US Congress members seek to condition aid to Colombia on human rights and peace process

The US House of Representatives has applied a series of conditions to maintain funding levels for Colombia’s military. It follows criticism of the Colombian government, headed by President Iván Duque, over its failure to sufficiently implement the peace process and a series of human rights controversies involving the military.

Congress members behind the move include Democrat senators Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jim McGovern. The measures are part of the National Defense Authorization Act which establishes budgets and programmes for the US military and aid given to other countries. They seek assurances over the Duque administration’s complicance with the peace agreement and over the Colombian military’s conduct.

One such stipulation calls for investigations and sanction of military officials involved in the recent illegal spying scandal, in which at least 130 people were targeted, primarily opposition politicians, journalists, activists and trade unionists. Under the new directive, the US must take assurances to ensure that funds are not used for spying illegally on civilians.

Elsewhere, the new legislation seeks to withhold 20 per cent of the US anti-drugs budget in Colombia unless operations are conducted in alignment with the peace agreement’s stipulations on crop removal. While under the terms of the agreement coca-growing communities are themselves responsible for replacing illegal crop plantations with legal alternatives, the Colombian security forces have continued forcibly eradicating coca crops in many regions, generating tensions with rural communities. The proposed legislation bans funding for aerial spraying programmes unless the Colombian government can provide assurances that it is complying with the law. This practice has devastated rural communities as chemicals released from aeroplanes contaminate other crops and water sources.

It also calls for guarantees around the peace agreement’s focus on indigenous and African-Colombian communities that are disporportionately impacted by conflict, structural inequality and state abandonment, and for land rights to be respected.

The new conditions form part of the US State Department’s $457 million dollars aid package to Colombia for this year. While $146m is allocated for economic development, $189m is for counternarcotics programmes, with the remainder distributed among different military areas. In return, Colombia is required to provide evidence that it is meeting standards around protecting human rights and fighting drugs trafficking.

While the US has set a target of reducing drugs production by 50 per cent by 2023, the propsed legislation requires Colombia to ensure ‘such programmes do not constitute a violation of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC’. Anti-drugs operations must be carried out in complicance with the peace process and in a way that ‘guarantees that basic necessities of communities are addressed, such as land titles, food security and the establishment of a lasting and efficient state presence in zones of coca cultivation’.

The NDAA has not yet passed and could face hostile opposition from President Donald Trump over attempts to rename US military bases named after Confederate generals in the Civil War. The Act still requires further congressional approval and could face changes to its content.