Plan Colombia Poses Challenges to Peace, Human Rights

On July 13, President Clinton signed into law legislation to provide some $1.3 billion to Colombia, mostly military assistance. While a majority of both houses voted for the aid bill, there was also dissent in the ranks of both Democrats and Republicans, in the form of large albeit losing votes for various amendments in committee and on the floor. These votes expressed opposition to the military component of the package and to the failure to earmark sufficient resources to fighting the drug problem at home. For much more detail, see the Center for International Policy web page on the subject, at <>.

Much of this issue of Colombia Update is devoted to or makes reference to Plan Colombia. It includes an article by Alfredo Molano exploring the social and political dynamic that has unfolded in southern Colombia over the last 10 to 20 years, a reality largely ignored by the U.S. discourse about Anarcoguerrillas@ that justifies the military thrust of the plan. Researchers J. Bigwood and S. Stevenson describe the U.S.-driven effort to include a biological warfare component to the aid plan in the form of a poisonous fungus to be dropped from the sky. Policy analyst Adam Isacson examines five reasons why Plan Colombia will fail. And 75 U.S. veterans explain their misgivings with the U.S. policy of drug war in Colombia in a letter to Gen. McCaffrey, the drug czar.

From Colombia we feature an interview with Governor Jorge Devia, of Putumayo, about his region, targeted by Plan Colombia but not consulted by the central government in Bogotá. Communiques by the U=wa and Embera indigenous groups bear witness to their persistence in defending life and the environment in the face of adversity. Justicia y Paz writes of the latest attacks on the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, on July 8. Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Ana Teresa Bernal of Redepaz, and Ubencel Duque of the Magdalena Medio Development and Peace Program discuss issues facing the peace process. We also examine a few of the AU.S. angles@ that have been in the news, looking in particular at certain U.S. corporations= interests in Colombia today.

Freedom of expression and the work we do

Exiled journalist Ignacio Gómez describes how journalists are used and victimized by the armed actors as they pursue psychological warfare to the hilt, profoundly wounding freedom of the press. He had to flee Colombia after his investigative reports revealed earlier this year that U.S.-trained Colombian Army units supported the paramilitary squads that perpetrated the July 1997 Mapiripán massacre. He also argued in a New York Times op-ed article (June 23, 2000) that the continued killings and intimidation of Colombian journalists will make it difficult to monitor Plan Colombia, therefore increasing the likelihood of both corruption in the handling of the monies and continued abuses under the Plan. Human rights defenders, peace activists, and leaders of grass-roots social movements have as their principal weapon the ability to speak out and mobilize, not the force of arms. It is therefore all the more important that we continue to build our efforts, as human rights activists and as persons and organizations working for peace and social justice, to support our counterparts in Colombia and to help bring about a policy geared more to human rights and social justice than to creating military situations in which these values are the first to go.

Said Abraham Lincoln: AI am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.@ Applying this principle to Colombia today, the U.S. media get a mixed review at best. The broadcast media, in particular, have failed to raise the issue to the public in any meaningful and sustained way (ABC=s Nightline, for example, hasn=t covered Colombia since June 1991), ensuring that those who rely on the evening news for their information see little if any coverage; and what coverage exists sometimes sounds and looks more like an extension of the psychological warfare than a balanced effort to inform the public, usually providing little information from a human rights perspective.


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