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Letter to The Honorable Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

We write to express our grave concern regarding the infiltration of important Colombian state institutions by terrorists and drug traffickers.

Colombia today is going through its most serious political crisis in years. For a long time we have received reports of links between narco-terrorist paramilitaries and Colombian military units, which we have sought to address through conditions on military assistance. However, investigations by the Colombian media, Supreme Court, and Attorney General's office indicate that paramilitary ties to the state extend beyond the military and may involve high-level officials.

We are particularly troubled by the case of Jorge Noguera, who is under prosecution for allegedly providing paramilitaries with names of trade unionists who were later killed, while Mr. Noguera was serving under President Alvaro Uribe as Director of National Intelligence from 2002-2005. We also understand that the Colombian Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of nine congressmen for paramilitary ties. One of the congressmen is the brother of former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo, whose father is also under investigation and is today a fugitive, evading an international arrest warrant. Fourteen other current and former congressmen are under investigation on similar charges.

The infiltration by paramilitaries and drug lords of important sectors of the Colombian state is no minor corruption problem. When the reports about Mr. Noguera were first made public, President Uribe responded by accusing the media of "harming democracy" and being "malicious." And Vice President Fancisco Santos recently stated that the government might consider giving the politicians under investigation "different" or "alternative sentences."

The problem is compounded by the Colombian government's questionable implementation of the paramilitary demobilizations. We are very troubled by reports that it is allowing jailed paramilitary commanders and their associates—some of whom have been indicted in the United States for drug trafficking—to communicate freely by cell phone with their associates.

The Organization of American States Mission in Colombia recently reported that it has identified 22 new or re-grouped illegal armed groups in which mid-level paramilitary leaders are recruiting combatants and engaging in extortion, assassination, and displacement of civilians. The U.N Human Rights Office has also reported ties between these armed groups and members of the security forces. According to the same Office, extrajudicial executions by the military have been increasing.

Several potential witnesses against paramilitaries have recently been killed, and the government has yet to establish a meaningful witness protection program. Paramilitaries have yet to turn over more than a small fraction of their wealth, which they built up through violence and drug trafficking. And Colombia has yet to extradite a single major paramilitary leader to the United States, despite evidence that some have continued their criminal activity after demobilization.

We appreciate President Bush's statements in Bogota on the need for independent judicial investigations, and on the need to strengthen the rule of law and human rights in Colombia. We strongly agree with these principles, which should be at the core of our policy towards Colombia.

At this stage, it is critical that Colombia take vigorous measures to hold accountable paramilitaries and their accomplices and to prevent them from influencing upcoming elections.

* To dismantle paramilitary networks, the government should:

* Extradite paramilitary bosses who continue engaging in criminal activity;

* Remove imprisoned paramilitary cell phones and internet access;

* Take forceful steps to investigate and appropriately sanction paramilitaries' financial backers and accomplices in the political system and military, regardless of rank;

* Act promptly to find and confiscate paramilitary assets; and

* Ensure child soldiers, and soldiers recruited as children, under paramilitary control are demobilized and provided professional rehabilitation and reintegration services.

* Paramilitary commanders who receive reduced sentences should serve those sentences in prison, not under house arrest or in agriculture colonies.

* The security forces should make it a top priority to pursue new or re-grouped paramilitaries, such as those operating in the states of Nariño and Chocó.

* Colombia should substantially increase the personnel and resources available to the Office of the Attorney General and the courts, and establish an effective witness protection program. The United States should also increase financial and political support to these institutions.

* Colombia should safeguard the independence and security of courts investigation politicians' links to paramilitaries, by taking steps to ensure that the investigations remain under the control of Colombia's highest-level courts, such as the Supreme Court, where they can be conducted by the whole court as a group, rather than by individual judges.

* Finally, Colombia should invite the OAS to monitor the upcoming 2007 elections, including by monitoring pre-electoral activities, threats against candidates, and campaign financing by illegal armed groups.

Without such concrete actions and results, maintaining current levels of assistance will be difficult to justify.


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