On the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Latin America, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, praised Colombia for advances made over the past decade, but avoided mentioning the stalled free trade pact between the two countries.
Clinton, invited to speak at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington on Friday, stressed how the security situation in the Andean nation has improved after her husband, former President Bill Clinton signed the bilateral Plan Colombia to combat drug trafficking and leftist insurgencies.
I remember vividly when my
daughter and husband visited in
2000, when Plan Colombia was
just beginning. It was a country
terrorized by drug traffickers
and guerrillas who controlled
vast parts of territory and who
could strike in any major city.
Foreign policy experts in this
city and so many other places
were calling it a failed state.
Ten years later, I traveled to
Colombia as secretary of state.
And this time, I walked through
the streets of downtown Bogota.
I visited a bakery run by former FARC and paramilitary members. Let me tell
you, it’s not every day that you sample the baked goods of former guerrillas.
The Secretary of State went on praising President Santos’ “extraordinary commitment and results” regarding the human rights situation in Colombia, that was heavily criticized by human rights groups under Santos’ predecessor Alvaro Uribe.
So Colombia, in short, had gone from a source of danger to itself and
others to a source of inspiration to all of us and to becoming a vital
partner in the great debates of our time. Now, the real credit goes to
the Colombian people and to the leaders who had to make very hard
choices, not just once or twice, but over and over again. But the
United States played an important – some would say – an essential role.
The money we invested in Plan Colombia over that decade, while
significant, is less than we spend in Afghanistan in a single week.
Clinton did not mention the free trade agreement signed by Washington and Bogota in 2006, but still has not been put up for a congressional vote by the White House.