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Oct 3: Latest News From Columbia--More US Military Aids, Special Forces to Columbia

by Lee Siu Hin Friday, Oct. 04, 2002 at 11:12 PM

By: PeaceNoWar.net 1) More US Military Aid Released to Colombia (Center for Defense Information, USA) 2) US Forces to Train Colombia Army (Assoicated Press)

1) More US Military Aid Released to Colombia
By: Victoria Garcia, Research Assistant, vgarcia@cdi.org
Center for Defense Information
Volume 6, Issue #33 October 3, 2002

On Sept. 9, 2002, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage announced that Colombia met the human rights conditions required by Congress to release approximately $42 million in aid for Colombian security forces (known as certification). Terms of releasing the aid specifically stipulated that the Colombian Armed Forces suspend all ties to the right wing paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in September 2001. (However, even while granting certification, State Department spokesperson, Richard A. Boucher, admitted that more should be done to sever the known links between the military and paramilitary personnel in Colombia.) Other stipulations included proving that the Colombian military has been cooperating with civilian prosecutors in human rights cases and suspending any military personnel that are known human rights violators.

The certification of military aid has raised many concerns among human rights activists who argue that Colombia has not made noteworthy progress in the human rights realm. In May $62 million was released to the Colombian military after the approval of a similar certification process. Since January 2002 Colombian military personnel have reportedly arrested 416 suspected AUC members out of an estimated 10,000. Furthermore, Colombian military officials claim to have suspended only 6 officers and 10 enlisted men and dismissed about 30 others since May, due to their offensive behavior. This meager statistic does not reflect substantial progress in the suspension of ties between Colombian security and paramilitary forces. Nonetheless, a few weeks after the approval of the funds, newly elected Colombian President Uribe met with President Bush pleading for more U.S. military aid and support for the rampant campaign against narco-terrorism.

Even without the Colombian requests, the United States continues to fund operations in Colombia. The administration is proposing an estimated $450 million in aid in FY2003 for Colombia, of which more than 60% will be used for security forces. During the Clinton administration, the United States gave the Colombian government an estimated $1.7 billion in aid to help combat drug trafficking. Colombia produces approximately 90% of the cocaine sold in the United States and 60% of the heroin, thus justifying American involvement in Colombia's ongoing drug war. On June 6, 2002, however, Congress allowed for the first time a change in the mission of U.S. aid-from counter-narcotics to counter-terrorism. Critics have been very weary of this change in mission; as it gives Colombian officials more leeway to use U.S. foreign aid to finance Colombia's ongoing civil war.

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana has been widely criticized for not efficiently addressing Colombia's drug problem, despite the millions in military assistance being pumped into the country by the United States. Indeed, rather than reducing the drug problem and minimizing the civilian death toll, the war has only escalated, averaging 3,600 civilian deaths a year due to the civil conflict. Despite the millions donated by the United States for drug crop eradication, the estimated amount of coca and poppy has only increased.

President Uribe is making all attempts to separate himself from Pastrana's policies and has taken a hard-line approach to the Colombian strife. On Aug. 12, five days into his presidential term, Uribe declared a nationwide state of emergency and imposed a 1.2% tax on high-income businesses and individuals. This tax is expected to generate about $800 million, almost double of Colombia's current defense budget, to be used for Colombia's security forces in addition to the U.S. aid. Additionally, as part of the 9-month state of emergency decree, the armed forces are allowed to restrict civilian movement, conduct warrantless searches, and restrict information reported by the media, in an attempt to cut off civilian support of the guerillas. Aerial fumigation of narcotics has resumed since Uribe took office, yet no crop substitution programs have been put into place. Uribe also hopes to form additional military brigades to build up Colombian defense forces. Uribe plans to enlist up to 40,000 civilians to supplement Colombian security forces in rural areas currently ruled by guerilla and paramilitary forces. This plan however, has been widely criticized by human rights organizations that fear militarizing more of the civilian population will only cause the creation of more paramilitary groups.

Also coinciding with the release of the U.S. military aid to Colombia was Sept. 24 drug-trafficking indictments of three members of the AUC, including paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño. The indictment accuses the offenders of bringing more than 17 tons of Cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997. While all three AUC members remain at large in Colombia, Castaño has repeatedly vowed that he is innocent and has promised to surrender to U.S. authorities. On Sept 25, Castaño responded to the request for his extradition in a statement to a private Colombian TV channel, stating that he would only turn himself in to the U.S courts if the same requests were made for the leaders of the leftist guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Drug trafficking and terrorism have been major components of Colombia's civil war for almost four decades, and critics fear that the United States is only further embroiling itself in a uniquely Colombian problem. But it seems as though the Bush administration and the Uribe administration have many shared interests. Colombia, along with Peru and Bolivia, is now eligible to reap the benefits of the newly approved Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Under this law, ratified Aug. 6 as part of the Trade Act of 2002, an estimated 700 Colombian exports will have duty-free access to U.S. markets in compensation for their anti-drug efforts. About 6,000 Colombian products already enjoy these benefits. Additionally, the recently released U.S. national security strategy highlights Washington's intent to continue aiding Colombia in defeating narco-terrorism -- "we are working to help Colombia defend its democratic institutions and defeat illegal armed groups of both left and rights by extending effective sovereignty over the entire national territory and provide basic security to the Colombian people." It is clear that regardless of Colombia's human rights records or clear successes in drug eradication efforts, U.S. military involvement in Colombia has been cemented for many years to come.
2) US Forces to Train Colombia Army
.c The Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - U.S. special forces will begin training a new Colombian army commando unit this month to attack outlawed armed groups, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The officials, speaking on condition they not be further identified, told journalists the Colombia soldiers would be trained at an army base near the capital and would then form a new special forces commando battalion.

``It's similar to commando battalions in different armies around the world that do direct action raids,'' one of the officials said.

Critics of U.S. military assistance to Colombia have warned Washington of mission creep, in which traditional counternarcotics assistance evolves into broader military aid - with the United States eventually being sucked directly into a 38-year civil war.

The U.S. officials insisted that the training of the new commando battalion is part of the war on drugs, known as Plan Colombia. They said approval from U.S. Congress for the training of the commando battalion was not needed.

``They will be focused on counternarcotics operations and narcoterrorist organizations,'' one of the officials said at the briefing. Washington and the Colombian government consider all three of Colombia's outlawed armed groups - two leftist rebel armies and a right-wing paramilitary outfit - drug trafficking terrorist organizations.

U.S. special forces troops have already trained a 2,000-member Colombian army counternarcotics brigade. Its task is to wipe out cocaine and heroin-producing crops which rebels and their paramilitary foes ``tax,'' earning huge profits.

The U.S. Congress recently authorized the U.S. military to begin training a Colombian army brigade, which will try to prevent rebel attacks on the Cano-Limon pipeline, which runs across northern Colombia and carries oil belonging to Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum.

Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said she was not surprised by news that the United States would now be training Colombian army commandos.

``They've been paving the way for this kind of announcement,'' Sweig said in a telephone interview. She said she believed that word of the imminent training was kept quiet ``to avoid 'the sky is falling,' Salvador, Vietnam, fears.''

The U.S. official said at the briefing Thursday that candidates for the new special forces commando battalion would be picked from the Colombian army's Rapid Deployment Force who have undergone background checks to determine they have not been involved in human rights abuses.

Colombia's war kills some 3,500 people each year, and pits the rebels against the Colombian military and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

AP reporter Susannah A. Nesmith contributed to this report.

10/03/02 19:43 EDT

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