U.S. May End Curbs On Aid to Colombia
White House Spurred By Support on Hill
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Bush administration plans to ask Congress next week to remove all
restrictions on U.S. military aid to Colombia, including those that limit
counter-narcotics efforts, impose human rights standards on the Colombian military and cap the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, administration and
congressional sources said.
The plan, which also seeks to ward off restrictions on any future aid,
is included in legislation that the administration expects to submit to
Congress asking for
additional funds for global and domestic anti-terrorism efforts this year.
The White House put aside a similar Colombia proposal barely two weeks
ago on grounds that Congress might not support a significant broadening
of the U.S.
military mission there to assist the government of President Andres Pastrana in its fight against leftist guerrillas. The Pentagon, backed by some officials in other
departments, had proposed including Colombia in the global war on terrorism.
To the administration's surprise, however, a number of key congressional
figures subsequently said that they would support expanded U.S. aid in
response to the
changed circumstances in Colombia, where Pastrana last month abruptly ended three years of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
FARC. A senior administration official said the new plan was developed in response to a "strong recommendation" from Congress to lay its Colombia cards on the
table and allow an open debate.
"Everybody said, 'Look, you've got a supplemental coming up. Do it the
honest and right way, and put in [that] legislation that you're going to
do counter-terrorism' "
in Colombia, the official said. "We're not trying to slip anything by or do this in the dead of night," he added.
Although the "words on the paper say it [current restrictions] should
all be eliminated," he said, the administration plans to "make explicit"
to Congress in some other
fashion that it will continue to respect the 400-person cap on U.S. military personnel in Colombia as well as the congressional insistence that the Colombian military
clean up its human rights record.
The multibillion-dollar appropriations package, including the new Colombia policy, is now awaiting final sign-off at the Office of Management and Budget.
The administration has long insisted that it has no intention of directly
involving U.S. forces in the Colombian war. In essence, the proposal would
deployment of U.S.-trained Colombian troops and U.S.-provided military equipment for government actions against groups that the United States has designated as
"All we are trying to do is to add the words 'counter-terrorism' to what the U.S. can do in helping Colombia," the official said.
President Bush is also likely to sign a new presidential directive on
Colombia, replacing a Clinton administration document that restricts U.S.
other military assistance to counter-narcotics efforts, officials said.
Three Colombian groups -- the 16,500-member FARC, the smaller guerrilla
National Liberation Army (ELN) and the 10,000-strong right-wing paramilitary
umbrella group known as the Colombian Self-Defense Force (AUC) -- are on the administration's list of global terrorist organizations. But the Colombian military
rarely confronts the paramilitary forces and is in negotiations with the ELN. The strong likelihood is that U.S. assistance would be used most often against the FARC.
The aid proposal is a direct offshoot of the administration's new anti-terrorism
focus. But it also conforms to a longstanding view of some senior Bush
particularly those who worked on Latin American issues in earlier, Cold War administrations -- that the United States ought to help Colombia's democratic
government fend off a threat from guerrillas who espouse a Marxist ideology.
The latter view has been consistently rejected by Congress, where there
has been bipartisan agreement on aid limits since the passage of a $1.3
assistance package in early 2000. Congress feared U.S. involvement in a Latin American counterinsurgency against groups that posed little threat to the United
States. And it rejected deeper U.S. ties to a Colombian military accused of human rights abuses and, through its close association with paramilitary forces, of the
most vicious rights violations.
Since both the guerrillas and the paramilitary forces finance their
activities largely through involvement in the drug trade, Congress authorized
U.S. aid to be used
against them only when such use overlaps with the anti-narcotics offensives in the southern part of the country where most Colombian coca is grown. Colombia
supplies nearly all of the cocaine entering the United States, and a major portion of the heroin.
But many legislators appear to have reconsidered the issue in the wake
of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the administration's repeated public
reference to the FARC
as a dangerous terrorist organization and the escalating violence of the FARC itself. The House last week passed a nonbinding resolution supporting more flexibility in
aid to Colombia, although Democrats went along with the measure only after they were assured it would make clear that Congress would weigh in on any policy
Initial administration briefings on the new proposal provoked some negative
responses on Capitol Hill this week. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman
Appropriations Committee's foreign operations panel, which is responsible for appropriations for Colombia, said the administration is looking for "easy answers" to
"Latin America's oldest and bloodiest civil war."