House debates Colombia policy, raises humanitarian issues

News and Press Release
Originally published
Baltimore , July 1, 2005 - The House of Representatives debated U.S. policy toward Colombia this week as a part of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. After a lively debate centered around how best to meet U.S. objectives in Colombia , the House voted to maintain current policy, but key points on humanitarian and development aid, the protection of vulnerable communities, and the importance of human rights were raised during the debate. Thanks to the tireless work of Lutheran World Relief's committed group of advocates, and others of faith and conscience who are spreading the message that Plan Colombia has not worked, we have gained several key allies in our campaign for peace in Colombia . Indeed, Colombia was the most fiercely debated issue in the bill, which includes all U.S. foreign aid and largely determines U.S. foreign policy around the world.
Plan Colombia , the highly militarized U.S. policy, is set to expire this year, but the administration hopes to get Congressional approval to extend it for another year. The proposed budget includes $735 million to fund Plan Colombia in 2006.

Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), co-sponsor of an amendment to cut military aid to Colombia , which was defeated, raised the important issue of internal displacement in Colombia . "Plan Colombia has not made the Colombian people any safer," she said. "Colombians have been forced to flee their homes, 90% of violent crimes . . . go unpunished, and human rights abuses among Colombia 's military are all too common."

Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) gave an impassioned speech on the failures of Plan Colombia , speaking particularly eloquently about the plight of Afro-Colombians and indigenous populations, which are disproportionately affected by Colombia 's ongoing internal violence.

Representative Jim Leach (R-Iowa) submitted a written statement of his support for a more humane policy to the Congressional Record. "Would it not be better to limit our military involvement in this struggling, divided country," he asked, "and focus our efforts instead on alternative crop production, democracy building programs and the effective prosecution of human rights abuses?"

"These comments represent the kind of policy that LWR and our Colombian partners hope to see from the U.S. Congress in the future," said LWR president Kathryn Wolford . "We need a policy that prioritizes addressing the humanitarian crisis and providing social and economic assistance; one that will provide resources for humanitarian aid and economic development, and allow all Colombians the opportunity to live their lives in peace and dignity," she said. "We hope that as debate continues in future years we will see more progress toward a balanced policy that truly addresses the needs of the Colombian people."

The Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill will go to the Senate later this summer. LWR and our committed advocates will continue our work to stand up for our brothers and sisters in Colombia by promoting a U.S. policy that gives peace a place.