From Plan Colombia to New Challenges


The meeting between Juan Manuel Santos and Barack Obama, to commemorate Plan Colombia, should be the start of a new phase of cooperation between the two countries, focused on community building in Colombia.

The Colombia of the year 2000, when the cooperation agreement with the United States – known as Plan Colombia – was signed, no longer exists, and that is a cause for celebration. That is why, this coming Feb. 4, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, will meet in Washington to celebrate the plan’s successes over the past 15 years: re-establishing the government’s monopoly on the use of force and strengthening the country’s institutions.

Colombia’s situation was precarious at that time. Andrés Pastrana, who was president when the plan was signed, said in an interview last year that, thanks to the agreement, we have moved from “being a failed state to the Colombia of today,” since it was “the strengthening of the armed forces of the country, as never before in history, that permitted the policy of democratic security, and brought the guerrilla groups to the negotiating table.” To achieve this, the United States committed about $7.5 billion to the struggle against the armed groups and drug traffickers, in addition to several social programs.

The results of this effort are evident today. Colombia’s army has to a great extent broken the guerrilla groups; the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the People’s Army) has been kept sitting in Havana, and the process will end up, we hope, in negotiations with the ELN (the National Liberation Army). In addition, the army has waged a courageous battle against drug trafficking. During this time, also, institutions have largely regained the legitimacy they had lost, to the point where today the government feels able to carry out the responsibilities it gave up on in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now, however, is also the time to think about the Plan Colombia commitments: the war against drugs and building the social fabric of Colombia.

With respect to the first point, this week at the forum on “New Challenges in Colombia’s Drug Policy,” organized by the Good Government Foundation (la Fundación Buen Gobierno) with support from the University of Los Andes (Colombia) and the London School of Economics (UK), Santos was clear: “It is time that the world recognizes that we are not winning the ‘war on drugs’ that was declared 40 years ago, and it is because we are doing something wrong.” He has a point. The movement toward legalization, because of its slow pace, ties up the producing countries, who are the ones that have to cope with the damaging effects of drug trafficking. I welcome the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ agreement to take a unified position toward the General Assembly of the United Nations, which will address the issue next April. We are overdue for adopting a new strategy.

As to the second point, whatever the war on drugs looks like, it will lead to another failure if there is no policy in place for sustainable development and working with vulnerable communities. And not just that: success in a possible post-conflict period depends on the ability of the government to build communities where violence has historically created neglect. To that end, it would be very useful to have a new Plan Colombia in effect, as has been proposed for the past couple of years — one no longer centered on the military, but with the principal objective of building a peaceful social fabric.

All of this should not keep us from understanding the reality: the strength of the Colombian nation that we are celebrating today also means that it must take on and carry out greater responsibilities. Rather than thinking that international cooperation will solve all our problems, Colombian institutions must be prepared to fill the many gaps that still exist. Looking ahead to the eventual post-conflict situation, it will be good to understand that, and to act accordingly.

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About Tom Walker 230 Articles
Before I started working as a translator, I had had a long career as a geologist and hydrologist, during the course of which I had the opportunity to work on projects in Mexico, Chile, and Peru. To facilitate my career transition, I completed the Certificate in Spanish-English Translation from the University of California at San Diego. Most of my translation work is in the areas of civil engineering & geology, and medicine & medical insurance. However, I also try to be aware of what’s going on in the world around me, so my translations of current affairs pieces for WA fit right in. I also play piano in a 17-piece jazz big band.

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