WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
22 Oct 2008 | News

New Report Outlines a Just and Effective Foreign Policy toward Colombia


During their final presidential debate, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy toward Colombia, an important partner in Latin America. Yet the next U.S. president won't just be debating policy, he will be making it-and in the case of Colombia, he will need more than minor changes along the margins.  He will need a new approach.

The Compass for Colombia Policy, written by some of Washington's top Colombia experts, offers a better way forward for one of the main foreign policy challenges that the next administration will face.  This report makes a detailed, persuasive case for a new U.S. strategy that would achieve our current policy goals while ending impunity and strengthening respect for human rights. Instead of risking all by placing too much faith in a single, charismatic leader, the United States must appeal to the aspirations and needs of all Colombians by strengthening democratic institutions, such as the judiciary.  In particular, the United States must stand by and empower the human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, union leaders, journalists and others who are the driving forces towards a more just and peaceful Colombia.

The Compass details seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.

1.  Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia's judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

2.  Actively Support Overtures for Peace
The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

3.  Support Expansion of the Government's Civilian Presence in the Countryside
Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia's problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.  

4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees
The United States can help resolve Colombia's massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia's Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.   

5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities
The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities' land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.  

6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia
The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement.  The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers' dependence on coca and ending the conflict.  

7. Get Serious-and Smart-about Drug Policy
The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region.  The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities.   Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers.  Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

"The next administration should use diplomatic pressure to hold Colombia to much higher standards on human rights, labor rights, and protection of the rule of law." -Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

"The United States must recognize the magnitude of the human rights crisis for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lands and livelihoods to violence." -Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America

"Nine years after the launch of Plan Colombia, the production of cocaine remains virtually unchanged.  The United States simply cannot afford to continue to pursue this costly and failed counternarcotics policy.  The next President must change course."  -Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

"In the last decade, Colombia's conflict has taken 20,000 more lives and displaced more than 2 million citizens.  Now is the time to make renewed efforts for peace."  -Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia

Click here to read the executive summary.

For more information:

Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, (202) 546-7010; lisah@lawg.org

Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez@wola.org

Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson@ciponline.org   

Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly@usofficeoncolombia.org