News Release

Analysts Available on Colombia

LARRY BIRNS
Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Birns said today: “President Clinton’s waiving of human rights constraints on the Colombian military to enable it to receive over $1 billion in U.S. military assistance is a dangerously provocative step.” Birns, who has spoken with the Colombian president and recently returned from a trip to Bogotá (where he met with several senior national security officials), observed: “While the right-wing military and its associated death squads are responsible for 80 percent of all human rights violations in Colombia, the White House drug czar is increasing the militarization of the anti-drug war through building up Colombia’s military, which is nothing less than a prime human rights violating machine. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is heading for merging the anti-guerrilla and anti-drug wars. U.S. policymakers are pressuring Bogotá to de-emphasize economic reforms, the abatement of poverty and the creation of new jobs and the construction of adequate housing as matters of lesser priority, in favor of emphasizing a military solution in the anti-drug war. While the administration talks about stressing a demand-side strategy regarding the drug war (such as drug treatment), it is in fact putting most of its energy into supply-side interdiction and elimination policies. The Colombian military has long maintained that it cannot win a military victory against the guerrillas, and President Andres Pastrana acknowledges that he cannot personally guarantee the security of the guerrillas if they lay down their arms and return to civilian life. U.S. military aid essentially is an irrelevant response to such facts on the ground in today’s Colombia. Washington is not offering that nation a prescription for ending the conflict…”
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CECILIA ZARATE-LAUN
Co-founder and program director of the Colombia Support Network, Zarate-Laun said today: “President Clinton has declared his commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia and to respect human rights. If that’s so, he should ask President Pastrana some questions: Why did the Seventeenth Brigade of the Colombian army not protect residents of the small hamlet of La Union, a part of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, last month in northern Colombia? Why did soldiers and an army helicopter protect paramilitary forces as they killed unarmed peasants there? Why did the office of Colombian Vice President Gustavo Bell tell peasants who fled in terror after the massacre that his office would help them as long as they were refugees but not if they were to remain in La Union advancing their self-sufficiency projects? Does the Colombian government’s response to the massacre have anything to do with the coal deposits in the nearby Abibe Mountains? There have been 366 assassinations in the city of Barrancabermeja, showing a systematic plan of extermination of residents of that unfortunate city. Why have grass-roots social organizations been targeted for killing? Should not these organizations and labor unions be protected as expressions of democracy? Paramilitary forces have declared that by the end of this year they will control the city. Why does the Fifth Brigade not stop these killings? Does the reaction have anything to do with the fact that the city is the center of Colombia’s oil drilling and refining?”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020