Former Colombian Ambassador to the United States Carolina Barco Isakson spoke to a full-capacity Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium Monday about the importance of a growing economic relationship between her country and the U.S., as well as the nation’s development.
“Tourists are coming back and it’s safe to go to Colombia again,” Barco said. “Even Disney is back with its cruise ships … we have a very warm and beautiful country … and the biodiversity in Colombia is unrivaled in the Americas.”
Barco — who served as ambassador from Aug. 2006 to Sept. 2010 — credited the significant changes to Plan Colombia, a joint, albeit controversial, effort between the U.S. and the Colombia. The plan started in 1999, when the U.S. began providing funding and intelligence expertise that assist efforts in Colombia’s anti-drug campaign.
“[Significant amounts] of [illegal] drugs began to flow into Colombia [for processing] in the early ‘80s as cocaine began to take off … [and] by the ‘90s, the drug cartels had integrated vertically, where they started producing, transforming and trafficking together,” Barco said.
“That’s why by the end of the ‘90s, into the early 2000s, Colombia … reached an incredible level of violence … [as] funding for militant groups allowed them to have more advanced communications equipment than [the government] had, which made controlling violence a problem,” she added.
But the former Colombian ambassador said she was pleased by the progress that had been made since that time, pointing to the “three pillars” of the joint U.S.-Colombian initiative as reasons for the improvements. She said that increased herbicide spraying on cocaine-producing coca plants, greater economic development for rural farmlands to grow alternative crops and a reformed justice system were major factors in reducing the country’s crime rates and improving its image.
By 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Colombian coca cultivation had reached its lowest in a decade, although cultivation has since shifted into neighboring countries such as Peru and Bolivia.
Barco called cocaine production a “regional issue,” and said that her country is willing to take a leadership role in helping its neighbors.
“This is a challenge to our democracies, so now that we have been able to control our own problems, we are working with Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Haiti … Trinidad and Tobago – sharing with them things we know today,” Barco said.
Though effective for reducing the country’s drug trafficking problems, Plan Colombia has not been without controversy. Numerous non-governmental organizations have charged that the plan’s true main objective has been to suppress the country’s left-wing paramilitary groups — the torture and abuse of whom by right-wing paramilitary forces, opponents argue the plan has funded. Other critics have objected to the vast number of legal crops that have been destroyed by the herbicide spraying and the negative health effects that the lingering chemicals have had on nearby residents.
The former ambassador spent the last few minutes of her speech addressing the ongoing free-trade negotiations between Colombia and the U.S., and how the U.S. government’s fear of losing American jobs is actually costing business between the two countries.
“We are a large agricultural importer … and we [currently] have free-trade agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Canada,” Barco said. “Half of what we use to import from the U.S. is now coming from these countries … and a free-trade agreement would only work for the benefit of all of us.”
Barco’s talk is part of the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
Javier Perez-Burgos grad, who hails from Colombia and attended the event, reflected that Barco gave an accurate description of how the partnership with the U.S. has helped his country and that there are still challenges to be met. When asked about his opinion on the trade negotiations, Perez-Burgos thinks the fear of losing U.S. jobs is largely unfounded.
“I think we should look at the data and see what happens when you sign free-trade agreements,” Perez-Burgos said. “If you look at the numbers, the total imports the U.S. have compared to imports from Colombia, it is less than one percent. It’s absolutely insignificant … so Colombia is not going to take jobs from America.”
“I think we should look at the data and see what happens when you sign free trade agreements,” Perez-Burgos said. “If you look at the numbers, the total imports the U.S. have compared to imports from Colombia, it is less than one percent. It’s absolutely insignificant … so Colombia is not going to take jobs from America.”
Original Author: Andrew Hu