Presidents reminisce about the past, plan for the future and those involved take stock
US President Barack Obama invited President Juan Manuel Santos, and former presidents Andrés Pastrana, Álvaro Uribe, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to the White House to celebrate 15 years of Plan Colombia.
While not all of the former heads of state were able to attend the February 4 event, many famous Colombians, such as actor John Leguizamo, racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya and former shortstop for the Chicago White Sox Orlando Cabrera were there. Also in attendance was Bernie Aronson, US Special Envoy to the Colombian Peace Process.
What is Plan Colombia?
Plan Colombia is a US military and diplomatic aid initiative conceived by the administrations of then-presidents Bill Clinton and Andrés Pastrana in 2000. The goal of the initiative was to fight drug cartels and counter insurgency.
The plan has been praised for bringing Colombia back from the brink of becoming a failed state, but also heavily criticised for the human rights and environmental abuses that took place.
At the event, both presidents spoke highly of the collaboration between the two countries. Obama called it “one of the strongest partnerships in the hemisphere[…] a partnership grounded in mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Santos, in turn, thanked the three administrations that have backed Plan Colombia and said, “If in Colombia, we are on the brink of a peace agreement, I can say without a doubt that Plan Colombia was crucial in helping us get there.”
The anniversary was not universally celebrated, with human rights organisations particularly critical of the plan. Amnesty International USA questioned the lack of progress in reducing the availability and use of cocaine in the US and said, “The US has continued a policy of throwing ‘fuel on the fire’ of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity.”
And the Latin American Working Group used the anniversary to publish an infographic documenting human rights abuses during Plan Colombia. It states that in the past 15 years, 6 million people were victimised, 1,000 trade unionists and 400 human rights defenders were killed and claims, “At least 4,300 civilians were murdered to up the body count, allegedly by government security forces.” Other groups are critical of the aerial fumigation strategy to eradicate coca.
Obama was positive about the future, saying, “just as the United States has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war […] we will be your partner in waging peace.” He announced a new framework for the next chapter of the partnership called Peace Colombia–Paz Colombia.
Peace Colombia proposes more than USD$450 million in aid to reinforce security gains, reintegrate former combatants into society, and extend opportunity and the rule of law into rural areas.
The US have also committed to launching a global demining initiative along with Norway to rid Colombia of all landmines by 2021. The United States will commit USD$33 million, Norway will commit USD$20 million, alongside other countries across the globe who have also agreed to join the initiative.
By Juliana Gómez