The following letter was sent to members of relevant committees in the U.S. Congress today in reaction to the recent detention and search of Senator Piedad Cordoba of Colombia upon her arrival at JFK International Airport on June 27, 2008. U.S. Customs and Immigration Services agents detained Senator Cordoba for approximately three hours and searched her belongings. During this time, the agents also photocopied private documents she was carrying. These documents could put in danger the lives of political activists if turned over to the Colombian government.
Political killings are common in Colombia, which leads the world in the number of assassinations of trade unionists. The Colombian government is in the midst of a widespread political scandal over the close ties between many members of the Congress and the administration of Alvaro Uribe to right-wing paramilitary death squads.
Senator Cordoba is well known for her efforts to mediate the release of hostages held by the FARC, and these efforts led to the release of six hostages earlier this year. Despite international recognition and acclaim for Senator Cordoba's efforts in this area, U.S. Customs agents questioned her about her "relationship" with the FARC.
[Editor's note: Senator Cordoba came to New York upon the invitation of the Venezuelan Consulate in New York.]
July 9, 2008
To U.S. Congressional Representatives and Senators,
We are dismayed to learn that upon entering the United States on June 27, 2008, Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba was detained without charges and interrogated for approximately three hours at J.F.K. Airport in New York. Senator Córdoba has been a courageous and tireless advocate of a negotiated political solution to Colombia’s armed conflict. In February 2008, with the authorization of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, she was instrumental to the unilateral release of seven hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Her pursuit of peace, a humanitarian exchange, and opposition to the military solution sought by the U.S. and Colombian governments has since put her life at risk in Colombia, and, evidently, has placed her in the sights of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).
According to Senator Cordoba, during her detention and interrogation, she was asked about her ties to the FARC guerrillas and the contents of her personal records were photocopied without her consent. This appears to be a violation of international law as well as our own constitutional protections. Colombia leads the world in murdered trade unionists and human rights activists. Given the current political climate, the lives of many of Senator Córdoba’s contacts and allies in Colombian civil society could be at risk if her records are not kept confidential.
This incident sends a chilling message to citizens and elected officials working for peace and a political solution to Colombia’s humanitarian crisis and armed conflict, the longest-running and most severe in the Western hemisphere. We fail to see how detaining and interrogating Senator Córdoba, and photocopying her personal documents, is consistent with the values and objectives professed in the U.S. Constitution, which the U.S. Congress is sworn to uphold. Rather, it would appear to subvert them by contributing to the pattern of arbitrary lawlessness for which the current U.S. government is repudiated around the world, as well as at home. It seems clear that this detention and interrogation was undertaken not in order to gather information that could be related to U.S. national security, but rather for its intended political effect on the victim.
We ask that Congress thoroughly investigate and explain this incident in order to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. Protocol would seem to dictate, at the very least, a formal apology to Senator Córdoba on behalf of the U.S. government, and a minimum of transparency regarding the reasons for her detention and interrogation. It would be helpful to know who ordered this measure, and on what grounds.
William Avilés, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska, Kearney
Charles Bergquist, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Washington
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State College, MA
Mike Davis, Professor of History, University of California-Irvine
Luis Duno Gottberg, Associate Professor of Spanish Language and Literature, Rice University
Samuel Farber, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Sujatha Fernandes, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY
Lesley Gill, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University
John L. Hammond, Professor of Sociology, Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY
Forrest Hylton, Ph.D. Candidate, History, New York University and Author of Evil Hour In Colombia <http://www.versobooks.com/books/ghij/h-titles/hylton_colombia.shtml>
Marcus Rediker, Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh
Cristina Rojas, Associate Professor, School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Canada
James Sanders, Associate Professor of History, Utah State University
T.M. Scruggs, Assistant Professor, School of Music, University of Iowa
Steve Striffler, Professor of Anthropology, Doris Zemurry Stone Chair in Latin American Studies, University of New Orleans
Sinclair Thomson, Associate Professor of History, New York University
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, DC
John Womack, Robert Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University