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Plan Colombia: U.S. Aid Fuels Violence

Published on Friday, August 24, 2001 in the Miami Herald. Sandra Alvarez, a Colombian American, is the Colombia Human Rights Program coordinator at Global Exchange in San Francisco.
I've visited Colombia three times this year. One of my goals was to see how one unique community was faring, a community dedicated to peace.

The community is called San José de Apartado, which comprises 17 settlements. In 1997 it declared itself a peace community -- opposed to Colombia's civil war and not affiliated with any of its armed factions. This stance has made it a target. The military, the paramilitary and guerrilla soldiers constantly harass residents of San Jose de Apartado.

This peaceful community is under siege.

On July 30 at 6 a.m., 300 paramilitary soldiers surrounded one of the settlements, La Unión, while 15 heavily armed troopers invaded it. These men ordered all community members out of their houses and into the central square, threatening to kill anybody who disobeyed.

Most complied, except for 17-year-old Alexander Guzmán, who was killed while trying to escape. Before leaving, the paramilitaries warned that those who did not collaborate with their efforts would be considered guerrillas and thus be killed. They then headed to neighboring communities to spread the same message of death and intimidation.

The 55 families of La Unión, fearing for their safety, fled their homes.

In July 2000, paramilitaries had massacred six residents of La Unión in the same central square where residents were forced to gather last month. More than 80 of the nonviolent community residents have been killed or have disappeared since the peace community was created in 1997.

When I visited the community in March and May this year, residents told me about their struggles to protect themselves from the violence of Colombia's civil war and about their desire for peace and livelihood.

They said that U.S. military aid to Colombia is helping to escalate the country's conflict. The $1.3 billion aid that the United States is funneling to Colombia is worsening the country's already-tragic situation. Much of this U.S. aid goes to the Colombian military, which has close ties to paramilitary squads.


"Collusion between the Colombian security forces, particularly the army, and paramilitary groups continued and, indeed, strengthened," writes Amnesty International in its 2001 global survey of human rights. "The principal victims continued to be civilians. The majority of killings were carried out by illegal paramilitary groups operating with the tacit or active support of the Colombian armed forces."

Since last year, when the U.S. Congress passed the aid package, known as Plan Colombia, politically motivated killings have doubled to 20 from 10 per day, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists.

Congress presented this policy as part of the war on drugs. Yet this policy has increased the number of civilian casualties in Colombia and done nothing to reduce drug abuse here at home. What's more, the policy is dragging the United States into Colombia's ghastly 40-year civil war.


Both Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative, a similar U.S. aid package, ignore the devastation that Colombians are suffering. Around 40,000 have died just in the last decade, and 6,000 last year alone. And like the 55 families of La Unión, more than two million Colombians have been displaced since 1985.

As Congress continues its debate on the value of U.S. military aid to Colombia, our political representatives ought to halt all military aid to a nation whose civilians want peace, not war.



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