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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The FARC's "Manuals"

We are pleased to reproduce this commentary from Colombian human rights defender and security expert Nancy Sánchez, who has worked for 20 years in the department of Putumayo, the zone along the Ecuadorian border where U.S.-backed operations under “Plan Colombia” began in 2000. The guerrilla “manual” to which her article refers is here.

The FARC’s Manuals

Nancy Sánchez

In August 1998, along the main highway between Putumayo’s largest city (Puerto Asís) and its capital (Mocoa), I came across this poster at a gas station. Made by the FARC’s 32nd Front, it described “the rules for living in an honest and dignified community: punishments and fines.”

During this time, the 32nd Front, part of the FARC’s Southern Bloc, implemented some interesting regulations. It exerted control over many functions that should have been the state’s responsibility, such as environmental protection, avoiding deforestation and riverine pollution, and limiting residues of chemicals from coca paste production. Similarly, it set in place various regulations to control individual behavior in the community, such as curtailing “gossip,” maintaining cleanliness, and even avoiding fistfights at parties.

Beyond social and community regulation, however, it was evident that behavior that would risk the FARC’s territorial control carried stricter punishments and fines. For example, inviting the entry of unknown individuals (resulting in a fine of US$1,000), buying and selling properties to individuals without FARC authorization, transporting people and vehicles outside of certain hours, or bringing in prostitutes.

In this context, “the entry of prostitutes” referred to “new” prostitutes: women who had not previously lived in the area. This group of women, who were co-opted through this war, were used and regulated not only by the guerrillas but later on by the paramilitaries and the military to fulfill their “sexual needs.” Occasionally, they acted as sources of information about the enemy.

With the implementation of Plan Colombia in 2000, amid the paramilitaries’ actions and the FARC’s response, thousands of innocent civilians were assassinated, disappeared, or forcibly displaced in Putumayo. About half of the population—150,000 people from a population of 350,000—was forcibly displaced.

After 13 years of various stages of Plan Colombia, most recently the “Territorial Consolidation Plan,” the situation remains basically the same, or even worse. There have been cruel humanitarian consequences as the rural population continues to be subjected to strict social control by illegal armed actors.

The most recent “FARC Rule Book” (Manual de Convivencia de los FARC) was published at the end of 2013, as reported by the Catholic Church of Putumayo, after the FARC prohibited the performance of Mass in rural zones. This warning and threat was the most notable of the 46 points making up the current “Manual for Coexistence for the good functioning of communities” that now is not a poster, but an actual three-page bulletin that was distributed to rural communities.

I found the physical document this month, in Puerto Asís municipality, amid the anguish of some women who told me that they had to abandon their farms and villages because their sons had been forced into obligatory military service. Their children were recruited by the armed forces in surprise raids that military members carried out every year, and the young people had to comply.

Other people did not know what to do before the FARC’s strict order to “establish themselves” either in the rural zone or the town center. The thing is, this manual—unlike the last one—dedicates the majority of its points to carefully regulating all sorts of situations of transit and mobility between town centers and the rural zones, where they have control.

A few examples. If you are a farmer and have children studying in town, you can only bring them home during their vacations. This creates a dilemma for the parents: whether to take them out of school or pay for their room and board, because the school does not provide it. (It is worth noting that the majority of schools offering education up to 11th grade are located in town centers.) If you are new in the area and decide to settle there, you may not leave the zone for a year--the time period it supposedly takes to gain the FARC’s trust—at which time the FARC will decide whether you may stay or not. If you live in town and have a farm in the rural zone, which is very common in these regions, you have to choose to live in one or the other, or pay someone else whom you trust to take care of the land for life, while paying all community taxes.

Several points, like the fines, did not change much between one manual and the next. For example, the prohibitions on state-run social assistance programs and on the unauthorized entry of unknown individuals remain the same. Transit continues to be regulated, for both people and animals, at permitted hours that change along with the context: when combat is happening, it is stricter. No matter what, one may not move or leave without permission, not even for health reasons (the hospitals are in the town centers). Property rights are also strictly controlled in the new manual. Now even a cow cannot be sold without prior authorization, requested in person.

The rest of the points are similar to what was found in the earlier manual, except for one ordering better control of dogs in towns, and two new ones. The first refers to the population’s food security and the other regulates communications.

Under penalty of forced “social labor” and expulsion, the planting of yucca, plantain, corn, and home-grown vegetables is ordered. This reminds me of the year 1994, when the guerrillas ordered that the massive planting of coca crops be combined with subsistence crops, in a four-to-one ratio (if I recall correctly) because the region lacked food and even chickens had to be imported from Ecuador. This issue is taken up again in a commentary that I found in Puerto Guzmán, referring to the manual. “This time, the coca is going to go away, because the guerrillas are making us plant food,” some residents told me. Actually, there is not much coca in the area today, compared with the 1990s. The problem is that it is still the only crop from which the people make a living. Are the guerrillas really going to be able to do away with this crop if their manuals order them to do so? That’s a point for Havana.

The entry of mobile phones brings their regulation: the right to private communications is lost in these war territories. With the excuse of security, cell phones’ use is limited to two per person per family—these must be noted in a census—and they must not have cameras.

Finally, despite some interesting items about environmental protection, controlling common crime, regulation of parties and flea markets, this manual raises three concerns in particular:

1. Immediately, what is now being experienced: forced displacement or silent confinement of farmer populations, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. People who live in rural areas but require services in the town centers. To travel “to town” is not just entertainment. It means going to a hospital, to study, to pick up basic foods like grains or salt, to buy gasoline for electric generators, or to get in a long line to speak with the mayor, meet with a judge, communicate with relatives elsewhere, pay back loans from the Banco Agrario, to buy medicines for livestock,etc.

2. Meanwhile, this manual exposes members of the Community Action Boards [Juntas de Acción Comunal, legally established local advisory commissions] to a serious security threat. According to the manual, it is these leaders who are charged with monitoring and guaranteeing compliance with its 46 points. They must do so in a context in which, on one hand, the paramilitary groups—under new names—dominate Puerto Asís and the town centers of Bajo Putumayo, and on the other hand, the “Territorial Consolidation Plan” gives U.S. resources to the Colombian military to carry out public works projects in these zones (medical brigades, bridge construction, etc.). Projects that—again—require the coordination and collaboration of Community Action Boards. So between the “FARC Manual” and the “Consolidation Plan,” the civilian population has few options. It can be the object of armed or judicial repression from one side or the other. A point for Havana: if there is no hope for a cease-fire during talks, at least it would be important to consider a cessation of these strategies of territorial control that involve the civilian population. That way, finally, the people might truly feel the sensation that something is changing as a result of the peace talks.

3. In the long term, the manual gives us strong doubts about the model of life that the FARC are proposing for us in an eventual post-conflict.

March 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Accounts that Pay for U.S. Drug War Aid to Latin America

This post is cross-posted with Adam Isacson's personal blog. The original can be read here.

I wrote the text below in a follow-up email to some congressional staff with whom I’d met last week. It occurred to me, though, that it might be helpful to share it more widely than that.

There are only three U.S. programs that specifically pay for counter-drug aid in Latin America. Together, though, they make up about 81% of all U.S. military/police aid to the region over the last 10 years. (And 12% of economic/civilian aid.) They are:

1. International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE): the biggest single aid program to Latin America by far. The only program I know of in the U.S. foreign aid budget that can pay for both military aid (helicopters etc.) and economic aid (alternative development programs etc.)

  • Administered by the State Department Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
  • Funded through annual State / Foreign Operations budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Sections 481-489 of Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 USC, Chapter 32, Subchapter I, Part VIII )
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $7.01 billion ($5.11 billion military/police, $1.90 billion economic/civilian.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: INL Program and Budget Guide
  • 2. Section 1004 Counternarcotics: the Defense Department’s non-permanent, but regularly renewed, authorization to use its own budget for several specific kinds of military and police aid to other countries (and to US civilian law enforcement). After INCLE, the second-largest source of military/police aid to Latin America.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1004 of the 1991 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $3.47 billion.
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at
  • 3. Section 1033 Counternarcotics: another Defense Department counter-drug military aid program, which pays for a few additional kinds of aid that 1004 doesn’t. Begun in 1998 for Colombia and Peru, since expanded to 39 countries worldwide.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1033 of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2007-2014 $192 million. (In our estimates, some earlier years’ aid is probably included in “1004” above.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at
  • Thursday, April 3, 2014

    The Twilight Struggle over Fumigation in Colombia

    The U.S. government has spent billions since 1994 on a program that eradicates coca—the plant used to make cocaine—by having Colombian police and contractors fly over it spraying herbicides.

    This “fumigation” program has been controversial. The spraying destroys legal crops, and restitution is very hard to obtain. It has generated many health and environmental complaints. It sends a terrible message to people in poorly governed parts of Colombia: “we will spray you overhead, but will not provide you basic services.” And it has done little to reduce coca-growing.

    After 20 years, the fumigation program could be coming to an end. Its termination is a main demand of the FARC guerrillas, who are negotiating a peace accord with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba. Since November, the negotiations have been discussing drug policy.

    The Colombian government appears likely to concede on fumigation. Colombian officials have begun to break to U.S. officials the news that it is preparing to end or cut back the program—a step that newly confirmed Ambassador Kevin Whitaker said would be “a great mistake” during his December confirmation hearing.

    • Two non-governmental Colombian sources who have met with President Juan Manuel Santos say that when Santos visited Washington in early December, he raised with U.S. officials the possibility that Colombia might stop the spray program.
    • On a mid-March visit to Washington, where he met with Attorney-General Eric Holder, Colombia’s minister of justice, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, proposed that funds used for the spray program be applied for other purposes. “As we need less spraying, it would be ideal if these resources could be directed toward what we call attacking the causes of illicit crops,” Gómez Méndez explained in an interview. “That proposal was accepted for review.”

    U.S. officials may be a bit confused, though, by mixed messages from the Colombian government. The country’s powerful Defense Ministry appears to be set against ending the spraying program, which it administers through the National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate.

    • When Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón visited Washington in February, his staff accidentally leaked a briefing book to press. According to this document, among Pinzón’s talking points with U.S. officials was “State the importance of continuing the Counternarcotic programs as aerial spraying.” (The document was written in English.)
    • In an interview Sunday with Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, the chief of Colombia’s National Police, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, emphatically opposed the Justice Minister’s proposal to curtail U.S. aid for fumigation. “Fumigation is fundamental because while there’s pressure from illegal armed groups, especially the guerrillas, to stimulate and force illicit crops, we have to keep hitting hard, counteracting it with full rigor. And that implies continuing with fumigation.”

    Meanwhile, inside the Obama administration, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which runs the fumigation program, is planning to forge ahead with spray operations. The program was halted after guerrillas shot down two spray planes shot down, for the first time in a decade, in September and October. This resulted in a more than 50 percent reduction in spraying last year, to 47,000 hectares—the lowest spray acreage since 2000.

    (Data Table)

    The fumigations began again in February, though, and last week the long-serving assistant secretary for INL, William Brownfield, had his picture taken (above) visiting the Air Tractor, Inc. plant in Olney, Texas where the spray planes are produced and maintained. “The people who work for Air Tractor here in Olney have played an important role in forcing this repulsive, repugnant, violent, homicidal terrorist organization to come to the table,” Brownfield said, referring to the FARC.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Civil-Military Relations Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Mia Fasano.

    • As massive protests in Venezuela continue, President Nicolás Maduro has ordered paratroopers to patrol the streets of San Cristobal, Táchira, in an attempt to stop protests.
    • In Peru, Humberto Rosas Bonuccelli, the former director of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), testified in the “diarios chichas” corruption case that former dictator Alberto Fujimori authorized the transfer of US$750,000 per month from the armed forces to the National Intelligence Service during his 2000 election campaign. Vladimiro Montesinos, the currently imprisoned director of SIN, used the money to pay television channels and media forums.
    • Human rights organizations in El Salvador are demanding public access to military documents containing information about massacres that occurred during the height of state repression between 1981 and 1983. Journalists and human rights organizations have denounced a lack of accountability and transparency within the Ministry of Defense, which they claim violates the Law of Public Access to Information.
    • Authorities in Jamaica have created a truth-telling panel to investigate the use of excessive force during a military operation in which 70 people were killed in May of 2010. The operation was carried out to capture drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke and reestablish control of Tivoli Gardens, a low-income area. Citizens and activists have demanded a formal investigation into the operation.
    • Around 100 protesters in Mexico gathered to protest a weeks-long military exhibition in the Zócalo, Mexico City's central square. They held up signs that read “Zócalo is not a barracks.” The protestors held a symbolic moment of silence to commemorate the assassination of Mexican journalist Gregorio Jiménez.
    • Paraguay has proposed several changes to the organization of the armed forces in order to increase effectiveness between the separate branches. The three major branches of the armed forces will be converted into two in order to increase intelligence sharing capability and improve cooperation. In the reformed structure, the Navy and the Air Force will be under the same command.
    • President Otto Pérez Molina defended the army's continued use for policing duties in Guatemala, in response to calls from Foro Guatemala, a civil-society group, for a separation of military and police roles. Pérez Molina said that due to the current security situation, “the role of the army cannot be separated from citizen security.”

    Friday, March 14, 2014

    Southern Command Doesn't Have Drones, Commander Says

    Here is a striking exchange from yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Northern and Southern Command. At about the 46 minute mark, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Americas (excluding Mexico) says that, “generally speaking,” he never gets to use any of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of surveillance drones.

    Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), committee chairman: Under the FY15 budget, the Air Force is going to cap the fleet of unmanned aerial systems, which are mainly the Predator and Reaper drones. They’re going to reduce the growth in that fleet from 65 to 55 combat air patrol. Is that something that would make it more difficult for you to meet your full ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] requirement?

    Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command: Right now, Senator, I don’t get any of those systems, generally speaking, right now. I was actually hoping, and only found out yesterday, about the caps. I was actually hoping that as the war in Afghanistan, Middle East, started to wind down, and those assets maybe be made available, I was hoping to get some of those. So, very disappointed yesterday when I was told that we’re going in that direction.

    We found it surprising that the Defense Department isn’t using drones at all for surveillance in Latin America, neither over the Caribbean or Pacific, nor in the airspace of countries, like Colombia, that might allow it.

    We know that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (part of the Homeland Security Department) uses drones over the Caribbean, Pacific, Mexico, and possibly parts of Central America, if not further south. And we can only guess what the intelligence community is up to. But contrary to what we’d expect, the U.S. military isn’t employing them, apparently for budget reasons.

    Southern Command still uses lots of manned aircraft, like Navy P-3s operating out of El Salvador and Aruba-Curacao (and maybe Colombia). Gen. Kelly was quite emphatic yesterday that he doesn’t have enough of those, either.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Arms Trafficking and Arms Transfers Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Mia Fasano.

    • Argentina has seen an increase in thefts of lightweight assault weapons from military arsenals. In February, it is estimated that 154 lightweight assault weapons were stolen from the 603rd Arsenal Battalion in San Lorenzo. Several of these firearms have emerged in violent street crimes within Argentina, and have also been discovered by authorities in Brazil.
    • A recent study by Brazil think-tank Sou da Paz found that an estimated 35.6 percent of the illegal arms confiscated in the country can be linked to the United States, while 44 percent of seized weapons are produced domestically. Between 1980 and 2010, Brazil has experienced a 346.5 percent increase in homicides. 
    • Brazil officials announced in December their decision to purchase nearly $5 billion worth of fighter jets from Swedish company Saab, rather than U.S. owned Boeing. In its announcement, Brazil stated that the decision owed to financial and technology transfer reasons, and not to the revelation of U.S. surveillance operations, which has been a source of great controversy in Brazil.
    • The prosecutor-general of Colombia issued arrest warrants for 15 Army officers and soldiers, charging that they were running a corruption network. The network’s activities included transfers of weapons to illegal armed groups inside Colombia and, allegedly, to the armed forces of Ecuador. The defense minister of Ecuador denied receiving any such military equipment.
    • The crew of a North Korean ship that was detained near the Panama Canal in July for carrying two MiG-21 jet fighters from Cuba, along with other Soviet-era arms, was released upon the payment of a $1 million fine. The Cuban government released a statement saying that the decades-old weapons were to be sent to North Korea for repairs, then returned to Cuba.
    • In Ecuador, the army discovered a shipment of 800 mortars and grenades along the border with Colombia. Officials believe the arms were headed to illegal armed groups, including the FARC guerrillas, that operate in the border zone. The equipment was discovered by personnel during inspection operations in the north-central province of Carchi.
    • Paraguay President Horacio Cartes met with military officials to discuss proposed investments in aircraft, military training, and transport. The proposal includes the possible purchase of the following aircraft: the T-6 “Texan II” manufactured by Beechcraft, the A-29 “Super Tucano” made by Brazil’s Embraer, the F-5 from Taiwan, and the Kfir Block 60 from Israel. The Paraguayan Army is looking to purchase a three-dimensional radar system that would provide increased aerial surveillance. President Cartes is looking to secure an international loan for the military improvements, which he views as a necessity in protecting the nation from aerial attacks. 
    • The Public Ministry of Paraguay has maintained that the direct purchase of military weapons from private import company Comtecpar are within legal bounds. Opponents claim that the investigation conducted by the Public Ministry did not properly acknowledge the unfair benefits during the bidding process or identify the number of arms imported.
    • On January 22, the Armed Forces of Venezuela received a shipment of military equipment, such as ammunition and missiles, aboard a Ukrainian cargo ship. Most of the materiel is believed to be from Russia. 
    • During a press conference in Paris, the vice president for the Latin American sector of Airbus Helicopters, Mesrob Karalekian, stated that his company’s sales to the region grew 15 percent in 2013, and that he expects growth to rise to 20 percent in the next three to five years. The Armed Forces of Bolivia recently signed a contract with Airbus Helicopters for six Super Puma AS332, which are capable of adapting to the difficult Andean terrain and will be utilized during counter-drug operations. In the entire hemisphere, Airbus is currently processing 50 to 60 requests and inbound deliveries. According to a Brazilian representative, the corporation is looking to further increase sales in Peru and Mexico, which remain key clients.

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    For Colombia's Military, a Tough Month

    Colombia’s armed forces have had a remarkably rough 30 days. The institution has been rocked by a series of scandals.

    • February 3: An investigative report from Colombia’s principal newsmagazine, Semana, alleged that a military intelligence operation had been spying on political leaders, human rights defenders, and even some members of the government team negotiating with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, Cuba.
    • February 15: The same magazine revealed audio recordings indicating “an impressive network of corruption” in the armed forces. Allegations include contracts obtained through bribery, arms trafficking, illegal mining investments, and access to cars and fuel for officers presumably jailed for human rights and other crimes.

      A central figure is former Col. Robinson González del Río, who is currently in a military prison in Bogotá. Col. del Río is awaiting trial for one of thousands of cases of so-called “false positives”: soldiers murdering civilians, then falsely claiming them as combat kills in order to reap rewards for high body counts. (Most “false positive” killings took place between 2004 and 2008.) Col. del Río claims to be the nephew of Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, who is also jailed for abetting the bloody mid–1990s takeover of the Urabá region in northwestern Colombia.

    • February 18: President Santos dismissed the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, who had been on the job for only six months. Among the leaked phone recordings in Semana is a conversation between Gen. Barrero and Col. del Río. Referring to the colonel’s imprisonment on “false positives” charges, the armed-forces chief encourages him to join with other accused officers to “make up a mafia to denounce the [civilian human rights] prosecutors and all of this crap.”
    • February 26: As Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón prepared to visit Washington, his office mistakenly leaked to the media a detailed agenda and set of talking points. They reveal some sensitive topics that Pinzón planned to take up in his visits with U.S. government officials. Pinzón was to ask Washington not to cut military assistance in the post-conflict phase. He planned to push to maintain the aerial herbicide spraying (fumigation) program, which could be bargained away in ongoing peace talks. The minister also planned to warn U.S. counterparts about “Nicaragua, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and foreign terrorist organizations” as “perceived/potential challenges to regional security.” The memo raises eyebrows, as some of the Defense Ministry recommendations seem to be out of step with Colombia’s on-the-record foreign policy.
    • March 3: Colombia’s Prosecutor-General issued an arrest warrant for Col. Del Río and 14 other military officials, charging them with trafficking weapons to drug-trafficking “criminal groups” like the Urabeños and ERPAC, bands formed by mid-level leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network that disbanded in the mid–2000s.
    • March 6: Press reports revealed that the Army officer who served in 2013 as liaison to the Human Rights Unit of the civilian Prosecutor-General’s Office, Col. Anstrong Polanía Ducuara, is under investigation for illegally passing to his military superiors sensitive information about human rights cases, including “false positives.”

    Colombian opinion polls frequently show the armed forces to have one of the highest favorability ratings of all the country’s institutions, usually more than 75 percent. The Gallup poll released this week, however, found the military at 64 percent favorability, down from 80 percent in December and the lowest level recorded since 2000.

    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Latin America in the 2014 foreign aid law

    This post was drafted by WOLA Program Assistant Ashley Davis.

    Last month the U.S. Congress approved, and President Obama signed into law, a 2014 Omnibus appropriations bill, funding most of the federal government’s budget for the rest of the year. The bill includes funding for the State Department and foreign aid. Below are some highlights of how it affects aid to Latin America and the Caribbean.

    (The full text of the law can be found here. See “Division K: Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2014.” See also the explanatory statement (PDF, go to Division K) prepared by the House-Senate conference committee that resolved differences between both chambers’ versions of the bill. The Latin American highlights from the 2012 consolidated appropriations bill can be found here. For 2013, the Congress did not manage to approve a foreign aid bill; a “continuing resolution” maintained funding levels, and restrictions, that were laid out in the 2012 bill.)


    Foreign Military Financing (FMF): in the bill’s explanatory statement, Congress specifies that $28 million should go to Colombia through FMF, the main non-drug military aid program in the foreign aid bill.

    International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INCLE): $149 million are mandated for Colombia from this program, which funds both military/police and economic/institution-building programs. INCLE in Colombia pays for coca eradication, drug interdiction, and judicial reform, among other priorities. The bill specifies that $10 million of the INCLE outlay should go to the Human Rights Unit of Colombia’s Attorney-General’s Office (Fiscalía).

    Economic Support Fund (ESF): $141.5 million are earmarked for Colombia from this USAID-administered program, to continue alternative development and institution-building activities. Within this category, the bill specifies the following priorities and amounts.

    • Transfer to the State Department-administered Migration and Refugee Assistance account $7 million
    • Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities $15 million
    • Human rights program $6.5 million
    • Biodiversity $3 million
    • Children disabled by violence $500 thousand

    As in previous years, the U.S. government has attached human rights conditions to Colombia aid, and will withhold 25 percent of assistance to Colombia’s armed forces (not police) until the State Department certifies that:

    1. Members of the Colombian military alleged to have committed human rights violations, or have aided or benefitted from illegal armed groups, are tried in civilian courts, and the military is cooperating with investigations;
    2. Paramilitary groups are being dismantled, the government is protecting the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social activists, as well as respecting the rights and territory of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities; and
    3. The government is investigating and punishing those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and is not offering amnesty to such persons.

    All of the above conditions are similar to those of 2012–13, though the language about amnesty appears for the first time. This addition has implications for the peace process and transitional justice in post-conflict Colombia: if the country’s peace process succeeds, and it adopts a framework that amnesties military and guerrilla abusers, some U.S. military aid could be frozen. The Senate’s version of the conditions had included even stronger language: it would have frozen the aid even if a post-conflict framework tried abusers but suspended their sentences.

    Additionally, this year 10 percent of funds appropriated to the Colombian national police for aerial drug eradication programs may not be used for aerial spraying of chemical herbicides until the State Department certifies that:

    1. Herbicides do not pose health risks or have adverse effects on humans (including pregnant women and children) or the environment; and
    2. The government will investigate any complaint that aerial spraying is harming licit crops, and fair compensation will be paid for such claims.


    The bill appropriates $17.5 million for ESF programs in Cuba, but they cannot fund new programs or activities there. It will continue existing programs to support civil society in Cuba, like the activities for which USAID contractor Alan Gross continues to be imprisoned in Cuba.


    As in the past, U.S. aid is withheld from the Guatemalan Army–as it has been since the early 1990s, though some aid flows to it through the Defense Department budget. However, it is worth noting that the language in the 2014 law has changed from an outright ban on aid to the Guatemalan Army, to having conditions pending a certification process. Nevertheless, assistance to the Army remains frozen unless the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan Army:

    1. Has a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the army’s involvement in law enforcement (which does not look likely, as President Otto Perez Molina has expanded the military’s internal security role via the creation of Citizen Security Squads [Escuadrones de Seguridad Ciudadana], or groups of soldiers that patrol high-crime areas).
    2. Is cooperating with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers, with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala; and provides the investigators timely access to witnesses, documents, forensic evidence, and other relevant information.
    3. Is publicly disclosing all military archival documents relating to the internal armed conflict in a timely matter.
    4. In addition, this year the bill explains that, “There is a concern with the failure of the Government of Guatemala to implement the Reparations Plan for Damages Suffered by the Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam (April 2010),” and the government of Guatemala must take credible steps toward implementing this plan.

    Also new to this bill is the withholding of all funds to the Guatemalan Armed Forces (from both the Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs) until the State Department certifies that the Guatemalan government has resolved all cases, or is making significant progress toward resolving all cases involving Guatemalan children and American adoptive parents that have been pending since 2007.

    The law renews the $5 million in assistance to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN body that investigates illegal security groups and related corruption in Guatemala.


    All assistance to the central Government of Haiti is frozen until the State Department certifies that:

    1. Haiti is taking steps to hold free and fair elections for a new parliament;
    2. The government is respecting judicial independence; and
    3. The government is combating corruption and improving governance, including passing the anti-corruption law, and implementing financial transparency and accountability requirements for government institutions.


    The 2014 law not only maintains human rights conditionality that appeared in the 2012 bill, but increases the amount withheld, pending certification, from 20 to 35 percent of all assistance to the Honduran military and police. This aid will be frozen until the State Department certifies that:

    1. The Government of Honduras is reducing corruption, including by prosecuting and removing corrupt officials from office;
    2. The government is implementing agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims;
    3. Freedom of expression, association, assembly, and due process of law are protected, including in the conflictive Bajo Aguan Valley, the site of land disputes and attacks on activists; and
    4. Military and police alleged to have committed human rights violations including forced evictions, or to have aided any armed groups involved, are being investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with investigations.

    This law does not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police forces.


    Foreign Military Financing: The explanatory statement sets aside $7 million in FMF for Mexico.

    International Narcotics and Law Enforcement: The explanatory statement assigns a very specific amount: $148.131 million. Much INCLE in Mexico has supported police and judicial reform efforts.

    Economic Support Fund: The bill sets aside $45 million for Mexico through this USAID program. The State Department and USAID are required to consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the uses of the funds.

    The bill expresses “concern with reports of abuses by Mexican security forces,” and as in previous years, the law freezes 15 percent of aid to the Mexican military and police until the State Department certifies that:

    1. Military personnel alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and prosecuted, and the government is codifying this practice into law by reforming Mexico’s military court of justice;
    2. Prohibitions against torture and the use of testimony obtained through torture are enforced;
    3. The Mexican military and police are promptly transferring detainees to civilian custody and are cooperating with civilian authorities; and
    4. The Government of Mexico is searching for victims of forced disappearances and is investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

    The bill appropriates $161.5 million in new funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which supports military, police, and civilian funds for public security and judicial reform in Central America. $61.5 million would go to USAID’s Economic Support Fund program, and $100 million to the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program.

    The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which pursues similar objectives in the Caribbean, would get $54.1 million: $29.1 million through ESF and $25 million through INCLE.

    Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

    Although $898.2 million has been appropriated worldwide for the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an independent US foreign aid agency that gives grants to countries based on their policy performance—the explanatory statement voices concern about the indicators used to establish candidate countries’ eligibility:

    Weak judicial systems and official and private sector corruption are significant impediments to democratic institutions and economic development and growth in many potential MCC compact countries. There is concern that anti-corruption indicators for eligibility are not sufficiently rigorous, and do not properly reflect adherence to the rule of law in candidate countries including the influence of criminal enterprises and enforcement of private sector contracts.

    Sen. Patick Leahy (D-Vermont), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that appropriates foreign aid funds, voiced concern about El Salvador’s weak record of corruption this summer, when the country’s second MCC aid package ($277 million over five years [PDF]) was approved. He argued that the MCC was designed to reward countries whose governments are taking significant steps to address corruption and strengthen the rule of law, but that corruption and money laundering are widespread, and democratic institutions remain weak, in El Salvador.

    The law advises the MCC to improve its eligibility criteria in this area, and to consult the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and USAID regarding their evaluations of corruption and rule of law in MCC candidate countries.

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

    Funds were earmarked for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Offices in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. The Senate Committee recommends a $5.5 million U.S. voluntary contribution to the UNHCHR, of which:

    • $1 million is to support an office in Honduras;
    • $500 thousand is to support an office in Colombia; and
    • $500 thousand is to support an office in Mexico.

    The Honduras office will be a start-up (both the main office and any field offices), and the above funds are contingent on whether the UNHCHR actually sets up an office there.

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    A new wiretapping scandal casts doubt on the Colombian military's support for peace talks

    “It’s a relatively small place, near the Galerías shopping mall in western Bogotá. It now doesn’t have the sign outside that had idenfitied it, hanging over the two windows with glass that blocks the view of the interior. In a small terrace, under a black awning, there are eight tables and 24 chairs. Inside there are seven more tables, and a curved staircase that leads to a second floor, which has a large room with a gigantic television and computer workstations. …”

    “Despite the exotic combination of luncheonette and computer instruction center, a secret is hidden there: behind the facade is a National Army signals interception center.”

    The business described here was registered in Bogotá on September 12, 2012, just a few days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of talks with the FARC guerrilla group. From this room, reports an investigation published to the website (but not the paper version) of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, soldiers and civilian hackers working for Colombian military intelligence carried out illegal wiretaps and email intercepts.

    Their targets included “the same ones as always”–NGOs and leftist politicians. This is outrageous enough. But the Army unit was also tapping into the emails and text messages of the Colombian government team negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

    “Jaramillo (Sergio Jaramillo [a negotiator and the high commissioner for peace]), Éder (Alejandro Éder [director of the presidential demobilization and reintegration office, and an alternate negotiator]) and De la Calle (Humberto de la Calle [the lead negotiator]) were some of those whom I remember. The idea was to try to obtain the largest amount of information about what they were talking about, and how it was going,…” a source told

    One of the most important, and most uncertain, questions about Colombia’s peace process with the FARC is the extent to which the country’s powerful military actually supports it. These new revelations multiply the uncertainty.

    President Juan Manuel Santos has gone to great lengths to keep the generals in the tent: defense and security are off the negotiating agenda, a prominent retired general is one of the negotiators, FARC calls for a bilateral cease-fire–which the military resists–have been flatly refused, and the Santos administration has tried (and so far failed) to give military courts greater jurisdiction over human rights cases, in what some analysts regard to be a quid pro quo.

    The chief of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, insisted in a recent interview that “we feel very well represented in the dialogues.” But there is little doubt that a significant portion of the officer corps, who have all spent their entire career fighting the FARC, would prefer to end the conflict on the battlefield. It is for that reason that support for ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the negotiations, remains high among the officers. As María Isabel Rueda, a longtime reporter and columnist for Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, recently put it: “Soldiers have hearts too, and some of them still beat more for Uribe than for Santos.”

    If the armed conflict ends in Havana, Colombia’s military will be in for a rough time, institutionally. Officers and soldiers will be expecting gratitude, and there will be parades, medals, and ceremonies. But post-conflict Colombia will also hold the spectacle of officers accused of human rights abuses forced to undergo humiliating confessions as part of a transitional justice process. A truth commission will detail brutal behavior. And the armed forces, faced with a reality in which citizen security threats outrank national security threats, will find it very hard to justify a membership of 286,000 [PDF] soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Latin America’s second-largest armed forces, and its largest army, could shrink considerably. (Colombia’s 175,000-strong police, however, could grow.)

    If the armed forces choose to resist these post-conflict shifts–starting now, while talks continue–they have some assets to deploy. They are huge and politically popular. They have important allies in Colombia’s political establishment, Álvaro Uribe high among them. And they have a crucial ally in the United States, which has forged a deep and broad military-to-military relationship in the 14 years since “Plan Colombia” emerged. Military sources tell Semana that the Army intelligence unit that oversaw the spying operation gets generous support from the CIA. We do not know, though, whether any of the equipment used in the wiretap/luncheonette came from the United States.

    The U.S. role is very important. The Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Southern Command can do much to determine whether Colombia’s civil-military relationship is smooth or friction-filled over the next several years. The key is in the messages that they convey to their allies in the Colombian armed forces–and the central message should be that illegal or undemocratic behavior is counter-productive and will damage the bilateral relationship. And that undermining an elected civilian president’s effort to negotiate peace, or to reconcile the country afterward, counts as “illegal and undemocratic behavior.”

    As criminal investigators try to piece together this new military spying scandal, those messages from the Colombian military’s U.S. “partners” should be louder and clearer than ever.

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    Latin America Security By the Numbers

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    • 3,000 doctors from Cuba arrived in Brazil as part of the “Mas Medicos” program, which aims to boost the number of medical professionals in high-need areas. The doctors must undergo an extensive vetting process and are tested for Portuguese language proficiency. The program’s long-term objective is to bring in 12,996 doctors to service Brazil’s poorest and most remote regions.

    • 1,890 people died in confrontations with police in Brazil in 2012. By contrast, the United States--with 60 percent more population--saw 410 people killed by police that year.

    • President Enrique Pena Nieto claims that his government has captured 65 of the 122 most wanted criminals in Mexico. However, following a consultation of five state institutions that should be privy to the existence of such a list, the investigative website Animal Politico concluded that this “Most Wanted” list does not, in fact, exist.

    • The last thirteen years in Mexico have seen the assassinations of 98 journalists and the disappearances of 23 others. Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression Laura Angelina Borbolla Moreno noted that the “state of Chihuahua tops the list with 16 cases, followed by Veracruz, 14; Tamaulipas, 13; Guerrero, 11, and Oaxaca, Sinaloa and Durango, five.”

    • Researcher Laura Leal testified in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there are upwards of 170,000 internally displaced people inside Mexico. In addition, asylum rate applications to the United States have risen threefold since 2009.

    • A group of more than 100 people attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico prompting U.S. border patrol agents to use capsicum pellets in an attempt to stop their advance. The migrants responded by throwing rocks and bottles, and later dispersed; no injuries were reported and no one was arrested.

    • Violence is growing and shifting in Guatemala, with a projected 3 percent increase in the 2013 homicide rate bringing it to 35.2 per 100,000 people. Although the overall murder rate has increased, it is concentrated in certain municipalities, with the rates in most others remaining level or decreasing.

    • 53.7% of those polled in Colombia support the ongoing peace talks with the FARC, 32.6% oppose them, and 13.7% are indifferent. Based on the survey data collected, those in areas most affected by the conflict are in opposition to allowing the FARC to form a political organization in a post-conflict Colombia.

    • In Colombia, defense sector spending over the past ten years totals 220 trillion pesos (just over US$100 billion).

    • The past decade in Colombia has seen the demobilization of almost 55,000 former fighters belonging to either leftist guerilla groups or right-wing paramilitary organizations. These demobilized fighters often enter into programs that aim to reintegrate them into society; so far more than 2,000 have successfully completed the 6–7 year program.

    • Military personnel from Colombia and Ecuador partnered up to assist 7,000 inhabitants living in border towns between the two countries. The exercise included a number of health specialists who assisted in providing medical care, as well as more specialized assistance like optometry, gynecology, pediatrics, and dentistry.

    • The navy of Colombia, with logistical support from the United States, seized over 3,200 pounds of cocaine in a single shipment. The smugglers are believed to have belonged to Los Urabeños, a criminal gang descended from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary organization. The seizure was part of Operation Martillo, a U.S.-led, multilateral counter-narcotics operation in the Caribbean.

    • A 200-liter drum of oil in Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela costs less than US$2.00, but upriver it can cost 400 times the price. Price variance such as this is all too common in Venezuela, where recent incursions of FARC guerrillas and other illegal organizations from Colombia have caused a large increase in smuggling.

    • The government of Venezuela dispatched 536 soldiers and 129 National Police officers to Caracas to perform public security duties. The force will be deployed to six strategic locations and will have a 24 hour a day presence, patrolling by bicycle, on foot, and in cars.

    • In Venezuela, 1,400 soldiers took part in an exercise designed test a number of recently acquired weapons systems. The commander general of the Army, Major General Alexis Lopez Ramirez, stated that the exercise’s purpose was to demonstrate the power of these new weapons to both President Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan people, showing how well trained and equipped the Army is. Following the exercises, Maduro announced the need to expand training facilities and increase the frequency of training exercises.

    • “Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced partnerships with three private banks in Latin America that will make available $98.5 million in local lending exclusively for small and medium-sized enterprises.”