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Corporate Welfare, Human Rights And U.S. Oil Policy in Colombia

On April 19-22, thousands will converge on Washington, D.C. to protest U.S. aid and military involvement in Colombia’s 50-year civil war.  Organizing the mass demonstration, teach-ins, vigils, and lobbying is the National Mobilization on Colombia, a coalition of over 60 organizations working to transform U.S. policy toward Colombia and the Andean region. 

U.S. presence in Colombia is increasing amid worsening violence and the failure of peace talks between the Colombian government and rebel groups.  Critics say U.S. policy only escalates the violence, is aimed at protecting corporate interests, and is tantamount to terrorism.

Plan Colombia, developed and enacted under the Clinton administration, grants Colombia $1.3 billion to fight the "Drug War" making it the 3rd largest recipient of US aid.  Eighty-percent is military aid.  Bush has proposed an additional $470 million to train and equip the Colombian military, which has close ties to right-wing paramilitary forces that commit 75% of the country’s massacres.  Ironically, the largest of these paramilitary groups (the AUC) was recently added to the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The U.S. itself has trained over 10,000 Colombian soldiers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation--formerly the School of the Americas (SOA)--in Ft. Benning, Georgia.  Funded by taxes, the SOA has taught Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency operations such as torture, execution, and blackmail.  SOA graduates are responsible for massacres, rapes, “disappearances,” and kidnappings.  Human Rights Watch reports that Colombian graduates of the SOA are running paramilitary operations involving kidnappings, torture, and a massacre of 107 prisoners and 30 civilians in the village of Trujillo.

In addition to sponsoring terrorism, critics say U.S. aid to Colombia is corporate welfare.  Defense industries United Technologies, Lockheed Martin, and Textron have made over $386 million in profits from “Plan Colombia.”

To fumigate coca, our taxes have purchased hundreds of thousands of gallons of Round-Up Ultra from its manufacturer Monsanto.  Infamous for its production of Agent Orange used in Vietnam, Monsanto directly contributed $12,000 to Bush’s campaign and $74,000 in the last congressional elections.  U.S. fumigation causes health problems in farmers, and has destroyed legal food crops, causing unemployment and starvation.  Despite company and government claims that fumigation is harmless to humans, the less concentrated commercial Round-Up label warns that U.S. federal law prohibits “contact [with] workers or persons” and that “only protected handlers may be in the area during application.”

Instead of aid for alternative crop development or support for the estimated two million internally displaced people, Bush’s budget proposal includes $98 million for protection of a 500-mile-long oil pipeline partially owned by California-based Occidental Petroleum, which has spent years lobbying for such a government handout.  Occidental’s combined donations to both parties surpassed $300,000 in the last election cycle.  Its Caño Limón pipeline in Colombia has already spilled over 2.1 million barrels of oil due to sabotage by leftist rebels, costing the company millions in profits.  Occidental and the U.S. government have come under protest by the indigenous U’wa community for a 1998 military massacre of 18 civilians in the village of Santo Domingo--seven were children.  The U’wa contend that Occidental is complicit in the massacre because of U’wa challenges to the company’s incursion into land they consider sacred.

The New York-based National Labor Committee says U.S. military aid contributes to “genocide against unionists,” as 3/5 of the world’s murdered trade unionists are Colombian--over 153 assassinations occurred there in 2001, mostly perpetrated by paramilitary forces.  No one has been found guilty of any of these murders.  International attention was recently generated when three union leaders at the US-based Drummond Coal Co. were assassinated there last year.  Additionally, Coca-Cola has been sued in U.S. courts by the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund, for the torture, kidnapping, and murder of unionists at one of its Colombian bottling plants.

The National Mobilization on Colombia Demands:

*An end to U.S. military aid to Colombia/Andean region.

*The closure of the SOA (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)

*An end to U.S. funding of counter-narcotic aerial eradication in Colombia/Andean region.

*A dramatic expansion of drug treatment and prevention in the U.S.

*The U.S. to support comprehensive sustainable economic development alternatives throughout the Andean region, as well as efforts for peace that include the full participation of civil society.

*The U.S. to help alleviate the conditions of refugees and those people internally displaced because of the conflict.

*We support exclusively non-violent, negotiated political solutions to the conflict in Colombia.  We do not support or endorse any armed actor in the Colombian conflict.

           

Sources: 

Forero, Juan. (Feb. 6, 2002)  New York Times. Administration Shifts Focus on Colombia Aid.

Kovalik, Dan.  Colombia: A Case of Genocide Against Unionists http://www.nlcnet.org/colombia/0401/main.htm

Leech, Gary.  Colombia Report.  (September 3, 2000).  U.S. Aid Package Amounts to Corporate Welfare

Bigwood, Jeremy.  Toxic Drift: Monsanto and the Drug War in Colombia. CorpWatch.  June 25, 2001

Campaign contributions: www.opensecrets.org

San Francisco Chronicle (March 23, 2002).  Plan to Lift Limits on Past Colombia Aid.

School of the Americas Watch:  www.soawatch.org

For information on the lawsuit, see www.laborrights.org  (International Labor Rights Fund)

Also, www.ciponline.org/colombia has great info on the breakdown of the policies and background of the conflict.