Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thoughts on the Colombia - Venezuela conflict

On July 15 the Colombian government held a press conference to announce its possession of evidence that the Venezuelan government is harboring Colombian guerrillas, including high-ranking leaders, on Venezuela’s side of the border. The following week Colombia’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Alfonso Hoyos, presented to that regional body high-resolution graphics of more than 80 camps said to be housing nearly1500 guerrillas. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez responded immediately by severing diplomatic relations and putting Venezuela’s armed forces on high alert. Over Venezuelan 20,000 troops are now stationed on the two nations’1250-mile border. 

Before the Colombian government’s announcement it had looked as though the previously tense relations between the two countries had been warming. President-elect Juan Manual Santos invited Chavez to his inauguration, while Chavez had approved a meeting between Venezuela’s foreign minister and Santos’minister-designate.

For Chavez, though, this crisis isn’t just about Colombia; it is also the latest example of the power of U.S. influence in Colombia. On Monday he said he considers an armed attack from Colombia “probable” and accused the U.S. government of pushing for such an attack, calling the U.S. “the great instigator.” Undeterred by the fact that the U.S. is the biggest consumer of Venezuelan oil, Chavez pledged to cut off shipments of oil to the U.S. if such an attack occurs, “even if everybody over here has to eat stones.”

New Report: U.S. Aid for Civilian Murders

The following is a release from the Fellowship of Reconciliation of an explosive new report released today.

This week, the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" scandal has rocked the world. Its explosive findings have described a U.S. military unaccountable to its own nation's laws and human rights policy, including the deaths of hundreds of innocent Afghans. Now today, a detailed report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and U.S. Office on Colombia describes how several years of U.S. funding to the Colombian military has supported army units directly responsible for at least a thousand murders of unarmed civilians.

Drawing on extensive data from the U.S. State Department, Colombian government and military, and human rights organizations, the report shows that massive military training, equipment, and intelligence provided under the rubric of "Plan Colombia" have violated U.S. human rights law and contributed to illegal killings. Next month, Colombia's human rights status will be reviewed by the State Department: Tell Secretary Clinton today to withhold Colombia's certification.

"The U.S. has provided more than $6 billion in military aid to Colombia since 2000," said John Lindsay-Poland, FOR's research and advocacy director. "This money is used to support military units that have been proven to murder innocent civilians. That is outrageous and needs to stop." U.S. law prohibits support to any foreign military unit for which there is credible evidence of having committed gross human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings.

This forceful study also has serious implications for Pakistan, where the United States has spent more than $12 billion in military assistance and where human rights groups have reported hundreds of extrajudicial killings. The U.S. Congress, State Department, and National Security Council must take action to ensure U.S. tax dollars no longer bankroll militaries that carry out illegal executions in Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mexico, or any other country! Act today: Call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to decertify Colombia's human rights status.

Read the full report, executive summary, and see special maps of U.S. aid and rights violations: Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Opposition mounts to increased U.S. military presence in Latin America

Last year I published several articles about the U.S.-Colombia agreement for U.S. use of seven Colombian air and military bases. As I wrote in those articles, opposition quickly mounted to the agreement from unions, opposition political parties, human rights groups, and more, for reasons as varied as worries over increasing regional tensions, U.S. personnel's legacy of sexual abuse in foreign outposts, and questions of legality.

Now, Colombia's Constitutional Court itself is stepping into the fray with its own concerns. In a draft opinion released Friday, Judge Jorge Ivan Palacios urged his colleagues to declare the bases agreement invalid and send the agreement to Congress for a chance to approve or reject it. Though the Court will not officially rule on the case brought by the José Alvear Restrepo legal collective until August 17, this draft opinion directly challenges President Alvaro Uribe's assertion that the agreement isn't actually a treaty and therefore does not require Congressional approval as dictating by Colombian law. If the Court follows Judge Palacio's suggestion, it will confirm a non-binding ruling by the State Council, and advisory body, that urged compliance with the Colombian law requiring Congressional approval of treaties.

Meanwhile, opposition to increasing U.S. military presence continues to mount in the region. When  the earthquake hit Haiti, the strong U.S. military contingent sent to the ravaged island large numbers. Then in July, the U.S. deployed 46 warships and 7,000 marines to military-less Costa Rica.