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Last Updated:8/6/03
Speech by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), July 23, 2003
Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton) and I are offering an amendment to make modest reductions in military aid for Colombia, and to transfer those funds to the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund for programs that combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases.

H.R. 2800 provides $4.3 billion in foreign military financing, of which $110 million is slated to go to the Colombian military. Our amendment reduces that amount by $35 million.

The Andean Counterdrug Initiative is fully funded at $731 million, with at least $159 million in military aid for the Colombian armed forces. Our amendment reduces that total by just $40 million.

These are modest reductions but, if approved, they will send a powerful message that Congress believes respect for human rights is essential, that impunity for high-ranking military officers who commit human rights abuses must end, and that Congress requires a more defined U.S. plan and exit strategy in Colombia.

This amendment will also do a great deal of good.

I commend the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee for increasing funding for HIV/AIDS, but the total is still about $1 billion less than the $3 billion authorized, the amount the President recently promised to African leaders. Mr. Chairman, $75 million is a modest amount, but every dollar counts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases. $75 million could ensure that 250,000 more people with HIV/AIDS could receive drug treatment for an entire year. Think of it. This amendment could literally save the lives of a quarter of a million people over the course of the next year.

Now, I know some of my colleagues are saying, but we cannot pull out of Colombia. Well, let me be perfectly clear. No one believes more strongly than I do that the United States must stay engaged in Colombia. I will never advocate that we walk away from Colombia. But I have serious questions about the direction of U.S. policy, the goals that have yet to be defined for our military involvement there, and how we define success or failure in Colombia.

The committee has stated that U.S. policy in Colombia stands at a crossroads, and I agree. In the past 4 years, we have sent over $3.1 billion to Colombia, 80 percent in military and security assistance. On July 16, the Colombian government announced it will soon present ``Plan Colombia-Phase II'' and seek substantial U.S. aid increases for 2006 and beyond.

Meanwhile, coca production in the Andes has actually increased since Plan Colombia began, rising from 185,000 hectares in 2000 to 205,400 hectares in 2002, according to the State Department.

Colombia's small drop in coca production last year did not even bring its levels back down to where they were in 2000. And Colombia's decrease is offset by shifting production back to Bolivia and Peru. That does not seem to be progress to me.

Further, according to the Justice Department, the availability of cocaine in the United States actually increased in 2002. So let us not spin ourselves into thinking our policy is working.

Despite human rights conditions placed on U.S. military aid to Colombia, our aid continues to flow uninterrupted. We keep writing huge checks, even though every reputable human rights organization in the world concludes that the Colombian armed forces directly collaborate with paramilitary forces. These are the same paramilitary forces responsible for the majority of human rights abuses against civilians. These are the same paramilitary forces on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. These are the same paramilitary forces that President Uribe's own hand-picked commission determined control at least 40 percent of the drug trade in Colombia and receive 80 percent of their funding from drug profits.

Meanwhile, over the past year, human rights crimes by official Colombian military police have increased, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.

Regions where the Colombia military is most present and active are precisely the areas where official human rights abuses and political violence have most sharply escalated, according to the Colombian government's own Inspector General.

Colombia's Attorney General has dismissed prosecutors who are in charge of investigating the most serious cases of human rights crimes committed by high-ranking military officers, closing those cases, and ignoring others.

[Time: 20:15]
Instead, the Attorney General is opening new investigations against Catholic bishops, human rights defenders and community leaders. Impunity is not only alive and well in Colombia, it is better protected than ever.

Mr. Chairman, when the United States bankrolls a foreign military, then we have a special obligation not to be indifferent to its human rights record. We have a special responsibility because this is a reflection on us, but this Congress has been sending a very disturbing message to the Colombia military; namely, if you perform poorly, if you violate the human rights of your own people, do not worry, we will lower our standards on human rights.

We can do better. These modest reductions in military aid will not undercut Colombia's fight against the brutal FARC guerillas, but it could end up being the most significant message sent by this Congress in support of human rights and democracy. I urge my colleagues to support the McGovern-Skelton amendment.

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