Colombian Groups Say U.S. Aid Endangers Them

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Wed Aug 23 05:24:19 PDT 2000

>From todays (August 23rd) Washington Post:

Can listers who are more intimate with Colombia give any more information, where Peace Colombia stands in the Colombian political spectrum?


Colombian Groups Say U.S. Aid Endangers Them

By Steven Dudley Special to The Washington Post Wednesday, August 23, 2000 ; A04

BOGOTA, Colombia, Aug. 22 -- More than 100 Colombian nongovernmental organizations have banded together to resist the government's $7.5 billion anti-drug plan, complaining that it has been co-opted by a U.S. military strategy that would make their participation unethical and put them in danger if they accept government aid.

"This plan is just going to make the war worse," said Diego Perez, head of a Jesuit human rights think tank, the Center for Investigation and Popular Education, who belongs to a loosely knit coalition called Peace Colombia that opposes the government's Plan Colombia.

"By militarizing this conflict, you're not going to resolve the guerrilla or the drug problem," he said.

The government says the groups that make up Peace Colombia--including human rights, indigenous, economic development and environmental organizations--are in the minority. "I think [this argument] is being used by some NGOs that don't really feel that Plan Colombia should be implemented," said Jaime Ruiz, a presidential adviser. "We need to look at this from a larger perspective."

Ruiz said he is focusing on aiding the country's big economic development organizations, most of which have said they are willing to work through Plan Colombia. Although some U.N. and European Union officials here have voiced doubts about the plan's wisdom in private, their international organizations have not taken positions and are expected to cooperate.

The small Colombian groups' refusal to participate, therefore, is seen more as a protest gesture and measure of concern than a serious obstacle to the U.S.-backed plan put forward by President Andres Pastrana.

Members of Peace Colombia said some of them could be put in danger if they take the aid, and all of them have said they will not accept any money from the U.S. government. "Anything that sounds like Plan Colombia is going to become a military target," Perez said. "We see this as one big package, in which you can't differentiate the military from the social part."

The United States is giving $1.3 billion to aid Plan Colombia, most of it in the form of military hardware, intelligence equipment and training for Colombian troops to battle leftist rebels in drug-producing areas. To make sure the aid goes forward, President Clinton signed a national security waiver tonight exempting the Colombian military from human rights standards laid down by the U.S. Congress.

National security was invoked because U.S. officials say drug production in Colombia has ballooned with guerrilla involvement. This Andean nation supplies the United States with 80 percent of its cocaine and much of its heroin.

About half of Plan Colombia's $7.5 billion in expenditures will go toward social and economic programs, and Peace Colombia representatives said that by signing the waiver on human rights, Clinton confirmed their belief that this is a plan for war. They argue that the military offensive it is designed to promote will cripple efforts to wean small farmers away from producing illicit crops.

The 17,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group, is said to be threatening local farmers' unions that may receive money. Community leaders in the southern province of Putumayo--a guerrilla stronghold and the principal target zone for the first batch of Colombian and U.S. money--have said death threats prevent them from organizing efforts to voluntarily substitute legal crops for coca, the raw material of cocaine, as outlined by Plan Colombia's creators.

But Ruiz, the presidential adviser, said the government is going to increase its presence in places like Putumayo so community organizations can resist guerrilla pressure. "You need to come in with the necessary strength so you're not going to give them a few pesos and leave them again," Ruiz said in an interview. "They need to know . . . that they're going to be supported."

Ruiz said the plan needs the military component to back up the social component, but admitted there may difficulties in implementing it. "Are we going to have problems? Yes," Ruiz said. "We're going to need to give these people security."

But many people may be caught in the cross-fire, according to Jorge Rojas, the head of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Refugees, a nongovernmental organization that works with people fleeing the conflict and is part of Peace Colombia. While groups that accept the aid could become targets of the rebels, those that do not accept it could become targets for right-wing paramilitary organizations, Rojas said.

"I would hope that they [Peace Colombia groups] are as committed as we are to improving the situation," a U.S. official in Bogota said. "And if we can do something constructive with them, then I would think they would want to be a part of that."

The official added that the total budget of the U.S. civilian aid agency in Colombia has gone from $9 million per year to $280 million for the next two years. But it is up to the Colombian government to provide the protection for these U.S.-funded projects and up to local groups to decide whether they can accept the funds.

Next month, European Union countries as well as Japan, Canada and Switzerland will meet with the Colombian government for the second time in three months to decide how best to contribute to Pastrana's effort. Colombia is expecting to receive close to $900 million from these countries, but so far only Spain has said it will channel money through Plan Colombia.

The rest have said they are troubled by the Colombian's military approach and would like to see more consultation between the government and nongovernmental groups. The European Union ambassador in Colombia, Candido Rodriguez, said there is even talk of consulting with rebel groups.

"We can't start a project without being sure that it can be implemented," Rodriguez said. "It would be interesting for the Colombian government to talk to the guerrillas so that a project that the EU is going to implement in a specific area at least has an agreement from the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] not to intervene militarily."

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