By Sergio Gómez Maseri, EL TIEMPO, July 25, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This week a combination of new measures that could change the future of Washington’s assistance to Colombia were advanced in the United States House of Representatives.
Among them, two were put forward by Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern. In one of them, he seeks to get to the bottom of the spying scandals in Colombia’s Armed Forces, and in another, he seeks guarantees in case fumigation of illegal crops is renewed.
EL TIEMPO talked with him in Washington.
Why did you offer the amendment that requires an evaluation of the spying scandals in this country and the possible use of United States intelligence equipment for that spying?
Well, it’s because the United States has been helping for almost 20 years now, trying to professionalize security agencies in Colombia, and we keep getting reports that the same things we’ve been worried about are still going on after 20 years.
The illegal spying against human rights defenders, journalists, opposition leaders, and judicial authorities just keeps on happening. It’s a violation of their rights and it puts them in mortal danger.
And if the United States assistance has been used in any manner to aid in these violations, that is something that worries us in Congress, and we’re sick and tired of it.
And the amendment makes clear that the assistance can’t be used that way, and we want an exhaustive report so that all of the U.S. agencies will have to keep us informed and, based on the results, there may be a change in the policies that will be ordered by this administration, or the next one, or by Congress.
Why did you decide to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and not the regular process of appropriations that’s usually used to ask for this kind of thing?
Because the NDAA is going to pass. It’s already been approved by the Senate and is going to be signed by the President. And I was interested in finding a vehicle that would be sure of passing.
Colombian officials have said that your amendment and others passed in the House about fumigation are not a concern and will not have a big impact, because Colombia is already complying with all of those stipulations. What’s your opinion?
Well, they ought to be concerned. The amendment makes clear how the equipment cannot be used, and it calls for punishment of those responsible for any illegal use.
But it also calls for a report, and that report will be used to determine our policies in the future.
This isn’t a show. This is serious, and it will detail things that we know already. And we want to know if U.S. resources were used in these activities or if U. S. resources supported them.
And then we will see what decisions we will take.
What I can say is that neither the next administration nor the Congress is standing here with arms crossed. And maybe Colombian officials think nothing will happen because nothing happened before when these things were going on. But if they don’t change, then the policies will be changing.
If the report concludes that U. S. resources were used illegally, what do you think could happen? Do you anticipate cutbacks or suspension of the assistance?
First we have to wait for the report. But we furnish a significant amount of assistance, and taking it for granted that this aid is permanent and that nothing will happen if the behaviors are not changed, that would worry me very much.
When we have the report, the new administration, which might be a Joe Biden administration, could freeze the assistance. And if it’s the same administration and nothing is done, then Congress could condition the assistance or halt its delivery, or cut it back.
And if things keep on the way they’ve been going and the budget isn’t approved this year but is left for next year, when the elections are over, then those restrictions might take effect much more quickly (because we wouldn’t have to wait for the 2022 budget).
Your colleague Alexandria Ocasio Cortez presented another amendment that requires no fumigation until the government demonstrates that it respects the local and regional laws on crop eradication. Do you support that proposal?
Of course. I was a co-sponsor of her amendment. I’m opposed to renewing the fumigation and I don’t believe that it’s the way to stop the flow of drugs. I’ve visited communities in Putumayo that have been fumigated and I’ve seen the impact.
What I would like to see happen is that the Colombian government implement the Peace Agreements. They have the opportunity for a great future and that is the promise of the Agreements. And to see that the government is departing from them and doesn’t implement them is unfortunate, because I think they are the key, and that’s why I insist on their implementation.
Just to clarify. The Ocasio Cortez amendment doesn’t prohibit fumigation itself, correct?
No, it doesn’t, but I personally think that renewing the fumigation would be a huge mistake.