The Miami Herald
Wed, Mar. 31, 2004
Has U.S. aid benefited Colombia?

The Herald publishes part of the Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Advisor on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Question: How much of a difference has U.S. aid to Colombia made over the past few years and what effect will an extension of U.S. aid have?

Answer (from board commentator Bernard Aronson): Less than a decade ago, at the end of the Samper government, Colombia was in crisis. . . . Today, the Colombian economy is growing, investment is returning, U.S.-Colombian relations have never been stronger, and more coca leaf and poppy have been eradicated in recent years than in the history of the program. . . . All of these achievements are due to the leadership and courage of Colombians, but none of them would have been likely without the strong, sustained bipartisan support and assistance provided by the U.S.

A (from guest commentator Adam Isacson): Since Plan Colombia began in 2000, the United States has granted Colombia $3.15 billion; at least 80 percent, or $2.52 billion, has gone to Colombia's military and police. This may sound like a lot, but in fact it adds up to only about a seventh of Colombia's security budget -- and most has responded only to U.S. priorities like easing fumigation and protecting an oil pipeline. . . . The counterinsurgency effort President Alvaro Uribe envisions in ''Plan Colombia 2'' will be very costly, and the U.S. administration, with many foreign policy priorities elsewhere, is unlikely to increase its commitment far beyond current levels. The success of the Colombian military campaign will ultimately depend on Colombians' own contribution.

A (from guest commentator Steve Johnson): By the end of Plan Colombia's five-year scope, we may not see a 50 percent reduction in drug trafficking or a signed peace agreement with former rebel and paramilitary groups. But keeping a steady course through two U.S. and Colombian administrations has helped put Colombia's ship of state on a different course. Drug traffickers have taken big hits, guerrillas are deserting, paramilitaries are talking peace and Colombians are beginning to travel their own highways again. Political and economic problems of strengthening the justice system, improving local governance and establishing a regulatory environment where all Colombians play by the same economic rules are all reforms in the making.

A (from board commentator Myles Frechette): Since President Uribe took office in August 2002, results have been impressive. . . . The supply of coca in the Andean region as a whole is down. When current stocks of cocaine now in North America are drawn down, this smaller Andean coca production will reduce U.S. cocaine availability. Law enforcement and judicial cooperation have been excellent. U.S. assistance also helped with judicial reform, internally displaced persons (1.4 million), social projects and alternative crop development. Colombians feel more secure and have hope. Continued U.S. support will support economic growth, democracy and stability in the entire Andean region.

Bernard Aronson is a member of the advisor board, managing partner at ACON Investments LLC and was U.S. assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1993.

Adam Isacson is director of programs at the Center for International Policy.

Steve Johnson is Latin America policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

Myles Frechette is a member of the advisor board and was U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 1994 to 1997.