Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Squeezing the Balloon" in Colombia

Squeezing the Balloon: Applying pressure to one region of Colombia only to see the problem expand and burst in another region.  In this clip, Amb. Melvyn Levitsky discusses how tackling the narcotics problem in Colombia caused potential instability in other regions of the country.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Security and Counternarcotics in Colombia: Group Presentation and Ambassador Levitsky Lecture

For the first round of group presentations for IEDP Colombia, the Security and Counternarcotics group discussed the armed conflict in Colombia that has occurred for decades as well as the drug trade that fuels it.  The group briefly discussed the history of the armed conflict from "La Violencia" in the 1940's and 1950's to the formation of the leftist guerilla groups such as the FARC and ELC, and the opposing paramilitary groups.  The group also discussed the incorporation of the drug trade including the Medellin and Cali drug cartels.  It described how Plan Colombia was a U.S.-funded initiative to eliminate illicit narcotics and guerilla groups in Colombia and the results of the initiative.  Lastly, the group introduced recent Colombian presidential administrations and their policies toward security and counternarcotics in Colombia.

The Security and Counternarcotics group was especially thankful to have the Ford School's own Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky add to the discussion in the later half of the session.  A former ambassador to Bulgaria and Brazil and Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters, Amb. Levitsky is the resident expert on counternarcotics policy in Colombia.  In addition to his commentary on security and counternarcotics issues including the drug production cycle, drug-control tactics (including interdiction, eradication, demand side, and alternative development), and major developments in drug control in Colombia, he also provided parallels to counternarcotics issues in Afghanistan, Mexico, Peru, and other regions, and open the lecture for discussion.


In his presentation on Colombia's drug trade on January 27, 2012, Ambassador Levitsky included interesting details on the cocaine production cycle and trends in trafficking across Latin America over time. The class engaged in an interesting discussion of policy options, including alternative development.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Security in Colombia

This week we will be discussing security and counternarcotics issues in Colombia. We will be focusing on guerilla and paramilitary groups in Colombia (FARC, ELN, and AUC) and how they affect the security climate in Colombia.  We will also briefly discuss U.S. policy toward these groups in Colombia and the U.S. government's partnership with the government of Colombia in combating these groups and the illicit drug market. They key difference between the two kinds of groups are that guerilla groups are left-wing and aim to overthrow the government while paramilitary groups counter the guerilla groups, but still present a threat to noncombatants.

Over the years, there have been a number of peace talks between the various groups (especially the FARC) and the government of Colombia.  Most of them have failed, but the recent killing of the FARC leader Alfonso Cano potentially puts them in more of a position to negotiate terms with the government.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Progress in the ongoing conflict

Cynthia Arnson
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Cynthia Arnson joined us via Skype for our second class session on Friday. The director of the Center's Latin American Program, Arnson is an expert on democratic governance, conflict resolution and U.S. foreign policy in the western hemisphere. She offered us her perspective on the legacy of U.S.-Colombian relations.

Then-Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the White House, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, sounded the alarm on Colombia's exploding drug trade in the early 1990s, helping to inspire what would become Plan Colombia. When negotiations with the FARC broke down, policymakers shifted their strategy to tackle counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics efforts at the same time.

Fast forward to today: Colombia has had some major successes, but there is a lot of work yet to be done. Drug trafficking and processing operations are still thriving, and breakout criminal groups are taking the place of former paramilitaries. Many Colombian politicians and businessmen are also facing charges of having close ties to the paramilitaries, and corruption still poses a major obstacle to some social, security and government reform efforts.

But Arnson was optimistic about President Santos' willingness to tackle some of the biggest ongoing problems, including persistent poverty and inequality, accusations of human rights abuses, and the restitution of land and payment of reparations to victims of the conflict. U.S. aid is down from what it once was, but remains an important part of Colombian efforts to end the ongoing conflict. Improved relations with neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela have also been very important.

Friday, January 13, 2012

World Bank guest speakers

Joe Jones interacts with World Bank guest speakers Geoffrey Bergen and Lars Moller, who called in from Bogota for the class's first session on political, cultural and historical contexts to Colombian development. Veronica Gonzales Stuva and faculty adviser John Ciorciari listen in. (January 13, 2012)

World Bank country economist for Colombia, Lars Moller, discusses current economic conditions in Colombia. Some of the trends are positive: GDP growth projected at more than 7%, unemployment down by a percentage point, substantial foreign direct investment. But overall unemployment is still high, and huge socioeconomic inequalities and government corruption hamper progress.

Bergen and Moller said that the Colombian government's capacity to raise taxes is impeded by an amazingly limited system. The threshold for Colombians to pay income taxes is $45,000, and even then the first 25% is exempt. Out of 44.7 million citizens, only about 800,000 pay income taxes. Clearly, this limits the government's efforts to deliver on social services. Another huge obstacle: the country's severely underdeveloped transportation infrastructure.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First class session Friday!

The class portion of IEDP, Economic and Social Policies of Colombia, will hold its first session this Friday at the Ford School. This 1.5-credit, seven-week course is a prerequisite to the policy research trip to Colombia that will take place at the end of February.

We will begin our exploration of Colombian social policy with a country briefing from the World Bank Country Manager for Colombia, Geoffrey Bergen, via Skype. Bergen will discuss the "development conundrums of Colombia," such as rapid growth amid huge inequalities and government inefficiencies. He will also offer perspective on the policy climate in Colombia and its current security and economic situations. To learn more about what The World Bank is doing in Colombia, visit the organization's country page here.

Professor Ciorciari will follow with a lecture that will give social, political and historical context to Colombian development. From the syllabus:
This session ... will feature an overview of Colombia's physical and human geography, which have presented both opportunities and challenges for stable, equitable and sustainable development. We will then turn to a brief review of Colombia's modern history, touching upon the effects of the colonial legacy, the strong U.S. role in the region, and the social and political forces that have driven Colombia's domestic evolution since the mid-20th century. Finally, we will introduce the contemporary political order in Colombia and discuss the main features of Colombia's electoral politics, national institutions and local government units.