The Cornell community gathered for Saturday’s lecture on “Plan Colombia — Is It the Solution?” to examine the common stereotypes about drug producing countries in Latin America.
In the wake of the commercial success of the film Traffic, which depicts the bleak image of the international “War on Drugs,” the conference aimed to demonstrate the desire to break through common stereotypes and focus on the real issues faced by a nation that is far away from Hollywood.
“It’s very important for Cornell students to know … there is so much more that [Colombia] is,” said Leon Eidelman ’02, president of the Colombian Students’ Association (CSA).
The CSA and the Latin American Studies Program (LASP) sponsored the conference, which was held in Kennedy Hall.
Louis Alberto Moreno, the Colombian ambassador to the U.S., and Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-125) discussed Plan Colombia, the Colombian government’s $7.5 billion military and social development program aimed at controlling drug trafficking in that country.
The speakers disagreed on some aspects of Plan Colombia during their speeches and the following question and answer sessions.
However, both Moreno and Hinchey agreed that the situation demands immediate attention.
“This is a problem of international relevance and competence,” said Juan Carlos Londono grad, who introduced the speakers.
Moreno was enthusiastic about Plan Colombia. The ambassador stressed that the plan is, above all, concerned with improving the quality of life of all Colombians.
At the heart of Plan Colombia’s efforts is a voluntary eradication program, which provides small farmers with incentives to move into legitimate farming.
“There are no protests or demonstrations because today we are offering a positive government presence, not simply the back of our hand,” Moreno said.
Hinchey, who voted against U.S. funding of Plan Colombia in Congress, offered a legislative perspective.
“What we need to do is concentrate on demand,” Hinchey told the audience.
Hinchey noted that if the “War on Drugs” does not target the root of the problem — the demand of American consumers — there is nothing to prevent drug traffickers from simply relocating.
“I think what we have is a gross, mass misunderstanding of the problem,” Hinchey said.
Plan Colombia and its surrounding controversy have recently received increased international attention. Colombian president Andres Pastrana cemented Colombia’s relationship with the U.S. in a series of talks last week during his visit to Washington.
In 2000, the U.S. donated $1.3 billion in emergency aid to Colombia, a majority of which will be used to assist Colombia militarily.
Plan Colombia also seeks to negotiate peace with both guerrillas and paramilitary organizations, to boost the economy and to strengthen the nation’s justice system.
The Bush administration has said it will continue to support Colombia’s efforts at regaining peace and stability — support that many see as essential for the plan’s success.
“Plan Colombia is a table on three legs. The U.S. needs to be the fourth leg,” said Ed Gaviria grad.
His opinion on U.S. involvement in Colombia is far from universal.
Critics of the plan fear too much U.S. involvement in the military sphere of the program may be disastrous for both nations. Some go so far as to liken the potential situation to the Vietnam War.
Additionally, Plan Colombia’s opponents argue that the plan is a solution which relies on military action and has potential for human rights violations.
Further criticism targets the environmental damage that may be caused by the herbicides used in destroying coca fields, another point of Plan Colombia.
“The situation in Colombia does not lend itself to a quick solution,” said Asst. Prof. Kathleen O’Neill, government. O’Neill served under the self-appointed title of “devil’s advocate” to facilitate Saturday’s discussion.
A third perspective was conspicuously missing from the conference’s panel; Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, canceled his appearance two weeks ago for personal reasons. Vivanco’s absence was disappointing, but prompted immediate planning for further discussion on Plan Colombia.
Mary Jo Dudley, Assistant Director of the LASP, said Saturday’s event was “one conference which we hope will be a series of events which focus on Plan Colombia.”
Archived article by Jennifer Gardner