Dear Colombia Advocates,
I hope this messages finds you well and enjoying the beginning of winter. A lot has happened recently on Colombia issues both in and outside of the beltway, and there is, as always, lots to be done! Below you'll find information on the final passage of the 2004 foreign aid bill and what's included in it for Colombia, and an update on LAWG's presidential primaries campaign and how you can help make Colombia an elections issue (donations are still needed for the paid ads in New Hampshire and Iowa-- see below to help us get our message out even more broadly!).
1. Foreign aid bill passes the House and Senate; over $550 million slated for Colombia for 2004
The foreign aid bill, which funds almost all US foreign assistance programs including Colombia, is usually passed each summer or early fall. This year, the bill was rolled into massive $820 billion "omnibus" bill and passed in early December-- essentially, it was combined with a number of other spending bills which were passed all at once in order to save Congress time. The final version of the bill contains around $570 million in aid to Colombia, some 80 percent of which is military and police aid. $110 million of this money will be used to train a brigade of the Colombian military to guard an oil pipeline owned by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum. US aid for pipeline protection in Colombia amounts to around a $3-a-barrel subsidy for Occidental.
Our allies in Congress did manage to challenge the policy in a number of ways, thanks to your continued pressure. When the House debated the bill in July, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) offered an amendment to cut part of the Colombia military aid, and the House had a very strong debate in which a number of important concerns were raised. See www.lawg.org/pages/new%20pages/countries/Colombia/2004debate.htm for background on the debate and to see how your member voted on the amendment. Congress also required the State Department to certify next year that the Colombian military is making progress at breaking ties with paramilitary groups, and that the chemicals used for fumigation aren't harming human health or the environment. These conditions are limited in scope and difficult to enforce, but certification process provides us with a moment to debate the policy and its impact. We'll update you more on the certifications and suggest actions you can take as they happen.
2. LAWG's Presidential Primaries Campaign off and running; new materials available!
The presidential primaries are a great opportunity to bring national attention to issues that we care about. In Iowa and New Hampshire, ordinary citizens have amazing access to the candidates; town meetings are taking place all over the states, and individuals have the opportunity to ask the candidates important questions and press for a new direction for US-Colombia policy. Because these events are heavily covered by the media, even one well-asked question can get headlines.
The Latin America Working Group is working with activists in Iowa and New Hampshire to start raising Colombia issues in the context of the primaries. We've just completed tours of New Hampshire and Iowa, meeting with activists and giving updates on Colombia policy, suggesting questions to ask at town meetings, and getting them the resources they need to be even more effective advocates for change. These materials are available to everyone on our website; go to www.lawg.org/pages/new%20pages/Influencing%20Candidates/primaries2004.htm to see the resources. Here, you'll find:
-Sample questions to ask the candidates
-The candidates' positions on Colombia aid and drug policy
-Other action ideas for the primaries
-A letter that was sent by NH activists to the candidates, asking them for their position on Colombia policy.
You'll also see copies of the text for a paid advertisement that LAWG will be running in newspapers in Iowa and New Hampshire. The ads are an open letter to candidates calling for a new direction for US-Colombia policy. We've gotten great support for this project thus far, but we need to raise another $1,000 before January 7th in order to get our message out as broadly as possible. Any amount helps, and your donations are tax-deductible! Here's how to support the production and placement of the ads:
To donate online, please go to http://www.lawg.org/pages/new%20pages/Misc/Donations.htm. Click on the button at the bottom where it says "Donate to LAWGEF" (the Latin America Working Group Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization, and donations to the LAWGEF are tax-deductible). You will be directed to our secure on-line donation form.
If you would prefer to send your donation by mail, please make your check payable to LAWGEF and specify "Colombia paid ad" in the comment line. Donations can be mailed to LAWGEF, 110 Maryland Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.
So that I can track day-to-day how close we are to our goal, please hit reply to this e-mail and let me know the amount of your donation.
Even if you don't live in New Hampshire or Iowa, here are some suggestions for actions you can take around the primaries:
-Take a look at the letter on our website that was sent by New Hampshire activists to the candidates, and craft your own version. Have the letter available for signatures at community events, get members of your congregation to sign on, or ask town leaders to sign. Then send it along to all the candidates and ask for a response. The candidates' addresses are available on our website, at the address mentioned above.
-Candidates will likely be visiting your state at some point in the next few months, particularly as the primaries heat up in February and March. Show up at candidate events with signs; hold a vigil or perform street theater outside of events; or work with your local media (either through letters to the editor, op-eds, or feature stories) to bring attention to Colombia issues while candidates are in the area. Make sure to send any articles or letters printed to your members of Congress, as well! To find their addresses, see www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we can change the direction of US policy in Colombia and support a better relationship between our country and the rest of the world. Thank you so much for all of your hard work, and have a peaceful New Year.
Associate for Colombia and Central America
Latin America Working Group
T: 718-522-0899 email@example.com
Latin America Working Group
Action at home for just policies abroad www.lawg.org