URGENT ACTION, MAY 14: Bush Administration to Expand US Mission in Colombia, Subsidize Occidental Oil Pipeline If We Don't Act Now!

Amendments to be offered on 'Emergency Supplemental' bill, which has been delayed until NEXT WEEK (May 22)-- Please make calls ASAP.

 The Bush Administration's emergency supplemental bill for counter-terrorism efforts is about to hit the House floor-- it should be up around May 22. Included in this bill is a section on Colombia, which would:

 -Expand what US aid can be used for in Colombia. Currently, Congress has restricted US aid to go only towards counter-drug efforts; but if this bill passes, US aid can be used to do counter-insurgency and fund other, non-drug-related programs. Besides getting the US directly involved in Colombia's civil war, the money could be used to fund a Bush proposal to train a battalion of the Colombian military to guard an oil pipeline in Colombia, belonging to none other than US-based Occidental Petroleum.

 -When Bush first proposed the 'pipeline protection program,' it was supposed to be part of the foreign aid bill, which is a different bill that will be debated later this summer. But it turns out they're starting sooner than that. This emergency spending bill also includes a $6 million downpayment on the pipeline protection program-- and it's assumed that if this $6 million passes, the $98 million Bush requested in the foreign aid bill for this program will be virtually guaranteed. So the pipeline debate will happen now, not on the foreign aid bill.

But there's something we can do to stop these terrible initiatives! The bill will hit the House floor sometime next week (most likely Wednesday, May 22). There are two important amendments that will be offered, and we need to make calls asap to ask our members of Congress to support both of them!

 1) Reps. Skelton (D-MO) and McGovern (D-MA) will offer an amendment that takes out the section of the supplemental expanding the Colombia aid.

2) Rep. Kaptur (D-OH) will offer an amendment that takes out the $6 million for pipeline protection.

 It's important that we support both amendments, because if Skelton/McGovern amendment wins and our aid stays limited to counter-drug efforts, it will be much, much harder for the administration to fund the pipeline program in the future. But if it loses, the administration will be free to propose any initiative it wants-- including more subsidies for corporations in Colombia.

Expanding US military aid in Colombia will also fuel the brutal, decades-old civil war, and could result in a massive increase in civilian killings there-- especially against human rights and labor leaders, indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups, and those who promote a negotiated peace process with Colombian rebel groups. Our tax dollars should not go to fund war in Colombia!

Please call your representative as soon as possible (before Wednesday, May 22) and ask them to support the Skelton-McGovern amendment and the Kaptur amendment. If you don't know who your representative is, please see www.house.gov/writerep. When you make your call, please ask the foreign policy aide how they think your member will vote on these amendments. If you get an answer, please e-mail estarmer@lawg.org and let us know-- it's very helpful for us to have a sense of who is supporting these amendments.

 Here are a few basic talking points for your call:

 On the Bush Administration's effort to expand the US mission in Colombia:

 -The Administration argues that if we expand what US aid can be used for in Colombia, we will be able to fund counter-terrorism efforts against the FARC guerillas and 'other armed actors.' FARC violence is brutal and intolerable. But US military aid at this point will not help end violence in Colombia-- and it may even increase it. The Colombian military continues to collaborate with illegal 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 leaders, as well as human rights workers and union leaders-- and the Colombian military does nothing to protect civilians from these attacks. We shouldn't reward this brutal relationship with more aid!

 -The expanded mission will also pull 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.

 On the 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. This equals a $3 per barrel subsidy to Occidental, payed by U.S. taxpayers, to protect a pipeline for which Occidental currently pays security costs of about 50 cents per barrel, according to the Wall Street Journal.

-Beginning in December 2001, the AUC paramilitaries began systematically killing people in two towns about 100 miles from the pipeline, Tame and Cravo Norte. The 18th Brigade of the Colombian military-- which the US wants to re-train to guard the pipeline-- has shown no response to the paramilitary offensive in Arauca. If the paramilitary presence grows in this area, indigenous groups and civilians that live in the area may come under increasing threat-- and the violence against them will grow.

-This aid request is the beginning of massive corporate subsidies in Colombia. U.S. 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 U.S. corporations with investments in Colombia get a similar U.S.-funded military shield?

When you make your calls, please ask the foreign policy aide how the rep will vote on the two amendments, and then tell them why you want your representative to support them. Many members of Congress have told us that they are still waiting to hear from constituents on this issue-- it's critical that we make these calls today!