Colombia: Issues for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
In the last decade, Colombia—a key U.S. ally in South America—has made significant progress
in reasserting government control over much of its territory, combating drug trafficking and
terrorist activities by illegally armed groups, and reducing poverty. Since the development of Plan
Colombia in 1999, the Colombian government, with substantial U.S. support, has stepped up its
counternarcotics and security efforts. Congress has provided more than $6 billion to support
Colombia from FY2000 through FY2008. Proponents of the current U.S. policy towards
Colombia point to the inroads that have been made in improving security conditions and in
weakening the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Critics argue that,
despite these security improvements, U.S. policy has not rigorously promoted human rights,
provided for sustainable economic alternatives for drug crop farmers, or reduced the amount of
drugs available in the United States.
President Alvaro Uribe, re-elected in May 2006, has made headway in addressing Colombia’s 40-
year plus conflict with the country’s leftist guerrillas, as well as the rightist paramilitary groups
that have been active since the 1980s. Uribe enjoys wide popular support, which has not been
significantly affected by an ongoing scandal concerning past government ties to illegal
paramilitary groups. Uribe’s popularity soared after Colombia’s March 2008 raid of a FARC
camp in Ecuador resulted in the killing of a top guerrilla commander and the seizure of his
computer files. It spiked again following the Colombian military’s successful July 2, 2008 rescue
of 15 hostages long held by the FARC. Those hostages included three U.S. defense contractors
and a former Colombian presidential candidate. While some Colombians are calling for President
Uribe to seek a third presidential term, others have been disillusioned by his handling of a series
of illegal investment schemes or have concerns about his attempt to remain in power.
Concerns in the 110th Congress regarding Colombia focused on funding levels and U.S. policy
regarding Plan Colombia, U.S. hostages, trade, and human rights. The FY2008 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) raised the level of U.S. funding provided for economic and
social aid closer to that provided for security-related programs. In July 2008, both the House and
Senate passed resolutions expressing gratitude to the Colombian government for successfully
rescuing the three U.S. hostages being held by the FARC (H.Con.Res. 389/S.Res. 627). The
House also passed an amendment (H.Amdt. 112 to H.R. 5959) expressing the importance of
continuing to provide U.S. assistance to Colombia. An enacted continuing resolution (P.L. 110-
329) will provide funding at FY2008 levels through March 6, 2009. While acknowledging the
progress that the Uribe government has made in improving security conditions in Colombia, some
Members of Congress have expressed concerns about labor activist killings and the parapolitical
scandal. These issues received increased attention as the Bush Administration called for Congress
to approve implementing legislation for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA). For more
information, see CRS Report RL34470, A U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Economic and
Political Implications and CRS Report RL34759, Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement:
Labor Issues. The future of the CFTA in the 111th Congress remains uncertain.
The 111th Congress will likely continue to review the progress of aid provided to Colombia
through the Andean Counterdrug Program and continue oversight of human rights, alternative
development, eradication efforts, the environmental consequences of aerial fumigation, and the
paramilitary demobilization process.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 2
The First Uribe Administration.................................................................................................4
The Second Uribe Administration.............................................................................................4
Uribe Re-Election Debate Moves Ahead..................................................................................5
Progress in Addressing Colombia’s Internal Conflict...............................................................6
Roots of the Conflict...........................................................................................................6
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)...........................................................6
National Liberation Army (ELN)........................................................................................9
Paramilitaries ................................................................................................................. ... 10
Remaining Political Challenges...............................................................................................11
The Justice and Peace Law and Demobilization...............................................................12
Human Rights Violations by Colombian Security Forces................................................13
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).................................................................................14
Landmines ......................................................................................................................... 14
Colombia and Global Drug Trends.........................................................................................14
Colombia and Regional Security.............................................................................................16
Cross-Border Incursions and Safe Havens........................................................................16
Crisis in the Andes and Efforts at Resolution...................................................................17
Issues for Congress........................................................................................................................18
Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Program (ACP)................................................19
Aerial Eradication and Alternative Development ............................................................20
Funding for Plan Colombia...............................................................................................22
U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement....................................................................................26
Figure 1. Map of Colombia...........................................................................................................29
Table 1. UNODC Coca Cultivation in Colombia..........................................................................21
Table 2. U.S. ONDCP Coca Cultivation in Colombia...................................................................21
Table 3. U.S. Assistance to Colombia: FY2007-FY2009..............................................................23
Table 4. U.S. Assistance For Plan Colombia, FY2000-FY2009...................................................28
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................29
Acknowledgments ......................................................................................................................... 30
On December 12, 2008, Colombian drug trafficker Diego Montoya who authorities claim was
responsible for some 70% of cocaine brought into the United States and Europe when he directed
the Valle del Norte cartel was extradited to the United States to stand trial on drug charges.
On December 11, 2008, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a report that
indicated an 89% increase in the price of cocaine in the United States between January 2007 to
September 2008 and a marked decline in average drug purity during the same period.
On December 11, 2008, Colombia became “compact-eligible” with the Millennium Challenge
Account. Colombia successfully met competitive selection criteria designed to demonstrate a
strong commitment to political, economic and social reforms. Because the Millennium Challenge
program is recipient-driven, Colombia must now formulate a proposed assistance program for a
On November 17, 2008, President Uribe declared a state of emergency in response to riots over
the collapse of a series of pyramid investment schemes that had victimized hundreds of thousands
of Colombians, particularly from the four poorer southern departments. In the aftermath of the
crisis, polling indicated a downturn in support for the President reducing the likelihood of his re-
election to a third term, the possibility of which would require a constitutional amendment.
In October 2008, President Uribe fired 27 Colombian soldiers and army officers, including three
generals, who were implicated in the murder of 11 civilians whose bodies had been dressed as
guerillas allegedly to inflate the military’s body count. On November 4, 2008, the head of
Colombia’s military, Army Commander Mario Montoya, resigned over the scandal.
On October 6, 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that
found that while Plan Colombia had made significant security gains, it had not succeeded in
reducing the amount of drugs flowing to the United States. The report also found that coca
cultivation had risen by 15% and the production of pure cocaine by 4% in Colombia since 2000
when the Plan Colombia was launched. (U.S. GAO, Plan Colombia: Drug Reduction Goals Were
Not Fully Met, but Security Has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for
Reducing Assistance, GAO-09-71, October 2008).
On September 10, 2008, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reported that
while the area under coca cultivation in Colombia increased slightly in 2007, the productivity of
that area fell sharply due to aerial spraying and manual eradication efforts.
On August 19, 2008, the Colombian Prosecutor General’s office ordered the release of Mario
Uribe, a second cousin and ally of President Alvaro Uribe, stating that the evidence against him
did not merit his imprisonment while he awaits his trial. Mario Uribe, a former Senator, was
arrested on charges of suspected collusion with paramilitary groups. Approximately one-fifth of
Colombian legislators, many from pro-Uribe parties, are under investigation for possible
On July 28, 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified to Congress that the Colombian
government and armed forces are meeting the U.S. statutory requirements with regard to human
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian military successfully rescued 15 hostages long held by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Those hostages included three U.S.
citizens—Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell—held since February 2003 and
former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt held since February 2002.
On May 25, 2008, the FARC confirmed that its leader, Manuel Marulanda, died of a heart attack
In mid-May 2008, President Uribe extradited 15 top paramilitary leaders, including Salvador
Mancuso and Carlos Mario Jiménez, to the United States to stand trial on drug trafficking
On May 15, 2008, Interpol released a report confirming that Colombian officials did not tamper
with computer files seized during a raid of a FARC camp in Ecuador.
On April 10, 2008, the House voted 224-195 in favor of changing the rules that had allowed the
President to “fast-track” trade agreements through Congress, effectively putting congressional
consideration of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) on hold.
On March 18, 2008, after extended debate, the OAS adopted a resolution rejecting, but not
condemning, Colombia’s bombing raid of a FARC camp in Ecuador and calling for the
restoration of diplomatic ties between Ecuador and Colombia. Those ties still have not been fully
On March 11, 2008, the State Department released its annual human rights report, which stated
that “although serious problems remained, the [Colombian] government’s respect for human
rights continued to improve, which was particularly evident by progress in implementing the
Justice and Peace Law.” (See the full report at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/.)
On March 5, 2008, a second member of the FARC’s secretariat, Ivan Rios, was murdered by his
own security agent.
On March 1, 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing at least 25
people, among them, Raúl Reyes, the terrorist groups’ second highest commander. Colombia
alleged that computer files found on laptops seized during the raid indicated that the government
of Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was planning to provide millions of dollars in assistance to the
FARC for weapons purchases.
Colombia is a South American nation of roughly 44 million people, the third most populous
country in Latin America. It is an ethnically diverse nation—58% of the population is mestizo, 1
20% white, 18% black, 3% black-Amerindian, and 1% Amerindian. Colombia has one of the
oldest democracies in Latin America, yet it has been plagued by violence and a conflict that has
been ongoing for over 40 years. The country’s rugged terrain historically made it difficult to
establish state control over large swaths of the nation’s territory. High rates of poverty have also
1 U.S. Department of State, “Background Note: Colombia,” March 2008.
contributed to social upheaval in the country. In 2006, 45% of Colombians lived in poverty, down 2
from close to 60% in 2000. Colombia’s ability to reduce poverty in recent years is at least partly 3
due to increases in the country’s economic growth rates, which reached 7.5% in 2007. Security
improvements and a more stable economy have likely led to the recent increase in foreign direct
investment (FDI). FDI grew from roughly $6.5 billion in 2006 to some $9 billion in 2007, with
the bulk of new investments occurring in the oil, manufacturing, and mining sectors. Despite the
Colombian government’s success in reducing poverty levels, income inequality and land 4
concentration are still significant problems.
Drug trafficking has helped to perpetuate Colombia’s conflict by providing earnings to both left-
and right-wing armed groups. The two main leftist guerrilla groups are the FARC and the
National Liberation Army (ELN), both of which have kidnapped individuals for ransoms,
committed serious human rights violations, and carried out terrorist activities. Most of the rightist
paramilitary groups were coordinated by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC),
which disbanded in 2006 after more than 30,000 of its members demobilized. Members of the
AUC have been accused of gross human rights abuses and collusion with the Colombian Armed
Forces in their fight against the FARC and ELN.
Colombia is a democratic nation with a bicameral legislature. The Liberal and Conservative thth
parties, which dominated Colombian politics from the 19 century through much of the 20
century, have been weakened by their perceived inability to resolve the roots of violence in
Colombia. In 2002, Colombians elected an independent, Alvaro Uribe, as President, largely
because of his aggressive plan to reduce violence in Colombia. The major political parties
currently represented in the Colombian Congress include the Liberal, Conservative, Alternative
Democratic Pole, National Unity, and Radical Change parties, as well as several smaller political
movements. To some observers, the legitimacy of the Colombian Congress has been seriously
called into question because more than 70 of its 268 members, many from pro-Uribe parties, have 5
either been jailed or placed under investigation for alleged ties to illegal paramilitary groups.
2 These statistics are taken from the Colombia National Planning Department as cited by the U.S. Department of State.
See U.S. Department of State, “Charting Colombia’s Progress,” March 2008. The United Nations Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) Social Panorama 2006 data also showed a decline in
both poverty and indigence rates since 1999. ECLAC reported that 55% of Colombians lived in poverty in 1999, with
27% living in indigence. By 2005 those poverty and indigence rates fell to 47% and 20%, respectively. No new data on
poverty rates in Colombia were included in ECLAC’s Social Panorama 2007.
3 “Country Report - Colombia,” Economist Intelligence Unit, August 2008.
4 ECLAC reports that Colombia is now the fourth most unequal society in Latin America and the Caribbean, after
Bolivia, Brazil, and Honduras. Colombia also has one of the most unequal land tenure patterns in Latin America, with
0.4% of land holders owning 61% of registered rural property. See ECLAC, Social Panorama 2006; J.D. Jaramillo, El
Recurso Suelo y la Competividad del Sector Agrario Colombiano, 2004.
5 Frank Bajak, “Head of Colombian Governing Party Arrested for Alleged Paramilitary Ties,” Associated Press, July
25, 2008. For the most recent data, see “Parapolitics: Power and Democracy Seized by Mafias,” presentation at the
Inter-American Dialogue, December 9, 2008, by Claudia López.
During his first term (2002-2006), President Uribe took steps to fulfill his campaign promises to
address the paramilitary problem, defeat leftist guerrilla insurgents, and combat narcotics 6
trafficking. President Uribe took a hard-line approach to negotiations with illegally armed
groups, declaring that the government would only negotiate with those groups who are willing to
give up terrorism and agree to a cease-fire, including paramilitary groups with which former
President Pastrana had refused to negotiate. Negotiations with the AUC paramilitaries resulted in
a July 15, 2003 agreement in which the AUC agreed to demobilize its members by the end of
2005. President Uribe endorsed a controversial Justice and Peace Law that was designed to
provide a framework for those demobilizations. At the same time, Uribe sought to build up the
size and strength of the Colombian military and police, whose forces stepped up their
counternarcotics operations and activities against the FARC. High public approval ratings, likely
due to reductions in violence that had occurred largely as a result of his security policies,
prompted Colombia to amend its constitution in 2005 to permit Uribe to run for re-election.
On August 7, 2006, Alvaro Uribe was sworn into his second term as president. Pro-Uribe parties
won a majority of both houses of congress in elections held in March 2006, giving President
Uribe a strong mandate as he started his second term. The domination of pro-Uribe parties, most
of them new, appears to have further weakened the traditionally dominant Liberal and
Conservative parties. Nevertheless, there is not a high level of unity among the pro-Uribe parties.
Entering the third year of his second presidential term, President Uribe retains widespread support
in Colombia. His popularity derives from the progress his government has made in improving
security situation in Colombia, demobilizing the AUC, and defeating the FARC and ELN.
According to U.S. State Department figures, kidnappings in Colombia have declined by 83%,
homicides by 40%, and terrorist attacks by 76% since Uribe first took office in 2002. Police are
now present in all of Colombia’s 1,099 municipalities, including areas from which they had been 7
previously ousted by guerrilla groups. President Uribe has also overseen the demobilization and
disarmament of more than 31,000 AUC paramilitaries, although the demobilization process has
been criticized for failing to provide adequate punishments for perpetrators and reparations to 8
victims of paramilitary violence. On March 1, 2008, the Colombian military successfully carried
out a raid of a FARC camp in Ecuador that resulted in the killing of a top FARC leader and the
capture of his computer files. This was followed by a successful operation on July 2 that resulted
in the rescue of 15 hostages long held by the FARC, including three U.S. defense contractors and
a former Colombian presidential candidate.
Despite this progress, Colombia continues to face serious challenges. While its numbers have
been dramatically reduced in the last year or so, the FARC still has thousands of fighters capable
6 See CRS Report RS21242, Colombia: The Uribe Administration and Congressional Concerns, by Nina M. Serafino.
7 U.S. Department of State, “Charting Colombia’s Progress,” March 2008.
8 Latin American Working Group, “The Other Half of the Truth,” June 2008.
of carrying out terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and other illicit activities.9 Not all paramilitaries
demobilized, and still others have returned to paramilitary activities since demobilizing. One of
the weaknesses of the demobilization program has been reintegration of demobilized forces into 10
law-abiding civilian life. Moreover, there are credible reports that a new generation of 11
paramilitaries is forming that is much more criminal than political in nature. An estimated 9,000
new fighters have formed and as many as 15% to 20% of the new paramilitary groups may 12
consist of former combatants. Although President Uribe has not been personally implicated, the
Colombian Supreme Court is pursuing ongoing investigations into possible links between
Colombian politicians, many from pro-Uribe parties, and paramilitary groups. Ongoing peace
talks with the ELN have yet to yield any tangible results. Since the 2006 elections, there have
several scandals involving some Colombian military officials and lingering concerns exist about 13
extrajudicial killings committed by Colombian security forces. The latest scandal occurred in
October when 27 soldiers and military officers (including three generals) were fired over the
discovery of eleven murdered civilians who had been dressed as guerilla fighters to increase
military body counts. As a result, General Mario Montoya, the commander of the Colombian
army, stepped down on November 4, 2008.
Drug production and trafficking continue to generate millions of dollars annually for illicit
groups. While ONDCP recently reported large declines in Colombia’s coca production potential,
a June 2008 U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report found that, although yields were 14
down, the coca acreage planted in Colombia increased by 27% in 2007. Additionally, as a result
of the ongoing conflict and drug-related violence, Colombia now has one of the largest
populations of internally displaced persons in the world, with more than 250,000 people displaced
President Uribe’s high approval ratings have led many of his supporters to urge him to seek a
third presidential term. In order for Uribe to be re-elected, the Colombian constitution would have
to be amended again (as it was in 2005) to allow him to seek a third term. Uribe’s supporters have
delivered a petition with five million signatures to Colombian election authorities urging them to
convoke a referendum to reform the constitution to allow a third Uribe term. The petition must
now be debated in the Colombian legislature and reviewed by the country’s Constitutional Court.
On December 17, in a special session of Congress, the lower house of the Congress passed an
ambiguously worded bill authorizing President Uribe to run in either 2010 or 2014. Some
analysts view this as a defeat of his re-election bid in 2010, but others project that the
9 The FARC is believed responsible for more than half of the cocaine entering the United States according to the
November 2008 “Background Note on Colombia,” by the U.S. Department of State.
10 Jonathan Morgenstein, Consolidating Disarmament: Lessons from Colombia's Reintegration Program for
Demobilized Paramilitaries, United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 217, Washington, DC, November 2008.
11 Those concerns are cited in the U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007, March
2008. See also: International Crisis Group (ICG), “Colombia’s New Armed Groups,” May 2007; Chris Kraul, “In
Colombia, Paramilitary Gangs Control Much of Guajira State,” Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2008.
12 Chris Kraul, "New gangs run Colombians off their land; The government says paramilitary groups no longer exist.
But more and more people are being displaced," Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2008.
13 “Amnesty Says all Sides in Colombia Have Bloody Hands,” EFE, May 28, 2008; Chris Kraul, “Colombia Military
Atrocities Alleged,” Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2008.
14 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, June 2008.
interpretation of the bill may allow for a go-ahead with a consecutive third term. The legislation
still requires action in Colombia’s Senate when the legislature recovenes in March 2009.
President Uribe has yet to publicly comment on whether or not he wishes to run again. His
popularity has dipped as a result of the declining economy and the collapse of a massive illegal
pyramid scheme in November that ensnared many of his working class supporters, although his 15
approval rating still hovers around 70%. Many Colombian and international observers have
urged Uribe not to seek another term out of respect for the integrity of Colombian democracy.
Some have expressed concerns about his past conflicts with Colombian democratic institutions 16
and his attempt to remain in power.
Colombia has a long tradition of civilian, democratic rule, yet has been plagued by violence
throughout its history. This violence has its roots in a lack of state control over much of
Colombian territory, and a long history of poverty and inequality. Conflicts between the
Conservative and Liberal parties led to two bloody civil wars—The War of a Thousand Days
(1899-1903) and The Violence (1946 to 1957)—that killed hundreds of thousands of Colombians.
While a power sharing agreement (the so-called National Front pact) between the Liberal and
Conservative parties ended the civil war in 1957, it did not address the root causes of the
violence. Numerous leftist guerrilla groups inspired by the Cuban Revolution formed in the 1960s
as a response to state neglect and poverty. Right-wing paramilitaries were formed in the 1980s
when wealthy landowners organized armed groups to protect themselves from the leftist
guerrillas. The shift of cocaine production from Peru and Bolivia to Colombia in the 1980s
increased drug violence, and provided a new source of revenue for both guerrillas and
paramilitaries. The main paramilitary organization, the AUC, began demobilization in 2003 and
disbanded in 2006. Major armed groups today are the FARC, the National Liberation Army
(ELN), and the new generation of paramilitary groups.
The FARC can trace its roots to armed peasant self-defense groups that had emerged during “the
Violence” of the 1940-50s. By the 1960s, those groups, located in the remote, mountainous
regions between Bogotá and Cali, had developed into a regional guerrilla movement. In 1966, the 17
guerrillas announced the formation of the FARC. The FARC is the oldest, largest, and best-
equipped and financed guerrilla organization in Latin America. It mainly operates in rural areas,
15 "Ex Minister Aims for Colombian Presidency," LatinNews Daily, January 6, 2009. Several sources quote the 70%
figure which reflects the results of a December Invamer-Gallup poll. The Economist reports “According to Invamer-
Gallup, a pollster, Mr. Uribe’s popularity rating remains above 70%. But only 54% of those asked supported his re-
election, down by 20 points since July.” "Politics in Colombia: Third Term Temptation," The Economist, January 10,
16 Patricia Markey, “Colombia’s Uribe Mulls Re-election, but Will he run?” Reuters, August 22, 2008; “Editorial: Mr
Uribe’s Choice,” New York Times, August 22, 2008.
17 See Mark Chernick, “FARC-EP: From Liberal to Marxist to Post-Cold War Guerrillas,” in Terror, Insurgency, and
the State, edited by Marianne Heiberg, et al., Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
but has shown its ability to strike in urban areas, including Bogotá. It conducts bombings,
murders, mortar attacks, kidnappings, extortion, and hijackings mainly against Colombian targets.
The FARC is fully engaged in the drug trade, including cultivation, taxation of drug crops, and
distribution, from which it reaps significant profits. In recent years, the FARC has increased it
activities along Colombia’s borders with Ecuador and Venezuela.
During the Pastrana Administration, the FARC entered into peace negotiations under which it was
granted control of a Switzerland-size territorial refuge while the peace process was underway.
With continued FARC military activity, including the kidnapping of a Colombian senator,
President Pastrana halted the negotiations and ordered the military to retake control of the
designated territory. During the inauguration of President Uribe on August 7, 2002, the FARC
launched a mortar attack on the Presidential Palace that killed 21 residents of a nearby
In mid-2003, the Colombian military’s Plan Patriota, a campaign to recapture FARC-held
territory, began operations in what was largely seen as a successful effort to secure the capital and
environs of Bogotá. In 2004, military operations, conducted by up to 17,000 troops, turned to
regaining FARC territory in the southern and eastern regions of the country. The FARC initially
responded with a tactical withdrawal of forces, but launched a new counter-offensive in February
2005. The conflict with the FARC has, however, largely remained in the countryside and the
FARC was unable to disrupt President Uribe’s August 7, 2006, inauguration. In 2006 the FARC 18
controlled an estimated 30% of Colombian territory. The Colombian government maintains that
Plan Patriota enabled it to reduce FARC ranks, recapture land held by the FARC, and confiscate
large amounts of materials used to process cocaine. Despite these advances, critics pointed out
that large numbers of civilians were displaced during the campaign.
On March 1, 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador, killing at least 25
people, among them, Raúl Reyes, the terrorist groups’ second highest commander whose real
name is reportedly Luis Edgar Devia Silva, four Mexican students visiting the camp, and one 19
Ecuadorian citizen reportedly tied to the FARC. This mission marked the first time in the
Colombian military’s 44-year struggle against the leftist FARC insurgency that it has been able to
kill a member of the FARC’s seven-member ruling secretariat. A few days later, Ivan Rios,
another member of the FARC’s secretariat, was murdered by his own security agent. Many assert
that these high-level killings dealt a significant blow to the FARC, particularly following a FARC
announcement in May 2008 that its top commander, Manuel Marulanda, had died in March of a
During the raid, the Colombian military captured three laptop computers that allegedly belonged
to Reyes. Computer files on those laptops allege that the government of Hugo Chávez of
Venezuela was planning to provide millions of dollars in assistance to the FARC for weapons
purchases. As a result, some Members of Congress called for the Bush Administration to include
Venezuela on the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list; the Administration began an inquiry into
the matter in March. The files also allege that President Raphael Correa of Ecuador received
18 “Colombia: Executive Summary,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, August 24, 2006.
19 Simon Romero, “Files Released by Colombia Point to Venezuelan Bid to Arm Rebels,” New York Times, March 30,
campaign donations from the FARC in 2006. Both Chávez and Correa vigorously reject these
claims. Venezuelan officials have dismissed the data as having been fabricated even though
Interpol verified in May 2008 that the files had not been tampered with since they were seized. In
a welcome turn of events on June 8, 2008, President Chávez called for the FARC to release all
hostages unconditionally and to cease military operations, maintaining that guerrilla warfare “has 20
passed into history,” signaling a major change in his public stance. Tensions persist between
Colombia and Ecuador following the Colombian incursion into Ecuadorian territory in March.
Colombian-Venezuelan relations also remain strained despite a subsequent rapprochement with 21
Since 2007, prisoner escapes, hostage deaths, and later hostage releases have focused
international attention on the plight of hundreds of hostages held by the FARC. In April 2007,
Colombian police office Jhon Frank Pinchao escaped after eight years in FARC custody. In June
FARC. In August 2007, President Uribe authorized leftist Senator Piedad Córdoba and
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to conduct dialogue with the FARC to secure the release of
some 45 high-profile hostages, including the three American contractors held since 2003.
Negotiations stalled in November due to the FARC’s failure to provide proof of life of the
hostages and allegations that President Chávez inappropriately contacted the head of the
Colombian Army. However, the Colombian government did find over a dozen proof of life
videos, including videos of the three American contractors, in a November 2007 raid on the
FARC. In December 2007, Fernando Araujo, a former Minister of Development, escaped from
the FARC after being held as a hostage for more than six years. From February through July
Six hostage releases occurred during early 2008. In January 2008, two hostages were released to a
delegation led by President Chávez and the Colombian government was able to successfully
reunite one of the hostages with a son born to her in captivity that the FARC had turned over to
the Colombian foster care system more than two years ago. A day after the two hostages’ release,
Chávez’s called for the international community to no longer label the FARC and the ELN as
terrorist groups prompted widespread condemnation. Nevertheless, his role in the release of
hostages continued. On February 27, 2008, the FARC released four former members of the
Colombian Congress to Venezuelan officials in Colombian territory.
On July 2, 2008, after months of planning and tracking the FARC, the Colombian military
successfully tricked the FARC into releasing 15 of their prized hostages. Those hostages included
three U.S. defense contractors—Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell—held since
February 2003 and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt held since
February 2002. The success of the bloodless hostage rescue has been widely cited as an example
of the Colombian military’s increasing professionalism and intelligence capabilities, which has
occurred largely as a result of years of the U.S. training and security assistance programs
20 “Analysis: Chávez Reverses FARC Stance, Domestic Moves Ahead of Elections,” Open Source Center, June 19,
21 Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Colombia, December 2008.
22 U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2007, March 11, 2008.
provided through Plan Colombia.23 Some press reports indicate that the United States provided
millions of dollars to help Colombia find and rescue the hostages, including tactical support and
training provided by the U.S. military and technical assistance supplied by a unit of planners, 24
intelligence analysts, and hostage negotiators based in Bogotá.
Many analysts have hailed the recent hostage rescue as evidence that the FARC is disintegrating,
but others think it may be too premature to draw that conclusion. This year the FARC has lost
three of its top commanders and suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the
Colombian military. Their communications systems have been infiltrated, their leadership is in 25
disarray, and reports indicate that many guerrilla units are running short on supplies. By mid-
June 2008, more than 1,506 FARC guerrillas had voluntarily demobilized. Many rebels
reportedly hoped to take advantage of the Colombian government’s offer to allow the Justice and 26
Peace Law’s provisions to apply to those who surrender. Although the FARC, now led by
Alfonso Cano, is still unwilling to negotiate with the Uribe government, their position is much
weaker than it was a short time ago. In late December 2008, the FARC announced plans to
release six hostages unconditionally including two captive politicians and four members of the 27
Colombian armed forces who had been held for years in jungle camps.
The smaller ELN was formed in 1965, inspired by the ideas of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
With a membership of about 3,000, it is less active than the FARC, but has still been able to carry
out a number of high profile kidnappings and bombings. In addition to the rural civilian
population, the ELN has also targeted the country’s infrastructure, especially its oil and electricity
sectors. Its operations are mainly located in the rural areas of the north, northeast, the Middle
Magdalena Valley, and along the Venezuelan border. The ELN earns funds from the taxation of
illegal crops, extortion, attacks on the Caño-Limón pipeline, and kidnapping for ransom. Its size 28
and military strength have been dramatically reduced since the late 1990s.
In recent years, the ELN has shown more of a willingness to attempt peace negotiations with the
government. In December 2003, President Uribe revealed that he had met with an ELN leader to
discuss possible peace initiatives, but a subsequent ELN statement ruled out any possibility of
demobilization. However, in 2004, the ELN and the Colombian government accepted an offer
from Mexican President Vicente Fox to facilitate peace negotiations. In June 2004, Mexico
named Andres Valencia, a former Mexican ambassador to Israel, as its facilitator. Meetings with 29
Valencia and the ELN occurred, but the rebel group rejected Uribe’s offer of a cease-fire. In
April 2005, the ELN rejected further Mexican facilitation after Mexico voted to condemn Cuba at
the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The Colombian government and the ELN held several
rounds of exploratory talks in Havana, Cuba between December 2005 and August 2007, but those
23 “Colombian Officials Recount Rescue Plan; Commandos Took Acting Classes to Prepare,” Washington Post, July 6,
24 “U.S. aid was a key to the Hostage Rescue,” New York Times, July 13, 2008.
25 Patrick McDonnell and Chris Kraul, “Colombian Rebels Splintering,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2008; “After the
War in Colombia,” El Pais, July 10, 2008.
26 “Closing the net on the FARC, Striking at the ELN,” Latin American Security and Strategy Review, July 2008.
27 Patrick Markey, "Colombian Rebels Say to Free Six More Hostages," Reuters, December 22, 2008.
28 International Crisis Group, “Colombia: Moving Forward with the ELN?” October 11, 2007.
29 Kate Joynes, “ELN Rebels Rebut Colombian Government’s Peace Pledge,” WMRC Daily Analysis, July 12, 2004.
talks resulted in no concrete agreements. In June 2008, the ELN announced that it would not
continue negotiating with the Uribe government for the time being. President Uribe responded by 30
ordering the Colombian military to step up its operations against the ELN.
Paramilitary groups trace their origins to the 1980s when wealthy ranchers and farmers, including
drug traffickers, organized armed groups to protect them from kidnappings and extortion plots by
the FARC and ELN. The largest paramilitary organization, the AUC, was formed in 1997 as an
umbrella organization for a number of local and regional paramilitary groups operating in the
country. As discussed in more detail below, the AUC disbanded in 2006. Not all paramilitary
groups joined the AUC umbrella. The AUC conducted massacres and assassinations of suspected
insurgent supporters and directly engaged the FARC and ELN in military battles. The Armed
Forces of Colombia have long been accused of turning a blind eye to these activities. The AUC,
like the FARC, earned most of its funding from drug trafficking. Jane’s World Insurgency and 31
Terrorism estimated that in 2006 paramilitaries handled 40% of Colombian cocaine exports.
On July 15, 2003, the AUC reached an agreement with the Colombian government to demobilize
its troops by the end of 2005. At that time, the State Department estimated that there were
between 8,000 and 11,000 members of the AUC, although press reports used numbers ranging up
to 20,000. The demobilization process begun in 2004 officially ended in April 2006. As of that 32
time, over 30,000 AUC members had demobilized and turned in over 17,000 weapons. AUC
leaders remained at large, however, until August 2006 when President Uribe ordered them to 33
surrender to the government to benefit from the provisions of the Peace and Justice Law. It
remains to be seen how Uribe’s May 2008 decision to extradite 15 paramilitary leaders to the
United States to stand trial for drug trafficking charges will affect ongoing investigations into the
“parapolitical” scandal, as well as efforts to ensure that victims of paramilitary violence receive
compensation for their suffering.
Not all paramilitaries demobilized, and still others have returned to paramilitary activities since
demobilizing. Moreover, there are credible reports that a new generation of paramilitaries has
formed and may be recruiting demobilized paramilitaries. Membership in the new paramilitary
organizations is estimated at 3,000 to 9,000. Some former AUC members continue to be active in 34
the drug trade. There are reports that the AUC continues to take part in drug trafficking, in spite
of the demobilization process. Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism reports that since
demobilization the AUC’s purpose has shifted from combating the FARC and ELN to protecting
drug trafficking networks and preventing the extradition of leaders wanted on drug trafficking
charges in the United States. The State Department and U.N. both note that the new illegal groups
do not share the political ideology of the AUC, which sought to defeat leftist guerrillas. Despite
30 “Closing the net on the FARC, Striking at the ELN,” Latin American Security and Strategy Review, July 2008.
31 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2005, and, “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia,” Jane’s
World Insurgency and Terrorism, August 10, 2006.
32 “Only 2% of 30,150 Demobilized Paramilitaries to Stand Trial,” Associated Press, April 18, 2006.
33 Vicente Castaño, brother of AUC founder Carlos Castaño, remains at large. Vicente Castaño is under investigation
by Colombian authorities for ordering the 2004 murder of his brother who reportedly planned to turn paramilitary
leaders over for extradition to the United States as part of peace negotiations.
34 International Crisis Group, Colombia’s New Armed Groups, May 10, 2007; WOLA, Captive States: Organized
Crime and Human Rights in Latin America, October 2007.
their ad-hoc nature, the new illegal groups pose a threat to Colombian civilians and the Uribe 35
government is taking steps to combat them.
A scandal involving alleged paramilitary ties to politicians, including current members of the
Colombian Congress, erupted in November 2006. On November 9, 2006, the Colombian
Supreme Court ordered the arrest of three congressmen for their alleged role in establishing
paramilitary groups in the Caribbean state of Sucre. Since the scandal broke, several Colombian
politicians, including several past and current members of the Colombian Congress, have been
charged with ties to paramilitary groups. Former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo was
forced to resign due to the investigation into her brother’s and father’s connections to the
paramilitaries and their involvement in the kidnapping of Alvaro Araujo’s opponent in a Senate
election. In December 2007, Congressman Erik Morris was sentenced to six years in prison for
his ties to the paramilitaries, making him the first Member of Congress to be sentenced in the
ongoing scandal. In February 2008, the former head of Colombia’s Department of Administrative
Security (DAS), Jorge Noguera, was formally charged with collaborating with paramilitaries,
including giving paramilitaries the names of union activists, some of whom were subsequently
murdered by the paramilitaries. In April 2008, Mario Uribe, a former senator, second cousin, and
close ally of President Alvaro Uribe, was arrested for colluding with the paramilitaries. As of
early August 2008, some 70 legislators were under investigation for possible ties with the 36
paramilitaries. As of November 2008, more than 30 congressmen from pro-Uribe parties had 37
been indicted for past links to the paramilitaries.
The parapolitical scandal has increased tensions between President Uribe and the Supreme Court,
which is charged with investigating the politicians accused of having paramilitary ties, many of
whom are from pro-Uribe parties. In July 2008, representatives from the two branches met in a
series of meetings to discuss President Uribe’s concern that the paramilitary investigations were
advancing too quickly. Despite those meetings, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Senator
Carlos Garcia, head of Uribe’s main coalition party, in late July. Tensions escalated again in
August when press reports announced that two of President Uribe’s advisers had met with 38
representatives of Don Berna, the top paramilitary leader, at the presidential palace in April.
Government critics have questioned whether President Uribe’s decision in May 2008 to extradite
key paramilitary figures to the United States may have been done, at least partially, in order to
thwart ongoing investigations into government-paramilitary ties. They have also questioned the
motives behind a judicial reform package submitted by Uribe to the Congress that would remove 39
the Supreme Court’s power to investigate legislators. The judicial reform bill was ultimately
35 United Nations General Assembly - Human Rights Council, “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia,” February 29, 2008; U.S. Department of State,
“Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Human Rights Conditions with Respect to Assistance for the Colombian
Armed Forces,” July 28, 2008, available at http://justf.org/files/primarydocs/080728cert.pdf.
36 “Saving Congress at a Cost to the Courts,” Latin American Andean Group Report, August 7, 2008.
37 Economist Intelligence Unit, Colombia risk: Government effectiveness risk, November 14, 2008.
38 “Uribe Squares up to Supreme Court and Liberals as Parapolitical Scandal Deepens,” Latin American Weekly Report,
August 28, 2008.
39 Juan Forero, “U.S. Extraditions Raise Concerns in Colombia,” Washington Post, August 19, 2008; Human Rights
withdrawn by the government after it received strong criticism from the courts and from members 40
of Colombia’s Congress. In October 2008, Human Rights Watch released a report that examined
the government’s efforts to investigate and prosecute paramilitaries and those who collaborated
with them. It warns that the Uribe administration has harassed the Supreme Court as it has 41
carried out prosecutions of politicians, security forces and others with alleged paramilitary ties.
As part of the paramilitary demobilization process, President Uribe introduced a Justice and
Peace Law granting conditional amnesties to illegal combatants, which would mean that the law
could also apply to FARC and ELN fighters if they decide to enter into negotiations with the
government. Colombia’s Congress approved the legislation in 2005. The Justice and Peace Law
called on demobilized fighters to provide a voluntary account of their crime and to forfeit
illegally acquired assets in exchange for an alternative penalty of up to eight years’ imprisonment.
If the accused was subsequently found to have intentionally failed to admit to a crime, the
alternative penalty could be revoked and the full sentence imposed. Critics contended that the
penalties provided for in the law were too lenient and amount to impunity. The Uribe
Administration argued that without the inducement of the new law, paramilitary leaders and
fighters would be unwilling to demobilize and a spiral of violence would continue in Colombia.
In July 2006, Colombia’s Constitutional Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. In the same
ruling, however, the Constitutional Court limited the scope under which demobilizing
paramilitaries can benefit from the reduced sentences. Paramilitaries who commit crimes or fail to
fully comply with the law will have to serve full sentences. The ruling also stipulates that
paramilitaries must confess all crimes and make reparations to victims using both their legally
and illegally obtained assets. Paramilitary leaders reacted by stating that they would not comply
with the law. In response, President Uribe ordered paramilitary leaders to turn themselves in. By 42
October 2006 all but 11 paramilitary leaders had complied with this order.
The merits of the Justice and Peace Law have been fiercely debated both in Colombia and the
United States. Supporters believe it is an effective means to end paramilitary activities. The Bush
Administration has expressed support for the law, noting that it has facilitated the demobilization
of more than 31,000 paramilitary members. Supporters of the law maintain that paramilitaries
must act in good faith and avoid further participation in illegal activities in order to benefit from
the peace process. The Uribe Administration has removed some demobilized paramilitaries,
including Carlos Mario “Macaco” Jiménez, from the Justice and Peace process due to their
continued participation in illegal activities. In May 2008, Uribe extradited Jiménez, Salvatore
Mancuso, and 13 other paramilitary leaders who had violated the terms of the law to the United
States where to stand trial on drug trafficking charges.
Watch, “Colombia: Proposal Threatens ‘Parapolitical’ Investigations,” August 4, 2008.
40 Sibylla Brodzinsky, "Rights group rips government; Colombia hinders paramilitary prosecutions, a human rights
group said," The Miami Herald, September 17, 2008.
41 Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?: Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia, October 2008.
42 “Country Report - Colombia,” Economist Intelligence Unit, October 2006; Human Rights Watch, “Colombia:
Court’s Demobilization Ruling Thwarts Future Abuses,” July 19, 2006; “Gobierno colombiano abrirá debate público
sobre decretos reglamentarios de ley de Justicia y Paz,” El Tiempo, August 29, 2006.
Despite these results, the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia and other
observers have expressed concern about the institutional frailty of the Justice and Peace process.
Although more than 155,000 victims have registered in the three years since the law’s passage,
the International Crisis Group describes implementation as “lagging.” Their report cites lack of
interest in victim’s rights from the Uribe government, inadequate support for the implementing
institutions, and the persistence of armed conflict and threatening presence of new illegal armed 43
groups. Human rights organizations are also concerned that the paramilitaries have not been
held accountable for their illegal activities and, that by under reporting illegally obtained assets, 44
have failed to provide adequate reparation to their victims. Other observers have expressed
concerns that many paramilitaries have elected not to participate in the Justice and Peace process.
Of the more than 31,000 paramilitary members that had demobilized as of June 2008, just 3,297
had been found eligible to receive benefits under the Justice and Peace Law’s framework. In
response to concerns that the Justice and Peace Unit tasked with investigating and prosecuting the
paramilitaries was severely understaffed, the Uribe government issued a decree in spring 2008 to 45
authorize tripling the size of its staff. The International Criminal Court is monitoring the
investigations and prosecutions of former paramilitaries to ensure that those who guilty of human 46
rights abuses are held accountable for their crimes.
In its 2008 State of the World’s Human Rights report, Amnesty International asserted that,
between June 2006 and June 2007, at least 280 civilians were extrajudicially killed by Colombian
security forces and that many of them were subsequently presented by those forces as guerrillas
killed in conflict. The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for
Colombia covering 2007 stated that “while the government’s overall respect for human rights
continued to improve...there were periodic reports that members of the security forces committed
extrajudicial killings.” In a February 2008 report, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
acknowledged that, although it continued to receive complaints of extrajudicial killings by
security officers, Colombian military and civilian officials have developed new directives to deal
with allegations of abuses by security officials. However, this year human rights groups have 47
continued to document extrajudicial killings by some Colombian military forces. In October
2008, armed forces were linked to the murder of 11 poor civilians from Soacha whose bodies had
been disguised as guerillas in order to inflate military body counts. As a result, the government
fired 27 soldiers and officers (including three generals) and the commander of the Colombian 48
army, General Mario Montoya, resigned on November 4, 2008.
43 International Crisis Group, Correcting Course: Victims and the Justice and Peace Law in Colombia, Latin America
Report 29, October 30, 2008.
44 Latin America Working Group Education Fund, The Other Half of the Truth, June 2008.
45 U.S. Department of State, “Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Human Rights Conditions with Respect to
Assistance for the Colombian Armed Forces,” July 28, 2008.
46 “International Criminal Court not to Allow Colombian Paramilitary Members Impunity,” Noticias Financieras,
August 31, 2008.
47 “Amnesty Says all Sides in Colombia Have Bloody Hands,” EFE, May 28, 2008; “Activists say Army Killing
Civilians to Gain Points,” Irish Times, March 25, 2008.
48 Simon Romero, "Colombian Army Commander Resigns in Scandal Over Killing of Civilians," New York Times,
November 5, 2008.
Colombia has one of the largest internally-displaced populations in the world—more than 3
million IDPS—with indigenous and Afro-Colombians disproportionately represented among
those displaced. There is some discrepancy over the current rate of displacement. The Colombian
government registered over 250,000 IDPs in 2007, a decline of about 8,000 from 2006. Some
IDPs do not register with the Colombian government out of fear and procedural barriers. As such,
estimates of new displacements put forth by NGOs tend to be higher than government figures.
For example, the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a Colombian
NGO, estimated that some 305,000 people were displaced in 2007, about 27% higher than the
number CODHES recorded in 2006. Although still concerned by the overall numbers of
individuals displaced, international NGOs found that the rate of mass displacements decreased in
provided estimated at $500 million. In 2008, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) expressed particular concern about new displacements occurring along southern 50
Colombia’s Pacific Coast. CODHES recently reported more than 270,000 people were
displaced in the first six months of 2008 and that was “a record high level in the last twenty 51
years.” In contrast, the government’s index on displaced populations found a decline in the 52
number of IDPs in 2008 totaling 137,699 from January through September.
Landmines are an ongoing problem in Colombia. The International Committee to Ban Landmines
reports that Colombia had the highest number of landmine casualties in the world in 2006, with 53
1,106 casualties. Although Afghanistan and Cambodia continue to have higher rates of landmine
casualties (per capita) than Colombia, Colombian casualties are high. Both Human Rights Watch
and the International Committee to Ban Landmines report that the vast majority of landmines are 54
laid by the FARC and ELN. Landmine Monitor cites a decline in landmine casualties to 895 in 55
Colombia’s prominence in the production of cocaine and heroin is cited as justification for the
U.S. focus on anti-narcotics efforts in the Andean region. According to various sources, Colombia 56
produces 60% of the world’s cocaine. It is the source of over 90% of cocaine consumed in the
United States. Even though Colombia produces only a small fraction of global heroin production,
49 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007, March 2008
50 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Thousands Displaced in Southern Colombia,” August 22, 2008.
51 Latin America Working Group, et al., A Compass for Colombia Policy, October 2008.
52 The U.S. Department of State reports the figures of the Colombian Government’s Acción Social General Index on
Displaced Populations (2008 data through September) in “Charting Colombia’s Progress,” November 5, 2008.
53 Landmine casualties increased nearly 25% in 2005.
54 International Committee to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor 2007 and Human Rights Watch, Maiming the
People, July 2007.
55 International Committee to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor 2008.
56 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, June 2008.
it is the leading supplier of heroin in the eastern United States, according to the State
Department’s 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
The world’s supply of cocaine is produced by just three countries: Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia.
Until the mid-1990s, Peru and Bolivia were the two major producers. Colombia eclipsed Bolivia
in 1995 and Peru in 1997, the result of increased eradication programs in those two countries and
the displacement of coca cultivation to Colombia. Cocaine production in Colombia increased
fivefold between 1993 and 1999. UNODC recently reported a 27% increase in coca cultivation in
Colombia in 2007, with smaller increases of 5% and 4% reported in Bolivia and Peru 57
Global production of the opium poppy, from which heroin is produced, increased 17% in 2007,
largely due to production increases in Afghanistan and Burma (Myanmar). Its principal source
countries are Afghanistan (82%) and Burma (Myanmar) (11%). Most heroin consumed in the
United States, however, comes from Mexico and Colombia. In 2007, the U.N. found that opium
poppy cultivation in Colombia fell to about 714 hectares, whereas cultivation in Mexico increased 58
to 19,147 hectares. In its October 2008 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office
reported that opium poppy cultivation and heroin production had declined by about 50% between 59
In recent years, the Colombian government, with significant U.S. assistance, has stepped up its
eradication efforts, with manual eradication accounting for an increasing percentage of total
eradication efforts. In 2007, the Colombian government eradicated over 219, 529 hectares of
elicit coca crops, up from 215,421 hectares eradicated the previous year. Aerial eradication 60
accounted for 70% of the coca crops destroyed in 2007. ONDCP has credited ongoing aerial
spraying and manual eradication programs with recent declines in the cocaine productivity of the 61
coca currently cultivated in Colombia. The Colombian Ministry of Defense has asserted that,
due to recent declines in U.S. security assistance, its forces will probably only be able to spray
about 100,000 hectares in 2008 (as compared to the roughly 153,000 hectares they eradicated 62
through aerial spraying in 2007).
After a long period of stable prices, purity, and availability of illegal drugs in the United States,
evidence indicated that the price of cocaine rose dramatically from January 2007 to September
2008 according to a report from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). On December
11, 2008, the DEA announced that the average price of a gram of cocaine rose 89%—from $96.61
to $182.73—over the 21-month period ending in September. Over the same time frame, the
agency reported a decline in cocaine average purity from 67% to 46% drawing data from 24,000
drug seizures reported in the DEA’s System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence
(STRIDE) database. The supply of drugs is often judged by changes in price, with higher prices
57 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, June 2008
58 UNODC, World Drug Report 2008.
59 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Plan Colombia:Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security
Has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance, October 2008.
60 U.S. Department of State, International Narcotics Control and Strategy Report (INCSR) 2008.
61 U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Official U.S. Colombia Survey Reveals Sharp Decline in Cocaine
Production,” September 10, 2008.
62 Republic of Colombia, Ministry of National Defense (MOD), “Colombian MOD Observations to U.S. Security
Assistance for 2009,” July 2008.
signifying decreased supply. Declining purity is also used as a measure indicating decreased
availability. DEA’s Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart credited the changes in price and 63
purity to regional counternarcotics efforts, including U.S. funded programs in Colombia. The
National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, published in December 2008, found a decline in cocaine
availability in the United States that may have been responsible for price increases and purity
declines. While the report states “the leading cause of the decrease in domestic availability is
unclear,” the likely factors include the exceptionally large drug seizures made while the drugs are
in transit to the United States, the crackdown in enforcement by the Mexican government,
intercartel violence in Mexico, U.S. law enforcement efforts along the Southwest border, and 64
expanding markets in Europe and South America.
Some observers have expressed caution in interpreting government figures on price, purity, and
availability. They maintain that short-term fluctuations are not uncommon and may not be 65
sustainable. Still others express caution because cocaine production levels have not fallen.
Another possible explanation for the declining cocaine supply in the United States is that cocaine
is being diverted to Europe where drug traffickers can earn more money, presumably because of 66
the strong euro.
Another justification of current U.S. policy in the Andean region is that drug trafficking and
armed insurgencies in Colombia have a destabilizing effect on regional security. With porous
borders amid rugged territory and an inconsistent state presence, border regions are seen as
particularly problematic. Colombia shares a 1,367 mile border with Venezuela, approximately
1,000 miles each with Peru and Brazil, and much smaller borders with Ecuador and Panama. The
conflict in Colombia and its associated drug trafficking have led to spillover effects in Colombia’s
Colombia’s relations with its neighbors have been strained by the spillover from Colombia’s civil
war, including cross-border military activity. Colombia has asked both Venezuela and Ecuador for
assistance in patrolling border areas where the FARC is strong. Press accounts in 2006 and 2007
reported numerous FARC attacks in Colombia along its border with Venezuela. The State
Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism report states that Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez’s “ideological sympathy for the FARC and ELN limited Venezuelan cooperation with
Colombia in combating terrorism.” The FARC and ELN use Venezuelan territory as safehavens,
and to transship arms and drugs, secure logistical supplies, and commit kidnappings and
extortion. Splinter groups of the FARC also operate in Venezuela where they participate in drug
63 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA News: U.S. Cocaine Market Disrupted, Prices Continue 21-month
Surge, December 12, 2008.
64 U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, December
65 “U.S. Drug Czar Claims Cocaine Prices Fall,” Associated Press, November 8, 2007.
66 Ibid and Chris Kraul, “U.S. Says War on Narcotics is Working,” Los Angeles Times, November 9, 2007; “Editorial:
Not Winning the War on Drugs,” New York Times, July 2, 2008.
Opponents of President Chávez regularly accuse him of harboring FARC guerrillas. While the
FARC uses Venezuelan territory as a safe haven, the State Department notes, “it remained unclear
to what extent the Venezuelan Government provided material support to Colombian terrorist
organizations. However, limited amounts of weapons and ammunition, some from official
Venezuelan stocks and facilities, have turned up in the hands of Colombian terrorist 67
organizations” The same report noted that Venezuela does not systematically police its nearly
1,400 mile border with Colombia to interdict arms or the flow of narcotics. President Chávez’s
comments that the FARC and ELN should be considered belligerent groups, not terrorist
organizations, following the January 2008 release of two hostages held by the FARC increased
tension between Colombia and Venezuela. Tensions grew following the March 2008 raid of the
FARC camp in Ecuador because of captured computer files describing material support of the
FARC by the Venezuelan government. In June, two Venezuelan nationals (one a national guard
sergeant) and two Colombians were arrested in Eastern Colombia for gun running with
ammunition allegedly destined for the FARC. On September 12, 2008, the U.S. Treasury
Department froze the assets of two senior intelligence officers and the former Venezuelan interior 68
minister for alleging helping the FARC with weapons and drug trafficking.
Tensions with Ecuador have also increased, with accusations of incursions by Colombian troops
chasing FARC units across the border. Colombia is concerned that the FARC are using
Ecuadorean territory to launch attacks. Leftist Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa opposes U.S.
involvement in Colombia and has indicated that he will not renew the United States’ lease on the
Manta air base when it is up for renewal in 2009. Ecuador is also concerned that aerial spraying
of coca crops in southern Colombia is reaching into Ecuador potentially damaging licit
Ecuadorean crops. Other concerns between the countries relate to refugees from Colombia’s 69
In March 2008, Colombia’s unauthorized raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador prompted one of the
most serious diplomatic crises that the Andean region has faced in recent years. President Correa
responded to the raid by breaking diplomatic ties with Colombia and sending additional troops to
the Ecuador-Colombia border. In a show of solidarity with Ecuador, President Chávez broke
diplomatic and trade ties with Colombia and sent 10 battalions of troops to Venezuela’s border
While some feared that the diplomatic crisis might escalate into a military conflict, those
concerns were allayed after a Rio Group summit held in the Dominican Republic on March 7. At
the Rio summit, Uribe, Chávez, and Correa each had a chance to voice his concerns, which
resulted in heated exchanges that lasted some six hours. President Uribe publicly apologized for
the incursion and vowed that it would never happen again. President Chávez appeared to accept
the apology and called for an end to the crisis, but President Correa remained angered by the
67 Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2006.
68 For further information on these developments, see CRS Report RL32488, Venezuela: Political Conditions and U.S.
Policy, by Mark P. Sullivan.
69 “Ecuador Moves Colombians from Border,” LatinNews Daily, August 28, 2007; "Some 50,000 Colombians in
Ecuador to be Registered Under Un-backed Scheme," States News Service, December 12, 2008.
affair. The Rio Group issued a resolution that rejected Colombia’s incursion of Ecuadorian 70
territory, but acknowledged Uribe’s apology.
The Rio Group summit was followed by a March 17-18, 2008, OAS Meeting of Consultation of
Ministers of Foreign Affairs held at the organization’s headquarters in Washington D.C. On
March 18, after extended debate, the OAS adopted a resolution rejecting, but not condemning, the 71
bombing raid and calling for the restoration of diplomatic ties between Ecuador and Colombia.
While Colombia and the United States reportedly view the raid as justified within the context of
Colombia’s longstanding battle against terrorist groups, most countries reject it as a violation of 72
Ecuador’s national sovereignty per Article 21 of the OAS Charter.
Tensions between Colombia and its two neighbors—Ecuador and Venezuela—continued
throughout the spring of 2008, particularly after Interpol published a report in May confirming
that Colombian officials did not tamper with computer files seized at the FARC camp in Ecuador.
Those files allege that the government of Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was planning to provide
millions of dollars in assistance to the FARC for weapons purchases and that the Correa
government received campaign contributions from the FARC. Venezuelan and Ecuadorian
officials have dismissed the data as having been fabricated. Whereas Venezuela has restored
diplomatic relations with Colombia, Ecuador has yet to do so.
Recent debate on U.S. policy toward Colombia has taken place in a context of concern over the
sheer volume of illegal drugs available in the United States and elsewhere in the world. The
United States approved increased assistance to Colombia as part of a six-year plan called Plan
Colombia in June 2000, and has provided over $6 billion in assistance from FY2000 to FY2008.
The United States now provides assistance to Colombia on an annual basis through the Andean
Counterdrug Program (ACP) account, formerly known as the Andean Counterdrug Initiative
(ACI), and other aid accounts.
In addition to the larger debate over what role the United States should play in supporting
Colombia’s ongoing struggle against drug trafficking and illegally armed groups, Congress has
repeatedly expressed concern with a number of specific policy issues. These include continuing
allegations of human rights abuses; the health and environmental consequences of aerial
eradication for drug control; the progress of alternative development to replace drug crops with
non-drug crops; judicial reform and rule of law programs; and the level of risk to U.S. personnel
working in Colombia. Prior to the release of the three U.S. hostages held by the FARC in early
July 2008, securing the release of those hostages was also a key issue of congressional concern.
70 “How Diplomacy Silenced the Drums of War in Less Than a Week,” Latin American Security and Strategic Review,
March 2008; Francis Robles, “Ecuador Rages, Colombia and Venezuela Make Up,” LatinNews Daily, March 14, 2008;
“Leaders Defuse South American Crisis,” Miami Herald, March 8, 2008.
71 Report of the Organization of American States (OAS) Commission That Visited Ecuador and Colombia, Washington
D.C., March 17, 2008; Resolution of the Twenty-Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs,
Washington D.C., March 17, 2008.
72 “OAS Resolution Stops Short of Condemning Colombia,” Latin America Weekly Report, March 19, 2008; “Latin
America: Insecurity Raises Sovereignty Fears,” Oxford Analytica, March 25, 2008.
In October 2008, the GAO released a report stating that Plan Colombia had only partially fulfilled
its drug reduction goals. In the years 2000-2006 coca cultivation and production of cocaine had
actually increased by about 15% and 4%, respectively. The report concludes that while
significant security gains were achieved by the Colombian government with U.S. assistance, coca
farmers had undermined eradication goals by taking effective countermeasures and alternative
development programs had not been implemented in the areas where the majority of coca is 73
grown. Moreover, the report criticized the “nationalization” of Plan Colombia programs—the
transfer of U.S.-administered programs to the Colombians—as too slow and lacking 74
Proponents of the current U.S. policy towards Colombia point to the progress that has been made
in improving security conditions in Colombia and in weakening the FARC guerrillas. They favor
maintaining the current level of security assistance to Colombia in order to help Colombian
security forces continue to combat the FARC and ELN, solidify their control throughout rural
areas, and eradicate illicit narcotics. They also believe that guerrilla forces regularly cross borders
using neighboring countries’ territory for refuge and supplies, and that this has a potentially
destabilizing effect in the region.
Opponents of current U.S. policy in Colombia respond that the counterdrug program uses a
repressive approach to curbing drug production which could provoke a negative popular reaction
in rural areas. They argue for halting aerial fumigation of drug crops, limiting aid to the
Colombian military, and stressing interdiction rather than eradication so that the direct costs to
peasant producers is less. Some critics of U.S. policy support a policy that focuses largely on
economic and social aid to combat what they consider to be the conflict’s root causes, curbs
human rights abuses by paramilitary groups and security forces, provides vigorous support for a
negotiated end to the fighting, and emphasizes illicit drug demand reduction in the United 75
Plan Colombia was developed by former President Pastrana (1998-2002) as a plan to end the
country’s 40-year old armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote development. The
initial plan was a $7.5 billion three-year plan, with Colombia providing $4 billion of the funding
and requesting $3.5 billion from the international community. The U.S. Congress approved
legislation in support of Plan Colombia in 2000, as part of the Military Construction
Appropriations Act of 2001 (P.L. 106-246) providing $1.3 billion for counternarcotics and related
efforts in Colombia and neighboring countries. Plan Colombia was never authorized by Congress
and subsequent funding has been approved annually. President Bush has continued support for the
plan under the ACP aid account. The ACP account also funds counternarcotics programs in
Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and, until recently, Venezuela. Because narcotics
trafficking and the guerrilla insurgency have become intertwined problems, in 2002 Congress
73 According to the report: “…alternative development is not provided in most areas where coca is cultivated and
USAID does not assess how such programs relate to strategic goals of reducing the production of illicit drugs or
achieving sustainable results.”
74 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Plan Colombia: Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security
Has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance, October 2008.
75 Julia E. Sweig, Andes 2020: A New Strategy for the Challenges of Colombia and the Region, Council on Foreign
Relations Center for Preventive Action, January 2004.
granted the Administration flexibility to use U.S. counterdrug funds for a unified campaign to 76
fight drug trafficking and terrorist organizations.
Through the ACP and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) accounts, the United States supports the
eradication of coca and opium poppy crops, the interdiction of narcotics shipments, and the
protection of infrastructure through training and material support for Colombia’s security forces.
U.S. assistance also supports alternative crop development and infrastructure development to give
coca and opium poppy farmers alternative sources of income, and institution building programs to
strengthen democracy. Alternative development (AD) programs were shifted from the ACP
account to the Economic Support Fund (ESF) account in FY2008. U.S. assistance includes human
rights training programs for security personnel in response to Congressional concerns about
human rights abuses committed by Colombian security forces. Congress has prohibited U.S.
personnel from directly participating in combat missions and has capped the number of U.S.
military and civilian contractor personnel that can be stationed in Colombia in support of Plan 77
Colombia at 800 and 600 respectively.
The United States also supports the interdiction of drug shipments through the Air Bridge Denial
(ABD) Program. The Air Bridge Denial program began as a joint interdiction effort between the
United States, Peru, and Colombia that sought to identify possible drug flights and to interdict
them by forcing them to land, and if necessary to shoot down the aircraft. The program was
suspended in 2001 after a flight carrying American missionaries was shot down over Peru.
Following the establishment of new safeguards against accidental shootdowns, the program was
renewed in Colombia in 2003. The State Department credits the ABD program with reducing the 78
number of illegal flights over Colombia by some 73% since 2003. In 2008, the U.S. government
began to transfer control of the ABD program to the Colombian government.
Upon taking office, President Uribe announced that aerial eradication, along with alternative crop
development, would form a significant basis of the government’s efforts. The Plan Colombia
eradication spraying program began in December 2000 with operations by the U.S.-funded
counternarcotics brigade in Putumayo. It should be noted, however, that spraying does not
prevent, although it may discourage, the replanting of illicit crops. During 2007, the Colombian
government sprayed 153,000 hectares of coca and poppy and manually eradicated 66,000 80
hectares of coca and poppy.
The United Nations and United States use different methodologies to estimate annual coca
cultivation levels in Colombia. The different methodologies yield results that not only show
76 The State Department and the Department of Defense explain expanded authority as providing them with flexibility
in situations where there is no clear line between drug and terrorist activity.
77 The FY2005 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4200; P.L. 108-375) raised the military cap from 400 to 800
and the civilian cap from 400 to 600. The cap does not apply to personnel conducting search and rescue operations, or
to U.S. personnel assigned as part of their regular duties to the U.S. embassy. According to the State Department,
military personnel levels in 2007 varied from 194 to 563, while civilian personnel levels varied between 257 and 440.
78 U.S. Department of State, INCSR 2008.
79 Also see CRS Report RL33163, Drug Crop Eradication and Alternative Development in the Andes, by Connie
Veillette and Carolina Navarrete-Frias.
80 U.S. Department of State, INCSR 2008.
different levels of cultivation, but different trends as well. Table 1 and Table 2 include United
Nations and United States data on coca cultivation in Colombia since 2000. The area of
cultivation is measured in hectares. For 2007, the United Nations reported a 27% increase in coca 81
cultivation to 99,000 hectares. U.S. data from the ONDCP showed a 6.2% increase in coca
cultivation in 2007. Some of the 9% increase in cultivation that ONDCP reported for 2006 may
be attributed to the fact that the area surveyed increased significantly from the previous year.
Table 1. UNODC Coca Cultivation in Colombia
Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Area 163,000 145,000 102,000 86,000 80,000 86,000 78,000 99,000
% change — -11% -30% -16% -7% 8% -9% 27%
Table 2. U.S. ONDCP Coca Cultivation in Colombia
Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Area 136,200 169,800 144,450 113,850 114,100 144,000 157,200 167,000
% change — 25% -15% -21% 0.2% 26% 9% 6.2%
Aerial eradication has been controversial both in Colombia and the United States. Critics charge
that it has unknown environmental and health effects, and that it deprives farmers of their 82
livelihood, particularly in light of a lack of coordination with alternative development programs.
With regard to environmental and health consequences, the Secretary of State, as required by
Congress, has reported that the herbicide, glyphosate, does not pose unreasonable health or safety
risks to humans or the environment. In consultation for the certification, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency confirmed that application rates of the aerial spray program in Colombia are
within the parameters listed on U.S. glyphosate labels. However, press reports indicate that many
Colombians believe the health consequences of aerial fumigation are grave, and many
international non-governmental organizations criticize the certification for being analytically
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds alternative development
programs to assist illicit crop farmers in the switch from illicit to licit crops, and provides
assistance with infrastructure and marketing. Through 2007, the United States has completed
135,000 families in 17 departments. The USAID Mission in Colombia reports significant
progress since funding started flowing for alternative development through Plan Colombia. In an
October 2008 fact sheet, USAID states that to date there have been 238,263 hectares of licit crops
81 U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Drug Report 2008; and “Coca Cultivation in the Andean
Region,” June 2008.
82 “Chemical Reactions: Spreading Coca and Threatening Colombia’s Ecological and Cultural Diversity,” Washington
Office on Latin America, February 2008.
83 U.S. Department of State, INCSR 2008.
supported in areas that illicit crops once predominated, and more than 280,000 jobs have been 84
The success of alternative development in Colombia has been limited both by security concerns
and the limited scope of the program. Various reports, including the recent GAO report that
examined the progress of Plan Colombia, have identified weaknesses in the program including
that a majority of the USAID alternative development projects were not located in areas where
the majority of coca is grown in Colombia and they have not been evaluated with regard to drug
reduction goals or sustainability. Security concerns were blamed for the planned withdrawal of
USAID assistance to five departments where coca production was increasing, according to a
USAID memo leaked to the press in October 2006. UNODC reported in June 2006 that
alternative development programs have been successful, but only reach 9% of Colombian coca
growers and called for a tenfold increase in international donor support for alternative
development programs. In 2007, UNODC reported a disparity in spending on alternative
development programs. The departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, and Santander
received 65% of ongoing alternative development project funding, yet coca cultivation in these
three departments is about 10% of the national total. In contrast, 40% of current coca cultivation
is in the departments of Meta, Caqueta, Guaviare, and Vichada, which receive just 10% of
ongoing alternative development project funding. Proponents of U.S. policy argue that both
eradication and alternative development programs need time to work. USAID has argued that
alternative development programs do not achieve drug crop reduction on their own, and that the
Colombia program was designed to support the aerial eradication program and to build “the 85
political support needed for aerial eradication efforts to take place.”
From FY2000 through FY2008, U.S. funding for Plan Colombia and its follow-on, the Strategy
for Strengthening Democracy and Promoting Social Development, totaled over $6 billion in State
Department and Defense Department programs. Most U.S. assistance is provided through the
ACP account. In FY2008 Congress funded eradication and interdiction programs through the
ACP account, and funded alternative development and institution building programs through the
Economic Support Fund (ESF) account. In previous years, alternative development and
institution building were funded through the ACP account. In addition, support for aerial
eradication programs is provided from the State Department’s Air Wing account. The Defense
Department requests a lump sum for all counternarcotics programs worldwide under Sections
1004 and 1033, and under Section 124, of the National Defense Authorization Act. DOD can
reallocate these funds throughout the year in accordance with changing needs. While not
considered a formal component of the ACP Program, the Defense Department has provided
Colombia with additional funding for training and equipment for a number of years, as well as the
deployment of personnel in support of Plan Colombia.
Recently there has been significant debate in Congress over the proper level and components of
U.S. assistance to Colombia. While some Members support the Bush Administration’s emphasis
84 USAID/Colombia, "Program Overview: Alternative Development," Fact Sheet, October 2008.
85 Joshua Goodman, “U.S. Pulling Economic Aid from Colombia’s Coca Infested South,” Associated Press, October
12, 2006; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Coca Cultivation in Andes Stabilizes in 2005,” June
20, 2006; UNODC, Coca Cultivation in the Andean Region, June 2006; and, UNODC, Colombia Coca Cultivation
Survey, June 2007.
on security-related assistance to Colombia, others have expressed concerns that the
Administration has put too much of an emphasis on so-called “hard-side” security assistance,
rather than traditional development and rule of law programs. Many Members have expressed a
desire to see a more rapid transfer of responsibility for the military operations associated with
Plan Colombia from the United States to Colombia. The FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations
Act (P.L. 110-161) reduced interdiction, eradication, and military aid to Colombia by roughly
$104 million to about $305 million and increased funds for alternative development, human
rights, and institution building programs by some $84 million to $236 million. Table 3 details
how U.S. aid to Colombia shifted from FY2007 through the FY2009 request. Table 4 at the
conclusion of this report provides a more detailed breakdown of U.S. assistance to Colombia
from FY2000 through the FY2009 request. The FY2008 changes reflected an attempt to raise the
level of U.S. funding provided for economic and social aid closer to that provided for security-
related programs. These changes were criticized by Bush Administration officials.
The Colombian Ministry of Defense has asked Congress to consider restoring a higher level of
security assistance in the FY2009 budget at levels that are similar to the Bush Administration’s
FY2009 request. Although Congress has yet to complete action on the FY2009 foreign operations
legislation, the Senate Appropriations Committee report (S. 3288, S.Rept. 110-425) would, as in
FY2008, cut security-related assistance to Colombia from the levels requested by the
Administration. An enacted continuing resolution (H.R. 2638/P.L. 110-329) will provide funding
at FY2008 levels through March 6, 2009.
Table 3. U.S. Assistance to Colombia: FY2007-FY2009
(in millions $)
FY2008 Compared to FY2009
Program FY2007 Estimate FY2007 Request
Andean Counterdrug Program (ACP)- 325.10 244.62 -80.40 329.56
ACP-Alternative Development 139.90 0.00 — —
Economic Support Funda 0.00 194.41 54.51b 142.37
International Narcotics and Law 0.00 41.91 41.91 0.00
Non-Proliferation, Antiterrorism, 4.09 3.72 -0.37 3.15
Demining, and Related Programs
Foreign Military Financing 85.50 55.05 -30.0 66.39
International Military Education and 1.65 1.43 -0.22 1.40
P.L. 480 (Food Aid) 4.86 0.00 4.86 0.00
Total DOS 561.10 541.14 -19.96 542.87
Defense Department na na
Counternarcotics Aid (Section
Source: U.S. Department of State Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justifications, FY2008-FY2009; DOD
“Counterdrug Activity” Reports to Congress for FY2005-FY2007.
a. In FY2008, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) was renamed the Andean Counterdrug Program
(ACP). Until FY2008, ACI funds were divided between programs that supported drug eradication and
interdiction efforts and those focused on alternative development and democratic institution building. In
FY2008 funding for alternative development programs and institution building were requested from the
Economic Support Fund (ESF) rather than the ACP account.
b. This column compares Alternative Development figures from FY2008 and FY2007.
The 111th Congress will likely remain concerned over the developing scandal involving
paramilitary ties to Colombian politicians. Some Members of Congress have expressed concern
about both the AUC demobilization process and the overall demobilization framework under the
Justice and Peace Law approved by the Colombian Congress in 2005. The FY2006 Foreign
Operations Act (P.L. 109-102) provided $20 million to assist in the demobilization of former
members of foreign terrorist organizations, provided that the Secretary of State certified that the
assistance only went to individuals who had verifiably renounced and terminated membership in
the FTO; that the Colombian government was cooperating with the United States on extradition;
that the Colombian government was working to dismantle FTO structures; and that the funds
would not be used to make cash payments to individuals. A foreign operations appropriations
measure was not enacted for FY2007 and funding remained at FY2006 levels under a continuing
resolution (P.L. 110-5). The FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) provided
just over $11 million to assist the demobilization of former members of foreign terrorist
organizations (FTOs), pending a certification from the Secretary of State that was issued on
August 28, 2008. In that certification, Secretary of State Rice certified the following to Congress:
• that assistance will be provided only for individuals who have verifiably
renounced and terminated any affiliation or involvement with FTOs, and are
meeting all the requirements of the Colombia Demobilization program, including
disclosure of past crimes; the location of kidnapped victims and bodies of the
disappeared; and, knowledge of FTO structure, financing, and assets.
• that the Colombian government is fully cooperating with the United States in
extraditing FTO leaders and members who have been indicted in the United
States for murder, kidnapping, narcotics trafficking, and other violations of U.S.
law; and is extraditing former paramilitary leaders who have been indicted in the
United States and have breached the terms of the demobilization process;
• that the Colombian government is not knowingly taking steps to legalize titles of
land or other assets illegally obtained by FTOs, their associates, or their
successors; and that the Colombian government has established effective
procedures to identify such land and assets;
• that the Colombian government is implementing a concrete and workable
framework for dismantling the organizational structures of FTOs; and
• that funds will not be used to make cash payments to individuals, and funds will
only be available for any of the following activities: verification, reintegration
(including training and education), vetting, recovery of assets for reparations for
victims, and investigations and prosecutions.
Debate in Congress has continued to focus on allegations of human rights abuses by the FARC
and ELN, paramilitary groups, and the Colombian Armed Forces. In its 2008 State of the World’s
Human Rights report, Amnesty International asserted that, between June 2006 and June 2007, at
least 280 civilians were extrajudicially killed by Colombian security forces and that many of them
were subsequently presented by those forces as guerrillas killed in conflict. The State
Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Colombia covering 2007 stated
that “while the government’s overall respect for human rights continued to improve...there were
periodic reports that members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings.” In a
February 2008 report, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights acknowledged that,
although it continued to receive complaints of extrajudicial killings by security officers,
Colombian military and civilian officials have developed new directives to deal with allegations
of abuses by security officials. However, this year human rights groups have continued to 86
document extrajudicial killings by some Colombian military forces. In February 2008, Senators
Dodd and Feingold reportedly sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing
their concern over reports that civilian killings by Colombian army forces appear to have
increased in recent years.
Congress has annually required that the Secretary of State certify to Congress that the Colombian
military and police forces are severing their links to the paramilitaries, investigating complaints of
abuses, and prosecuting those who have had credible charges made against them. Congress has
made funding to the Colombian military contingent on these certifications. In the latest
certification, issued on July 28, 2008, the Secretary of State asserted that the Colombian
government and armed forces are meeting the statutory requirements with regard to human rights.
The Secretary noted that “while the Government of Colombia needs to do more to address serious
human rights problems that persist, we see encouraging signs, including concrete examples of
progress: the suspension, arrest, or conviction of military violators of human rights, including
several general officers; greater civilian access and handling of human rights cases involving the
military; and credible investigations of dozens of politicians who allegedly collaborated with the 87
Congress has also regularly included the so-called Leahy amendment in foreign operations
appropriations legislation that denies funds to any security force unit for which the Secretary of
State has credible evidence of gross human rights violations. The Secretary may continue funding
if she determines and reports to Congress that the foreign government is taking effective
measures to bring the responsible members of these security forces to justice. According to a
State Department official, Congress released its last hold on FY2006 funds in mid-August 2008,
but approximately $72 million of FY2007 and FY2008 funds for the Colombian military remain 88
on hold. Despite these actions, human rights organizations claim that the U.S. government often
turns a blind eye to questionable activities of Colombian security forces.
86 “Amnesty Says all Sides in Colombia Have Bloody Hands,” EFE, May 28, 2008; “Activists say Army Killing
Civilians to Gain Points,” Irish Times, March 25, 2008.
87 U.S. Department of State, “Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Human Rights Conditions with Respect to
Assistance for the Colombian Armed Forces,” July 28, 2008, available at http://justf.org/files/primarydocs/
88 Information provided by State Department official, December 23, 2008.
In 2003, the Bush Administration announced its intentions to begin negotiating an Andean region
free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. In its announcement, the
Administration asserted that an FTA would reduce and eliminate barriers to trade and investment,
support democracy, and fight drug activity. After regional talks broke down, the United States
pursued bilateral trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. The United States and Colombia
signed the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement on November 22, 2006, now called the
U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA); the agreement must now be ratified by both
nations’ congresses. Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru currently benefit from the Andean 90
Trade Preference Act (ATPA). On October 16, 2008, the 110th Congress enacted legislation to
extend ATPA trade preferences until December 31, 2009 for Colombia and Peru, and until June 91
30, 2009 for Bolivia and Ecuador (P.L. 110-436). The ATPA authorizes the President to grant
duty-free treatment to certain products, with more than half of all U.S. imports in 2004 from the
Andean countries entering under these preferences.
Critics of the free trade agreement are concerned about the status of labor rights in Colombia and
the ongoing parapolitical scandal. Critics argue that violence against labor activists in Colombia
is excessive and inadequately addressed by the Uribe government. Labor activist killings declined
under President Uribe, but increased in 2006. Data on the number of labor leaders murdered in
any given year vary widely by source. In 2002, the Colombian government estimated that 99
labor activists were killed, while the National Labor School (ENS, a Colombian NGO) estimated
that 178 labor activists were killed. In 2006, the Colombian government estimated that 60 labor
activists were killed, while ENS estimated that 72 labor activists were killed. In 2007, both
groups reported a drop, with the Colombian government reporting 26 labor activists killed and 92
ENS estimating 39 labor activists according to the U.S. State Department. One reason for the
discrepancy is that the Colombian government counts deaths of unionized teachers separately
from other labor union deaths.
Another area of concern is whether labor activists were killed because of their union activity.
Very few investigations have been completed. More than 2,000 killings between 1991 and 2006
remain unsolved. Of the 470 union murders that have occurred since President Uribe first took
office in 2002, 97% remain unsolved. In January 2007, the Colombian Attorney General’s office
set up a unit of 13 prosecutors and 78 investigators to investigate 200 priority cases. In 2007, 36
people were convicted on charges related to the murder of union members, more convictions than 93
in 2004 through 2006 combined. As of October 20, 2008, a total of 147 convictions were made
89 See CRS Report RL34470, A U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Economic and Political Implications, by M.
90 See CRS Report RS22548, ATPA Renewal: Background and Issues, by M. Angeles Villarreal.
92 U.S. Department of State, “Charting Colombia’s Progress,” November 5, 2008. Another possible reason for the
decline in murders is the overall decline in labor union membership in Colombia. Unions have dwindled from 13% of
the formal labor force in 1965 to 4% currently. For further information on labor violence and trends, see CRS Report
RL34759, Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Labor Issues, by Mary Jane Bolle.
93 Frank Bajak, “U.S. Unionists Alarmed by Colombia Woes,” Miami Herald, February 13, 2008; and “Trade, Death
and Drugs,” The Economist, May 19, 2007.
in cases involving violence against trade union members between 2001 and 2008, with 97 (65%) 94
of them handed down in 2007 and 2008.
On April 8, 2008, President Bush submitted implementing legislation to Congress for the CFTA.
The 2002 Trade Promotion Authority procedures stipulated that Congress must vote on that
implementing legislation within 90 legislative days of its introduction. But on April 10, 2008, the
House voted 224-195 in favor of changing those procedures, effectively putting congressional
consideration of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on hold. It is unclear whether and th
how the 111 Congress will consider implementing legislation for the pending CFTA in the
future. It could be considered pursuant to the usual rules or the House could restore TPA-like 95
"fast track" procedures.
The likelihood of reintroduction and passage of the CFTA under the new Obama Administration
is also unclear. During his campaign, President-elect Obama favored delaying consideration of
the trade agreement in order to pressure the Colombian government to further reduce labor 96
violence. Given these misgivings, some predict the Obama Administration will not support 97
moving the legislation any time soon. Other analysts believe that President Obama may push 98
for approval of the trade agreement with stronger human rights provisions.
94 Embassy of Colombia. From the Colombian Embassy letter to the Honorable George Miller, November 5, 2008,
attachment 5, p. 4.
95 For more information on procedures, see CRS Report RL34470, A U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Economic
and Political Implications, by M. Angeles Villarreal. The author notes: “The CFTA implementing legislation…could
still be re-introduced in the next Congress under the general rules of both houses, and could be considered in the House
under a TPA-like procedure pursuant to a special rule reported by the Committee on Rules and approved by the
96 Obama for America, "A New Partnership for the Americas," press release. May 2008, available at:
97 Adam B. Kushner, "The Truth About Plan Colombia," Newsweek, January 5, 2009.
98 For example, Peter Hakim, president of the Washington-based think tank the Inter-American Dialogue, has stated
this view. See: Jack Chang, "Obama Win Brings High Hopes to the Hemisphere," from The Miami Herald web edition
posted on November 6, 2008 at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/campaign-2008/story/758999.html.
Table 4. U.S. Assistance For Plan Colombia, FY2000-FY2009
(in millions $)
ACI ESF FMF IMET INCLE NADR AirWing DOD Total
FY2000 60.1 — — — — — 38.0 128.5 226.6
P.L. 106-246 832.0 — — — — — — 100.7 932.7
FY2001 48.0 — — — — — 38.0 190.2 276.2
FY2002 379.9a — — — — 25.0 38.2 119.1 562.2
FY2003 580.2b — 17.1 1.2 — 3.3 41.5 165.0 808.3
FY2004 473.9 — 98.5 1.7 — .2 45.0 122.0 741.3
FY2005 462.8 — 99.2 1.7 — 5.1 45.0 200.0 813.8
FY2006 464.8 — 89.1 1.7 — — 45.0 112.0 712.6
FY2007 465.0 — 85.5 1.6 — 4.1 na na 556.2
iki/CRS-RL32250FY2008 (est) 244.6 194.4 55.1 1.4 41.9 3.7 na na 541.1
s.orFY2009 (req) 329.6 142.4 66.4 1.4 — 3.2 na na 543.0
leakTotal 4,340.9 336.8 510.9 10.7 41.9 44.6 290.7 1,137.5 6,714.0
://wikiSources: Figures are drawn from the annual State Department Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justifications for fiscal years 2002 through 2009; the State
httpDepartment’s Washington File, “U.S. Support for Plan Colombia, FY2000 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations,” July 5, 2000; the FY2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, P.L. 109-102, and conference report, H.Rept. 109-265; and the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) and Division J Joint Explanatory
Notes: For FY2000 and thereafter, Plan Colombia funds are assigned to the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau (INL) or the Andean
Counterdrug Initiative (ACI). The State Department transfers funds to other agencies carrying out programs in Colombia, of which USAID has received the largest portion.
Defense Department funding is from is Counter Narcotics account. DOD requests one sum for programs around the world and adjusts its regional allocations as needed.
a. Includes $6 million appropriated to FMF but transferred to the ACI account.
b. Includes $93 million in FMF regular appropriations and $20 million in FMF supplemental funds that were transferred to the ACI account.
Figure 1. Map of Colombia
Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS. (K. Yancey 2/6/04)
Clare Ribando Seelke June S. Beittel
Specialist in Latin American Affairs Analyst in Latin American Affairs
email@example.com, 7-5229 firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-7613
This report was originally authored by Colleen W. Cook, who resigned from CRS in October 2008.