Amid signs of hope that the South American country's 50-year armed conflict is winding down, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos met with Barack Obama at the White House this week to mark 15 years since the initiation of the Plan Colombia aid package.
The two congratulated each other on the success of the program, which has delivered some $10 billion to Colombia in mostly military aid since 2001. They also discussed a proposed new aid program that Santos is calling the "second phase" of Plan Colombia and which Obama proposed to be called "Peace Colombia."
Obama said he supports a package of $450 million annually to support the peace process in Colombia—an increase over last year's $300 million. This would go towards implementing the reforms to be instated following a peace deal with the FARC guerillas—with a continued focus on drug enforcement. Obama said the U.S. "will keep working to protect our people as well as the Colombian people from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers."
The White House meeting set off much media discussion in Colombia about what the massive aid program has meant for the country.
Bogotá daily El Espectador ran an interview with Colombian MIT scholar Pascual Restrepo, who called Plan Colombia a "partial failure." He found that it brought greater security to Colombia, but its gains in reducing coca production were offset by increases in production in Peru (another example of what has been called the "balloon effect").
One of the FARC peace negotiators, Pastor Alape blasted Plan Colombia as a "painful national tragedy," emphasizing the years of grave human rights abuses by the U.S.-backed security forces. Former army commander Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora quickly shot back, saying that "Colombians don't care what the FARC thinks about Plan Colombia or the decisions of the government."
While the power-brokers bicker, peasant and indigenous communities across Colombia are organizing meetings to arrive at their own "National Agenda for Peace," emphasizing the changes that need to happen on the ground to address the roots of the conflict.
Just days before Santos met with Obama, some 300 delegates from campesino and community organizations met in the city of Ibagué for the First Agrarian, Ethnic and Popular Peace Summit. It issued a statement demanding that the needs of rural communities be placed at the center of post-conflict reforms.
And despite widespread assumptions in the U.S. media that FARC controls Colombia's cocaine trade, evidence continues to mount that the country's security forces have at least as much of a hand in it.
The day before Santos' Washington meeting, two National Police officers were arrested when their truck was stopped at a checkpoint in Buenavista, Córdoba department and was found to be hauling 200 kilos of cocaine. Under the watch of the current National Police commander, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, 1,337 members of the 90,000-strong force have been suspended under suspicion of corruption.
(Photo Courtesy of oistecolombia.wordpress.com)