Colombia Action Alert: October 28, 2002—We Can't Wait for a Vote; Time to Make Colombia an Elections Issue!


  * Reducing drug supply? Drug cultivation in Colombia increased 25% last year, despite the fumigation of over 200,000 acres of land, according to the US government’s own statistics.

  * Curbing violence? Since 2000, civilian deaths in Colombia have increased from 12 to 20 per day, according to Human Rights Watch.

  * Restoring rule of law? Brutal right-wing paramilitary groups, who regularly kill and threaten Colombian civilians, have grown by 540% since 1996.

* Strengthening democracy? Colombia’s new hard-line government has cracked down on basic democratic civil rights, allowing arrests and searches without a warrant and limiting freedom of assembly and movement.


Plan Colombia has not achieved its stated goals, and has left devastation in its wake. US congressional elections are approaching, and we have the opportunity to push our members of Congress to change US policy toward Colombia.

It’s time to ask your member of Congress: What’s your plan on Colombia?


Don't wait for a vote, because there may not be one (see timeline below for details). We need to act now! What you can do:


  1. Gather a group of friends, co-workers, or fellow activists, and write or visit your representative and senators. Election time is ideal for meeting with your members of Congress in their home offices. Tell them your concerns about military aid and fumigation in Colombia, and ask them for a concrete commitment to work for a change in policy. If they have voted well in the past (see for past votes), thank them for their good work, and ask them to sponsor briefings, write letters, or make phone calls in support of human rights in Colombia. If they’ve voted in favor of military aid, tell them you will consider their record when you go to the polls, and ask them to commit to working for a change in policy next year. Give them suggestions on how you want your tax dollars spent. After the elections are over, meet with re-elected or new members of Congress for a check-in and to help lay the groundwork and establish a relationship for the coming year.

  2. Go to town meetings, election events, or any forum where candidates will be rallying for support. MAKE COLOMBIA AN ELECTION ISSUE by asking questions of the candidates. This is an important way we can help shape upcoming votes! Grill the candidates on their position on US military aid to Colombia, and make it clear that you will support a candidate who is working to change the current policy. Ask them for a commitment to push for a change in policy next year, and give them suggestions of what you want them to support.

  3. Write a letter to the editor for your local paper, and send a copy to your representative and senators. Members of Congress closely monitor their local papers, and election-time publicity is extremely important. See for a sample letter to the editor. Even if your letter doesn’t get printed, it helps if your members know that you’re in contact with local media on this issue. Post your letter on a website if you have one.

  4. Write a letter to your members of Congress and get a religious leader from your place or worship, or a group of religious leaders, to sign it. Letters from community leaders on Colombia can send a strong message.


To locate your member of Congress, go to and enter your zip code. You can get the address and phone number of their local and DC offices. If you don’t have internet access, call the congressional switchboard at 202/224-3121 and ask them to connect you to your member’s office; staff there can give you all the information you need.


November 5: Election Day. Don’t forget to vote!

Nov. 12: Members of Congress return briefly to Washington.

Nov. 15: Members of Congress back in home districts until after Thanksgiving (a good time to schedule post-election meetings in home offices).

December 2: Congress returns to Washington to address unfinished business. This has been an unusual year, and the bitterly divided Congress has not passed most of the annual spending bills, including the 2003 foreign aid bill. To finish the 2003 budget before the end of December, Congress will have to act quickly and limit debate. They will likely lump all of the unfinished spending bills into one massive bill and vote on it with limited debate and amendments. We will not have the debate on Colombia that we wanted, and we will not see amendments to the bill, which provides almost $500 million in mostly-military aid for Colombia. Instead, the bill will be passed behind closed doors. It’s even more important that we contact our members of Congress now, preparing them to act in other ways and gearing up for next year.

Late December: State Department decides whether or not to certify that Colombia has met human rights criteria for military aid. Letting our members of Congress know where we stand on Colombia policy will help lay the groundwork to challenge the State Department, which, despite the facts, certified earlier this year that Colombia had met the human rights conditions.


Talking Points:


-Do we want to be supporting another war? Anti-terrorism efforts are taking place world-wide, and the US is considering going to war with Iraq. Do we want to expand our military involvement in Colombia at this moment? What resources are being diverted to keep up a military campaign that has not shown positive results?


-Escalating the war in Colombia is not going to help protect civilians. US military aid at this point will not end the war in Colombia. Instead, it will act like fuel on a fire, increasing the violence against Colombian civilians by all armed actors. The violence disproportionately impacts Afro-Colombians, indigenous groups, human rights and peace workers, union leaders, teachers and journalists. Moreover, the Colombian military continues to work closely with brutal paramilitary groups, who are on the US terrorist list and commit the majority of civilian killings in Colombia each year. It makes no sense to send anti-terrorism aid to a military that collaborates with a terrorist group.


-Sending military aid to Colombia brings the US into another Vietnam quagmire. This civil war has been going on for 40 years with thousands of civilians dead. Colombia is 53 times the size of El Salvador, where US counterinsurgency efforts in the 1980s cost $6 billion and 70,000 Salvadoran civilians lost their lives. The amount of money necessary to defeat the FARC is incalculable. Instead, US support for internationally-mediated negotiations between rebel groups and the government can help to bring an end to violence—and address the root causes that fuel it.


-Fumigation is a cruel, inhumane and ineffective tactic to reduce drug production. Fumigation was supposed to reduce drug supply, but the rash of spraying without alternative development programs has led to widespread displacement, hunger, and health problems among coca-growing communities, and environmental problems in the areas sprayed. The spraying has disproportionately impacted small farmers, whose food crops as well as illegal cash crops are affected. The current trend of massive fumigations without alternative development aid is not helping families switch from illegal to legal crops; rather, it is forcing them to move or replant in order to make a living. Coca production increased 25% in 2001, according to the ONDCP.


-Real Solutions. US support for a negotiated peace process, and real pressure on the Colombian government to break ties with the paramilitaries, will do much more to protect civilians than an escalated war. Alternative development programs to help farmers transition from growing drug crops, and expanded treatment programs in the US, will do more to reduce the violence that surrounds drug production and drug abuse. And support for judicial reforms encourages the rule of law and combats corruption.


If you need more information, please e-mail or call Elanor Starmer at the Latin America Working Group office, 202/546-7010. Thank you for all your hard work!