WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
2 May 2007 | News

Tough Questions for President Uribe

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will meet with members of Congress today and Thursday to try to win support for a trade deal with the United States and to maintain strong U.S. military aid for his government.

The Colombian government has failed so far to answer basic questions about the continuing murders of labor leaders, violations of the rights of displaced persons, and a general climate of impunity. “The Colombian government is here to put a fresh coat of paint on old and persistent problems,” said Joy Olson, executive director of WOLA, the respected research-and-advocacy group.

“Members of Congress should be skeptical toward President Uribe’s public-relations campaign and insist on real answers,” said Gimena Sanchez, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Colombia.

WOLA urges Congress to demand answers from Uribe on these questions:

Why have there been so few convictions in the hundreds of murders of Colombian trade unionists? A total of 236 labor unionists have been killed in Colombia in the past three years; only two people are known to have been convicted as a result. This kind of impunity invites more violence. WOLA is concerned that abuses against labor rights could worsen if the trade agreement is approved, absent a better record of enforcement from the Colombian state.

“Along with our concerns about labor rights, we’re worried about the negative effects the trade agreement is likely to have on the rights of Colombia's most vulnerable communities,” said Sanchez.

Why hasn’t more been done to dismantle the structures of paramilitary groups and sever their ties to the government and ruling party? A study by the Organization of American States documents 22 armed units with upwards of 3,000 members. So far, Colombia has failed to dismantle fully the groups’ criminal structures.

“The government should vigorously implement the rule of law,” said Sanchez.

Why hasn’t the Colombian executive branch fully implemented the country’s own legislation on internally displaced persons? With 3.8 million people forced to flee their homes due to civil conflict, violence and fumigation efforts, Colombia has the second largest number of internally displaced persons in the world. There are numerous reports of violations of their basic rights.

"Rather than boasting about the great legal framework they have, they should enforce it," said Sanchez.

Fumigation has not curbed coca growing or cocaine production. Why should we expect fumigation to succeed now?  Rather than ease farmers’ reliance on coca, aerial herbicide spraying reinforces it. Fumigation leads farmers to replant as quickly and as often as they can and forces them to move into ever more remote areas. As coca spreads, the armed conflict follows, worsening the plight of communities brought into the crossfire. Coca’s dispersal also entails deforestation and other environmental damage.

“The real surprise would be if fumigation actually curbed coca cultivation,” said John Walsh, Senior Associate for the Andes and Drug Policy. “Instead of easing poor farmers' reliance on coca, fumigation worsens their plight and leaves coca as virtually their only survival option.  Far from deterring replanting, fumigation is prompting it."

Anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency programs in Colombia have cost American taxpayers more than $5 billion since 2000. Currently about 80 percent of that aid reaches Colombia in the form of military and police assistance. Yet cocaine prices have continued to fall and purity has increased, as the White House drug czar recently acknowledged. This indicates that supply is robust and that cocaine remains readily available on U.S. streets, despite heavy investment in military aid and fumigation.

WOLA has urged the administration and Congress to reallocate the Colombian aid package to 50 percent military and police aid and 50 percent humanitarian aid. 


Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171

                         Joy Olson, ext. 209

                         Gimena Sanchez, ext. 205; cell phone (202) 489-1702

                         John Walsh, ext. 203