Researchers from two prestigious U.S. universities suggest a direct relationship between the amount of military aid to Colombia and the violence of armed paramilitary groups.
The researchers, Oendrila Dube, Ph.D. in public policy, and Suresh Naidu, Ph.D. in economics, began studying this question about three months ago after noticing a pattern between the volume of complaints for human rights violations and U.S. military aid in Colombia, Colombian newspaper El Espectador recently reported on its website.
In the academic report, titled “Bases, Bullets and Ballots,” the two researchers working from Harvard University and New York University concluded that “U.S. military aid produces the differential increase in paramilitary attacks, while not affected by guerrilla attacks.”
El Espectador spoke with the two researchers about the paper, which is still a work in progress and still needs to pass a process of academic peer review before publication in a scientific journal.
U.S. military aid is distributed in Colombia through the brigades of the Colombian Armed Forces, operating in certain bases in specific municipalities. In their research, the academics analyzed available data between 1988 and 2005, observing 32 municipalities with military bases and found that there were greater increases in paramilitary violence compared to area with no bases.
Their research also analyized how military aid affects voter turnout during the election periods of 2000 and 2003. They concluded that in municipalities with military bases where U.S. aid is high there is lower voter turnout during elections. For example, if U.S. military aid is increased by 10 percent, a 5- to 10-percent drop in voter turnout can be observed.
In a separate Harvard study from July, a different group of researchers suggested that paramilitaries also influence voters toward candidates they support.
“In Colombia, as we shall see, as much as one third of the Senate may have been elected in elections heavily influenced by armed paramilitary groups,” added the separate study, entitled “The Monopoly of Violence: Evidence from Colombia.”
On a positive note, the increased U.S. aid lead to actions such as hostage rescues, however it is the strengthening of the Colombian forces that is leading to more contact with paramilitary forces, and therefore more violence, they concluded. “In terms of government actions, help is leading to an increase in other types of operations including hostage rescue, hostage, weapons interdiction, among others.
But the general point is that strengthening the Colombian military forces is the result designed by the U.S. military aid, and this may result in the improvement and increase in this type of operation. But the most striking part of the research is that aid can have unintended consequences, in this case, related to paramilitary attacks.”
The researchers also came to other conclusions during the study, among those:
* military aid is not effective in fighting drug trafficking, despite having been the main goal of the Andean Regional Initiative and Plan Colombia. “In municipalities with bases we find no effect on coca cultivation levels with increasing aid. In fact, U.S. aid negatively affected the commitment of the Colombian forces in the fight against drugs.”
* further aid increases the murders of mayors and public officials, with the highest rates of murder (for candidates and officials) located in Turbo, Puerto Lopez, Arauca, Puerto Carreno and Monteria. Overall the report was critical of U.S. military aid in Colombia, and the researchers said the aid showed a casual relationship between military aid and paramilitary violence, and that the aid is not accomplishing its objectives.
“If we think the two main objectives of U.S. military aid are counterinsurgency (in terms of crushing the guerrillas) and the war on drugs (in reducing coca cultivation), what we find is that none of these objectives are being achieved,” they concluded.