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CRS — Colombia: Background, U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest

December 27, 2012

Colombia: Background, U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Colombia, a key U.S. ally, has made measurable progress in providing security despite having endured the longest armed internal conflict in the Western Hemisphere. It has long been a source for both cocaine and heroin. Drug trafficking has helped to perpetuate conflict by funding both left-wing and right-wing armed groups. Colombia and the United States have forged a close partnership focused initially on counternarcotics and later counterterrorism. In recent years, the U.S.-Colombian relationship has broadened to include trade, human rights, and development. Colombia has emerged as a regional leader providing training in security and counternarcotics throughout the hemisphere and elsewhere.

President Juan Manuel Santos, elected in August 2010, has governed with the backing of almost 90% of the Colombian Congress in a “national unity” coalition. In a policy he calls “democratic prosperity,” Santos has continued the mission of his popular predecessor of accentuating security, while promoting economic development, creation of jobs, and poverty reduction. He has repaired relations with Ecuador and Venezuela, which had been strained under the former government. He has promoted legislative reforms including: a landmark law to compensate victims of the internal conflict; a justice reform bill that ultimately failed; and controversial “peace framework” and military justice reforms that appeared to be laying the groundwork for an eventual peace settlement. In October 2012, formal peace talks opened with the dominant leftist guerrilla organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), following a surprise announcement that the government had been conducting secret exploratory talks for six months.

Colombia, in close collaboration with the United States, through a strategy known as Plan Colombia, has made significant progress in reestablishing government control over much of its territory, combating drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and reducing poverty. Between FY2000-FY2012, the U.S. Congress appropriated more than $8 billion in assistance to carry out Plan Colombia and its follow on strategies. As Colombia’s security and development conditions improved, former U.S.-supported programs have been nationalized to Colombian control. Consequently, U.S. assistance with its counternarcotics, counterterrorism, judicial reform, economic development, humanitarian and human rights components, has gradually declined. The National Consolidation Plan, the current Colombian security strategy, updates Plan Colombia with a whole-of-government approach that integrates security, development, and counternarcotics by consolidating state presence in previously ungoverned areas.

The 112th Congress has maintained a strong interest in Colombia’s progress in trade, security, counternarcotics and human rights. In October 2011, the U.S. Congress approved implementing legislation for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which went into force on May 15, 2012. Members of Congress will continue to monitor the associated Action Plan Related to Labor Rights that addressed U.S. concerns related to labor rights and violence in Colombia. In addition to the larger debate about what role the United States should continue to play in Colombia’s ongoing struggle with drug trafficking and illegal armed groups, Congress has expressed concern with a number of related issues. These include: funding levels for Plan Colombia’s follow on strategies; continuing allegations of human rights abuses; and the effectiveness of counternarcotics policies such as aerial eradication and alternative development. Members will likely monitor Colombia’s peace negotiations and their effect on security conditions in the country. For additional information, see CRS Report RL34470, The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Background and Issues.

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