Ahead of President Obama’s Meeting with Colombian President, McGovern Leads Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Urging Support for Peace Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of this week’s White House meeting between President Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a bipartisan group of 57 House lawmakers called on President Obama today to support the Colombian peace process.
In today’s letter, led by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), a senior House Democrat and co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the group of lawmakers strongly encouraged President Obama “to use this opportunity not only to reinforce our past alliance, but to emphasize how the United States intends to provide immediate and on-going support for the implementation of Colombia’s peace accords, should negotiations conclude successfully in the near future.”
The lawmakers noted that with the significant funding the U.S. already provided to support Plan Colombia, an effort to help Colombia combat the security crisis they faced in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. “needs to demonstrate that same commitment to peace now.”
In the letter, the lawmakers added that they “support the Colombian negotiations that seek to end over five decades of conflict that has deeply wounded all sectors of Colombian society” and urged President Obama “ to provide robust and concrete support to implementing the peace accords, and to express continuing concern regarding the security and ability of human rights defenders to carry out their vital work.”
“When discussing how to advance the best practices and values of the Colombian armed forces as it prepares to take up new responsibilities in a post-conflict society,” the lawmakers concluded, “we urge you to emphasize the need for the Colombian criminal justice system to work its will before rewarding with promotions military officers under investigation for allegations of serious human rights crimes.”
In addition to Congressman McGovern, the letter was signed by Representatives Joseph Pitts (R-PA); Sam Farr (D-CA); John Lewis (D-GA); Dina Titus (D-NV); John Yarmuth (D-KY); Bill Keating (D-MA); Debbie Dingell (D-MI); Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); Alan Grayson (D-FL); Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL); Alan Lowenthal (D-CA); Karen Bass (D-CA); Mark Pocan (D-WI); Richard Neal (D-MA); Jim McDermott (D-WA); Michael Capuano (D-MA); Jared Polis (D-CO); Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Tony Cardenas (D-CA); John Larson (D-CT); Michael Honda (D-CA); Katherine Clark (D-MA); Luis Gutierrez (D-IL); Steve Cohen (D-TN); John Conyers (D-MI); Paul Tonko (D-NY); Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Charles Rangel (D-NY); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Stephen Lynch (D-MA); Yvette Clark (D-NY); Peter DeFazio (D-OR); Hank Johnson Jr. (D-FL); Marcy Kaptur (D-OH); Barbara Lee (D-CA); Maxine Waters (D-CA); Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); David Cicilline (D-RI); Betty McCollum (D-MN); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Jose Serrano (D-NY); Keith Ellison (DFL-MN); Norma Torres (D-CA); Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR); Donna Edwards (D-MD); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA); Niki Tsongas (D-MA); John Garamendi (D-CA); Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY); Danny K. Davis (D-IL); Peter Welch (D-VT); Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA); and Linda T. Sánchez (D-CA).
The full text of the letter is below:
February 2, 2016
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama,
We were very pleased to learn that you have extended an invitation to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to come and meet with you here in Washington, D.C. during the first week of February. We strongly encourage you to use this opportunity not only to reinforce our past alliance, but to emphasize how the United States intends to provide immediate and on-going support for the implementation of Colombia’s peace accords, should negotiations conclude successfully in the near future.
As you well know, Colombia is at a hopeful but critical juncture. The current peace negotiations offer the possibility that decades of internal armed conflict may be brought to an end. But the signing of agreements will only be the beginning of the process of constructing a durable peace. As often noted, implementing the peace accords and establishing the conditions under which peace and reconciliation might take hold will be a significant and long term undertaking. We believe the United States, which provided so much funding and support for Plan Colombia, needs to demonstrate that same commitment to the peace.
We also urge you to take this opportunity to raise some of the many serious human rights issues that continue to afflict Colombia. Specifically, we urge you to raise with President Santos your deep concern regarding the increase in murders and threats against human rights defenders, labor activists, community leaders, journalists, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders. These leaders are the very human capital that Colombia needs so desperately to consolidate, expand and implement the peace, reconciliation and national reconstruction promises embodied in the peace accords. Yet at the same time that the homicide rate overall in Colombia is declining, threats against and murders of these human rights leaders have increased.
In addition, it will be critical for Colombian civil society – especially those vulnerable communities that have been victims of violence – to have confidence in the country’s criminal justice system and be reassured that all of Colombia’s institutions, including the military, are dedicated to assisting victims, uncovering the truth, and ensuring that violence will not be perpetrated on them again. These are fundamental elements of the peace agreements under negotiation.
In this light, we are gravely concerned by the Ministry of Defense’s recent announcement to nominate for promotion to the rank of general, or to attend special military courses in preparation for such a promotion, several military officers who are under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for possible involvement extrajudicial murders. Before granting these officers such a highly valued promotion, Colombia’s criminal justice system should be allowed to complete its investigations into these cases and either exonerate or indict those accused as the evidence warrants.
Mr. President, please know that we support the Colombian negotiations that seek to end over five decades of conflict that has deeply wounded all sectors of Colombian society. We urge you to provide robust and concrete support to implementing the peace accords, and to express continuing concern regarding the security and ability of human rights defenders to carry out their vital work. Finally, when discussing how to advance the best practices and values of the Colombian armed forces as it prepares to take up new responsibilities in a post-conflict society, we urge you to emphasize the need for the Colombian criminal justice system to work its will before rewarding with promotions military officers under investigation for allegations of serious human rights crimes.
Thank you for your attention and consideration of these requests. We look forward to the visit by President Santos and your conversations with him about the future of U.S.-Colombian relations.