A series of
occasional commentaries on important
policy issues affecting
September 27, 2002
By Dr. James Ferrer, Jr. and Eduardo Segatore1
President Álvaro Uribe Vélez is visiting
Washington this week to obtain support from the United States. Last month,
he took office in the face of an extremely difficult domestic situation.
Colombia’s history has been plagued by violence and
insurgency. In the beginning of the twentieth century the country was
devastated by the “war of a thousand days.” In the 1950’s Colombia
suffered la violencia, a bloody internal war that left some 200,000 dead.
Today, Colombia is again marked by intense internal warfare and violence.
The current struggle, however, deeply involves also the multi-billion
dollar drug trade. Funds from the narcotics trade have financed the growth
of the three major terrorist groups: the FARC, the ELN and the
Colombia’s socioeconomic problems cry out for reform
and for the development of a strong, purposeful national will to resolve
the country’s chaotic situation. Foremost, the drug problem has to be
solved. The drug trade not only finances organized violence, it has
corrupted and warped much of the country’s political and economic system.
The nation must organize and finance a much larger, professional military
force capable of dominating the terrorist groups. The government must also
demonstrate its respect for human rights and its commitment to democratic
President Uribe’s campaign for the presidency advocated
a hard-line approach to the terrorists. He presented what would be the 100
points of his presidential program. This document describes the need for
education reform, administrative reorganization, austerity and more
resources for social services. What stands out are the proposals for
military and police reforms, including an emphasis on technical training.
Thus far he has taken a few important steps, including the appointment of
Santiago Montenegro as Planning Minister. On Saturday, September 21, he
signed a decree creating two special geographic zones in which the
military chiefs will take over control of all the security forces. Uribe
seems to be heading in the right direction to regain control of the
Ever since the drug trade became intertwined with Colombia’s internal
struggle, the United States has had a growing interest in the situation.
Most of the cocaine that enters the United States apparently comes from
Colombia. President Clinton devised Plan Colombia to help eradicate the
drug trade. Given the September 11 attacks, after which terrorism became
the primary policy concern of the United States, defeat of the narco-terrorists
has become even more crucial.
As long as Colombia demonstrates the political will to
defeat the narco-terrorists and it takes steps to protect civil liberties
in this difficult situation, the United States should actively support the
country’s efforts. However, the United States’ support is not sufficient.
The other countries of the hemisphere, and especially Colombia’s
neighbors, should be persuaded to join the anti-narcotics/terrorists
Even though the situation in Colombia has a deep and
direct affect on the countries of the hemisphere, and especially on South
America, the region has not been sufficiently engaged. This situation
needs to change. The countries of the hemisphere, perhaps through the
Organization of American States, should play an important role in helping
Colombia restore domestic peace. A larger role for the Organization of
American States is both desirable and feasible. A multilateral scenario
may help to ease the concerns that some South American countries have
about a possible growing U.S. military presence in the region. The
institutional framework exists; it’s time to start using it effectively.
The situation in Colombia is the most serious security
issue in the hemisphere. The widespread violence and the drug trade
affects the entire hemisphere. Ultimately, the responsibility for
resolving the country’s domestic turmoil rests squarely with the Colombian
people and government. Colombia must fulfill its responsibilities. If it
does, the United States and the other countries of the hemisphere should
firmly support its efforts.
1 The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do
not necessarily reflect the views of The Center for Latin American Issues
or of The George Washington University.