Colombia on the brink

Will assistance escalate the war, or can reforms be tied to U.S. aid?

Published May 24, 2000 7:55PM (EDT)

Breaking rank for human rights
BY ANA ARANA (05/18/00)

Ana Arana's article on the involvement of Human Rights Watch Americas in the debate over U.S. aid to Colombia repeats an obfuscation common to much recent reporting on this issue, namely that the "atrocities from both left-wing and right-wing terrorists" are equivalent. In fact, while the left-wing FARC guerillas' primary offense against the civilian population is via widespread kidnapping, it is the right-wing paramilitaries that are engaged in the vast majority of murders of civilians. It is also disingenuous to equate the relationship each side has to the drug trade. Whereas the FARC derive some funding for its politically motivated struggle by levying "taxes" on drug traffickers in the regions it controls, the paramilitaries are paid mercenaries, employed by the traffickers to terrorize civilian allies of the FARC. As the U.S. stands poised to enter more directly into this decades-old civil war, clearer reporting on the complex situation on the ground is vital.

-- Andrew Wolfe

It is unfortunate that Ana Arana spoke with so few people for her article on the response of the human rights community to the proposed Colombia aid package. My organization, as well as the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for International Policy and many others, most obviously members of Congress and their aides, have worked to ensure that human rights conditionality is attached to the aid package. We appreciate the contributions of Human Rights Watch, but those could not have been effective without the work all of us have done to raise serious concerns about the objectives and feasibility of the proposed administration policy.

Where the RFK Center for Human Rights differs from Human Rights Watch is in our analysis of the possibility of reforming the Colombian armed forces through U.S. pressure. The Pastrana government and the Colombian Armed Forces have resisted all efforts to end impunity for human rights violations committed by or with the acquiescence of the military. Repeated international recommendations for straightforward reforms which could improve the situation have been ignored. The popular perception in Colombia is that the U.S. assistance is for fighting the guerrilla wars, not for counternarcotics as we understand here. In other words, the assistance will escalate the war. A full-scale war is not the context in which one could expect effective military reform. The only results will be the further militarization of Colombia and increased civilian casualties. We will need to revisit the issue of what constitutes a pragmatic approach a year or two from now.

-- Kimberly Stanton

program director, Latin America

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

By Salon Staff

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