SUBMISSION FOR THE RECORD
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
APRIL 24, 2007
The Council of the Americas ("Council") appreciates this opportunity to provide comments for the record concerning the relationship between the United States and Colombia. The Council is a business organization representing some 175 member companies invested in and doing business throughout the Western Hemisphere. Since our founding in 1965, the Council has been dedicated to the promotion of democracy, open markets, and the rule of law, and we are widely recognized for our policy and commercial leadership throughout the Americas.
The Council has previously given testimony and written extensively on U.S.-Colombia relations. We believe that continuing to build this long-standing relationship is one of the most important litmus tests that faces the United States in Latin America. As a close friend in a strategically-important region, Colombia and the United States have built an enduring partnership based on a common agenda that continues to require sustained engagement from both parties.
Colombia is at Hemispheric Ground Zero
For years, Colombia has literally been at ground zero in bipartisan U.S. efforts to address those hemispheric issues that most directly impact our interests: fighting the illegal narcotics trade, ending remaining guerrilla insurgencies and paramilitary violence that threaten regional democracy, and enabling broad-based economic growth that promotes sustainable development, labor rights, and gender inclusion. The primary tools that the United States has employed to support Colombia, on a bipartisan basis, have been programs to expand trade and investment, assistance to fight illegal narcotics, and assistance to support Colombia’s efforts to reduce violence from the left and the right while building capacity to exercise central government control over all regions of the country.
Although the road is long and there is no guarantee of ultimate success, these programs are working. Across virtually every indicator of violence and illegal activities, economic growth, and social development, Colombia has shown solid progress. For example, since 2000, with bipartisan support, the United States has provided some $4.5 billion under Plan Colombia, and progress can be seen throughout the country. Violence has been reduced with the number of homicides at the lowest point since 1987. The Colombian government is regaining control over its national territory, with a police presence in all 1,098 municipalities. Kidnappings are down dramatically, having declined 72 percent between 2003 and 2005, and 47 percent from 2004 to 2005. Other statistics in terms of trade, investment, and economic growth tell a similar story.
To be sure, much work remains, particularly to reduce the production of illegal narcotics, and also to root out even the perception of collusion between individual government officials and illegal actors. Scandal has recently erupted in Bogota causing some observers to question Colombia’s "fitness" as a strong partner of the United States, particularly with regard to passage of the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement and extension of support for Plan Colombia. Allegations of linkages between government officials and members of the paramilitaries have emerged, in some cases implicating senior officials in the Colombian legislative and executive branches. This is troubling, and individuals engaged in such behavior must be brought to justice.
Nonetheless, rather than hiding the corruption scandal or minimizing it, the Administration of President Alvaro Uribe is publicly supporting the efforts of the independent Attorney General and the Supreme Court to expose wrong-doers in order to cleanse the political system, even while recognizing that more must be done to investigate these serious allegations. These are the best actions to take, and in fact it shows the Uribe Administration’s determination to acknowledge Colombia’s imperfections even while taking steps to address them. Such actions should be encouraged.
Support for Colombia Supports the U.S. National Interest
Despite the challenges, the United States can and should continue its strong support for Colombia, because doing so promotes our own national and economic security interests. This should be done in two specific ways: prompt passage of the pending bilateral U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, and re-authorization of U.S. support for Plan Colombia. Previously before this Subcommittee, the Council has explained the positive benefits that opened markets and continued support for Plan Colombia would have on strengthening Colombia’s democracy, economy, and social development. Of primary importance will also be the positive impact that such policies will have on efforts to strengthen the rule of law. These benefits remain true.
But Colombia would not be the only beneficiary of such actions—so would we. For example, it is important to emphasize that the current trade relationship between the United States and Colombia is based on the unilateral provision of trade preferences by the United States to Colombia. In other words, Colombians have duty free access to the United States for most products, but Colombian markets are not similarly open to U.S. exporters. Passage of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement would eliminate this disparity of treatment, while locking in the bilateral economic relationship and providing the sort of long-term market certainty that job-creating direct foreign investment requires. It would also open markets currently closed to U.S. exporters, thus creating new jobs in the United States.
Similarly, U.S. support for Plan Colombia should continue. Critics of U.S. support for the Plan argue that its focus is too martial, that social development has been neglected in favor of security improvements, necessary as they may be. And that is true, as far as it goes, even while recognizing the need to improve domestic security in the first instance so that other lawful activities might flourish. It is important to note, though, that Plan Colombia was originally devised to generate European support for such social development activities, thus creating, with Colombia and the United States, a comprehensive approach to development. Regretably, European support never materialized, leaving the social aspects of Plan Colombia underfunded. It is therefore appropriate that the United States take a new look at this aspect in the re-authorization of the program, and re-allocate a portion of its support to social development and rule of law promotion activities even while maintaining momentum on the security front to allow necessary social development activities to prosper. At the same time, Europeans should continue to be encouraged to participate in Plan Colombia, particularly since Europe continues to be a major destination for illegal narcotics from Colombia.
But it’s not just drugs and illegal guerrilla and paramilitary movements that make continued support for Colombia a matter for urgent U.S. consideration. Broader issues are important, as well. Colombia’s leaders have gambled their country’s political future on the belief that their efforts to build strong relations with the United States will lead to concrete results, linking their nation to the global economy. It’s a high-risk strategy, and now is not the time to give the many anti-U.S. voices in South America an opportunity to suggest that the United States lacks commitment even to close regional friends. Doing so would severely undercut our friends at a delicate moment while straining U.S. credibility in regional affairs and global issues. By acting with alacrity to pass the pending trade agreement with Colombia and re-authorizing support for Plan Colombia, we directly support a government that has taken a public position to stand with us at a time when we are actively seeking hemispheric friends and allies.
To advance U.S. foreign policy interests in the Americas, the time to act is now.