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.

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