July 26, 1999
The Honorable Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Madame Secretary:
I write regarding the peace process in Colombia. After some hopeful developments in late 1998 which included the personal engagement of President Pastrana with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and a meeting with the FARC in Costa Rica in which a U.S. official participated, the brutal murder of three Americans this past March 4 brought U.S. involvement in the process to a halt.
Further violent incidents have followed, including attacks on human rights workers. These, plus the on-going plight of Colombia's displaced people, counted now in the hundreds of thousands, point up the dramatic degree to which the victims in Colombia's long, senseless conflict are innocent civilians. The question is what can be done to energize the peace process and to stop the kidnapping and murder that continue unabated.
Primary responsibility for achieving peace lies, of course, with the Colombian participants themselves, and we have been pleased that President Pastrana has chosen the route of negotiation rather than pursuit of victory in a war that is unwinnable by any side. It is regrettable that, so far at least, neither the guerillas nor the paramilitary forces have mustered the courage or discipline to do their part.
We abhor FARC culpability in the murders of the three American environmentalists and support our government's insistence that those responsible be brought to justice. We also find totally unacceptable the FARC behavior in the demilitarized zone, including the brutal execution of Colombian civilians, most recently the eleven killed earlier this month. We abhor as well the brutality of the so-called paramilitaries in their continuing attacks on defenseless campesinos.
This does not mean, however, that negotiation is wrong; it means rather that even greater persistence, firmness and creativity are necessary to make it succeed. In this context, Madame Secretary, I would encourage our government to remain actively involved in the search for peace in Colombia, even when such involvement entails risks.
Specifically, I urge that the United States do the following:
- Continue to support the Colombian government in its pursuit of a peace based on justice for all sectors of society and in its rejection of a purely military solution to the war.
- Continue to insist on the highest standards of human rights conduct from the Colombian military, withholding assistance as appropriate and necessary.
- Condemn human rights violations from whatever quarter quickly and forcefully. I believe that many who are prone to such violations pay attention to our government's pronouncements.
- Continue to oppose any and all Colombian government collusion with the paramilitary forces, especially that involving the Colombian military, using the incentives and disincentives that the United States has the power to employ.
- Finally, I urge the resumption, in concert with the Colombian authorities, of U.S. participation in the peace process, including meetings with all parties. Such direct contacts involve risks, such as the risk of conferring unmerited status on some participants, but I believe that risks are justified in pursuit of an end to the carnage that has become Colombia's daily fare.
In closing, may I note that in my meetings in Colombia last April with the leadership of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, I was left in no doubt as to the bishops' complete support for the peace process, which they in fact had helped usher in during the previous government. The Catholic Church in Colombia, as you well know, has suffered much from the violence of these many years, and has also contributed so much to the progress thus far, especially through the work of the Comisión Nacional de Conciliación
, in effecting contacts between the government and the guerillas. I know they are prepared, as are we, to do whatever is possible to advance the cause of peace and justice in Colombia.
With best wishes and assurances of prayers for your work, I remain
Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference