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War in Colombia
 Guerrillas, Drugs and Human Rights in U.S.-Colombia Policy, 1988-2002
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 69
Edited by Michael Evans <mevans@gwu.edu>
Director, Colombia Documentation Project
Phone: 202 / 994-7029
3 May 2002

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Summary and Findings
Background and Current Policy Proposals
Part I: The Andean Strategy, 1989
“Attacking drugs by hitting the insurgency”
Part II: Counterdrug Operations
“The most dangerous flying in the so-called drug war”
Part III: Conditioning Security Assistance
Human rights, end-use monitoring and “the government’s inability to curb the paramilitary threat”
Summary and Findings

Over the past 15 years, Congress has insisted that U.S. security assistance for Colombia be restricted to combating the drug trade rather than fighting the long-standing civil war, in large part because of human rights concerns.  Now, the Bush administration is pressing to lift those restrictions and allow all past, present and future aid to be used in operations against guerrilla forces.  But recently declassified U.S. documents show that despite the legal limits and repeated public assurances by government officials, U.S. aid has blurred the lines between counterdrug and counterinsurgency to the point that the U.S. is on the brink of direct confrontation with the guerrillas and ever deeper involvement in Colombia’s seemingly intractable civil conflict.  The Bush administration’s proposed aid figure for Colombia in fiscal year 2003 includes nearly $500 million in military and police aid alone.

Obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the new documents, published today on the web by the National Security Archive’s Colombia Documentation Project, cover the period from 1988 to the present, with particular focus on issues stemming from the provision of U.S. security assistance.

Key points include the following:

  • As early as the first Bush administration, the U.S. “Andean Strategy” was developed as a “deal” struck with Andean governments to provide them with counterdrug aid that could also be used against their principal adversary: the guerrillas.  (See Volume I)

  • Contrary to repeated official statements about “narco-guerrillas,” U.S. intelligence analyses of guerrilla involvement in the drug trade have been decidedly mixed. Some of the documents indicate that guerrillas are intimately involved with narcotics trafficking, while others downplay this association. One CIA report concluded that, “officials in Lima and Bogotá, if given antidrug aid for counterinsurgency purposes, would turn it to pure antiguerrilla operations with little payoff against trafficking.”  (See Volume II, especially Documents 24, 33 and 40)

  • As counterdrug operations became increasingly dangerous and guerrilla attacks on Colombian security forces more successful in the mid-to-late 1990s, U.S. efforts to reengage the Colombian military in counterdrug operations were pitted against congressional efforts to condition such assistance on human rights performance. The evidence indicates that the State Department had extreme difficulty in identifying existing units that met these conditions. Two Colombian brigades that lost U.S. aid in September 2000 for human rights violations work as part of a joint strike force with antidrug battalions specifically created to qualify for U.S. funds. The new units, according to one document, were “bedding down” with a counterguerrilla battalion reportedly involved with illegal paramilitary groups. Current Bush administration proposals would unfetter all of these units for operations against guerrilla forces.  (See Volume III, especially Documents 60, 69 and 70)

  • The U.S.-Colombia end-use agreement – intended to guarantee that counterdrug aid be used only in drug producing areas and only for counternarcotics operations – came to be interpreted so broadly as to render its provisions virtually meaningless. Documents indicate that the U.S. eventually redefined the area in which the aid could be used as “the entire national territory of Colombia.”  (See Volume III, especially Documents 66 and 68)

  • As the end-use agreement was being negotiated with the Colombian defense ministry, a congressional delegation led by Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) – currently Speaker of the House of Representatives who was then chairman of the House subcommittee on national security – secretly encouraged Colombian military officials to ignore human rights conditions on U.S. aid.  (See Documents 52, 54 and 55)

  • CIA and other intelligence reports from the late 1990s on the notorious Colombian paramilitaries suggested that the Colombian government lacked the will to go after these groups. A 1998 CIA report found that, “informational links and instances of active coordination between the military and the paramilitaries are likely to continue and perhaps even increase.”  (See Documents 53, 61 and 64)

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