By Sergio Gómez Maseri, EL TIEMPO, July 22, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The United States House of Representatives in recent days included five new conditions to the aid that the country gives annually to Colombia, and this could complicate the distribution of the assistance.

The new conditions are included in two separate legislative vehicles: the first is the State Department’s Foreign Operations Budget, which has now been approved by the Committee and is only waiting for approval by the full House.

The Second is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the full House this Tuesday, and is part of the Defense Department Budget.

In the case of the State Department Budget, which includes part of the aid given by the United States to this country every year, the House demands investigation and punishment of those responsible for espionage within the Armed Forces.

On the other hand, that same budget ties the expenditure of 20 per cent of the anti-narcotics assistance to a certification that the eradication programs being carried out by the government respect the agreements made in the peace process signed with the FARC, and also the guidelines from the Constitutional Court in this area.

In addition, the legislators want verification that the government is taking effective measures to protect the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and is respecting their territorial rights.

In the case of the NDAA, two Democratic members, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jim McGovern, included amendments that are of concern to this country. The one by Ocasio-Cortez prohibits using Defense Department funds for aerial fumigation unless the “government demonstrates that it is adhering to the laws, as well as to national and local regulations.”

McGovern’s amendment calls for an exhaustive report that must be furnished 120 days after the effective date of the law. In the report, the United States must assure that no intelligence equipment sold or donated to Colombia can be used for the purpose of spying on the civilian population. Further, it requests review of the use made by Colombia of that equipment since the year 2002 and if it was used in an illegal manner.

At this time, the House includes some $457 million for Colombia in the State Department Budget during 2021. This is an increase of $9 million compared with the assistance approved for 2020 and of $45 million over what President Donald Trump’s administration requested at the beginning of this year.

Of that, $146 million is allotted to economic development, while $189 million is to go to the war on drugs. Another $38 million is to assist the Armed Forces, $21 million for land mine removal and fighting terrorists, with $1.4 million for military education. The $9 million difference was added to the account for financing the war on drugs.

As in previous years, the bill states that the funds must be invested in the implementation of the Peace Agreement, in a unified campaign against narco-terrorism, support for the communities impacted by displacement, encouragement for the campesinos in coca eradication and substitution, and promotion of economic development in areas affected by the conflict.

At the same time, support for strengthening and broadening governability, the rule of law, access to justice, respect for human rights in all Colombia, and providing security for defenders of human rights and for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.

It also requires two reports from the Secretary of State in which he must certify that Colombia is complying with a series of requisites that are necessary for furnishing a percentage of the assistance. One is in the area of human rights, and the other is in the war on drugs.

The bill contemplates that, in relation to human rights, 20 percent of the assistance for the Army, which would amount to some $8 million, will depend on the Secretary certifying that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) is punishing those responsible for human rights violations, and that steps are being taken to reduce attacks against human rights defenders, labor leaders, and journalists, and that members of the Armed Forces implicated in human rights violations are being punished.

And that is exactly where they add two of the new conditions.

“The Colombian government has investigated and is taking credible steps to hold responsible the government officials who allegedly directed, authorized or carried out the illegal monitoring of political opponents, government officials, journalists, and human rights defenders, including using assets furnished by the United States for fighting terrorism and drug trafficking,” states the text, referring to the recent scandals that have shaken the Armed Forces.

The second requires that “effective measures be taken to protect Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and to respect their rights and their territories.”

The certification report on the drug war also contemplates freezing 20 percent of the assistance until certain requisites are accomplished. But that 20 per cent adds up to nearly $40 million because the anti-narcotic amount is higher than the amount for the military.

As in previous years, in order for those funds to be released, the Secretary first must certify to Congress that Colombia “continues to implement an integrated national anti-narcotic strategy focused on the reduction by 50% of the levels of cocaine production and coca-growing areas for 2023.”

But now it adds a requirement of verification that “said program shall not constitute a violation of the Peace Agreement of 2016 between the government of Colombia and the FARC.”

In the report that accompanies the bill, which usually explains the legislative intent in detail, they require the Secretary to assure that the eradication programs financed with United States funds are designed and will be carried out “in compliance with the requirements of Colombia’s Constitutional Court” and within the framework of the Peace Agreements, “including guaranteeing that the basic necessities of the communities are  satisfied, such as land titling, food security and the establishment of a lasting and effective governmental presence in areas where coca is grown.”

At the same time, they require that the eradication programs guarantee the protection of indigenous reservations, Afro-Colombian territories, natural parks, and strategic eco-systems.

The State Department appropriations bill, it’s worth noting, still must be passed by the House, and then go through a similar process in the Senate, after which the two bills must be conferenced. This means that the final content may be different.

In the case of the NDAA, where the Ocasio-Cortez and McGovern amendments are included, it’s a little different because the bill does not allocate funds directly, but authorizes the amount permitted to be spent and the policies that must be followed. In this case, the provisions are also usually obligatory.

It’s true that their future is uncertain, because President Donald Trump has said that he would veto the bill if it included measures he disagrees with, among them one that requires the Pentagon to rename military bases that are named after Confederate military leaders in the civil war.

At any rate, the new conditions that are included in both bills demonstrate the interests of the Democrats—who control the House—not just in the spying scandal but also in the future of the eradication of illegal plantings in this country. 

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