Colombia on the Washington Agenda

January 21, 2014

Long lines gathered outside the residence of the Colombian Embassy last Wednesday night (January 15) for entry to the reception celebrating the credentialing of Colombia’s new Ambassador to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas, and welcoming him and his wife, Carmela, to Washington.

ImageI don’t think I have ever seen such a large gathering there.  The crowd included a large cross-section of the business community (I spoke with representatives of Coca-Cola and Boeing Aircraft) as well as members of the Colombian community in D.C., academics, Colombia aficionados following human rights and labor issues, U.S. government officials, and members of the diplomatic community.   There were also numerous journalists and at least a handful of guests from the arts community.  Ambassador Villegas, who had been one of the lead Colombian negotiators in Havana and head of Colombia’s industrialist association, ANDI, made some brief welcoming remarks that celebrated the strength of U.S.-Colombian relations, and proposed a shared vision of a “new Colombia” that is emerging as the peace talks move forward.  He spoke of Colombia’s emerging leadership role in the region and the world.  He is well positioned in his new post to ensure that a peace accord in Colombia has the full support of Washington.

Earlier that day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the appointment of Kevin Whitaker as new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and reported out the nomination to the full Senate.  He is one of 38 nominations yet to be acted on that now await confirmation by the full Senate.  (Click here for a video of Whitaker’s initial confirmation hearing.)

New Funds Appropriated for Colombia 

On Friday, Jan. 17, President Obama signed into law a $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for this fiscal year.  The law includes $319 million in aid for Colombia “to support a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking, organizations designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and other criminal or illegal armed groups, and to take actions to protect human health and welfare in emergency circumstances, including undertaking rescue operations.” Within this amount, $149 million is slotted for international narcotics control and law enforcement (including $10 million for the Attorney’s General’s human rights unit), $28.5 million will support the Colombian Army, and $141.5 million will be in Economic Support Funds to USAID for “alternative development/institution building and local governance programs.”  USAID is instructed to include at least $7 million for Migration and Refugee Assistance, $15 million for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, $6.5 million for human rights, $3million for biodiversity and $500,000 for children disabled by violence.  An additional $10 million is designated for building trade capacity in the Western Hemisphere.  These figures are consistent with last year’s budget.  They do not include additional military aid granted through the defense bill, nor do the figures include intelligence, weapons, and training provided as part of the multi-billion “black budget” for covert operations Washington Post reporter Dana Priest described in her Dec. 21, 2013 article.

The new law requires that 10 percent of the funds for aerial drug eradication programs be withheld pending the Secretary of State’s certification that the chemical herbicides used “do not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans, including pregnant women and children, or the environment,” and that compensation be made for “harm to health or licit crops caused by such aerial spraying.”  This provision has been in the foreign aid legislation for at least a decade, but has been rarely used to any effect.

The law also retains earlier restrictions that subject 25% of the military aid to human rights conditions, adding new conditionality related to Colombia’s international obligations not to offer amnesty to gross violators of human rights.  The law specifically requires the Secretary of State to consult with the Senate Appropriations Committee, certify, and submit a report that–

  1. “cases involving members of the Colombia military who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights or to have aided, abetted, or benefitted from criminal or illegal armed groups are subject only to civilian jurisdiction during investigation and prosecution, and that the Colombian military is not opposing civilian jurisdiction in such cases and is cooperating with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities;”
  2. “that the Government of Colombia is upholding its international obligations by investigating, prosecuting and punishing persons responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other gross violations of human rights, and is not offering amnesty to such persons;” and
  3. “that the Government of Colombia is “taking effective steps to dismantle paramilitary successor groups and to protect the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, and other social activists, and is respecting the rights and territory of indigenous and AfroColombian communities.”  (See the bill language here.)

Notably, the law gives no explicit recognition to the peace process per se, although the aforementioned conditions do indicate that Colombia will continue to be held to its international commitments as it addresses issues of responsibility for war crimes within the context of a peace process.  A peace accord, which President Santos has suggested should be forthcoming this year (see his interview here from El País this past weekend), will likely require additional resources from the international community for effective implementation.  Furthermore, as Colombia transitions from war to peace, U.S. foreign policy goals will also need to be reframed toward a more  appropriate approach that supports this transition.

WOLA Conference on Peace in Colombia

These and other issues will be discussed on Thursday (weather permitting) at a conference being organized by the Washington Office on Latin America on “Perspectives on Colombia’s Peace Process and Opportunities for U.S. Engagement.”  The event will be held from 9-5 this Thursday, January 23, 2014, at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.  To view the program, RSVP (it is open to the public), or sign up to watch the conference via web stream, click here. Hope to see you there!

About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
This entry was posted in Colombia, Dialogue, drugs, Peace, peace talks, US-Colombia Relations, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Colombia on the Washington Agenda

  1. childvelez says:

    I wonder how much of the $140+ for counternarcotics will include military operations against the FARC/be in conjunction with counterterrorism; I also wonder how substantive or critical the Kerry/SAC report will be. In Canada the FTA came with a report on human rights that’s been seen as having good intentions/nice rhetoric, but not being very substantive according to the groups like Amnesty Int’l. I wonder why they only chose a quarter of the military aid to be subject to these conditions. Anyways, thank you for a very informative blogpost.


    • Good questions all. On the 25%, it was undoubtedly a political trade-off between those who wanted no conditionality and those who wanted some. The 25% can provide a vehicle for raising awareness and encouraging improvement on key human rights concerns.


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