WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 Sep 2008 | News

Paramilitaries, Human Rights and the Trade Agreement: Questions for Colombian President Uribe

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is visiting Washington as part of a desperate effort to get the U.S. Congress to vote on the Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA), possibly during the November-to-January lame-duck session.

Before Congress even thinks about a vote on the FTA, here are some questions that President Uribe needs to answer. 


Has U.S. aid been indirectly funding paramilitary groups?

The head of the Colombian army, General Mario Montoya, is under investigation by the Colombian Attorney General’s office for his alleged collaboration with paramilitary groups, according to news reports including a story in The Washington Post on September 17.  If these allegations prove true, then the United States could be seen as an unwitting accomplice in the atrocities committed by these notorious narco-trafficking terrorist groups, due to the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid sent to the Colombian army and administered by General Montoya.


What exactly are the Uribe Administration’s ties with paramilitary groups?

As of August 2008, 39 members of the Colombian national legislature are under formal investigation for ties to the paramilitaries, while 29 others have been detained, for a total of 68 legislators linked to paramilitaries. Many of these legislators are from parties that support President Uribe. These 68 cases constitute more than one-fourth of Colombia's 268-member bicameral congress, a situation which,,in the United States, would equate to about 130 members of the House and Senate being probed or detained for crimes including signing secret political and economic pacts with paramilitary death squads, laundering money for illegal armed groups, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, homicide and massacres.


Why are labor union killings accelerating?

Colombia continues to be world’s most dangerous place for labor activists. Forty-one trade unionists were assassinated in the first eight months of 2008 – a figure that surpasses the total number of trade unionists killed in 2007.


How does he explain the high number of extrajudicial executions?

Colombian human rights groups report that the Colombian armed forces committed 955 extrajudicial executions between July 2002 and June 2007.  Since the end of that period, numerous new cases have come to light, placing the total number beyond 1,000. These killings are a clear violation of the human rights conditions for U.S. assistance to Colombia.  


Why is the internal displacement crisis increasing in Colombia?

With over 3 million IDPs, Colombia contains one of the largest internally displaced (IDP) populations in the world. According to the Colombian group CODHES, over 300,000 people became newly displaced in 2007, an increase of 27% from 2006.  Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples have been particularly hard-hit and uprooted in large numbers this year along the Pacific Coast. Two prominent Afro-Colombian leaders, Martha Cecilia Obando Ramos and Felipe Landazury, were killed this year and many others have received death threats while working with marginalized communities to find constructive solutions to the humanitarian problems facing these communities. 


Why are Colombia’s indigenous communities disappearing?  

The National Organization of Indigenous Peoples (ONIC) recently announced that 32 indigenous ethnic groups are at risk of disappearing, with 18 smaller groups at risk of becoming physically and culturally extinct in the near future.  Paramilitary and guerrilla violence, displacement and the lack of political will from the Colombian government to protect these groups are all causes of this trend.   


What will the FTA’s impact be on rural poverty and food production?

Beyond labor and human rights concerns, the Colombia FTA will increase pressure on farmers in marginal areas to turn to coca production by opening markets and reducing government regulatory oversight. It will sharply reduce Colombia’s ability to create policies to protect the Colombian people’s food security.  The agreement fails to provide adequate safeguards and opportunities for the rural poor and, as such, will likely turn more of the rural poor over to drug production and illegal armed groups.

The United States can play a positive and constructive role in helping the Colombian government resolve these serious labor and human-rights challenges by holding it  accountable for abuses and by not passing the FTA.  As written, the FTA with Colombia is the wrong model at the wrong time.




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