to Secretary of State Colin Powell from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts),
January 13, 2004
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
years I have closely followed developments in Colombia, and I write
to voice some concerns that we probably hold in common. I refer to recent
developments in the Colombian government's negotiations with paramilitary
groups, among them the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC),
a group on the State Department's list of international terrorist organizations.
I also write to request some clarification of U.S. policy toward these
is almost always positive to see an armed group lay down its weapons
through negotiations, the talks that President Alvaro Uribe's government
is holding with paramilitaries demand particular vigilance. This is
a rare case of a government negotiating with an armed group that is
avowedly pro-government, and a group that has in the past received important
support from the Colombian military and security forces.
the most immediate issue is the impunity that appears to be a likely
outcome of the talks. The paramilitaries are responsible for thousands
of extrajudicial killings, massacres, disappearances and forced displacements
of populations. Yet draft legislation submitted by President Uribe last
August called for the payment of reparations to victims, among other
symbolic acts, as an alternative to jail time for paramilitary leaders
who turn themselves in. The draft legislation does not even contemplate
a Truth Commission report or similar mechanism to hold accountable those
who ordered and carried out crimes against humanity.
law should pass unaltered, paramilitary leaders will escape punishment
and those who supported them - military officers, wealthy backers and
corrupt politicians - will remain anonymous. There is even a danger
that paramilitary leaders will emerge from the process in control of
millions of acres of prime farmland, which they stole by forcing peasants
to flee. Colombia has lived through several of these "forgive and
forget" peace processes in the past fifty years, with both guerrillas
and paramilitaries. The sad result has been a repeated, escalating cycle
of revenge and senseless violence.
I am also
very concerned that paramilitary leaders might get away with sending
massive amounts of drugs to our shores and key narcotics traffickers
will be pardoned under the terms of the paramilitary demobilization.
As the U.S. Justice Department's extradition order against them indicates,
AUC leaders Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso stand accused
of sending over 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe
since 1997. The real extent is probably greater; in mid-2003, a Colombian
government document recognized that "it is impossible to distinguish
between the self-defense groups and narcotrafficking organizations."
Another example, paramilitary chieftain Diego Fernando Murillo, whose
Nutibara Bloc paramilitary group turned in some weapons in November,
has a long history of narcotics activity and is also the leader of La
Terraza, a feared street-gang-turned-mafia that dominated Medellin's
crime scene; recently he vowed to a Colombian paper that he'll "never
spend a day in jail."
articles in The Washington Post and Colombia's main newspaper,
El Tiempo, have documented a wave of major traffickers - some
of whom are alleged to have even done narcotics business with Colombia's
leftist guerrillas, the AUC's archenemy - who are "buying"
leadership of small paramilitary blocs throughout the country.
In an apparent
show of goodwill, several hundred low-ranking paramilitaries have turned
in their weapons and submitted to the authorities since November. I
find this to be more worrying than inspiring, however - and not least
because the weapons turned in have been largely pistols and rusty shotguns.
The demobilizations are occurring without a peace accord in place, without
independent international monitoring and accountability of weapons,
and without sufficient funding to support a real re-integration into
society. Key questions remain unanswered, such as what punishments the
ex-fighters might face in the absence of an amnesty law, and how former
killers can be kept from returning to paramilitarism, drug trafficking,
or entry into the military, police, or the parallel security structures
the Uribe government has set up.
I am concerned that a poorly executed demobilization could benefit Colombia's
FARC and ELN guerrillas, who also have a murderous human rights record.
I am unconvinced that Colombia's government, which is strapped for cash,
will be able to prevent guerrillas from filling security vacuums left
in territories formerly under paramilitary control.
hope the U.S. government shares these concerns, but remain unsure because
the State Department and the Administration have made almost no public
pronouncements of the U.S. position regarding the talks and these recent
actions. While this may be the most prudent course, I hope you might
help me resolve a few specific questions.
is the U.S. position on a possible amnesty or "symbolic" punishment
for gross human rights abusers? If the administration is not declaring
a position on this point, what conditions must exist for this position
to become known?
she left Bogotá in mid-2003, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne
Patterson told Colombia's El Tiempo that "we are going to
finance - I believe that in the first year it's 2 or 3 million dollars
- the demobilization of the first group of paramilitaries, about 1,500
people. We are committed to the same number of people next year."
Has this or any other U.S. contribution supported demobilizations or
any other aspect of the paramilitary peace talks? If so, which account
is financing the process, and what is it paying for? Will a request
for funds for this purpose be included in the President's FY 2005 Budget
Proposal? If so, in which accounts?
May, the chief political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá
met with an Argentine lawyer representing the AUC leadership. On January
3, El Tiempo reported that "Rodrigo 00," leader of
the dissident Metro Bloc paramilitary group, is maintaining "some
type of contacts" with U.S. government representatives. Is this
an accurate description? And what purpose is served by such contacts
with paramilitary leaders, if they exist?
- If talks
with the paramilitaries succeed in disarming the groups, does the Justice
Department contemplate lifting its extradition requests against paramilitary
leaders? If not, how would U.S.-Colombian relations be affected if the
Colombian government does not turn over amnestied paramilitary leaders?
Does the Administration share my concern that major drug figures might
be entering the paramilitaries in order to win amnesty?
the administration share my concern about the Colombian state's ability
to keep guerrillas out of formerly paramilitary zones, or is it your
judgment that the Colombian government is capable of exercising authority
in these zones with current levels of budget, aid and manpower?
very much like to join the Administration in supporting the Uribe government's
talks with the paramilitaries, or any other effort to take guns and
fighters out of Colombia's war. But there is no shortage of reasons
to worry that the Colombian government's talks with the paramilitaries
may end up doing more harm than intended good.
forward to receiving your response to these very specific questions
and concerns. Thank you as always for your attention.
Member of Congress