Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Certifying Impunity

There are plenty of arguments that one could (and I would) make for ending all U.S. military aid to Colombia, many of which are based upon human rights concerns. Given the unlikelihood of that in the near future, however, folks like me concerned about the involvement of U.S. policy in human rights abuses and continued violence in Colombia sometimes make use of a provision of U.S. law that does attempt, at least in part, to link the release of a portion of U.S. military funding to human rights protection. Unfortunately, it doesn't work all that well.

The Leahy Amendment, as the law is known, is a 1997 law that makes foreign military aid contingent on human rights conditions; if performance on the various human rights conditions is deemed satisfactory, the funds are certified for release. Sounds great, right? But the certification process leaves much to be desired, including the fact that the State Department does the certifying. Particularly with an administration in the White House like the one we have, the stamp of approval for aid to Colombia gets handed out way too easily.

On July 29th, the Bush administration certified the release of more that $180 million in military funding for the Colombia armed forces, money to be used for everything from helicopters to training. To those of us living, be it temporarily or permanently, in this country renowned for the impunity of human rights violations committed by the military, that's a whole lot of cash that just might mean the death of a neighbor or family member. In this case, the 130-page certification document highlights improvements, for example reductions in impunity via prosecutions of military personnel for human rights abuses (like the ongoing prosecutions I described in a recent post). 

But is prosecuting a few soldiers enough to warrant to release of $18 million in military aid? Consider the following: 17 out of 955 extrajudicial killings by the army have been prosecuted to a criminal conviction and sentence – an impunity rate of 98.2%. This is, granted, an improvement from the 99.2% impunity rate from the last round of certification, but, really, are either of those numbers, or the barely-noticeable improvement rate, enough to warrant the release of $180 million?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A much-needed vacation, with photos

I've received many inquires from my faithful blog readers about why I haven't posted in over two weeks. My excuse, dear readers, is a visitor from the States and vacation. Not much time was left to post, I have to admit!

It meant a lot to be able to share my life here with someone from my life before I came to Colombia: to show him just how muddy the trail to our village is, how sweet the coffee is, how gorgeous the sunsets over the mountains are. We then spent a week traveling on Colombia's gorgeous Caribbean coast, lying on white sand beaches, eating arepas de queso (the best street food ever, I think), exploring the beautiful walled Spanish-colonial city of Cartagena...

So, for your viewing pleasure, are some photos of my recent travels; perhaps they will serve to entice you to visit as well!
a typically colorful Cartagena block

me amidst the bouganvilla in Cartagena