November 2nd, 2007 01:47 EST
Demobilization of ex-combatants a positive step, creates new challenges
Washington -- Even though Colombia still suffers from too much armed conflict and drug trafficking, analysts agree the country’s security situation generally is improving.
Arturo Carrillo, a George Washington University law professor and senior adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development regarding human rights in Colombia, told USINFO that most people in the Andean nation agree security is better in both cities and rural areas.
Crime is down and the economy is up, said Carrillo, a native of Colombia. He said Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe, is providing leadership for a country where leadership had been sorely lacking. Uribe is popular with the Colombian people because of the improving security and economic upswing, said Carrillo.
Carrillo said demobilization of many ex-paramilitaries in Colombia has given “some hope for increased peace” in the country. But removing those right-wing military forces, which occupied large swaths of Colombia, has created a vacuum that has been filled by drug traffickers and common criminals. Those groups operate without the “political motives” of the paramilitaries, which are enemies of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other left-wing groups in the country’s long-running civil war, said Carrillo.
Another problem, he said, is that extrajudicial killings go “unrecognized.”
U.S. and Colombian human rights groups released a report October 18 that said from 2002 to 2007, the number of extrajudicial executions by state security forces reached 955, compared to 577 in the previous five-year period. Extrajudicial executions involve state security forces detaining people who are later found dead.
Carrillo offered a more nuanced assessment of Colombia than the State Department’s R. Nicholas Burns, who said in an October 22 speech that someone who had been out of the country for years “would not recognize the Colombia of today.”
Carrillo said Burns’ portrayal was “partly right and partly wrong. It’s definitely an overstatement” about Colombia’s situation, he said. The professor said the hurdles Colombia still must overcome are “complicated and dangerous” and “we can’t create any illusions about that.”
In his mostly upbeat portrayal, Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the “picture of Colombia today is one where people have real hope for their future -- for the first time in decades.”
A U.S. congressional delegation to Colombia in mid-October echoed Burns’ optimism. For example, New York Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, told reporters that “just the fact we are able to come” to Medellín and other cities “where a few years ago we couldn’t go, makes us understand that this country is moving in the right direction.”
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Vanda Felbab-Brown, a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a research analyst for the Brookings Institution in Washington, told USINFO that “things have radically improved” in Colombia. The country’s insecurity, she said, “is nothing like what it was” in the late 1990s and early 2000.
But many problems remain, Felbab-Brown said, and she takes issue with the analysis of State’s Burns on “just how serious those problems are.”
Felbab-Brown says the “glass is half-filled” (50 percent good) in Colombia. But she added that the “pressure that the empty half generates” could become so large that it “strikes out” all the “fragile” progress the country has achieved.
One specific problem, she said, is that the demobilized paramilitaries have been replaced by at least 5,000 new combatants, a number which she said could “easily be an underestimate.”
U.S. aid to Colombia in 2003-2004 as part of a five-year strategy called Plan Colombia “was really quite impressive” in helping the Colombian government battle the FARC’s narco-terrorism, Felbab-Brown said.
“But since then things have really slowed” in fighting the FARC, especially in such illicit drug-growing Colombian regions as Putumayo and Nariño, said Felbab-Brown. “If anything, I think the FARC has rebounded,” she said.
Felbab-Brown, who teaches on “illicit economies” and security issues at Georgetown, said the sizable financial and political investment the United States has made in Colombia is “just too large” for the Americans “to pull out” of the country.
She expressed support for the fact that a new phase of Plan Colombia, known as the “Strategy for Strengthening Democracy and Promoting Social Development,” focuses more on socio-economic and human rights issues, and less on military aid. This shift in emphasis is important because the Colombian military is “not capable” of defeating anti-government elements by “purely military means,” said Felbab-Brown. (See related article.)
U.S. aid to Colombia, she said, should “not be a blank check,” but instead should be contingent on demonstrable progress in such issues as human rights and justice for all Colombian citizens.
A transcript of Burns’ remarks is available on the State Department Web site.
The full text of the report on extrajudicial killings is available on the Web site of the Washington Office on Latin America.
More information about Plan Colombia and its new phase are on the Web site of the Embassy of Colombia in Washington.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer
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