Ignoring objections from Latin American governments and Colombian civil society, the Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to station more US military personnel inside Colombia. In an agreement with the Uribe administration, the US military will soon be able to operate out of 7 Colombian military bases.
This is a troubling shift from the rhetoric of candidate Obama, who once sharply criticized the Colombian regime's appalling human rights record. Now President Obama appears to be solidifying Washington's partnership with Uribe's right-wing government, and at the same time alarming a continent that is no stranger to brutal US military interventions.
Human rights organizations have documented Colombia's military involvement with illegal paramilitary groups that on many occasions carried out extra judicial murders, disappearances, and displacement of Colombian peasants, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples.From a September 15 letter to President Obama
by James Oberstar, Russ Feingold and 14 other members of Congress
In exchange for military access to Colombia, Obama has dropped his objections to the bilateral "Free Trade Agreement" with Colombia that past president Bush tried but failed to implement. The proposed Colombian FTA has been widely condemned by social movements in the US and Colombia for failing to protect Colombian worders and the environment, and for paving the way to greater exploitation of the country by transnational corporations.
While many Democrats have joined Obama in switching gears on Colombia, 16 members of Congress recently wrote to the president to declare US policy in Colombia a failure and raise questions about the new security pact. Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota's 8th District and Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were among the signers. Here's the letter:
Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
It is our understanding that the U.S. and Colombia are in negotiations to increase U.S. access to an expanded network of Colombian military bases to support counter-narcotics efforts. We write to urge caution regarding any increase in U.S. military aid to and presence in Colombia due to concerns that increased U.S. military involvement will exacerbate the failures of Plan Colombia.
Between fiscal years 2000 and 2008, the United States provided over $6 billion in military and nonmilitary assistance to Colombia as part of Plan Colombia. This funding supported the eradication of coca and opium poppy crops, the interdiction of narcotics shipments, and the training and material support for Colombia's security forces. U.S. assistance also supported alternative crop development to give coca and opium poppy farmers alternative sources of income.
Despite the billions of dollars spent by the U.S., Plan Colombia has not succeeded. According to a GAO report released in October 2008 (GAO-09-71), "Plan Colombia's goal of reducing the cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by targeting coca cultivation has not been achieved." In fact, according to the report, coca cultivation and cocaine production have increased in Colombia.
In addition to serious questions about the value of eradication efforts, we have strong concerns about human rights violations perpetrated by the Colombian military. Human rights organizations have documented Colombia's military involvement with illegal paramilitary groups that on many occasions carried out extra judicial murders, disappearances, and displacement of Colombian peasants, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. For example, Amnesty International found that, between June 2006 and June 2007, at least 280 civilians were extra-judicially killed by Colombian security forces and that many of them were subsequently presented by those forces as guerrillas killed in conflict.' The Colombia Support Network has documented literally hundreds of incidents of abuse by the Colombian Army over the past three years', and according to Human Rights Watch, the Colombian Armed Forces engaged in "'systematic' killings of civilians" and the Colombian Attorney General's Office (La Fiscalia) is investigating cases involving more than 1,700 alleged victims.'
In the recent summit of the Union of South American Nations, called expressly to address Colombia's military agreement with the United States, every other nation in the region except for Peru expressed serious concern about the terms of the agreement and the manner in which it was negotiated. This pact threatens to make your efforts to re-engage with our neighbors in the hemisphere on terms of mutual respect much more difficult.
These failures of Plan Colombia underscore our concern that increased U.S. military presence in Colombia will continue to overemphasize funding to Colombia's armed forces rather than needed development and rule of law efforts. We hope you will exercise caution in negotiating any increase in U.S. military aid to and presence in Colombia.
Signed by the following U.S. Representatives
James P. McGovern
Jose E. Sorrano
James L. Oberstar
and Sen. Russ Feingold