The House of Representatives has pointed the way toward a more effective and humane policy on Colombia by passing legislation to reduce the military component of the U.S. aid package, while increasing funds for alternative crop development, judicial and police reform, and human rights protections in Colombia.
The bill, known as the 2008 foreign aid bill (H.R. 2764), sets more stringent guidelines for the use of aerial herbicide spraying against coca crops, observance of human rights, and demobilization of Colombian paramilitary groups.
“While there are no easy solutions, the bill passed by the House moves in the right direction,” said Joy Olson, Executive Director of WOLA.
In an important initiative, the bill also recognizes the ethnic dimension to Colombia’s civil conflict by including provisions for Afro-Colombians for the first time. The bill requires the State Department to certify that Colombian armed forces are not violating the land and property rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.
“This is a good bill. It recognizes that the complexities of the situation in Colombia call for a more constructive approach by the United States,” said Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Colombia.
Since 2000, military and police aid has comprised about 80 percent of U.S. aid to Colombia, with a large share used for aerial fumigation of coca crops. U.S. government figures show more coca cultivation now in Colombia than in 2000. The price of cocaine on U.S. streets is declining, indicating robust supply, while purity is rising. The current bill would lower the share of military aid to 55 percent, with 45 percent for social and humanitarian aid, out of a total aid package of $530 million
“This bill recognizes that it is time for change in our Colombia policy,” said Rep. Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, in floor debate on Wednesday.
Many Colombians have also concluded that shoveling money into the military and fumigation is simply not succeeding in controlling coca supplies. In an editorial entitled “Let’s Just Admit It,” the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo said this week that “after a decade of fumigation and more than five years of Plan Colombia, there is plenty of reason to conclude that aerial spraying has failed and that the current anti-drug policy has not produced the expected results.”
At the same time, Colombia has made little progress in prosecuting the slayings of hundreds of trade unionists over the past decade and other human right abuses, including by the military.
“I will never advocate walking away from the people of Colombia,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, in floor debate. “But we should not be sending money in a way that does not acknowledge that those security forces [in Colombia] need to do better on human rights.”
WOLA, the research and advocacy group, urges the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass a better Colombia aid package.