Plan Colombia, Obama Style

Hillary Clinton, the United States’ President-elect Barack Obama’s future Secretary of State recently announced the President’s support for Plan Colombia. Yet, his support, as he has expressed in the past, depends upon significant changes in the initiative, including a shift of focus towards social issues.

Obama’s version of Plan Colombia will seemingly be less concerned with targeting drug-related matters militarily, and instead, will apply a smart power strategy, addressing some of the issues that have allowed trafficking of narcotics to remain as strong in Colombia.

When then—Presidents Clinton and Pastrana worked collaboratively on the original Plan Colombia, the United States and Colombia entered a strategic partnership aimed to addressed a common problem: drug trafficking.

Plan Colombia has served as a pragmatical embodiment of the close relationship between the United States and Colombia. It must be understood as part of a devised solution of a problem that is not exclusive to Colombia.

In that sense, thinking of Plan Colombia from a paternalistic standpoint, in which the United States is perceived as aiding or helping Colombia deal with internal issues, is dangerous, as it could seemingly exempt the United States’ role within the dynamics of drug production, distribution and consumption. Production and consumption are both crucial factors in this equation.

President-elect Obama’s suggestion that the relationship with Colombia, through treaties and agreements, must be more focused on social issues and issues of protection of Human Rights, compounded with his public support for Plan Colombia, seem to imply that the agreement will undergo significant changes down to its core founding principles.

It is relevant to state that the problems that have stemmed from and influenced the current armed conflict in Colombia, cannot be understood detached from the social inequity and Human rights issues within which they are framed. Drug trafficking isn’t simply a source of funding for guerrillas or narco dealers. Its grassroots success is telling of the conditions in which many civilians, who find themselves trapped within the tentacles of narcotic-related businesses, have to live in every day.

If Barack Obama and his foreign policy team can suggest adjustments to Plan Colombia that would address some of those structural long-term social matters framing and aiding drug trafficking, Colombia ought to seriously consider and welcome those changes. More so, if those kinds of adjustments are the only conditions that President-elect Obama is requesting in order to offer his support to the agreement, Colombia should take advantage of that opportunity, particularly at a time in which the state of the U.S. economy will demand significant decreases in foreign aid.

Plan Colombia must remain as a practical sign of the relationship between the two allied nations. Yet, its restructuring is necessary, so that President-elect Obama will support the agreement’s development, and so that it truly targets some of the core social issues surrounding the issues of drug trafficking.

Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York 

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