New UCC News article about Colombia work by Rev. Barbara Gerlac and Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree. Also an update on Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia and a joint Central Atlantic and Connecticut Conference delegation.
What’s the conflict all about? In recent decades the country has been plagued by the effects of the influential drug trade and by guerrilla insurgents such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), or FARC, and illegal counter-insurgency paramilitary groups such as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), or AUC, which along with other minor factions have been engaged in a bloody internal armed conflict. The different irregular groups often resort to kidnapping and drug smuggling to fund their causes, tend to operate in large areas of the remote rural countryside and can sometimes disrupt communications and travel between different regions. Since the early 1980s, attempts at reaching a negotiated settlement between the government and the different rebel groups have been made, either failing or achieving only the partial demobilization of some of the parties involved. One of the last such attempts was made during the administration of President Andrés Pastrana Arango, which negotiated with the FARC between 1998 and 2002.
In the late 1990s, President Andrés Pastrana implemented an initiative named Plan Colombia, with the dual goal of ending the armed conflict and promoting a strong anti-narcotic strategy. The most controversial element of the Plan, which also included a smaller number of funds for institutional and alternative development, was considered to be its anti-narcotic strategy, consisting on an increase in aerial fumigations to eradicate coca. This activity came under fire from several sectors, which claimed that fumigation also damages legal crops and has adverse health effects upon population exposed to the herbicides. Critics of the initiative also claim that the plan represents a military approach to problems that have additional roots in the social inequalities of the country. (citation)
What are the most recent developments? During the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, who was elected on the promise to apply military pressure on the FARC and other criminal groups, some security indicators have improved, showing a decrease in reported kidnappings (from 3700 in the year 2000 to 1441 in 2004) and a decrease of more than 48% in homicides between July 2002 and May 2005. It is argued that these improvements have favored economic growth.
Analysts and critics inside Colombia agree that there has been a degree of practical improvement in several of the mentioned fields, but the exact reasons for the figures themselves have sometimes been disputed, as well as their specific accuracy. Some opposition sectors have criticized the government's security strategy, claiming that it is not enough to solve Colombia's complex problems and that it has contributed to creating a favorable environment for the continuation of some human rights abuses. (citation)
What does that really mean? Accounts of human rights violations continue to be reported, and threats against religious leaders and union leaders have mounted. The link between the army and paramilitary forces continues to be an issue of great concern. Although the Colombian government has begun a demobilization process for part of the paramilitary forces, there is no structure in place to ensure that those involved in massacres and drug trafficking will be prosecuted.
How is the US involved? U.S. involvement in the Colombian conflict has increased since legislation passed in 2004 doubling the number of U.S. troops permitted to 800, and directly funding 600 civilian contractors.
Plan Colombia was slated to be a five-year program “ending” in 2005, but the Bush Administration budget requests continue with the same worn approach: massive amounts of military assistance and paltry levels of social, economic and development aid. The FY 2006 request included approximately $741.7 million in aid for Colombia, with nearly 80 percent for military aid and only 20 percent for humanitarian aid (social and economic assistance).
How is the UCC involved? Advocacy for Colombia, a country where Congress has slowly transformed a U.S.-funded drug interdiction program (Plan Colombia) into a counter-insurgency program with a secret army, will continue to be an area for attention and action by UCC advocates.
How can I be involved? Again this year, when funding comes up for continuing a failed policy in the budget, you can join others in mounting a challenge to the aid based on Colombia’s dismal human rights record:
continue to press Congress to link aid to Colombia to a process of justice and accountability in demobilizing the paramilitaries or the cycle of violence will continue