Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here at the Center for American Progress, with so many good friends of Colombia, to examine the state of our bilateral partnership and discuss what lies on the horizon.
I’d like to thank my good friend, John Podesta, for his thoughtful invitation to speak among such a qualified team, Russell Crandall, Nelson Cunningham, Congressman Sam Farr and Isaac Lee. I am sure this is going to be a very interesting discussion.
Americans and the world recently witnessed the strength and commitment of Colombia’s democracy. Our recent elections for Congress and the Presidency were contested by candidates from several political parties, representing a variety of different policies and ideologies. These campaigns were conducted with a very high degree of transparency, fairness, and with respect for election laws and regulations. They offered a spirited political debate with the electorate. They were free of violence. Colombian voters participated in record turnout. The results have been accepted by both winners and losers, all sectors of Colombian society, and by the international community.
In a country where violent terrorist groups have sought for many years to undermine our democratic foundations and institutions, we have seen – once again – the resilience and determination of the Colombian people. Our democracy is not designed to win favor or approval from international audiences. It is deeply imbedded into the political and social fabric of the nation. Thousands of Colombians have given their life to defend it. Many millions of citizens renewed our firm commitment to it when they went to the polling stations this year.
To look ahead to where Colombia is heading in the next four years, it is important to look back at the progress achieved over the past eight. The Colombian nation has undergone a dramatic change in this period. Public confidence in public institutions has risen considerably. The population and government are united behind a strategy and a political leadership that is working to curb drug trafficking and violence, improve living standards and build a strong economy and society.
U.S. support for Plan Colombia has been a critical component of this sea change in Colombia. This program, passed in 2000 by bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, has been implemented by two administrations in Bogotá and in Washington. The U.S. has provided about 4.5 billion dollars in social, economic and security assistance to date, while Colombia has invested 7 billion dollars.
By way of comparison, the 4.5 billions that the United States has invested in Colombia over the past six years is equal to about what the U.S. spends in Iraq every 22 days.
Plan Colombia has provided many benefits, but perhaps most importantly, it has enabled both our governments to agree on a core strategy for addressing the goals we share for peace, democracy, institution-building and economic growth in Colombia. It has offered a roadmap for progress, one embarked on in 2000 by my administration and that of President Bill Clinton, which has been continued and implemented by our successors, President Alvaro Uribe and George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress. Plan Colombia has provided a continuity of policy and priorities in our bilateral relationship over these past eight years.
Plan Colombia required both our nations to make difficult commitments, and to share in the burden of working for peace, and reducing drugs, violence and poverty. For many years, the United States urged Colombia to invest more in its own defense. Today, Colombia has a very different military and police than before Plan Colombia.
We have increased defense spending every year since 2000. This year, defense is almost 20% of our national budget. As a result, Colombia has 60% more combat-ready troops today than when Plan Colombia was enacted. Every municipality in rural Colombia has a permanent government and police presence – this is making a difference in reducing rural violence.
A critical factor in improving our military forces is improved air mobility. For the first time, Colombia has established air sovereignty throughout most of its national territory. We have reduced drug trafficking flights within Colombia, and we are able to move military resources more freely and quickly around the country to where they are needed. Improved air mobility has given us a competitive advantage against traffickers and terrorist groups.
Colombia and the U.S. are implementing a drug strategy based on four fundamental elements:
• The first is aerial and manual eradication of coca and poppy crops – the raw materials necessary for illegal drug production. Aerial spraying has increased from 47,000 hectares in 2000 to 138,775 hectares last year. Manual eradication destroyed an additional 31,000 hectares of coca and 497 hectares of poppy last year.
• Second, there is a heightened focus on interdiction of illegal drugs at their source in Colombia, before they reach the vast U.S. market. Colombian forces interdicted 223 metric tonnes of cocaine last year. This is an estimated 3-4 billion dollars in street value of drugs that did not reach American streets, school and communities. Since 2000, we have seized between 35 and 40 billion dollars in street value of cocaine and heroin.
• Third, Colombia has extradited 446 individuals on drug trafficking charges to the United States since the beginning of Plan Colombia. Prior to Plan Colombia, only one suspected drug trafficker was extradited to the U.S. Our joint extradition policy impacts the war on drugs in Colombia in two ways: It brings criminals to justice, removing them from the production and trafficking in illegal drugs. And it serves to break up and dismantle trafficking cartels and networks. No wonder extradition is the judicial tool that drug traffickers fear the most. No country in the world cooperates more with the United States on extradition than does Colombia.
• And fourth, we have in Colombia a larger, more professional and effective military and police, which I have previously outlined.
Judicial cooperation is also an important part of our bilateral relationship. U.S. support and training is helping Colombia make a successful transition from an inquisitory to an accusatorial criminal justice system. Since Plan Colombia began, the United States has offered almost 600 courses of training for transition to accusatory system to more than 18 thousand prosecutors, judges and criminal investigators. This is an enormous and difficult task, but it will make our judicial system more efficient and effective.
Colombia’s fight against drug traffickers and illegal groups has been waged according to the democratic and human rights values we share with the United States. Our security forces are both more professional and capable and have greater respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Training from the U.S. has contributed to this trend.
There are still instances of abuse, including isolated incidents by Colombian security forces. But we are putting into place the mechanisms, and we have in place already the political will, to achieve the goal of zero tolerance for abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law.
In addition to a greater commitment by both my government and the Uribe government, there is today a vibrant, activist NGO community working in support of human rights. Their efforts, and those of the government, have made the Colombian public more aware of the importance of protecting the human rights of all our citizens to our democracy and social fabric.
In addition to improvements in security, Colombia has made significant progress in several economic and social development areas. Colombia has created more than 3 million jobs in the last four years, and unemployment has fallen from a high of 20% in the late nineties to around 10% today. As a result, poverty is declining. Colombians living below the poverty rate fell from 57% of the population in 2002 to 49.2% last year. And Colombians living in extreme poverty declined even further – from 20% in 2002 to 14.7% last year.
Over the past year, we have been discussing how to make U.S. assistance to Colombia even more productive. We have argued that increased flexibility in implementing Plan Colombia programs can ensure this investment achieves the best results. For this reason, we are pleased that the House of Representatives this year has earmarked 135 million dollars for Colombia in the Economic Support Fund, rather than in the Andean Counterdrug Initiative.
Economic growth in Colombia has been strong for the last six years. GDP rose 5.2% last year, and a similar growth rate is expected in 2006. Inflation remains modest. And Colombia last year attracted a record level of foreign investment in a variety of sectors, including energy, infrastructure, manufacturing and services. We are particularly experiencing renewed interest by foreign investors in our oil and gas sector, in the wake of Colombia offering a more attractive contract regime to encourage new exploration and production. This is good news for Colombia, but also for the United States as it seeks to diversify its energy imports.
Colombia’s rural, agriculture economy has been a part of the country’s economic resurgence. This is important, because we need to provide opportunities for rural peasants to grow legal crops instead of coca and poppies. Colombia’s agriculture production rose from 28.7 million metric tonnes in 2002 to 33.3 million metric tonnes last year.
Colombia’s improved fiscal condition is enabling the government to make long-term investments in important social areas, such as education, housing and health care. Last year, student participation in mandatory education rose to 90%. Compare this to 1990, when the student participation rate was only 53%.
Today, 73% of the total population – or 33 million citizens – have health care coverage. This year, the Colombian government’s central budget for education, health care and social programs will be 12.7 billion dollars – this is a significant amount of investment in an economy with a total GDP of about 100 billions.
The Colombian-U.S. economic relationship is dynamic and promising. Our bilateral trade today exceeds 12 billion dollars. As the Colombian economy has improved over the past five years, its imports from the United States have risen significantly, including a 21.9% increase in 2005.
The recently negotiated Colombian-U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement, which will establish a permanent, free trade agreement between our countries, will provide reciprocity in our bilateral trade relationship for the first time. Several U.S. business sectors will benefit from immediate, improved access for exporting their goods and services into Colombia. And Colombian exporters will be assured of permanent, tariff-free access to the U.S. market. The current Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act expires at the end of this year.
An important component of the Trade Promotion Agreement is the transparency, predictability and increased confidence it will provide to a new generation of American investors in Colombia. The stock of U.S. investment in Colombia today exceeds 3 billion dollars, mostly in the energy, mining and manufacturing sectors. However, there is a significant capacity for expanding U.S. investment across all business sectors, and the result will be to create thousands of new jobs in Colombia. Colombia companies will benefit from establishing new partnerships with U.S. entities. In this sense, the TPA will be the real “alternative development” program in Colombia.
As we demobilize thousands of illegal actors and convince peasant families to give up growing illegal crops, we have to provide them with jobs and a livelihood. More than any single action, the Trade Promotion Agreement can help us achieve this.
There is hope in the U.S. Congress that Colombia will be able to take over more of the funding of Plan Colombia in future years. That is a goal we share. But we are not there yet. Successful implementation of the TPA will determine how quickly we can reach this point.
The TPA must now be ratified by both the Colombian and U.S. Congress. The Colombian government will be meeting with Congress in the weeks and months ahead to discuss how this agreement benefits both our nations, not only in advancing bilateral trade and investment, but in solidifying the partnership between our two countries in democracy, security and stability.
No doubt, some will raise questions about Colombia improving its performance in areas such as protecting intellectual property, in promoting labor rights and the environment. This agreement includes strong provisions in each of these areas, and Colombia is determined to live up to all its obligations.
Looking ahead over the next four years, I can envision the following scenarios for Colombia and our relationship with the United States.
• First and foremost, there will be a continuity of policy goals and direction between Bogotá and Washington. Because our societies share the same values, and because our respective political leadership shares similar strategic objectives, we will be able to build on the strong foundation that has been constructed over the past eight years. Here in Washington, we hope that U.S. policy towards Colombia will continue to have strong bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats.
• Second, we envision continued progress to demobilize and disarm illegal actors in Colombia. The goal of the Colombian peace process is to complete the demobilization of the AUC, and make progress on demobilizing the ELN and FARC. The size and scale of these demobilizations are extraordinary, and so are the challenges they present to both our society and economy. We will need extensive support from the United States and international community to be successful.
• Third, we must continue to strengthen Colombia’s security forces. We must ensure that our military and police are strong enough to fill the void that will be created as we disarm thousands of guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Demobilized combatants must not be replaced by a new generation of drug traffickers or terrorist groups. As long as there is a demand for drugs in the world, someone in Colombia will seek to provide them. We will need continued U.S financial and technical aid, as well as judicial, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, to ensure that a new generation of traffickers does not emerge.
• Fourth, the Colombian economy will continue to grow at a healthy, sustainable rate. The benefits of this expansion will reach broad areas of the economy and society, raising incomes and creating jobs and opportunity. A successful implementation of the Colombia-U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement – one that not only increases bilateral commerce but also attracts new investment – could reduce unemployment in Colombia from its current level of 10% to 5% in the first four or five years after it comes into force. This would have a very real and lasting benefit for both fostering peace and alleviating poverty in Colombia.
• Finally, I believe Colombia will continue to be one of the United States’ strongest and most reliable allies and friends in the Western Hemisphere. We know there is a battle for “hearts and minds” across the region. There is some frustration that the benefits of globalization and democracy are not reaching all sectors of our societies across Latin America. The fundamental values which both our nations share – democracy, free markets, human rights, among others – must prevail in this struggle. And they will if we are a positive example of how these values improve lives, and build strong societies and dynamic economic systems.
In conclusion, Colombia is on a solid path to peace and progress. Colombians are grateful for the strong support of the American people as we work to address difficult challenges. There is still much hard ahead of us in the next four years. But we can succeed because we know that our bilateral relationship today is a true and valued partnership.