The United States has again reached a crossroads in its relationship with Colombia. Faced with the decision of how best to direct its significant levels of assistance, it is essential that the United States not turn its back on its commitment to Colombia. Yet it is also crucial that Washington formulate policy with a clear understanding of the current situation in Colombia and the historical underpinnings of those circumstances. Comprehending where Colombia stands today and how it ended up there sheds a great deal of light on how the United States can most effectively remain engaged in Colombia and advance U.S and Colombian interests going forward.
Every time a new scandal emerges in Colombia, such as the “para-politics” scandal currently gripping the country and grabbing international headlines, people react by throwing up their hands and labeling Colombia’s conflict as intractable. There is the need today, however, for a more complex analysis that recognizes the cultural, social, and political roots of Colombia’s internal conflict. The decades-long existence of guerrillas and paramilitary groups underscores the existence of a crisis and tension within Colombia. To frame Colombia’s conflicts as mere problems of terrorism, the illicit drug trade, or both is to wear the wrong set of lenses. Such a view misses the root causes of these conflicts. Such an attitude, when it comes to policy formulation, is a prescription for failure.
To bring lasting stability to Colombia, increase regional security, and more effectively stem the flow of narcotics, the United States needs to support those Colombian institutions pursuing justice and promoting social and economic development. It must do so while encouraging Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to pursue a new political agenda for peace, one that broadens political participation and favors human development. Promoting a lasting peace should be at the center of U.S. policy toward Colombia. Only a lasting peace will signify the ultimate success in the war on drugs in the Colombian context.