Everybody knows that Colombia would have a more fluid relation with the United States if Senator John McCain had won the presidency last year. With the Democratic Party in control of both Congress and the White House, Colombia’s close partnership with the United States is sadly losing its shine.
Think for a minute: the Free Trade Agreement signed in 2006 is still waiting to be ratified by Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the FTA in her freezer at the beginning of her tenure, and there are no signs that she is taking it out of there any time soon. Also, no senior US official has explicitly come out in support of Colombia in its row with Venezuela over the base deal with the United States. As Hugo Chavez talks about war and keeps blowing bridges along the border, Democrats in Washington think the situation is not something that concerns them at all.
P. J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement last month: “We are very much aware of recent tensions along the Venezuelan-Colombia border. I certainly don’t think this is about the United States. But we certainly would encourage dialogue between Venezuela and Colombia and a peaceful resolution of the situation along their border.” Mr. Crowley has certainly given the word ‘ally’ a whole new meaning. At least in times of the Bush administration Colombia could count on a statement of support by the United States every time Hugo Chavez sent troops to the border.
But now, Democrats are doing something else that could prove much more dangerous: they are scrapping Plan Colombia. Check the facts: in 2007, Colombia received US$ 465 million in counternarcotics aid from the United States. For 2009, the amount was US$ 329 million, and for fiscal year 2010, which started this October, Colombia will obtain US$ 237 million. That is the lowest level of American counternarcotics aid to Colombia in the last ten years.
At the beginning of this decade, Colombia was close to becoming a failed state. The FARC were in control of over 40 percent of the territory, over 160,000 hectares of forest were cultivated with coca, and the country had the potential to produce 700 metric tons of cocaine per year. Plan Colombia changed all that. The US$ 6 billion that Colombia has received from the United States since 2000 served to put the country back on its feet and to subdue drug traffickers and terrorists. Today, the FARC are weakened and on the run, while coca cultivation is about 81,000 hectares and potential cocaine production reaches 430 tons per annum.
No doubt, in the hands of the efficient Uribe administration, the American aid has made a world of a difference. We Colombians should thank the United States for having responded to Colombia’s plight and for having taken responsibility for a problem they contributed to create. Aware that most Colombian cocaine is consumed by Americans, the US government decided to help Colombia fight its war against narcoterrorists. Certainly, that is a lot more than can be said of the European Union, which gives relatively little aid to Colombia in spite of the 4.6 million Europeans who are cocaine users (in comparison, North America has 6.8 million).
But scrapping Plan Colombia when the task is only halfway done is a terrible mistake. Although the Colombian government and its military are considerably stronger than they were ten years ago, the country’s war against narcoterrorism is far from over. The FARC are still around, and Colombia remains the world’s top producer of both coca and cocaine. Moreover, with the United States as the most important buyer of Colombian cocaine, America’s dollars continue to be the most significant source of funding for drug traffickers in Colombia. Estimates by DANE, the Colombian government’s office of statistics, put the size of Colombia’s drug industry in 2007 at 4.3 trillion pesos, or US$ 2.15 billion. The fact that in 2010 Colombia will receive from the US an amount equivalent to a mere 11% of the size of the drug economy should give Democrats pause for thought.
So, sadly for Colombia, the Democrats are in power. This means that the government in Bogota must learn to rely less on the United States, and to understand that superpowers are rarely unconditional allies. Furthermore, with so much of the American attention to the war on drugs shifting to Mexico (in 2010 that country will receive US$423 million in counternarcotics US aid!) Colombia will slowly go down in the Americans’ list of priorities. Of course, American policymakers who favor this shift do not realize that the best way to stop drug trafficking in Mexico is to attack drug production at the source, which is still inside Colombia.
Nonetheless, there is hope. There are some prominent Democrats who understand how important Plan Colombia is. One of them is Bill Clinton, who worked together with President Andrés Pastrana in the inception of the program, and who is proud of its results thus far. Let us be optimistic and think that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will listen to her husband on this. Another Democrat that Colombia can count upon is Vice President Joe Biden. Back in 2000, Mr. Biden pushed strongly for Plan Colombia in the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. A speech by him at the time shows that after visiting Colombia, he understood the threat that FARC posed to the country and that American help was necessary. Perhaps Vice President Biden should visit Colombia soon in order to strengthen its alliance with the United States.
Another glimmer of hope comes from the possibility that the Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives a year from now. Although the Senate and the White House will remain under control of the Democrats, that should make Washington considerably more welcoming for a pro-Colombia agenda. Until then, let us pray things do not change for the worse.