U.S. Senators Seek Changes to Plan Colombia

WASHINGTON – Three influential Democratic senators have urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to review the U.S. contribution to the counter-narcotics initiative known as Plan Colombia in light of Bogota’s scant progress in reducing cocaine production or curbing human rights abuses.

“Given U.S. record budget deficits, we cannot afford to continue assistance that is not achieving sufficient results,” Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said.

Feingold sits on the Senate Foreign Relations, Budget and Intelligence Committees, Leahy chairs the Judiciary Committee and Dodd is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs.

“As we enter the 11th year of what was originally planned to be a five-year aid program, it is time to re-evaluate U.S. assistance to Colombia,” the lawmakers said in a missive published a day before Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos is due in Washington.

Despite nearly $7 billion in mainly military aid to Colombia between 2000-2009, “the amount of cocaine entering the United States … has not changed appreciably in the past nine years,” the letter notes.

The senators also complain of an absence of progress in areas such as human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions.

“In particular,” they said, “human rights abuses by Colombian military personnel supported by the U.S. continue, and those responsible are rarely brought to justice.”

While praising the fruits of U.S.-Colombian cooperation across a wide range of issues, the legislators express concern “that military engagement and support continue to dominate our relationship, despite a continuing pattern of abuses by the Colombian military.”

The letter cites the “falsos positivos” scandal, “in which Colombian soldiers killed hundreds of civilians and dressed them in guerrilla clothing in order to inflate body counts. Human rights groups estimate that at least 1,700 innocent civilians were executed by troops eager to qualify for cash bonuses and extra days off; the Attorney General’s Office has accepted 1,056 cases.”

Feingold, Leahy and Dodd acknowledge that the Colombian military has dismissed several dozen personnel and that 75 officers, including three generals, are under investigation in connection with the killings.

They also note a report from the United Nations special rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip G. Alston, who found no evidence that the killings were a matter of “official government policy.”

At the same time, the senators point to Alston’s conclusion that “the sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.” EFE

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