The Future of United States Policy in Colombia for the Inter-American Dialogue
Burns, R. Nicholas, DISAM Journal
[The following are excerpts of the remarks as prepared for the Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, D.C., August 3, 2005.]
This is my first time addressing the Inter-American Dialogue in my capacity as Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. I appreciate your interest in the region and am interested in hearing your views. We have no better partner in Latin America. Our partnership with Colombia helps advance U.S. interests and defend our shared values. President Uribe is one of our strongest allies, and U.S. support, including strong bipartisan support from the Congress, has been an integral part of our shared success with Colombia. It has enabled the Uribe government to continue to make great strides against narcotraffickers and terrorists, to strengthen Colombia's democracy and to improve the day-to-day lives of Colombia's citizens.
President Alvaro Uribe is one of a new generation of leaders that include Lagos in Chile, Vazquez in Uruguay, and Lula in Brazil. President Uribe is transforming Colombia by energetically pursuing his vision of a strongly democratic Colombia free from violence, drugs and corruption. In a nation afflicted by over four decades of violence, the Uribe administration has achieved impressive progress on all fronts. In the three years since Uribe came into office, Colombia's security forces have carried out an intensive nationwide campaign against illegal armed groups, and reestablished the government's presence in every one of the country's municipalities, a first in modern Colombian history. Violent crime is at the lowest level in over sixteen years. There has been a sharp decrease in murders, kidnappings and other violent crimes, as well as coca and opium poppy cultivation. The result is a Colombia where its citizens are now able to travel the roads without the constant fear of being kidnapped or killed.
Economy and the Free Trade Agreement
Improved security has produced economic opportunity. Economic opportunity, in turn, empowers the Colombian government and society to expand the areas governed by the rule-of-law. President Uribe's Democratic Security Strategy also had results on the economic front last year:
* The Colombian economy continued its recovery in 2004. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth was approximately 4 percent;
* International monetary fund (IMF) targets for the budget deficit, inflation, and reserves were either met or exceeded;
* Exports and imports increased by over 15 percent;
* Foreign direct investment increased by over 70 percent;
* Though still in double digits, unemployment continues to decline.
These figures are impressive, especially if one considers that this is a nation plagued by four decades of violence. This strong economic track record is a major reason why the U.S. decided to enter into free trade talks with Colombia, along with Peru and Ecuador. Those negotiations are at an advanced stage. U.S. and Colombian agricultural negotiations will resume here next week. Agriculture remains a key difference in the current negotiations. When finalized, this free trade agreement will help solidify the gains of the past years and lead to a long-term growth and development path for Colombia. We are confident that this Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will produce dividends for Colombia well in excess of the benefits currently enjoyed under the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). At the same time, this agreement will open new opportunities for U.S. exporters and investors.
Turning to counternarcotics, we see a number of indicators of a successful strategy. Drug crop eradication, narcotics interdiction, and related arrests are at record-high levels. Our work with the Colombian government has reduced coca cultivation by 33 percent since 2001 and poppy cultivation by 65 percent. …