U.S. fuels violence in yet another state:Colombia
From a part of the SPANetwork that spent their Spring Break in Colombia rather than Cancun, this is one of the pieces they wrote as part of reporting back that was published in ZNet. Last week they held a week of events to educate and engage the Miami University community on the issues of military aid and human rights.
By Andrew Trout
Fourteen Miami University (Ohio) students traveled to Colombia last month to see just where the billions in U.S. military aid has gone in recent years. This week (April 16-20, 2007) they will be hosting a week of actions and events to educate their peers. The fourteen students on the delegation were a very diverse group. All were involved for different reasons. Many of the students are members of Students for Peace and Justice, a campus human rights organization, or Students for Staff, which focuses on labor issues within Miami’s community. Returning from the trip, students now have a better understanding foreign labor policies and how human rights are treated around the world.
In the morning hours of March 12, Katherine Gonzalez Torres was deposited at a bus stop, bound and blindfolded, nearly a month after her abduction. Before Katherine’s abduction her sister, a member of a Colombia human rights organization, received threats from a newly formed right-wing paramilitary group calling itself the “Black Eagles” threatening the families of those working for human rights in Colombia. For many Colombian families such political violence is a common occurrence.
Two days later, US-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. agreed to pay a 25 million dollar fine for giving money to paramilitaries in Colombia. According to US officials, Chiquita paid 1.7 million dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) between 1997 and 2004. In the past, Chiquita has also made payments to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The U.S. State Department classifies all three groups as terrorist organizations.
With a country in such turmoil, it is notable that Colombia is the third-highest recipient of US foreign aid. Since 2000, the US has given 4.7 billion dollars to the Colombian government as a part of Plan Colombia, the US aid package aimed at stemming narcotrafficking. These US tax dollars aren’t spent to alleviate the 64 percent poverty rate in Colombia. Rather, 81 percent of this money is used to bolster a corrupt Colombian military in fighting the failed “War on Drugs.” In 2006, US-funded fumigations aimed at eliminating cocaine production in Colombia reached an all time high—and coca crops increased by 40,000 hectares. The availability of cocaine in the US is better than ever.
What effect is US aid having in Colombia? One emerging answer is that it is propping up a corrupt government with increasingly visible links to paramilitaries. Recently, the Los Angeles Times cited a leaked CIA intelligence report that links the head of the Colombian military with paramilitary groups; a claim that President Álvaro Uribe has categorically denied. These reports have surfaced, however, in the wake of several high-level resignations of Colombian government officials with links to paramilitaries—the same paramilitary groups that kidnapped Katherine Torres because her sister fights for the human rights of Colombians. Currently, nine congress members are in prison for paramilitary connections, and in 2002, paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso asserted that 35 percent of the Colombian Congress was controlled by paramilitaries.
Paramilitary aggression is also heavily targeted toward trade unionists. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade union member. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions reported in 2004 that 145 unionists around the world were murdered because of their trade union activity. Colombian unionists accounted for 99 of these deaths. According to the Colombian government, 400 trade unionists have been murdered since Uribe took office, and there have been only 7 convictions for these assassinations—only two convictions for the 326 trade unionists killed since 2003. Since 1991, the impunity rate for such killings has been 98.6 percent. A Coca-Cola union leader reported recently that he received a call from a paramilitary group in January claiming that the group had planned to kidnap his four-year-old daughter at a public park but they were unable to carry out the abduction. During the phone call, the group warned that eventually the union leader’s daughter would be returned to him in a plastic bag.
The Colombian government likes to believe that it has disbanded this violent terrorist group, but the realities on the ground indicate otherwise. The Colombian government claims that it has demobilized over 30,000 paramilitaries and has collected around 16,000 weapons from these groups. Perhaps two percent of these paramilitaries will be tried for previous crimes. What’s more, these groups are re-forming under new auspices and are just as violent and aggressive as before the supposed demobilization.
Plan Colombia 2 is on the horizon for 2008. After calls from various leaders for a greater concentration on social and economic needs in Colombia, many hoped that the 2008 aid package would redirect money from military spending to economic programs. The Colombian government requested that Plan Colombia 2 contain 86 percent non-military aid. The U.S. response was to keep nearly 80% of the aid marked for military support.
A country’s integrity is only as commendable as the moral underpinnings of its policy. The reprehensible nature of US policy in Colombia demonstrates the dubious nature of our foreign involvement. US aid in Colombia supports the violence and instability of a corrupt government, and promotes a disastrous drug eradication policy. Meanwhile the policy ignores the blatant human rights abuses occurring in Colombia on a daily basis.
Yet there are some great things being done to change U.S. policy in Colombia. One of them includes Witness for Peace, a nonpartisan, organization dedicated to fostering peace between all parties in Colombia by increasing funding of Colombian social programs, pressuring the U.S. Embassy to demand the Uribe government respect the rule of law, and supporting the grassroots human rights organizations working for peace in Colombia. To learn more about this stellar NGO and to get connected with other organizations that share their passion for peace, please visit http://www.witnessforpeace.org/
Miami University Students for Peace and Justice: http://www.orgs.muohio.edu/spj/