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Hope & change in ’09

February 1, 2009

This is the last of the boring catch-up posts – social movement & human rights NGO visions for a sane US-Colombia policy, as we pass what Jon Stewart called “the Jan. 20 hope and change deadline.”

I had the privilege of attending part of the annual assembly of the largest clearinghouse of human rights groups here two weeks ago, which counts among its members over a hundred groups from many sectors, representing women, indigenous people, political prisoners, union members, and on. The Coeuropa, as it’s known, decided after three days of consensus-seeking debate not to seek any formal dialogue on human rights with the Uribe administration this year. The reasons are complex, but the assessment appeared to be that they would do better to continue to consolidate their energies building their base and with allies, continuing to pressure the government from the outside and call attention to rights violations by the army and official impunity.

The way forward on other matters, like proposing changes to Plan Colombia, was less clear, although that work continues as well. But on the US side of things, several NGOs have laid the groundwork for a big shift — IF we US solidarity activists can get it together to push through changes that might give Colombians a reprieve from fumigations, illegal executions and the like.

In October four US groups — members of the Colombia Steering Committee, three dozen US NGOs committed to a just Colombia policy — launched A Compass for Colombia Policy. PDF Everyone reading this probably understands how rare it is for many separate NGOs to collaborate on a unified policy vision. Unfortunately there isn’t yet anything this specific from Colombian organizations, although there may be soon, and the USOC, one of the authors of this document, is the de facto US delegate to the Coeuropa.

Here’s to hoping we can expand on and consolidate support for the compass.

A Compassdetails seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.”

They are:

1.  Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

2.  Actively Support Overtures for Peace

The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

3.  Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.

4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.

5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.

6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement.  The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region.  The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities.   Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers.  Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

And here are two letters calling for other specific Colombia policy changes.

Letter (Nov 2008 ) from the Association of Indigenous Leaders of Northern Cauca (ACIN) to President-Elect Obama

Letter (Dec 2008 ) from US NGOs who care about Latin America policy to Obama PDF

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