President Alvaro Uribe faced questions from members of the Congress about Colombia’s record of impunity during his visit to Washington this week. He came to Washington seeking support for a trade deal between the United States and Colombia and renewed military and economic assistance.
WOLA, the respected research-and-advocacy group, believes it is appropriate and necessary for Congress to demand action from President Uribe on the unsolved murders of hundreds of labor unionists, continued paramilitary activity, the displacement of Afro- Colombians and other issues before any vote on a trade agreement. “President Uribe has heard the concerns in Congress about impunity in Colombia. Now he needs to act,” said Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Colombia.
We note Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement yesterday after her meeting with President Uribe, which read in part: Many of us expressed our growing concerns about the serious allegations of connections between illegal paramilitary forces and a number of highranking Colombian officials. It is essential that the Colombian government investigate and prosecute such officials, including those at high levels. Those within Colombia who are calling for full disclosure about paramilitary influence should be commended for their constructive efforts to build a stronger democracy.
Senator Patrick Leahy expressed similar concerns in his statement:
We give more than a quarter of a billion U.S. tax dollars to the Colombian military each year. Three-fourths of that aid is provided with no conditions […] We do not want our aid to go to anyone with links to paramilitaries. Uncovering the truth is important, and so is acting on the truth. […] The Administration and the Congress have a fiduciary responsibility to American taxpayers to use these dollars wisely and to take care that U.S. military aid is part of the solution, instead of perpetuating Colombia’s problems.
We hope President Uribe returns to Colombia with an understanding of the depth of concern in Congress about these questions. “President Uribe returns to Colombia with a long list of things to do to show an improvement in human rights,” said Sánchez-Garzoli.