Colombia’s defense minister said Thursday that he hopes to convince
U.S. officials that any serious cuts in U.S. aid could badly hurt his
country’s security gains against leftist rebels.
“Look, we’re winning, we’re doing well. We’re just about to reach
the other side of the river. Don’t pull out the rug,” said Juan Manuel
Santos, outlining the message he’ll bring to senior U.S. officials in a
three-day trip beginning Tuesday.
Santos also told The Associated
Press in an interview that there hasn’t been a single report of an
extra-judicial killing by the military since October, when a scandal
over civilian murders led to an unprecedented purge in the ranks.
is to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national
security adviser James L. Jones, as well as Sens. Patrick Leahy and
John Kerry, powerful Democratic committee chairmen whose party has
expressed deep concerns over Colombia’s human rights record.
violence-wracked nation has received more than $6 billion in U.S. aid
since 2000 under Plan Colombia, initiated under former U.S. President
After the Democrats won control of the U.S.
Congress, however, the aid balance has been shifting toward more
development and institution-building assistance, though the military
still accounted for some 65 percent of U.S. aid to Colombia in 2008,
said analyst Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy in
The financing has been key to helping President
Alvaro Uribe hobble the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,
the hemisphere’s last major rebel army. There are questions, however,
about whether it has put a dent in cocaine exports from the No. 1
source country. The U.N. says the coca crop was up 27 percent last year.
military component of U.S. aid, about $300 million, accounts for some 5
percent of Colombia’s $7.2 billion defense budget, which Santos said
was being cut this year by $200 million.
It pays for aircraft
fuel and maintenance, among other things, and is thus key to keeping
Colombia’s military mobile against a guerrilla force Santos estimates
at 8,000 fighters, about half its strength a decade ago.
Washington were to seriously slash aid, “we’d have problems because we,
too, are suffering budget cuts this year because of the economic
crisis,” he said. “Plan Colombia is a drop of water compared to the
money the United States spends in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
said he didn’t expect the U.S. Congress to cut aid to Colombia this
year, but that 2010 will be different “since foreign aid doesn’t create
any jobs” in a recession-battered United States.
meanwhile, can expect face tough questioning on human rights from
Leahy, the author of a law that bars U.S. funds for Colombian military
units that are being investigated for abuses.
Santos said his
office is cooperating closely with prosecutors who are investigating
more than 1,000 killings of civilians by soldiers since Uribe took
office. In many cases, prosecutors say, soldiers killed unarmed
civilians and dressed them up as rebels to inflate enemy casualty
figures and win promotions.
Santos denied that Uribe’s October
purge — which included three generals was due in any way to “pressure
from the United States, Europe or any international organization.”
“We do it because it’s right,” he said, “because we want an armed forces that wins this confrontation legitimately.” (AP)