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Address by The Honorable Carolina Barco, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Colombia

Author: Carolina Barco
September 29, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


Council on Foreign Relations
New York, New York

Note: Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here with you at this time when many world leaders have come to this global city to renew our collective commitment to work for world peace and progress.

This city recently remembered the barbarism inflicted upon it two Septembers ago. On that anniversary, Colombians remembered that 20 of our own citizens died that day. As I looked toward the New York skyline on my trip into this city, I was reminded of two somber realities. First, that continued cooperation among all nations is essential to our on-going struggle against global terrorism, as well as other plagues such as poverty and disease. Second, there remain threats to peace and security that we cannot ignore in both our countries -- threats that require a common vision and our steadfast courage to confront them.

I thank the Council on Foreign Relations for this kind invitation. This great institution of ideas and dialogue contributes to understanding between Americans and peoples around the world. It energizes public debates and policy discussions on international issues, and thoughtful leaders around the world admire your many conferences, reports and publications. This includes the well-balanced report on Colombia, "Towards greater security in Colombia," published in 2001.

President Alvaro Uribe was grateful to have been welcomed by the Council last year, in the first days of his new administration, and he used this forum as his first opportunity to talk with Americans and outline the major policy directions his government would pursue. In his remarks, President Uribe expressed a strong desire to expand collaboration with the United States across a broad range of bilateral issues and concerns, from fighting terrorism to combating illegal drugs to promoting economic growth, foreign investment and trade.

One year later, there is much to report about the state of the Colombia-U.S. bilateral relationship. But it can be summarized in a single sentence and it is this: Colombia and America are a vibrant and dynamic partnership. Some examples:

As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Colombia helped build support for that body's resolution to confront the Iraqi threat, and offered support to President Bush as American troops undertook military operations in that country.

We are providing cooperation to American law enforcement officials on a host of anti-terrorism measures, from money laundering to extradition of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers.

A renewed and enhanced Andean Trade Preferences Act, passed by the United States Congress last year, is already opening new doors and opportunities for Colombian and American businesses. US Imports of textiles and apparel for example, have increased over 50% in the first semester of this year, while US exports to Colombia are up by nearly 4%.

Finally, Colombians and Americans are today working side-by-side to implement the economic, social and military programs that comprise Plan Colombia, the Andean Regional Initiatives and the new, expanded authorities approved last year.

One year later, we have also made substantial progress in building a nation of peace in Colombia. Day by day, town by town, hectare by hectare, Colombians are taking back their country from guerrillas and drug traffickers. In a country which last year suffered more attacks of terrorism than any other in the world, this is a significant achievement. Attacks on energy infrastructure, roads and bridges, pipelines and the general population are down by 60% when compared to last year.[1]

Colombians are determined to defeat terrorism, wherever it hides and whenever it strikes. This resolve comes with a high price in human life. It is inspiring to hear of soldiers who have recently been injured -- often losing an arm or a leg -- say that given a second chance they would fight again for Colombia's democracy. It is also inspiring to hear of thousands of citizens who voluntarily agree to pay extra taxes so our armed forces will have the resources to fight for peace.

Their efforts and those of thousands of other Colombians are not in vain. The number of terrorism attacks in Colombia decreased by 53 percent in the first half of 2003, compared to last year. Homicides declined by 44 percent and kidnappings by 34 percent. Captures and surrenders of members of illegal guerrilla and paramilitary groups have increased this year.

One year later, Colombia and the United States have also made significant progress in combating the illegal drug trade that is the root of violence and terrorism in our nation. The Colombian government is committed to reduce our country's total illegal coca and poppy crop by 50 percent by the year 2005. Many have doubted this could be achieved. But with training, cooperation and financial assistance from the United States, combined with the tireless efforts of thousands of Colombians, we will realize this goal by the end of this year -- and do so a year ahead of schedule.

According to the United Nations, Colombia's coca crop was reduced from 163,289 hectares in 2000 to 102,071 at the end of last year. This is a decline of 37 percent. By the end of this year, we project coca production to be reduced to 50,000 hectares.

President Uribe's "zero tolerance" approach is dismantling Colombia's illegal drugs infrastructure. Over the past three years, 300 tons of cocaine have been seized by Colombian authorities. This represents close to $ 9 billion in illegal drugs that will never reach American schools and streets. More than 1,200 coca laboratories have been destroyed. We've seized more than 4,000 arms and weapons from guerrillas and traffickers.

The Uribe administration is also addressing the humanitarian and development needs of hundreds of Colombian communities impacted by years of violence and drug trafficking. To date, nearly one million Colombians have received some form of assistance under Plan Colombia -- for example, access to better health care and education, food for children and thousands of new jobs to build infrastructure in those parts of the country that have historically been neglected by the central government.

In southern Colombia, in the state of Putumayo where drug traffickers and guerrillas have long flourished, we are bringing development in the form of roads and highways, schools and health clinics, water treatment facilities and sewer systems. As we drive out the drug trade, we are creating alternative economic opportunities for tens of thousands of peasant families who have agreed to stop growing coca. [2] We are also bringing in the presence of the Colombian state, with law enforcement personnel to keep peace and protect human rights and other officials to provide essential community services.

These efforts represent a significant investment by both our countries. The United States has provided $2.5 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to Colombia. Colombian taxpayers have contributed more than $4 billion to this end.

The dynamics of Colombia's conflict is changing in ways large and small. This includes a change in the national attitude and determination. Colombians no longer see our long conflict as an insolvable quagmire. All Colombians -- rich and poor -- recognize they have a stake in a future of peace and everyone has a responsibility to contribute to making it a reality.

President Uribe is determined that everyone in Colombia contribute to and participate in the reconstruction of their country. This goes beyond a willingness to pay extra taxes to build up Colombia's military -- it must also include supporting humanitarian and economic programs in rural communities that are essential to building a nation of peace and prosperity. One positive trend is that there has been a surge in private contributions to foundations and charities in Colombia -- by some estimates, as much as 30 percent in the past two years. Many Colombian companies have increased their corporate social responsibility. For example initiatives such as "Empresarios por la Educación" (Business for Education) "Dividends for Colombia" and "Compartamos con Colombia" have been recently founded and have allocated significant resources for development programs.

There is a renewed public confidence that Colombia's political leadership will act boldly and with sound judgment. Individual Colombians, like our renown Latin pop star Juanes, speak openly about representing the Colombia of dreams and a bright future, as he did when accepted his awards at the Latin Grammys earlier this month. Colombian sensation, Shakira, made similar comments as she has toured around the world.

Rebuilding Colombia's economy goes hand-in-hand with providing security. Guerrilla organizations and drug traffickers have flourished in those very regions of the country where poverty and underdevelopment exist. To successfully defeat drugs, we must address poverty.

Colombia has enjoyed a long history of sound economic management. We maintained steady rates of economic growth and low inflation during Latin America's turbulent decades in the 1980s and 1990s. We've always honored our international debts. We've provided a profitable home to hundreds of multinational corporations to be active partners in our development.

In a synthesis of an important work on Colombia published last year by the World Bank, its author, Marcelo Giugale, Director of the Department of the Andean Countries, wrote something that even Colombians do not always realize:

"It is indeed a tribute to the persistence and creativity of the Colombian people that regardless of the enduring conflict, the country maintained a consistent rate of economic growth until 1998, every year during the previous decades".

"While other countries in the region lost direction, in particular at the beginning of the eighties, Colombia reached levels of income, education and health that can be considered outstanding for a developing country". Between 1978 and 1995 the number of Colombians living in extreme poverty fell from 45% to 21%. At the same time much progress was made regarding enrollment in elementary and secondary schools (90% and 59%, respectively), health system, access to basic infrastructure and reduction of child labor, child mortality and life expectancy.

In the same period poverty decrease rapidly and meaningful social progress was achieved. Economic growth reached average rates of 4%, average income per capita doubled and unemployment was under 10%.

Yet, following 1997 and two decades of positive and sustained growth, given the rise of the internal violence Colombia's economic activity fell abruptly to the point of showing negative indicators in 1999. The recession that hit us four years ago was the first economic downturn in Colombia in 70 years. Joblessness soared. Three million people were added to the ranks of the poor and one out of ten became unemployed. Investment and growth dried up. Trade stagnated. Human development suffered a painful setback.

Fortunately, the first signs of a sustainable recovery are now upon us. The Colombian economy expanded by 3.8 percent in the first quarter of this year. Inflation remains modest at 7 percent. The government's fiscal deficit declined from 3.6 percent of GDP last year to 2.0 percent of GDP in the first quarter. Unemployment has fallen to 13.0 percent -- still far too high to sustain growth, but progress from the 20 percent rate at the height of the recession.

Finally, Colombian exports are on the rise. Our global exports have risen 7 percent this year, this despite the political and economic crisis in neighboring Venezuela, our second largest trading partner after the United States. In fact it is estimated that Colombia lost more than 330 million dollars in the first 5 months of this year but this loss was offset with increased trade with the US, up by 33 percent in the first four months of this year.

As the Colombian economy recovers, the Uribe government is looking for new ways to enhance our long-term economic and political security. Earlier this year, he proposed a bold new initiative to President Bush. He asked that Colombia and the United States negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement. Such an agreement would fortify and expand our already considerable trading relationship -- which last year exceeded $9 billion. This is larger than bilateral trade between the United States and Chile, and greater than the combined bilateral trade between the U.S. and the Central American economies.

A trade agreement is more than just about tariffs and market access. It will offer reciprocity in our bilateral commerce, providing equal treatment for both Colombian and U.S. workers and farmers. It will encourage modernization of the state, and offer intellectual property protection, legal stability and a procedure for managing trade disputes. It will create thousands of new jobs in both our countries. It will provide an environment of confidence and certainty to investors. Such an agreement could bear the fruit for decades that U.S. assistance programs have seeded over the past three years.

President Uribe is also looking ahead to ways to modify our security and development strategies. This includes identifying what new types of training, equipment, assets, technologies and cooperative relationships must be utilized to fight not only drugs but terrorism.

Colombia's conflict has changed in the past few years. Violence now affects our largest cities, not just isolated villages. The Government is no longer fighting disparate groups of drug traffickers, but well-funded terrorist networks with international links and access to sophisticated weapons and tactics. Colombia's conflict is creating in our geographic region a risk that threatens both our society and those of our neighbors.

We are seeking a dialogue with the illegal armed groups based upon a cease of hostilities. We are always be open to constructive dialogue, but we cannot negotiate while civilians are under attack.

From the first day of his term in office President Uribe has sought different channels to reach the FARC, the ELN and the self-defense groups. The Secretary General of the United Nations has been active with the first two groups and the Catholic Church with the latter. Only the self-defense groups have initially answered this call for peace. We are now working on the framework for an internal peace proposal for all groups.

What are the continuing challenges as Colombia focuses on defeating terrorism? Four areas, in particular, need special attention:

First, we will need improved intelligence, detection and surveillance systems. We will need more specialized training of our armed forces and police to combat urban terrorism and attacks on our economic infrastructure, such as oil pipelines, electricity and water supplies.

Second, more resources must be earmarked to help Colombia's large, internally-displaced population. Our national reconciliation requires that no group or no part of society be left out. The hundreds of thousands of families who have fled violence need our help. We cannot ignore their suffering (there are around 700.000 internally displaced).

Third, we must continue to create more urban and rural jobs.

Fourth, the drug war has damaged Colombia's Amazon environment. Drug traffickers have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of tropical forests to grow illegal coca -- an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. Colombia's tropical forests play an important role in controlling global greenhouse gasses, so the impact of the damage is felt beyond our borders. Amazon river systems have been polluted as traffickers dump the precursor chemicals used to manufacture cocaine. As we remove coca production from Colombia's Amazon, we want to reforest and rehabilitate these lands. We also want to create forestry management jobs in this region for peasant families who have given up growing coca.

Protecting human rights of all Colombians lies at the center of the Uribe administration's democratic security strategy.

Colombia's armed forces have today received more training in human rights from the United States than any other military in Latin America. All units receiving military aid from the U.S. have received clearance from human rights violations. President Uribe has made it clear he expects the military and police to set an example for human rights for the rest of the country.

Complaints against security forces in 2002 were the lowest in several years. It is no wonder the Colombia military has the highest approval rating among public institutions in the country -- 79 percent in a recent national Gallup poll.

The Government, with U.S. support, is providing special protection for more than 2,700 persons considered high-risk targets, including human rights workers, labor leaders, journalists and local government leaders, such as mayors and councilmen -- a group which has been targeted by guerrillas in rural towns.

Progress in human rights is also measured in the reduction of overall violence and terrorism -- in massacres that are prevented by a greater presence of security forces or better intelligence, in the kidnappings and bombings that don't take place because more guerrillas and paramilitaries are being captured or are surrendering. Our Ministry of Defense has released the latest results in our fight against terrorism which show a 146% increase of AUC (self-defense) members arrested, a 34% reduction in the number of massacres and a 71% decrease in kidnappings.

The Uribe administration is committed to a dialogue with human rights organizations and other NGOs. But as President Uribe said recently, we must distinguish between legitimate and reputable NGOs -- those who play an important role in our system of democracy and pluralism and whose motives are to improve our society and politics -- and some groups which serve merely as fronts for guerrillas and self-defense groups.

The terrorist attack of August 7, 2002 during the presidential inaugural ceremony and the tragic car bomb against civilian society in the Bogotá district where residences of Embassies are located, were undertaken by terrorists who used the NGO status or label. Believe me, these are not the only cases.

Looking ahead, there remains much to be done. There are difficult policy choices to be made, tall hurdles to be overcome. The task of strengthening the governability of a stable democracy under savage attack is always beset with challenges and constant crises.

But the Colombian-U.S. partnership against drugs and terror has gained considerable momentum and obtained significant progress over the past year. It has been emboldened because it is supported by the major political factions in Colombia and by both Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress, during two consecutive administrations in both countries.

Our nations must now stay the course. Continued collaboration between Colombia and the United States is critical. Even as U.S. attention focuses on other trouble spots around the globe, the drug problem and terrorism threaten both our countries. But by working together to defeat drugs and terrorism, our two nations will demonstrate to the rest of the world what can be achieved when our strategy is sound, our cause is just and our resolve is unwavering.

Thank you.

[1]Fuente "Results of the National Security Policy", Ministry of Defense
[2]USAID report

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