Paramilitaries offered freedom for cash
According to the Los Angeles Times, 14 September “Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has presented a bill to his Congress that would allow paramilitary members who have committed atrocities to skip prison for a fee. Among them are men the United States has identified as terrorists for their willingness to massacre Colombian civilians. Washington's response should be unequivocal. If Colombia is serious about human rights and wants to continue receiving millions in aid, it cannot allow known criminals to escape justice by, in effect, writing a check.
Currently, Colombia receives the third-largest amount of U.S. military aid, after Israel and Egypt, and is slated to receive more than $700 million in 2004. This is how Colombia's peace commissioner described the bill in an interview: "Rather than serving time in a prison, there are alternative sentences, and the individuals will be allowed to pay reparations."
The size of these "reparations" has not been determined. But many suspect it will be mere pocket change for paramilitary leaders, many of whom are known to have accumulated vast riches through criminal acts. In September 2002, the U.S. sought the extradition of paramilitary chieftain Carlos Castaño — who would be eligible for this program –and two others for importing cocaine into the U.S.
Castaño's record is instructive of the crimes at stake. As of this year, Colombia's judiciary had sentenced him to 102 years in prison for massacres, assassinations and torture. It would amount to letting crimes against humanity and drug trafficking go unpunished if the perpetrators, in effect, wrote a check.”
Blackhawks over Venezuela
Venpres ( the Venezuelan State News Agency) reports that on 13 September, 15 US Blackhawk helicopters violated Venezuelan sovereign airspace, over the southern state of Apure. The helicopters only returned to Colombia when Venezuelan Air Force fighters were sent to intercept. Also, on the 4 September, Colombian paramilitaries attacked a border patrol of the Venezuelan army. 3 paramilitaries were killed, and a Venezuelan officer injured in the fighting.
Plan Colombia’s Success in Dispute
A New York Times report of 18 September quoted US officials claiming that cocaine production had dropped 30% in Colombia as a result of the War on Drugs. However a story from UPI on 7 August quoted other officials saying that “Plan Colombia is a dangerous failure.” A US General Accounting Office report found rampant mismanagement of funds, serious security issues that had resulted in 255 confirmed hits on US aircraft this year alone, and a delay in training Colombian pilots that had led to US pilots (illegally) flying in combat missions.
Much of the mainstream Colombian press unusually gave heavy coverage of the joint declaration of the FARC and ELN issued on 24 August. El Tiempo pointed out that Alvaro Uribe had succeeded in the most difficult task of uniting the 2 insurgent groups who have a history of violent confrontations between their soldiers. The declaration characterized Uribe as “an enemy of peace, a warmonger and a prostitute of imperialist policy”. The 2 groups reiterated their commitment to peace and the pursuit of political solutions to Colombia’s conflicts, but stated that they would not proceed with any process of national dialogue while Uribe persisted with his fascistic and militaristic policies.
The declaration went on to call for political alternatives to Plan Colombia and the FTAA, a humanitarian exchange of prisoners of war and support for abstention in the referendum, and support for the Colombian people in their struggles against privatisation and against the repression of the “just” social movement. Both groups also denounced Uribe’s “Democratic security” plan for embroiling the civilian population in the war.
Bush Threatens Legal Redress
The New York Times dedicated its editorial of August 8 to the subject of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ACTA) describing it as an important human rights tool. Under this legislation, cases have been brought in the US against Coca Cola and Drummond for alleged collusion with paramilitary groups, and against Occidental Petroleum for their part in the Santo Domingo massacre. The Bush administration is now trying to change the law, claiming that it interferes with American foreign policy and the war on terror. According to the NYT,
“A federal appeals court based in California is poised to rule on a case that could have broad implications for human rights worldwide. A group of villagers from Myanmar, formerly Burma, charge that when a gas pipeline was built in their region, they were subjected to forced labor and that the American corporation Unocal played a role in their mistreatment (an accusation that Unocal denies). A three-judge panel has already ruled that the suit can go forward. But the Bush administration has asked an 11-judge panel of the same court to block it, arguing that it interferes unduly with foreign policy.
International human rights issues of this kind are showing up with greater frequency in American courts, and they raise an array of legal questions, some of which could indeed affect America's relations with other nations.
The Bush administration argues that permitting the Myanmar villagers to sue will interfere with American foreign policy, including the war on terrorism. But this is false. The United States has no interest in protecting companies that engage in forced labor or other such abuses. The appeals court should adhere to decades of legal precedents and reject the Bush administration's argument.”
Finally, ANNCOL reported on 17 September, that the FARC and the UN will start preliminary negotiations on how to achieve peace in Colombia. The talks are to take place in Brazil, with the support of Kofi Annan and ‘Lula’ de Silva. The FARC have proposed an interim government drawn from 12 sectors of Colombian society to oversee the transition to peace. According to ANNCOL, both this proposal and the peace talks have been received decidedly coolly by the Colombian administration.