Urgent Action: Colombia Legislation to Reach Congress in September

We Need to Support Members of Congress Trying to Stop Oil Subsidies, Expanded War in Colombia!


August 8: The 2003 foreign aid bill could reach the floor of the House and Senate in late September-- right around the time of the Colombia Mobilization (www.colombiamobilization.org)! Bush's request for this bill includes more than $700 million in additional aid for Colombia and the Andean region, most of which is military aid. He has also requested that Congress:



  Expand what US military equipment and aid can be used for, allowing 2003 money to support the Colombian government's war against FARC rebels. Currently, US aid can be used for the war against the FARC only through the end of 2002.



  Allocate $98 million for training and equipping a brigade of the Colombia military to guard the Caño-Limon oil pipeline from rebel attacks. The pipeline is owned in part by US oil company Occidental Petroleum, who lobbied hard for the original Plan Colombia package in 2000.


Amendments are coming that need our support: Act Now! Don't let oil interests hijack US foreign policy, or let our military aid escalate a war that kills thousands of Colombian civilians each year!


What to do: We can help stop these harmful initiatives! Your members of Congress are in their home districts during the month of August. Call, visit, or write them there, or call your senators' and rep's foreign policy aides in their Washington offices. If you want to call the Washington office, the Capitol Switchboard number is 202/224-3121. They can transfer you to your member's office.


Tell them to support amendments on the foreign aid bill to cut the pipeline money and to keep our money from being used in Colombia's war. There will be amendments offered on the House floor to cut the money for the pipeline brigade and to take out the 'mission switch' language in the bill. On the Senate side, there will likely be an amendment to cut the pipeline money. The Senate has already cut the money from $98 to $88 million, but an amendment for a further cut is expected.


When you make your calls, please ask your member of Congress or their foreign policy aide how the member might vote on the two amendments, and tell them why you think they should support them. Many members of Congress have told us that they are waiting to hear from constituents on these issues-- your call could make a huge difference! If you get a sense of how your member will vote, please e-mail estarmer@lawg.org. This will help us organize for September's vote.




Why? Here are a few talking points for your call or meeting:

Why don't we want to expand US aid to help Colombia fight the brutal FARC guerillas?

-FARC violence is terrible and intolerable. But US military aid at this point will not be enough to end the war in Colombia. Instead, more military aid will act like fuel on a fire, escalating the conflict and increasing the violence against Colombian civilians by all armed actors.


-Sectors of the Colombian military continue to work closely with brutal paramilitary groups, who are on the US terrorist list and commit the majority of politically-motivated killings in Colombia each year. The paramilitaries regularly attack indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, human rights workers, and union leaders, claiming that they are rebel sympathizers-- and the Colombian military ignores the violence, sometimes even helping facilitate these attacks. It makes no sense to send anti-terrorism aid to a military that collaborates with a terrorist group. Even if US aid could help strengthen Colombia's military against the FARC, it won't be effective at ending violence against civilians until the ties between the military and paramilitary groups are broken.

-The expanded mission will also pull the US into Colombia's civil war with the FARC guerillas. The war has gone on for 40 years, and has no easy military solution. When the US got involved in counter-insurgency in El Salvador in the 1980s, it cost the US $6 billion and 70,000 Salvadoran civilians lost their lives. Colombia is 53 times the size of El Salvador. Are we ready to deal with the cost-- both human and financial-- that getting involved in this war would mean? Support for negotiated peace talks with the FARC will go much further at ending violence in Colombia than more military aid will. We all want to see an end to FARC violence-- the question is which way will be most effective and bring a lasting peace.


-Newly inaugurated President Alvaro Uribe plans to escalate Colombia's war against the FARC, with US help. Among his initiatives are the creation of a 1 million-strong civilian intelligence force to give information to the Colombian military on suspected guerillas and guerilla supporters. This plan has the potential to hurt civilians not affiliated with the rebels, and pulls more civilians into the brutal war. Uribe has signaled a number of anti-democratic initiatives, including dissolving the Congress and creating unicameral legislature and declaring a state of seige. We should not be so quick to loosen the restrictions on US aid before we know what Uribe has planned.

Why don't we want an oil pipeline protection program?

-The “Critical Infrastructure Brigade,” as the Bush administration calls it, would be protecting a pipeline that, when operational, pumps about 35 million barrels per year-- less than 1% of US oil imports. This brigade equals a $3 per barrel subsidy to Occidental, paid by US taxpayers.

-This aid request is the beginning of massive corporate subsidies in Colombia. US Ambassador Anne Patterson told Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper that "There are more than 300 infrastructure sites that are strategic for the United States in Colombia." Other corporations are already lining up to lobby for protection of their holdings in Colombia. Will other US corporations with investments in Colombia get a similar US-funded military shield? Where do we draw the line?


What do we want instead?


-Aid for alternative development programs. Many farmers in the south are pushed into growing drug crops because they have no other alternative, and armed groups-- the guerillas and the paramilitaries-- profit by taxing these crops. Investing in crop substitution and infrastructure programs will cut revenues to the armed groups. And helping the farmers make a decent living and support their families will lower the number of recruits for the armed groups, as well. Widespread hunger and displacement caused by US fumigation campaigns and a lack of alternative development aid have caused a humanitarian crisis, and many desparate families send members to join the armed groups, who pay a steady salary and guarantee their protection.


-Aid for judicial reform and support for human rights workers. US aid for the sectors of the Colombian government in charge of investigating and prosecuting human rights offenses can help support the rule of law and human rights, and combats corruption in the military and government. In addition, support for programs to protect human rights workers will allow them to continue their important work.


-Humanitarian support for the displaced. With millions of people internally displaced already in Colombia, the humanitarian crisis is worsening daily as communities flee paramilitary and FARC violence. US food aid and other forms of humanitarian assistance will help alleviate some of this crisis.


-Support for the negotiated peace process. After 40 years, the Colombian civil war has ravaged the citizens and economy of the country. It's clear that there is no military solution-- and any military victory will be short-lived if the root causes of the conflict are not addressed. We need a negotiated settlement if we want lasting peace. Throwing military aid and equipment at the problem will only escalate the violence. US support for peace talks with the FARC will be invaluable in bringing about an end to violence against Colombian civilians.

Thank you again for your help and support! If you would like to stay up-to-date on legislative action on Colombia and are not already on the LAWG e-mail list, please send a message with your name and address (or congressional district, or representative) to estarmer@lawg.org.