As co-chair of the Congressional Colombia Caucus, I want to highlight some of the remarkable advances that have occurred as a result of the strong U.S.-Colombia partnership, which is committed to combating drug trafficking, upholding the rule of law and promoting democracy.
The U.S.-Colombia partnership is one of the brightest achievements of U.S. foreign policy over the past two decades. Some analysts had fretted that Colombia would become a failed state in the 1990s. Prior to 2012, about 220,000 people reportedly died in the armed conflict, the vast majority of them civilians, while 22,000 were victims of targeted assassinations and 27,000 were victims of kidnapping.
To date, more than 8 million Colombians, or about 15 percent of the population, have registered as victims of Colombia’s decades-long conflict. To help Colombia confront these challenges, the United States provided the country millions of dollars in support, including the highly successful, $10 billion Plan Colombia, which helped transform that nation into the prosperous, stable regional leader that it is today. The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which went into full effect in 2012, has also led to substantial economic growth. The United States is now Colombia’s largest trading partner, with $28.8 billion of two-way goods trade during 2016.
The Colombia of today is very different from the Colombia of 20 years ago, and the Western Hemisphere is better for it.
President Ivan Duque has continued this progress. Since his inauguration in August 2018, Colombia has eradicated 6,253 hectares — 15,450 acres — of coca fields a month, which is a more than 50 percent increase over the monthly rate during Colombia’s previous administration. Late last year, Colombia interdicted 457 metric tons of cocaine and coca base, which is about half of Colombia’s estimated total cocaine production. Duque is also committed to aerial eradication, which is effective and less dangerous to officials carrying out eradication efforts on the ground. The Duque administration is aggressively pursuing narcotraffickers, too. Last year, Colombia extradited 145 individuals to the United States for their alleged drug trafficking.
Colombia’s hard work has come at a steep cost and sacrifice. Combating the drug cartels, which are in league with violent terrorist groups such as the ELN and the FARC, has resulted in many casualties in the war for Colombia’s peace and safety. In 2019, the Colombian army and marines together have lost 26 individuals, and 130 have been wounded. The police have lost 31 in the line of duty, and 77 have been injured. However, these operations have had a tremendous impact, leading to the capture of 1,300 narco traffickers and the deaths of 47 combatants. Colombia spends more than 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense, with $700 million spent on combating organized crime and counter-narcotics efforts.
By effectively and aggressively pursuing terrorists and drug traffickers, Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president from 2002-2010, in firm partnership with the United States, set Colombia on a course toward prosperity and stability. The drug cartels and terrorist organizations that used to wreak havoc throughout Colombia have been brought to heel—and ultimately to the negotiating table. President Duque is continuing the policies that led to Colombia’s success by aggressively confronting terrorist groups such as the FARC and other drug traffickers. Work remains to be done, as violence such as the ELN car bomb attack on January 17, 2019 demonstrated, but it is clear that Colombia has become a leader in our hemisphere and a valuable ally in the battle against terrorism and drug trafficking.
The humanitarian crisis across the border has presented another challenge to our partnership and the region as a whole, as more than 1.4 million fleeing Venezuelans are estimated to be scattered throughout Colombia.
Colombia has responded to the crisis with sagacity and compassion, quickly recognizing the democratically elected administration of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, while providing more than a million border-crossing cards, work permits and access to public services, including education and food aid and healthcare. Colombia estimates that as much as 0.5 percent of its GDP ultimately will go toward addressing Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, and the United States has promised more than $120 million to address it.
Throughout this disaster and whatever other challenges are to come, our partnership is strong. Both the Colombian and United States governments are committed to doing what is necessary to promote democracy and prosperity in our hemisphere.
Colombia has endured the Chávez-Maduro malignancy on its border for years, including its support for terrorists such as the FARC, and ties to narco-trafficking. Despite the daunting tasks ahead, I am confident that under the determined leadership of President Duque, and the United States’ continued commitment to strengthening that essential partnership, our countries will continue to successfully confront these challenges in our hemisphere.
Read the full op-ed HERE.
Laura D. Hernandez
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25)