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New president!! New policy!??!?

January 23, 2009

In what is an all-too-common occurrence here, DAS federal police raided a Left cultural center (Span.) a week ago today. It wasn’t the raid itself that was so common, but the character of it – police accusing activists of terrorism, using an order approved by a judge – and what happened next. The next day the highest profile of the activists involved in maintaining the space, Yuri Neira, whose son was assassinated two years ago, was visited at the space by two armed men looking for him, but who were momentarily confused and were unsure if they had the right guy. He was able to escape what is presumed to have been a paramilitary hit squad, and is currently in hiding. Here’s video of the raid, and denuncias in Spanish.

Whether or not this story continues to be mundane may depend in part on the attitude of our new mandatorio, Barack H. Obama, and relevant congresspeople. This post is to continue our catch-up, summarizing his comments on Colombia so far. Next up I’ll post US and Colombian hopes for policy change, and later on paramilitaries and their impact on social movements.

Just in the last three days here, people are naming their babies Barack Obama, black communities are celebrating and bands are recording celebratory anthems.

Obama has in the past made statements denouncing (Span.) impunity towards paramilitaries (more on that soon), and here’s some background from CIP on his Colombia involvement as a senator. But what would be the new admin’s first move in ’09? President Álvaro Uribe Vélez was just given the US’ highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by Bush II. WWOD?

Well, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó had requested that paramilitary victims be present at the confirmation hearing of Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, arguing that his support for Chiquita can be connected to the killings of campesinos in Urabá. They have not received a response. Lots and lots of folks have denounced the specter of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement being passed by the House, including one Senator Obama, but recently the Democrats have said it’ll pass after all.

Next up: Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing, in which she was asked to comment on Colombia.

Here’s some key quotes from her testimony, followed by Al Giordano’s thoughts. The highlights are his.

“The President-Elect has supported the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and believes that it must be updated to meet evolving challenges. The security situation in Colombia has improved, but very significant quantities of illicit narcotics continue to flow from Colombia to the United States. I look forward to working with Congress and our friends and partners in Colombia to ensure that future investments help staunch the flow of illegal drugs and help consolidate security gains to contribute to a durable peace in Colombia. To do so, we must learn from the successes and failures of the past. We will fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC, and work with the government to end the reign of terror from right wing paramilitaries.

As we continue our struggle against the scourge of illegal drugs in our society and throughout the Americas, we must ensure that we are doing what is necessary here at home to reduce demand, enforce our laws through effective policing, and disrupt the southbound flow of money and weapons that are an essential element of the transnational illicit networks that operate in Colombia and elsewhere in the Americas. It is important that we work together with countries throughout the region to find the best practices that work across the hemisphere and to tailor approaches to fit each country.”

On US-Colombia policy, the incoming administration is thus ceding part of the steering wheel to Congress (in effect saying, FDR style, “go out and push us to change it”). This is very different from the previous stances by Presidents Clinton and Bush that merely railroaded Congress’ concerns about human rights and other matters through pressure built up through media campaigns. String the bold-typed words together, and here’s the “new language” with which to push the next administration: Plan Colombia “must be updated,” that should be done by “Congress,” to correct the “failures of the past,” and when it comes to Plan Mexico, “tailor the approach” to make it different from Plan Colombia.

That’s hardly the embracing of a bold new or better policy, but it cracks the door for Civil Society to push through and open wider. (And to those doing the good work of that pushing, the wording of Kerry’s question ought to provoke an obvious light to go on above our heads: That Kerry, if given the language and the hard information to do it, might be persuaded to become the spear for a more concrete change in direction when it comes to the failed Plan Colombia, and, in time, perhaps the larger failure of US drug policy that molded it.)

Seems about right. I hope. The Colombian foreign minister is flying to DC in February to lobby Congress to keep spending on Plan Colombia. Time to get out our (nonviolent) policy “spears”…

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