Colombian Groups Say U.S. Aid Endangers Them

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Wed Aug 23 06:30:54 MDT 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

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

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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