $1.3 billion U.S. assistance package known as "Plan Colombia," political violence is dramatically up nationwide. While President Pastrana has worked to improve the country's overall human rights record, the military has yet to break longstanding ties to the paramilitary groups that are responsible for most human rights violations, including massacres. According to a police estimate, Colombia registered twenty-three massacres by paramilitaries in the first seventeen days of 2001. With 162 people registered as killed, the toll for those three weeks was ten people killed every day. Further, the two major guerilla groups continue to commit serious violations, including the practice of mass kidnapings.

To improve the human rights situation in Colombia, I am convinced that the United States should enforce strict conditions on assistance to

Colombia to ensure that the Colombian Government severs links, at all levels, between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups. While the Clinton Administration first chose to waive most of the human rights conditions last August and then not to certify at all in January, I ask you to join me in urging President Bush to enforce the conditions Congress placed in Plan Colombia. To do otherwise will signal the worst elements within Colombia's military that abuses will go unpunished.

If you would like to join me in sending this letter to President Bush, please have a member of your staff contact Charlotte Oldham-Moore in my office at 224-5641.

Sincerely,
Paul Wellstone
United States Senator

February , 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Bush,

As you prepare to meet with President Andres Pastrana this week in Washington, D.C, we urge you to vigorously review our government's current policy towards Colombia. We believe the most pressing issue of concern is the deteriorating human rights situation there.

Since the passage of the $1.3 billion U.S. assistance package to Colombia, political violence is dramatically up nationwide. The two major guerilla groups continue to commit serious violations, including the practice of mass kidnapings. While President Pastrana has worked to improve the country's overall human rights record, the military has yet to break longstanding ties to the paramilitary groups that are responsible for most human rights violations, including massacres. According to a police estimate, Colombia registered twenty-three massacres by paramilitaries in the first seventeen days of 2001. With 162 people registered as killed, the toll for those three weeks was ten people killed every day.

During the debate surrounding Plan Colombia, the U.S. government and Colombia pledged to work to reduce the production and supply of cocaine while protecting human rights. The continuing reports of human rights abuses in Colombia confirm our grave reservations regarding our government's ability to effectively manage the use of the resources that will be provided while protecting the human rights of Colombian citizens.

Some of the most violent areas include the southern departments of Valle, Cauca, and Putumayo as well as the city of Barrancabermeja. It is important to note that Putumayo is the focus of the so-called "Push into Southern Colombia," a strategy that has so far brought a notable increase in violence to the region, from both army-backed paramilitaries and guerrillas.

Thousands of civilians have fled attacks and threats. As disturbing, in case after case, Colombian authorities are unwilling or unable to take measures to protect civilian populations or pursue their attackers. Although villages and towns often warn of imminent attacks, providing detailed information to the authorities about the whereabouts of armed groups, attacks are carried out on schedule and with little or no apparent impediment.

On January 17, the most serious of this year's massacres took place in the village of Chengue, Sucre. According to a Washington Post report, an estimated fifty paramilitaries pulled men from their homes. "They assembled them into two groups above the main square and across from the rudimentary health center. Then, one by one, they killed the men by crushing their heads with heavy stones and a sledgehammer. When it was over, twenty-four men lay dead in pools of blood. Two more were found later in shallow graves. As the troops left, they set fire to the village." Among the dead was a sixteen-year-old boy, whose head was reportedly severed from his body.

The reporter interviewed more than two dozen residents who said that the Colombian military helped carry out the massacre. The military, according to these accounts, provided safe passage to the paramilitary column and effectively sealed off the area by conducting what villagers described as a mock daylong battle with leftist guerrillas who dominate the area.

Far from unusual, we have heard repeated reports of similar activity throughout Colombia, including the southern departments of Valle, Cauca, and Putumayo as well as the city of Barrancabermeja, which is in a state of siege. Consistently, the military, in particular the army, is described as tolerating, supporting, and actively coordinating paramilitary operations, which often end with atrocities.

Ties between the following Colombian military units and paramilitary groups are notorious: the Cali-based Third Brigade, the Medellín-based Fourth Brigade, the Bucaramanga-based Fifth Brigade, the Puerto Berrio-based Fourteenth Brigade, the Carepa-based Seventeenth Brigade, and the Mocoa-based Twenty-Fourth Brigade. These brigades are spread throughout the country, meaning that such relationships are neither isolated nor unusual; they exist at the national level and include units in Colombia's largest cities.

These ties include active coordination in the field with paramilitary units; permanent communication via radios, cellular telephones, and beepers; the sharing of intelligence, including the names of suspected guerrillas collaborators; the sharing of fighters, including active-duty soldiers serving in paramilitary units and paramilitary commanders lodging on military bases; the sharing of vehicles, including army trucks used to transport paramilitary fighters; coordination of army roadblocks, which are suspended to let paramilitary fighters pass; and payments made from paramilitaries to military officers for their support.

Recently, President Pastrana announced a meeting of an "Anti-Assassin Committee" (Comité Anti-Sicarial), with the stated goal of pursuing and capturing paramilitary groups. We welcome measures that will prevent attacks and lead to the capture and prosecution of the individuals who plan and take part in them.

However, we are very skeptical of the ability of this committee to carry out its duties. In the past, similar measures have been no more than the sheets of paper they are announced on. Indeed, the last time President Pastrana announced such a group, in February 2000 and after a similar series of massacres, it never even met. Most arrest warrants issued by the Attorney General remained unexecuted. Paramilitary leaders remain at large and collect warrants like badges of honor. Military officers with histories of ties to paramilitary groups remain on active duty.

Indeed, high ranking military officers continue to attack human rights groups, calling them guerrilla facades or even drug traffickers, in defiance of President Pastrana's explicit orders to respect the work of these groups. These attacks are devastating for the work of groups we are familiar with and admire, among them the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) and the Popular Women's Organization (Organización Femenina Popular, OFP), both based in Barrancabermeja. As you are aware, beginning in mid-December, paramilitaries under the command of Carlos Castaño have been attempting to take the city, threatening and killing residents often under the noses of security force members sent to ensure their safety.

We ask you to urge President Pastrana to take emergency measures to stop the paramilitary advance, investigate and punish soldiers who work with them, and ensure that the rule of law is enforced for all Colombians. We also ask that you call on him to move swiftly to investigate the Chengue massacre and ensure that those responsible face justice.

To improve the human rights situation in Colombia, we are convinced that the United States should enforce strict conditions on assistance to Colombia to ensure that the Colombian Government severs links, at all levels, between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups.

While the Clinton Administration first chose to waive most of the conditions last August and then not to certify at all in January, we urge your administration to enforce the human rights conditions Congress placed in Plan Colombia, P.L. 106-246. To do otherwise will controvert the intent of Congress and signal the worst elements within Colombia's military that abuses will go unpunished.

Sincerely,

Google
Search WWW Search ciponline.org

Asia
|
Colombia
|
|
Financial Flows
|
National Security
|

Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-3317 / fax (202) 232-3440
cip@ciponline.org