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November 23, 2004 - Latin America Working Group

What You Can Do: Actions Around Bush's Colombia Trip

Take Action! Letters to the Editor: Hold the Media Accountable, and Spread the Word

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President Bush's visit to Colombia on Monday has been all over the news-- and the coverage has been disappointing to say the least. Many of the mainstream media outlets have used the Bush Administration's line on Colombia aid practically verbatim. The American public deserves better than this biased view of US-Colombia policy. Let's take this opportunity to write letters to the editor and get the REAL story out there.

Writing a letter to the editor: The "letters to the editor" page is the most widely read page in American papers, and a great way to help educate members of your community. Our colleagues at Church World Service host a program on their website that allows you to input your zip code and find contact information to write your local paper. Simply go to to find everything you need to get in touch with the right people.

See below for talking points for your letter.

Major papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post also covered the issue. The more letters we get to them, the greater the chances that one will be printed-- because they'll know that people are unhappy with their coverage. To read the articles that ran yesterday and today, go to and (scroll down to "Complete Post Coverage"). You can submit your letter over e-mail at or

National Public Radio had a piece on All Things Considered last night; to respond to this coverage, write to

Generally, you should limit your letters to 150 words and include reference to the specific article or piece you are responding to. For tips on writing letters to the editor, see LAWG's "Reaching the Media" page on our website:

What's at stake?

The headline issue during Bush's visit was his vow to renew Plan Colombia-- a package that Congress was promised would only last until 2005-- for another five years. That could mean another $3 billion or more in taxpayer funds going to fund an inhumane counternarcotics effort and to prop up an abusive military. Plan Colombia expires next year, and we want Congress to take this opportunity to think long and hard about its impact-- and vote for a change.

Major points you may want to include in your letter:

-U.S. assistance to Colombia totaled about $3.9 billion from 2000 to 2005. $3.14 billion of it - 80 percent - has gone to Colombia's military, police, and a drug crop-eradication program based on aerial herbicide fumigation. President Bush wants to reauthorize Colombia aid for another five years; this is a massive amount of money and deserves extensive debate.

-Bush and Uribe both claim that Plan Colombia has successfully reduced drug cultivation-- but the point of Plan Colombia was to make drugs less available in the United States. Neither the US Drug Enforcement Administration's 2003 report nor the US Drug Czar's January 2004 report noted any increase in the price of a gram of cocaine on US streets-- in fact, the price of a gram of cocaine has gone virtually unchanged since 1995. The DEA report also found that availability and purity of cocaine in the US remained stable. Why are we continuing to support a policy that doesn't work?

-One of the reasons that cocaine availability has remained unchanged in the US is because even when we manage to successfully reduce coca cultivation in one country, it moves to another country. The State Department claims that coca cultivation in Colombia has dropped some 30% since 2001, but it has shot up again in Bolivia, an area deemed a "drug war success" in the 1990s.

[for more information on US aid and its impact on drug cultivation, see CIP's excellent report at ].

-The Colombian military has a long history of human rights abuses; rather than insisting on reforms, the United States has rewarded the military with more aid. This support is dangerous. In August of this year, three Colombian union leaders-Jorge Prieto, Leonel Goyeneche, and Hector Alirio Martinez-were found murdered by members of the US-trained 18th Brigade of the Colombian army. The brigade's commander claimed that the three were Marxist guerillas and were killed during a shootout. Colombia's Vice President-- who originally supported the commander's story-- has since acknowledged that there was no gun battle. The soldiers involved have been charged with homocide, but the Colombian government is not looking into the role of the brigade's commander or other superiors.

-The United States is getting more deeply involved in Colombia's internal conflict at a moment when our armed forces are stretched thin. Congress recently approved a Bush Administration proposal to double the number of US troops stationed in Colombia. If Plan Colombia is reauthorized for another five years, we could see even greater levels of US involvement.

Please contact me if you have any questions, and let me know if you get a letter printed! It's also a great idea to send your members of Congress a copy of the letter you're submitting to the paper. To find their contact information, see or

Elanor Starmer, Associate for Colombia and Central America
Latin America Working Group - -

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