July 2009 Colombia Peace Update

FOR Latin America Peace Update

U.S. Military Sites Set to Replace Plan Colombia

By John Lindsay-Poland

The United States is negotiating for the use of five military facilities in Colombia, in an agreement whose objectives include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources in Washington and Bogotá cited by an explosive article published July 1 in the weekly Cambio magazine.
If such an agreement is reached, it could constitute an end run around the struggles waged for years by human rights, religious, peace, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, women's, and youth groups to demilitarize U.S. policy in Colombia.
The agreement would establish U.S. military operations for at least ten years on five sites — at Palanquero, Puerto Salgar; Apiay, Meta; and Malambo (all air force bases); and in Cartagena and Malaga Bay (both naval bases). "Unlike the agreement for the U.S. military presence in Manta, the agreement at its start does not limit its application to counternarcotics operations in the Pacific, but extends to the Caribbean, and also includes assistance in the fight against terrorism — that is, against the guerrillas," Cambio said.
The U.S. negotiators, the magazine says, "have made it known that even if they won't interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia's borders." So apart from U.S. soldiers' involvement in the Colombian army's decades-long counterinsurgency war, Colombian foreign policy in the region will be held hostage to U.S. actions in other countries that may be undertaken from the bases.
A point under negotiation is whether the agreement would be automatically renewed after ten years, or require a new agreement, as Colombian negotiators reportedly want. Either way, U.S. use of the base would extend until after the Obama administration is gone from the White House. Some people liken changing U.S. policy to turning around an aircraft carrier, which takes a long time. In this case, the aircraft carrier is dropping its anchors.
Another sticky point is judicial immunity for U.S. soldiers and contractors, sought by Washington. "Immunity = Impunity" wrote one reader on the Cambio site.
The locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic — supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao — and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions "beyond Colombia's borders" are U.S. planners contemplating?
Annual funding requests for Plan Colombia, especially in the "Foreign Operations" bill, have been a space for debate about funding the Colombian military and are subject to conditions and reports on human rights. But funding for U.S. military activities in Colombia faces no such discussion. Even Colombia desk officers at the State Department don't know how much Defense Department money is spent in Colombia. And Congress exercises almost no direct oversight on the activities of U.S. military bases around the world — with the exception of a couple high-profile sites like the detention center in Guantanamo Naval Station.
Moreover, Washington's and the U.S. military's priorities in Colombia are evolving. Congressional staffers have told us that Plan Colombia is scheduled to be reduced, and even many conservatives believe drug policy must change. The foreign aid budget approved by the House on July 9, which included $520 million for Colombia spending, zeroed out purchases of spray aircraft. It substantially cut other eradication programs from last year, although they still account for at least $80 million in military aid. The Malaga Bay naval base that hosts maritime interdiction operations received a boost in the bill.
But funding for military training and other non-drug war military aid — that is, for counterinsurgency — increased slightly (to $1.7 million and $60 million, respectively). The U.S. military budget will also likely include more than $100 million in aid to the war, not including $46 million requested for upgrades on the base in Palanquero.
The negotiations are set to conclude soon, since operations in Manta must cease by November, and U.S. officials have already indicated they will shut down operations there before September.
With an increasingly unpopular drug war and a president enamored with special operations, the establishment in Colombia of five U.S. military facilities for at least ten years, whose missions include counterinsurgency and transcend Colombian borders, would be the worst thing to happen to U.S. policy in the Andes since Plan Colombia began a decade ago. We invite you to work with us in mobilizing opposition to these negotiations.
Letter from the Field: The View from San José

By Peter Cousins

At the end of May, the Peace Community at San José de Apartadó was subject to an unusual, two-fronted attack. On live national radio, the Community was accused of active collaboration with the FARC guerrilla insurgents, and of enslaving its members into a life of misery, with no option of leaving. Some Community leaders and loyal Colombian supporters were singled out for particular treatment, including Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, former Apartadó mayor Gloria Cuartas, and — in particular — the academic Eduar Lanchero.
That the Peace Community should be linked to the insurgency is nothing new. Nor is the discourse that the campesinos are living in misery. As accompaniers, we often hear from civil and military officials (as well as the occasional former Community member who must have managed a furtive escape) that there is no progress, no development, in the Peace Community.

Ex-Interior Minister Fernando Londoño

What was novel this time around were the protagonists — the ex-Minister of Justice-turned-broadcaster Fernando Londoño Hoyos, and a demobilized guerrilla leader, alias "Samir" of the FARC's 5th Front, active in the San José de Apartadó area. As President Uribe’s Justice Minister, Londoño Hoyos spoke fervently against "Samir's" type. But this exchange was cordial in the extreme and, in all probability, highly coordinated. It was also illegal, as "evidence" of criminal activity must be passed to the Prosecutors' Office, not broadcast on the radio, jeopardizing due process and the presumption of innocence. It has also been making waves across the Atlantic, where a Dutch journalist quoted parts of it in an article of her own.
The Peace Community has denounced the broadcast, batting back each of the accusations, in a lengthy communiqué that document speaks for itself. Nonetheless, as I listened to the interview, I was reminded of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. Just as his novels are set in a parallel Oxford, so I became increasingly convinced that this must have been another Peace Community, somewhere else. It is not the Community that I have gotten to know over the last six months. Of its supposed links to the FARC, one need only say that such ties would violate its most basic raison d’être, that of effacing itself from Colombia's armed conflict, which rumbles on in defiance of assorted government officials' diagnoses of post-conflict conditions. There are some other examples, however, in particular the alleged levels of poverty and misery in the Peace Community, and the lack of progress/ development.
It is true that the campesinos amongst whom we live and work do not feature in the upper quartile of Colombia's richest people — and they are never likely to. There are also disparities of wealth among Community members. As the most recent communiqué makes clear, they have not adopted a strategy for the economic development of the San José district. Their project, (freely) undertaken as their signs declare, is one of dignified resistance to violence, displacement, government interference, and hunger, based on principles of nonviolence, solidarity, and a cooperative work model.
The conventional economic models don't always bring "growth," either. Recently I saw a USAID packet of the kind distributed to displaced people, consisting largely of bags of imported frijoles (beans), proudly bearing the stars and stripes, alongside the logos of the Colombian State and the U.N. World Food Program. In these parts, frijoles grow as if there were no tomorrow. The sheer senselessness of importing such products loomed large. It is, to use a phrase from England, like taking coals to Newcastle. I wonder if it speaks to the logic of neo-liberal "development," whereby it is cheaper to import products en masse, while keeping people displaced and dispossessed.
The Peace Community's proposal of getting back to work, growing frijoles and other crops themselves, surely benefits from the logic of empowerment and common sense. Over the years, this has led to progress after a fashion. They have been developing fair trade of organic cocoa and baby bananas. Meanwhile, out of a muddy field, fifteen minutes' walk from San José de Apartadó, there arose a new caserío (hamlet) — San Josecito — as a home for the Community's displaced. This has become a focal point for the Peace Community, and hopefully a site that will provide a safe home for many in the years to come.

FOR team member Peter Cousins

But the Community's work does not stop where the road does. Since the return to the vereda (a rural sub-division) of La Esperanza in 2006, the Peace Community, together with the accompaniment of FOR and other international organizations, has opened up viable spaces in the far reaches of the San José district. In July there are plans afoot for a "celebration of life" in La Resbalosa, eight hours' walk from San Josecito. Indeed, such has been the success of the Community model that campesinos in the veredas of Naín, Las Claras and Alto Joaquín, up to 16 hours on foot in the neighbouring department of Córdoba, have begun the process of signing up.
The FOR peace team completed its first accompaniment to the area in June, when a group of Peace Community teachers went to share ideas and experiences, and build up the Community curriculum. I asked people in these distant veredas why they wanted to join the Community. The answer was often the same as what we hear closer to home: that the army has started to back off; that the armed groups show greater respect because of international accompaniment; and even that the Peace Community's work model offers a feasible alternative to truly becoming enslaved to the vicious coca trade.
It is curious to hear accusations of enforced misery on the radio. Such circumstances would surely not lead to the easterly expansion of the Peace Community. But then, there is little doubt that the view from San José differs significantly from that of the authorities in Bogotá, Apartadó, or Carepa, where the local army brigade is based and from where we believe the interview with "Samir" was conducted. The Community is hard at work in otherwise-forgotten corners of this part of Colombia, and deserves the support of like-minded people, support which the improbable combination of Fernando Londoño Hoyos and alias "Samir" set out to undermine.
"Restrict or Neutralize": Unveiled State Policy of Spying and Persecution of Peace Community, Churches, and Human Rights Defenders

In January the weekly news magazine Semana revealed that Colombia's domestic intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which answers directly to the president's office, for years had been conducting illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, prosecutors, human rights defenders, and journalists. The government responded by claiming that a few "bad apples" conducted the spying.
Just after the Semana story on the spying, news reports revealed that many files, computer hard drives, and recordings had been destroyed. In response to the reports, the Attorney General's Office's judicial police — CTI — began an investigation into DAS operations. Though much of the evidence was destroyed, documents that remained covered the years 2004-2005. These revealed that a secret group within DAS — known as G3 — was responsible for carrying out a systematic policy of political surveillance and even sabotage against dozens of groups and individuals who were critical of the government's policies.
So far, only an index of the files has been made public, but even this index demonstrates the astonishing scope of the operations. According to a CTI report, G3 missions included surveillance of "people and organizations opposing government policies in order to restrict or neutralize their activities." The report clearly shows that totally legitimate activities were targeted and, that the purpose of the surveillance went much further than information gathering: it was intended to sabotage and criminalize legitimate activities.
What kinds of activities were carried out?
The intelligence operation did not include only "collection of private and privileged information," which in itself violates persons' right to privacy. In fact, the G3 carried out what its members called "offensive intelligence," which included "physiological warfare", "sabotage" of human rights organizations' activities, baseless persecution of human rights defenders (judicializaciones in Spanish), and production and dissemination of propaganda material to attempt to convince the international community of "what really happens" in Colombia.
Who were the targets?
* The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó:
The cell phone number of Peace Community accompanier Eduar Lancheros and the interception of the peace community's email account was ordered on July 22, 2005, barely five months after a brutal massacre carried out by the Colombian Armed forces and paramilitary death squads. Three days later an order was issued to carry out "offensive intelligence" against Jesuit priest and key community supporter, Javier Giraldo, and on August 12, an order was issued to gathered private information — including telephone, national registry, chamber of commerce, intelligence annotations, and financial data on nine leaders of the Peace Community.
* Two of the most prestigious human rights lawyers groups: Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
The G3's activities against these attorneys, who have prosecuted cases against military officials for massacres and extrajudicial executions, were particularly aggressive. For example, pictures were taken of the lawyers' children and a set of the house keys of attorney Alirio Uribe was found at DAS. Agents even sent a bloodied and dismembered doll to one attorney with a note that said, "You have a pretty daughter. Don't sacrifice her." Surveillance of these lawyers was aimed to document private information that could be used to undermine the prestige of the activists.
* Other targets
Religious groups involved in humanitarian work, such as Mennonite group Justapaz; the Catholic group Justicia y Paz; Catholic Bishop Tulio Duque Gutiérrez, who served in Apartadó; and the Swedish Christian group Diakonia.
Colombian groups working on defense of victims of the conflict, forced displacement, forced disappearance or in peace-building such as Minga, CODHES, ASFADDES, Redepaz, Ideapaz. There was a plan to sabotage the 2005 "week for peace" organized by Redepaz and to judicializar Posso (Idepaz).
What has been the official response?
President Uribe has continued to maintain that the scandal is attributable to a few individuals in the DAS. Nonetheless, three presidential aides have been linked to the case and are under investigation: Bernardo Moreno, the general secretary of the presidency; Uribe's press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez; and his communications adviser, Jorge Mario Eastman.
The Attorney General's Office is in the process of determining whether to charge the DAS officials with conspiracy to commit crimes, illegal use of surveillance equipment, abuse of authority, tampering with public documents, the destruction, suppression or concealment of public documents, or other charges.
Uribe Returned from Washington Chastened, with No FTA

By Colombian Action Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)
On his recent visit to Washington, President Uribe had a new and noisy failure. Barack Obama told him he didn't agee with re-election, and gave the example of George Washington, who resigned before running for a third term. On the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), he said again, as at the summit in Trinidad, that he had given instructions to his trade representative Ron Kirk to seek a way forward toward ratification, but he did not commit to a schedule and he indicated that the U.S. Congress had a busy agenda. Ron Kirk said that there has not been progress in defining the benchmarks that Colombia must fulfill for ratification, goals that would only be established at the end of the year.
Obama repeated several times that there would have to be a treaty that benefits both economies, by which he was recognizing that, in spite of how the treaty would broadly benefit the United States, he wants more guarantees for the U.S. and what was negotiated does not satisfy him.
The U.S. president referred with concern to the human rights situation, the killings of civilians, and the wiretaps, and insisted that Colombia must promote the rule of law and transparency, issues he would not have addressed if he had not had serious doubts about the Colombian government's conduct.
During the official visit, Uribe didn't even get promises, and he signed no agreement, which have become customary during these kinds of visits. The Colombian leader recognized that he did not expect an increase in U.S. exports, but he repeated his thesis that just attracting foreign investment would allow Colombia to provide alternatives to the drug trafficking economy. A statement easy to refute, since during the same visit he said that in the last seven years, foreign investment has increased eight times, while the world recognizes that drug trafficking continues the same or worse. Uribe also recognized that non-ratification was affecting Colombia's possibilities for signing other free trade agreements. At the same time, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, a fervent defender of free trade agreements, said that the agreement with Colombia would be delayed until at least 2011.
In summary, Uribe left chastened, dozens of protesters mobilized against him in front of the White House, and the U.S. media practically ignored his visit. The international space for the government closes daily, and what resounds in the global media are revelations about high military officers' commitments to paramilitaries and the confirmation that dozens of legislators were bribed for their previous support for re-election.
In the midst of this isolation, Uribe's response is to run and give new installations for military operations in Colombia territory to replace the base in Manta, Ecuador, including legal immunity for soldiers and contractors, and ensure facilities in important Colombian Air Force and Navy bases.
We give notice that, in its international weakness, the government continues and deepens concessions to multinationals and other powers, mortgaging national sovereignty. We call on the population to oppose its policies and continue denouncing the free trade agreements.
RECALCA is a coalition of 50 of Colombia's most important social and labor organizations, to coordinate strategies for education, outreach, and mobilization in the face of free trade agreements promoted by the government.

U.S. Funded Death Squad-Tied Army Unit
By John Lindsay-Poland
In the next few days, a retired Colombian colonel and School of the Americas graduate, Víctor Hugo Matamoros, will be tried for his role in facilitating the bloody takeover of the northeastern Catatumbo region of Colombia by paramilitary death squads in 1999. The takeover resulted immediately in a series of massacres, the displacement of more than 20,000 people, and paramilitary control of drug trafficking and other economic activities in the area.

U.S. Ambassador Curtis Kamman privately told Washington at the time that the army must be complicit in massacres in the towns of La Gabarra and Tibú. "How did seven massacres occur without interference under the noses of several hundred security force members?" Kamman wrote to Washington.

Yet, the United States continued to fund a unit intimately involved in the massacres after they took place, until at least 2007, according to State Department documents FOR has obtained.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

News Briefs

"Eradication is a waste of money."
Is that FOR talking about the harmful, wasteful program to fumigate coca in Colombia? Or maybe one of those other pesky grassroots groups always wanting change? No: it's Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the recently appointed U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, where efforts to eradicate poppies and the opium trade have been no more effective than aerial fumigation in Colombia. "The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," he said. "It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban." Are Obama's officials in this hemisphere listening?

New Resource on Colombia
The July/August issue of NACLA Report on the Americas, the premier progressive journal in the U.S. on Latin America, is devoted to exploring current conflicts in Colombia, titled "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia." The issue features important pieces about the penetration of paramilitaries into the mainstream economy, the palm oil industry, petroleum-run Barrancabermeja, Nasa indigenous resistance, and the conflict between Colombia and Ecuador. You can preview the issue here. Or, better yet, buy a copy.


Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
Fellowship of Reconciliation •
P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 •
Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 •