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ACTION ALERT: House Halts US Escalation in Colombia!


May 15, 2004
Latin America Working Group

On May 12, the House Armed Services Committee turned down the Bush administration's call to remove the cap on the number of US troops -- and hired military contractors (i.e., mercenaries) -- stationed in Colombia.

http://www.lawg.org/countries/colombia/taylor_amt.htm

Good sense prevailed in the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, May 12 as committee members approved Rep. Gene Taylor's (D-MS) amendment to restore the troop cap for Colombia.

In response to the Bush Administration's request to double the number of US troops permitted in Colombia and increase by 50% the number of contractors, Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA) went one giant step farther and entirely removed the troop and contractor cap from the "mark" --the version of the defense authorization bill put forward to the committee for approval.

In the Committee on May 12, Rep. Gene Taylor offered an amendment to restore the cap on troops to the level of 500 troops, a considerably smaller increase than requested by the Administration.

This amendment won by a show of hands on a vote of 32-24. Reps. Taylor, Rodriguez ( D-TX), Abercrombie (D-HI) and Skelton (D-MO) spoke in favor of the Taylor amendment, while only Duncan Hunter spoke against. Thank Reps. Taylor, Rodriguez, Abercrombie and Skelton.

HOUSE ACTION: The House Defense Authorization bill will now go to the House floor as early as Tuesday, May 16 with the troop cap in place. However, the cap on contractors has been removed entirely. There may be a positive amendment to restore the cap on contractors. Call your member of the House and ask them to:

Restore the cap on the number of US contractors permitted in Colombia and keep the troop cap in place. It is important to mention the troop cap in case there are negative amendments offered to lift the troop cap once more.

Why restore the cap on contractors?
If the troop cap remains but the cap on contractors is lifted, the Administration will likely increasingly rely on US contractors for military activities. In Iraq, reliance on contractors has produced confusion and contributes to less oversight and blurry lines of authority. The contractor cap is necessary to put limits on US military escalation in Colombia.

SENATE ACTION: The Senate Defense Authorization bill includes the Administration request: an increase to 800 troops and 600 contractors permitted in Colombia. The Senate Defense Authorization bill also goes to the Senate floor as early as Tuesday, May 16. Call your senators and:

Urge your senators to restore the troop and contractor cap to the original level of 400/400. Urge senators most receptive to the issue to offer an amendment. If no amendment is offered, urge senators to speak about their concerns regarding escalation in Colombia during the Senate Defense Authorization bill debate. They can put this in the context of broader concerns about overall foreign policy.

Talking Points:

With US engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan proving far more complex and difficult than the Administration expected, Congress should not increase US involvement in yet another complex and difficult foreign war.

The increase in the number of troops and contractors requested by the Administration represents a serious escalation of US involvement in Colombia.

The Colombian military is not an appropriate ally for the United States. Sectors of the Colombian military collaborate with human rights abusers, and violate human rights themselves. According to the United Nations, direct human rights violations by the Colombian military increased last year, and even the US State Department admits that Colombia has failed to break ties with brutal right-wing paramilitary groups. The United States should insist on reforms, NOT reward this lack of progress with more military support.

There is another way, and a better use of our tax dollars. Our resources should be used to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Colombia. We can help bring human rights abusers to justice by aiding Colombia's justice system and helping protect the individuals who work for human rights.

We can reduce violence by cracking down on the flow of weapons into Colombia. And we can deal a blow to the guerillas and paramilitaries by supporting poor, rural Colombian communities where the armed groups often recruit. The residents of these communities are often forced into service for the armed groups because they have no other financial option.

If we support efforts to lift them out of poverty, we weaken the armed groups. We should also increase drug treatment funding in the United States so our nation's demand for drugs does not keep fueling Colombia's conflict.

CONTACT INFO: You can reach your representative's office by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking to be connected. If you don't know who your representative is, see http://www.house.gov;
for your senators,
http://www.senate.gov

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