The Americas Program of CSIS hosted a presentation by Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe Echarvarría on June 29. Minister Uribe was introduced by Americas Program Director Peter DeShazo, who outlined the security challenges facing Colombia and the sustained U.S. support to that country's efforts to combat narco-terrorism and promote democracy, development, and regional security.
Minister Uribe described in human, institutional, and fiscal terms the toll that Colombia's nearly unprecedented level of violence has taken in past decades and the central role that narcotics production and trafficking has played in fomenting such violence. He pointed out that by the late 1990s, Colombia's institutions and national security had come under concerted attack by insurgents and paramilitaries fueled by drug profits. The central response of President Alvaro Uribe to this challenge was the 'Democratic Security and Defense Policy" whose key goals have been to consolidate legitimate state control over all municipalities in Colombia, to protect the population, and to counter illegal drugs. To accomplish this task, the Government of Colombia has increased the size and effectiveness of the armed forces and police, carried out a comprehensive campaign against illegal drug cultivation and trafficking, and denying key geographic corridors to the FARC, ELN, and paramilitaries.
Uribe outlined the impressive results in lowering the incidence of violence produced by the Democratic Security and Defense Policy -- including notable drops in the rate of murders, kidnappings, and mass killings. Efforts to eradicate the cultivation of coca and poppy have also produced positive results. He stressed the importance of the citizenry working with the security forces and the willingness of Colombians to spend more on their own defense and security.
Throughout his presentation, Minister Uribe highlighted the importance of sustained U.S. assistance to Colombia -- centered on support for Plan Colombia -- in helping achieve and sustain success against narco-terrorism. He noted that the improved security situation in Colombia has improved the climate for economic development, foreign investment, and job creation.
During the question and answer period, Minister Uribe highlighted the importance of reaching a free trade agreement with the United States -- referring specifically to the Andean free trade talks in progress. With regard to the recently-approved legislation outlining procedures for the demobilization of illegally armed groups, Uribe stressed that the rules would be applied to paramilitaries and the FARC and ELN alike, whenever these groups are ready to demobilize;. He acknowledged the difficulty in balancing justice and accountability for crimes committed with the benefit of taking armed fighters off the battlefield and described the demobilization/reincorporation law as an effective instrument in accomplishing this goal. The Government must offer incentives to those who are interesting in putting down their weapons, he argued, and the cause of peace and security will be best served by putting an end to the violence. Minister Uribe also outlined in some detail the steps that the Government would take under the law to investigate and prosecute those responsible for major crimes and to monitor compliance with the agreements. Re-insertion of the paramilitaries and leftist insurgents into society following demobilization will require a concerted effort, he stressed. On the issue of regional security, Minister Uribe underscored the importance of Colombia working closely on security-related issues with its neighbors and the commitment of the Government of Colombia to enhanced cooperation. He noted the success of Brazil's SIVAM (Sistema de Vigilância da Amazônia) border security effort, adding that while Colombia does not have the same level of resources to devote to border surveillance, its own aerial interdiction program has been very successful against drug flights. Responding to a question regarding the political will of Colombians to sustain military pressure against the paramilitaries and insurgents, he emphasized that Colombia spends 5 percent of GDP on security and that the defense and security agenda of the Uribe government has strong popular support.
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