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Welcome Mr. Colombian President-Elect

Tuesday, 6/18/02

President-Elect Uribe Arrives in Washington Seeking Counter-Terror Hand-Out Despite Colombia's Past Mismanagement of Billion-Dollar Counter-Narcotics Aid

* Incoming President on verge of massively expanding his country's bitter conflict, and is likely to drag the U.S. in with him

* Uribe cannot achieve peace because he is unable to guarantee the personal security of any demobilized guerrillas

* GAO finds that there has been a lack of effective oversight of U.S. aid by Bogotá as well as a gross mismanagement of U.S.-provided resources under the provisions of Plan Colombia. Aid that is now flowing in greater volume will perpetuate violence and institutionalize human rights violations. Such hard facts are negating some of the improvements cited in a recent State Department report

* Shift in U.S.-Colombian relations from counter-narcotics to a counter-insurgency focus, together with the increased militarization of Plan Colombia - almost robbing it of its remaining social and economic orientation - will raise the stakes for Colombians and could threaten the survival of their first democratic institutions and could jeopardize the nation's long-term political stability

* U.S. urges Colombia to devote more money to military campaign despite glaring social ills

* Uribe's visit coincides with corruption scandal involving high-ranking Colombian officials and the disappearance of several million dollars in Plan Colombia funding

* Questions remain regarding Uribe's commitment to defeat the rightwing paramilitary terrorists (AUC), responsible for over eighty percent of nation's human rights violations . * Uribe met with Kofi Annan regarding proposed peace talks aimed at appeasing critics of his single-track military program, while his meeting with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice displays his true intentions

* Despite the interconnectedness of drugs and terrorism, recent GAO report cites Bogotá's lack of cooperation in fighting the former, particularly its failure to train helicopter pilots and raise the force levels of its armed forces

* Bush administration's dismantling firewall formerly restricting U.S. aid to counter-narcotics operations will provide hard-line Uribe administration with green light to pursue total war

* Fear of expansion and regionalization of conflict as leftist rebels adjust their strategy to a heightened military campaign in Colombia

* Uribe expecting increased military aid and trade preferences from U.S., and development assistance from IMF out of his trip to Washington

* To hold closed meeting with House International Relations Committee to shore up wavering congressional support

Now that he is in Washington, Colombia's president-elect, Álvaro Uribe has some explaining to do while he's here. In his meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, he was scheduled to propose that the U.S. dedicate more military aid to Colombia's anti-terrorism and counter-narcotics efforts. Meanwhile, in a meeting in New York with Kofi Annan on Monday, he was asking the United Nations to mediate between the government and Colombia's leftist guerrillas in a final try at achieving a negotiated settlement with the FARC and the ELN before the country sinks into unrestricted conflict.

Missing Funds

At the same time, Uribe will be asked to explain why the U.S. should provide more aid when some of the $2 billion which already has been provided has been squandered or has remained unutilized, or has simply disappeared. Regarding these missing funds, at least two million dollars is unaccounted for, according to a bruising report on U.S. aid to the South American country published by the General Accounting Office (GAO), an official branch of the U.S. government but independent from the White House. It is generally surmised that the missing funds have been expropriated by Colombian military and civilian officials associated with implementing the U.S. aid program. The GAO report found repeated shortcomings in Bogotá's meeting its commitments to the U.S. under Plan Colombia, even as Uribe was requesting additional funds from the U.S. for an expanded war. Washington has expressed frustration at the lack of trained personnel committed to the program, scoffing at a Colombian policy that prevents high school graduates from enlisting in the military. As a result of this policy, Colombia has not allocated or trained the 250 pilots it has promised in order to man the 14 U.S. Black Hawk helicopters sent to Colombia for use in the anti-drug and soon-to-be anti-guerrillas operations. This shortfall has caused growing apprehension about the availability of pilots to fly 30 Super Huey helicopters scheduled to be sent to the combat area in the next few months. Meanwhile, Colombia has not even satisfactorily maintained the U.S. equipment already in its arsenal. And, adding insult to injury, Colombian officials have reduced their anti-narcotics measures, upon which U.S. aid was originally predicated, due to "political concerns."

Hard-Hitting GAO Report

The GAO report described the disenchantment of numerous U.S. counterparts regarding the low level of Colombian cooperation. In particular, Pentagon officials are calling on Colombia to raise its own military spending levels from the current 3.5 percent of its GNP to at least twice that figure, in an effort to establish a true partnership between the two countries. If Uribe fails to whole-heartedly comply with the Bogotá's pledges, he could jeopardize his chances of receiving the $439 million in additional aid being contemplated by the White House for 2003. The Bush administration has called upon Congress to agree that such aid, previously limited to counter-narcotics activities, will now be extended to help fund anti-terrorism efforts against Colombia's leftist guerrillas. Critics should fear that this measure will directly entangle the U.S. in Colombia's 38-year civil war, and will mean that funds would be redirected from coping with Colombia's multiple social ills, toward fighting Washington's war against terrorism. The danger is that Uribe is overestimating the importance of the military quotient while underestimating the need for Colombian society to be knitted back together again and for democratization to begin to function in practice rather than just in theory. As in Peru with President Toledo, and to a lesser extent, President Fox in Mexico, leaders are finding it difficult to prevent their population from eroding, to be replaced by apathy and bitterness. Rather than be a war president, Uribe needs peace to achieve a successful administration. As Uribe requests more U.S. funding to tackle Colombia's multi-tiered problems, that country's inspector-general's office recently has opened an investigation of 60 members of the police force, including a growing number of anti-narcotics officers. They have been charged with misusing $2.5 million of U.S. aid meant for the war against drugs, by expropriating this money for unauthorized personal expenditures. Congress can be expected to raise serious questions about the continuation of such funding if Colombian authorities are not able to maintain effective oversight of existing U.S. aid, let alone supervise scheduled increased amounts.

Uribe's Intention

The problem to be faced by the outgoing Pastrana presidency and the incoming Uribe government will be to try to contain a corruption scandal that will go far beyond 60 individuals and involving only $2 million. Uribe's election platform relied on a pledge to end the civil war through a heightened military campaign, in stark contrast to his predecessor Pastrana's efforts at peaceful negotiation. Only after being elected did Uribe mention the possibility of one more round of negotiations using the U.N. as an intermediary. An intensified military campaign, as Uribe repeatedly called for during the presidential campaign, would inevitably disperse the insurgent forces throughout the region, threatening the stability of neighboring countries due to trans-border incursions. After this occurred, the U.S. under the mantle of the "war against terrorism," would be tempted to rapidly escalate its military involvement in the region, inevitably expanding and deepening the conflict. Increased fighting also will have to sanction soaring human rights violations, especially if Uribe benignly treats the rightwing paramilitary, the AUC, which is blamed for 80 percent of the nation's human rights violations, and in which his allegiances are rumored to lie. As the key to winning the decades-old struggle against the guerrillas, such violations will violate the controversial recent qualification by the State Department that incidents involving human rights abuses in Colombia have recently decreased. Observers have long concluded that Bogotá's security forces do not protect civilian populations suspected of being sympathetic to the guerrillas against AUC massacres and that on a daily basis AUC gunmen have the cooperation from the army and police in carrying out their murderous mission of protecting the rich (who finance them) from FARC depredations.

Overwhelming Problem

The hard fact is that Uribe will find a peaceful resolution to the dispute as elusive as a military solution, because the new president will discover, as did Pastrana, that he cannot provide certain security to any guerrilla who chooses to mobilize because as Pastrana has put it, "Those selected to provide the demobilizers with personal security will end up assassinating them." This is what happened in the 1980s when members of the M-19 demobilized and their political candidates were systematically gunned down.

This analysis was prepared by Susan Leibowitz, COHA research group. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers." For more information, please see our web page at

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