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Last Updated:10/14/00
Statement of Andrew Miller, acting advocacy director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Amnesty International USA



12 OCTOBER 2000


Chairman Mica and members of the subcommittee: It is my distinct pleasure to appear before you today in order to testify on issues surrounding U.S. support for Plan Colombia. Amnesty International, as the world’s largest grass-roots human rights organization with over one million members globally, 300,000 of which are in the United States, welcomes the opportunity to comment on policies which have important human rights implications.

The human rights situation in Colombia has received attention here on Capitol Hill and elsewhere since proposals emerged in 1999 to drastically increase United States bilateral assistance that country, the majority going to its security forces. Amnesty has been and remains very concerned about the impact of this aid on the deteriorating human rights panorama in Colombia. What message does approval of the military assistance send to the Colombian armed forces –long implicated in serious and systematic violations of human rights- when they have not made significant progress in the area despite sustained pressure over the years from the international community? Will the military assistance itself directly contribute to further human rights violations? What concrete guarantees exist to ensure that it does not?

The work of Amnesty International is based on almost forty years of monitoring human rights violations. The organization has developed a solid track record of credible information and analysis which is second to none. We hope the subcommittee will take our views into serious consideration in this and future discussions on the impacts of U.S. policy in Colombia.

The General Human Rights Situation in Colombia

Amnesty International has followed the human rights situation in Colombia with growing concern since the 1970’s, when the organization’s main concerns were torture, ill-treatment, unfair trials for political prisoners, and the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience. During the 1980’s, the pattern of human rights violations changed dramatically towards increasing numbers of political killings, "disappearances", and massacres carried out by the Colombian military forces and, increasingly, by their paramilitary allies.

Amnesty has also denounced abuses of international humanitarian law carried out by Colombia’s armed opposition groups, primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Army of National Liberation (ELN), and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL). Abuses committed by these groups include forced recruitment of minors, threats, abductions, "disappearances", selective killings, and massacres, among others.

As documented by our 2000 report, over the course of 1999 serious human rights violations increased against a background of continuing escalation of the long-running armed conflict. The parties in the conflict intensified their military actions throughout the country leading to widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The principal victims of political violence continued to be civilians, particularly community leaders, living in areas disputed between government forces and allied paramilitaries, and armed opposition groups. Trade unionists, political and social activists, academics, human rights defenders, judicial officials, church workers and journalists were among those targeted.

In 1999, more than 3,500 people were victims of politically motivated violence, scores "disappeared" and an estimated 250,000 people were forced to flee their homes. At least 1,000 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary organizations and held for ransom or for political reasons. Mass kidnappings of civilians by armed opposition groups increased. Torture — often involving mutilation — remained widespread, particularly as a prelude to murder by paramilitary forces. Children suffered serious human rights violations, particularly in the context of the armed conflict. "Death squad"-style killings continued in urban areas. This bleak scenario continues in 2000.

Amnesty International on Plan Colombia

Amnesty International is opposed to the military aspects of Plan Colombia. Given what we know about the human rights situation in Colombia and in particular in Southern Colombia, we believe that the increased military funding to Colombian units in Putumayo and Caquetá will transform what is currently a worrying situation into a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe. Sadly, we believe this will include further selective killings, massacres, and massive displacement of the civilian population as it flees such violence.


Amnesty International believes that the military aid program for Colombia will escalate the armed conflict and the human rights crisis. The organization has documented overwhelming evidence of the responsibility of illegal paramilitary organizations for widespread, systematic, and gross human rights violations. There is also conclusive evidence that paramilitary groups continue to operate with the tacit or active support of the Colombian armed forces.
Evidence has emerged that Colombian army personnel trained by US Special Forces have been implicated by action or omission in serious human rights violations, including the massacre of civilians. One prominent example is the 1997 massacre at Mapiripán. Military equipment provided by the US to the Colombian armed forces has reportedly been used in the commission of human rights violations against civilians. Amnesty International does not believe that mechanisms are in place to ensure that future weapons transfers to the Colombian armed forces will not be transferred to illegal paramilitary organizations or will not be used by the military to facilitate human rights violations by paramilitary or their own forces. As long as the Colombian government fails to disband paramilitary groups allied with the Colombian armed forces, US military aid to the Colombian armed forces inevitably risks exacerbating the human rights crisis.
Amnesty International is also concerned that paramilitary organizations may be employed as part of the military strategy contemplated in Plan Colombia. Although a formal role is not acknowledged in Plan Colombia, their recently established presence in key areas targeted for military operations (Putumayo department and the Catatumbo region of North Santander) would appear to be more than coincidental. The paramilitary strategy of attacking and eliminating civilian organizational and grassroots structures is designed to anticipate and prevent any organized opposition to the military eradication of illicit crops. This concern is heightened by recent public statements in favor of Plan Colombia by paramilitary leaders such as Carlos Castaño and Commander "Yair".
The human rights assistance component of Plan Colombia is inadequate and largely misdirected. It fails to address the principal causes of the human rights crisis identified by the United Nations and other international bodies including the root causes of impunity and the need to combat illegal paramilitary organizations. Unless the Colombian government adopts international recommendations and acts on these two key fronts, human rights programs contained in Plan Colombia will be little more than cosmetic.
Military operations contemplated in the Plan anticipate the internal displacement of tens of thousands of Colombians thereby aggravating an existing humanitarian crisis of alarming proportions. Moreover, humanitarian assistance programs for internally displaced persons fail to address the causes of displacement and are merely designed to mitigate its consequences and thereby reduce the visibility of the internally displaced, including those people displaced as a consequence of the Plan’s military operations.
The framework for international support for human rights in Colombia must be the recommendations made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN human rights mechanisms. In particular the international community should ensure that programs it supports form part of a clear government policy to address key issues such as impunity and the dismantling of paramilitary organizations. Respect for human rights is an essential pre-requisite to achieving a negotiated resolution of the armed conflict. Only by ensuring that fundamental civil and political rights are protected can Colombia hope to achieve genuine national reconciliation based on peace and justice.

Case Study: Putumayo

Looking at the southern state of Putumayo, the epicenter of the "Push into Southern Colombia", one can see the recipe for a human rights disaster. One ingredient includes the increasing paramilitary presence in the zone over last three years, especially in urban areas and villages such as Puerto Asís, El Placer, Valle de Guamez, La Hormiga, and Mocoa.

As justification for the Plan Colombia funding, some have argued that a strengthened state presence is an element necessary for the confrontation of paramilitary activity in the region. Interestingly, the paramilitaries are most prominent precisely in the locales of Putumayo which have the heaviest military and police presence. In particular, the 24th Brigade of the Colombian National Army, based in Santa Ana, is known to, at best, turn a blind eye to the paramilitaries and, at worst, potentially plan joint operations with them. The Brigade has been credibly implicated in aiding and abetting several paramilitary massacres in 1999.

On 9 January 1999, 26 people were massacred in El Tigre, Putumayo. On this date roughly 150 paramilitaries traveled from Puerto Asís to El Tigre, both sites of National Police stations. They pulled dozens of people out of their houses, taking them to the village’s central plaza where the paramilitaries carried out the executions, "disappeared" 14 more individuals, and burned various houses. Reportedly, that same night troops of the 24th Brigade established a strategic checkpoint to block traffic leaving Santa Ana, offering free access for the paramilitaries along the road between Puerto Asís and El Tigre.

Later that year, on the 7th of November, at least another 12 civilians were killed by paramilitaries in El Placer, Putumayo. On that evening roughly 50 heavily armed paramilitaries traveled to El Placer from Puerto Asís, pulling people out of their houses and shooting them dead in the fields surrounding the village. According to witnesses, the 24th Brigade was in the town several days before the incursion but left. The army soldiers then returned several hours following the massacre.

Putumayo is home of one of Colombia’s most infamous paramilitary bases, the ranch known as "Villa Sandra". Villa Sandra is located roughly three kilometers north of Puerto Asís on the road toward Santa Ana. Reportedly, in order to arrive at the ranch one simply needs to get in a taxi in the town and request to be taken to the paramilitaries. Though the existence and location of this paramilitary base is well known in the region, the authorities have taken no effective action to arrest those found there or to dismantle the base.

In addition to the growing paramilitary presence and activity, the guerrillas of the FARC’s 48th Front are reportedly preparing for a stepped-up conflict. According to local witnesses, this includes mass forced recruitment of minors and arming the civilian population, both infractions of international humanitarian law.

Paramilitary Groups and Drug Trafficking

An additional reason why Amnesty International opposes US military funding for Colombia is that the Administration does not seem to recognize the deadly contradictions of Colombian reality. On the one hand, the Administration states that this program is to combat narcotrafficking; on the other hand, the Administration states that this aid will force more good faith from the armed opposition groups in the negotiating process. The theory is that since armed opposition groups derive financial support from their involvement with the drug trade, attacking the drug trade will eliminate this source of support and put pressure on the armed opposition groups.

This scenario ignores the central fact that drug traffickers are not only equal opportunity corrupters (having not only allegedly reached the Presidency but also the head of the US military group in Colombia!), but are involved with paramilitary groups, which work closely with the Colombian armed forces.

On August 12, 1999, Amnesty International posed several questions that Congresswoman Mink put in the August 6 Subcommittee hearing record, about the involvement of paramilitary groups with the drug trade. The Drug Enforcement Administration had not only stated at this hearing and on prior occasions that this involvement existed but that some paramilitary leaders were drug traffickers themselves. By the time a second hearing on Colombia was held, on February 15 of this year, the DEA had not responded to those questions. As far as we know, the questions have yet to be answered.

We believe the questions are important because until the Colombian Army truly breaks its links with the paramilitary groups, the US government is shooting itself in the foot by helping the army, if fighting narco-trafficking is what this aid is really all about. It makes no sense to aid the army fight drugs when their principal allies –the paramilitaries- are deeply implicated in the drug trafficking themselves.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Amnesty International USA, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a document, prepared by its Counterdrug Division, which states in its concluding paragraph:

"… [Fidel] Castano’s [sic] drug trafficking activities provide him the financing necessary to further an anti-left agenda, which he began in 1981 following his father’s death while in guerrilla captivity. Castano [sic] has since led several paramilitary operations against such leftist groups as insurgents, political parties, and labor unions. A Colombian court sentenced Castano [sic] in absentia to 20 years for mass killings of peasants and farm workers under his control. How actively the [Government of Colombia] pursues Castano [sic] may depend more on how his paramilitary agenda complements Bogota’s counterinsurgent objectives rather than on his drug trafficking activities."

This declassified document spells out in black and white the deadly contradiction of the Colombian reality, recognized by the U.S. government as early as 1993. It is imperative that the questions about paramilitary activity and involvement in narco-trafficking be answered, so that clarity can be achieved in this crucial aspect and U.S. policy can reflect them accordingly.

Military / Paramilitary Links in Colombia

Some U.S. and Colombian officials claim that links between the Colombian military and paramilitary death squads are simply "isolated cases" and not representative of the panorama as a whole. To the contrary of such statements, Amnesty International and numerous other organizations have extensively documented that these ties are in fact the norm in most, if not all, of the areas of the country where the paramilitaries currently operate. The truly ‘isolated cases’ are those in which the paramilitaries are pursued by the authorities, those in which the architects of paramilitary violence – known leaders such as Carlos Castaño- have been investigated, arrested, tried in civilian courts, and are serving lengthy prison sentences.

Following are several examples of regions where military / paramilitary links have either been historically strong or have manifested themselves in recent years as paramilitary groups expand their range of operations eastward and southward from their traditional stronghold in Colombia’s northwest.

Region of Urabá: Paramilitary groups continue to move unimpeded through the major arteries of transportation in the zone, such as the highway through the "Banana Axis" of northern Antioquia and along the Atrato River in northern Chocó. One example is the case of Diana Salamanca, a human rights worker who was abducted by paramilitaries in November of 1999. She was taken from Dabeiba, Antioquia transported northward through various military and police checkpoints, and eventually released in Necoclí, Antioquia. The paramilitaries regularly carry out selective killings and massacres in close proximity to the security forces, such as the recent cases in San José de Apartadó (19 February 2000), which I personally witnessed, and La Unión (8 July 2000)
Department of Bolívar: In recent years the paramilitaries have drastically increased their presence in Bolívar, especially in the southern part of the department. In that time there have been extensive reports of paramilitary actions carried out with military acquiescence, such as the 16 May 1998 massacre in Barrancabermeja and the 18 – 20 February 2000 massacre in El Salado. We were pleased that the Congressional Human Rights Caucus distributed our 1999 report on the Barrancabermeja massacre, "City under siege", to all members of congress. Representative Schakowski recently circulated a Dear Colleague letter highlighting the threats and attacks in the region against human rights defenders and we continue to receive reports of further violence against them.
Department of Norte de Santander: The 29th of May, 1999 marked the entrance of paramilitary groups into the zone. Since that date, attack after attack has been carried out against the civilian population in sites such as Tibún (July 1999 and April 2000), Filo Gringo (March 2000), and El Tarra (November 1999 and January 2000). In many cases, both national and international human rights groups have advised the authorities to the strong signs of impending attacks, to little avail.
Department of Valle del Cauca: Valle has a long history of paramilitary activity carried out with the collaboration of the Colombian military and drug trafficking groups. The Trujillo massacres of the early 1990’s are one manifestation of this alliance. Since the summer of 1999, paramilitary presence has exploded in the form of the Calima Front, which was established -according to Colombian government investigators- in conjunction with the Colombian Army’s 3rd Brigade following the ELN’s mass kidnapping from the La María church in Cali.
Putumayo: See case study above

The Effects of Plan Colombia and the "Push into Southern Colombia"

One question that will play a critical role as U.S. funded plans are implemented in Southern Colombia and other areas will be what is the impact of those plans? This question is obviously important in any evaluation of whether or not these policies have met any specific objectives that might have been outlined previously. Specifically, Amnesty International is interested in what the impact is on human rights and therefore how the U.S. government is going to monitor potential violations that are carried out by the new Counter Narcotics Battalions or paramilitary groups operating in the same areas.

To date, despite direct inquiries to State Department and Embassy officials about how human rights monitoring will be carried out, Amnesty International has not seen a credible plan. The U.S. Congress must play a critical role in this arena. To this end, Amnesty International recommends that certain measures be mandated by the Congress, listed below.

It has been claimed that further monitoring, reporting requirements, and human rights conditionality are unnecessary given the existence of the Leahy Law. This provision to some foreign military transfers mandates that specific military or police units cannot receive U.S. military aid or training as long as a) there are credible allegations leveled against them of human rights violations and b) the unit is not taking corrective actions. Amnesty International has expressed its concerns about limitations of Leahy Amendment unit and vetting in Colombian context. These include the following points:

The Leahy provisions do not take into account the paramilitary phenomenon, in which political violence is essentially "outsourced" from the Colombian military to their paramilitary allies.
Though these vetted units and individuals might not have histories of violating human rights, there are no guarantees that they will not use what they have learned and do so in the future. Where will the individual special forces soldiers be in five or ten years? Will they be transferred to another unit that does have problems with human rights or collaboration with paramilitary groups? Will they simply leave the official forces and join the paramilitaries as a commander?
Information sharing is an issue of particular concern, since information is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to track or control. How do we know that information being passed from U.S. military sources is not being used to carry out selective assassinations, massacres, or massive displacement of the civilian population? The answer is we don’t.
The Leahy process has not been transparent.
It is worth mentioning that Plan Colombia also has implications for the deteriorating human rights situation throughout Colombia. Amnesty International is tremendously concerned that this aid will send the signal to the military authorities that simply instituting savvy public relations efforts will be sufficient in their quest to secure external political and military support. Should they come to this conclusion, there will be little incentive for them to take the concrete actions necessary to attack impunity for human rights violations and address the root causes of those violations.

At this very moment we are seeing a distinct "closing" of the space for human rights activism and other alternatives to the conflict, such as the church-supported Community of Peace model. This particular deterioration can be seen in the 6 October 2000 abduction of two members of Asfaddes (the Association of Families of the Detained and "Disappeared") in Medellín, even more recent threats against the Popular Training Institute, another human rights group in Medellín, and systematic threats and attacks being carried out against the Community of Peace San José de Apartadó in Antioquia.

Special Concern for Amnesty International: Indigenous Groups in Putumayo

It is only appropriate today on the 12th of October, Indigenous People’s Day, that I would express a special concern that Amnesty has around the protection of indigenous peoples in Putumayo. These diverse groups have lived in the region for thousands of years and some have expressed their distinct interest in staying out of the armed conflict. Amnesty International is interested in discussing what particular plans the administration has to protect these groups and to support their option to stay neutral before the armed actors. Indeed, this is a concern that violated time and again in Colombia, that is to say attacks are regularly carried out against the noncombattant civilian groups. What plans are being formulated to protect the close to 100 indigenous villages in Putumayo and Caquetá?

Concrete Improvement on Human Rights

When asked to outline the improvement that the Colombian States has made on human rights fronts, some U.S. and Colombian officials have offered answers that fall into the following categories.

The first category is that of vague assertions to the effect that the Colombia’s human rights performance is improving, without offering substantiating evidence. Numerous organizations have extensively documented the Colombian State’s patent lack of political will to take actions within its power towards protecting human rights. Given this consensus among credible and internationally-recognized human rights groups, the burden of proof is on any party which makes claims to the contrary.

Another tactic is to offer statistics claiming that in recent years dozens of paramilitaries have been killed in combat and that hundreds of others have been captured and jailed. In some cases it has been argued that there is actually a higher percentage of the overall paramilitary population in jail than guerrillas, which ostensible proves that the Colombian State is in fact persecuting the paramilitaries to a greater degree than the guerrillas. Amnesty’s concerns here are multiple:

The first question raised by these statistics is what are the details of all these cases individually? Exactly who was killed or arrested, when, where, and under what circumstances? What proof does the Colombian State have that these individuals belonged to paramilitary organizations? The lack of concrete information put forth on these cases to date calls into question the credibility of these claims.
Even assuming that all these individuals included in the statistics were indeed associated with paramilitary groups, their capture or killing has little impact on the organization as long as the groups’ intellectual architects and leaders remain free to operate without fear of being brought to justice.
It is also worth mentioning a phenomenon, known as "legalization", which has been well-documented in the Colombian context. In numerous cases civilians have been killed extrajudicially by militaries or paramilitaries, subsequently dressed up in military fatigues, and ultimately presented by the official forces as "deaths in combat". This was done historically and continues to be done in order to cover up illegal killings and to demonstrate artificially high kill rates against the armed opposition groups. Chillingly, Amnesty International has received reports of "legalization" cases in which the victims are presented not as guerrillas but instead as paramilitaries killed in supposed combat between paramilitary groups and the security forces. This phenomenon also raises questions about the credibility of official statistics regarding both guerrillas and paramilitaries captured or killed in combat and underscores the need for detailed reporting on these cases.
Perhaps the most seemingly convincing response is to enumerate the various General-level Colombian army officers who have been dismissed in recent year for alleged human rights violations and connections to paramilitary groups. These includes Generals Rito Alejo del Río, Fernando Millán, Bravo Silva, and Jaime Uscátegui.

On this point, Amnesty International is unequivocal: Dismissal is an entirely unacceptable resolution to allegations of human rights violations or ties with paramilitaries groups. The procedure, as recommended repeatedly by human rights experts, is immediate suspension, civilian investigation, civilian trial, sentencing, and substantial jail time for those found guilty.

How the Colombian State should go about improving human rights is an unambiguous and well-understood process. The basis can be found in years of recommendations offered by the human rights experts at the United Nations and Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, in addition to those at such groups as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, plus numerous Colombian human rights NGOs . Following are some specific indicators that would indicate a real political will to improve the human rights situation in Colombia.

Incarceration of high-ranking (Colonel and General level) Colombian military officers serving significant sentences following immediate suspension after credible allegations of involvement in HRVs or collaboration with paramilitary organizations, a full and impartial investigation by civilian authorities, a prompt and transparent trial in civilian courts, and sentencing commiserate with the severity of their crime;
Incarceration of known paramilitary and armed opposition leaders serving significant sentences following a full and impartial investigation by civilian authorities after credible allegations of involvement in planning, ordering, and/or committing HRVs or infractions of International Humanitarian Law, capture by authorities with full cooperation of the security forces, a prompt and transparent trial in civilian courts, and sentencing commiserate with the severity of their crime;
Dismantling of known paramilitary bases, such as Finca "Villa Sandra";
Carrying out all human rights investigations and trials under civilian jurisdiction, with the full cooperation of the security forces; and
Protection of human rights defenders and others at risk, fundamentally through efforts to end impunity for human rights violations.

Proposal to Congress for Monitoring and Reporting Requirements

Amnesty International USA believes that the administration should maintain the Congress well informed of U.S. funded activities in southern Colombia and elsewhere. Therefore, we propose the following mechanisms:

NOTIFICATION: the relevant Congressional Committees should be notified by the Administration of any proposed training and transfer of equipment or other aid, including services by U.S. contract personnel. This should include specific details of content, as well as steps taken and results of any screening per the Leahy Law restrictions. Furthermore, this notification should be accompanied by information of any paramilitary activity in the proposed areas of operation of the unit slated to be trained, equipped, or otherwise assisted.
MONITORING: Funds should be made available to ensure thorough end use monitoring, both of counternarcotics and human rights performance of any unit in any way assisted by the U.S. government or contract personnel. These funds could be a percentage of total assets programmed for security forces activity. In this aspect we support the Human Rights Investment Act, recently introduced by Chairman Gilman and Ranking Member Gejdenson.
REPORTING: No later than 6 months and every six months thereafter, the administration should present to Congress a clear report of actions taken by any U.S. supported or trained units, including specific details of counternarcotics operations and any armed clashes. Details should include place of clash, identity of opponents, names of any casualties. This reporting should also include information about paramilitary activity in any area of operation of U.S. supported units.

Benchmarks as Outlined in the Amnesty International / Human Rights Watch / Washington Office on Latin America Joint Report

The following benchmarks were presented to the State Department on 18 August 2000 during discussions as per the non-governmental organization consultation aspect of the Congressionally mandated human rights conditions to Plan Colombia. They were made public on 28 August, when included as part of the report, "COLOMBIA: Human Rights and USA Military Aid to Colombia," published jointly between Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

These lists are initial and by no means exhaustive. They will be expanded in future evaluations of the human rights conditions.

Active duty military officers who should be investigated and, where appropriate, detained pending a trial in civilian courts:

  • General Rodrigo Quiñones, Commander, Navy’s 1st Brigade
  • General Carlos Ospina Ovalle, Commander, 4th Division
  • Brigadier General Jaime Ernesto Canal Albán, Commander, 3rd Brigade
  • General Jaime Humberto Cortés Parada, Inspector General of the Army
  • General Freddy Padilla León, Commander of the 2nd Division

Dismissed or retired officers who should be investigated and, where appropriate, detained pending a trial in civilian courts:

  • General (ret.) Rito Alejo del Río, former Commander, 17th Brigade
  • General (ret.) Fernando Millán, former Commander, 5th Brigade
  • General (ret.) Jaime Uscátegui, former Commander, 7th Brigade
  • General (ret.) Bravo Silva, former Commander, 5th Brigade
  • Major Jesús María Clavijo, 4th Brigade
  • General (ret.) Farouk Yanine Díaz

Known paramilitary leaders who should be investigated, detained, and tried in civilian courts:

  • Carlos Castaño Gil
  • Fidel Castaño Gil
  • Alexander "El Zarco" Londoño
  • Julian Duque
  • Gabriel Salvatore "El Mono" Mancuso Gómez
  • Ramón Isaza Arango
  • Luis Eduardo "El Aguila" Cifuentes Galindo
  • Diego Fernando Murillo Bejerano


In the Colombian case, U.S. and Colombian officials and politicians are not lacking in public expressions of support for human rights. What is often absent, however, is the real political will to carry out the necessary concrete actions to operationalize that expressed commitment. Until Amnesty International sees that will, as manifested by the rigorous implementation of international recommendations on human rights, we will continue to oppose military aid to Colombian in all its forms.

With that I conclude my remarks and make myself available to any questions that members of the sub-committee might have.

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