08.07.22

Statement On Colombia’s Next Government

Mr. LEAHY.  On August 7, Colombia’s newly elected President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez will begin their four year term.  Their election represents a sharp break from the past.

The new government is inheriting every imaginable problem.  Regrettably, the country has made minimal progress since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord that ended five decades of armed conflict with the FARC, and in some parts of the country narcotics-related violence is worse.  The previous government failed to make a dent in the number of assassinations of social leaders, or to hold members of the armed forces and police accountable for past atrocities.  Compounded by the public health and economic shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and a flood of Venezuelan refugees, Colombia remains a highly polarized society, divided between urban elites and the impoverished countryside.  It will take many years to reverse decades of deeply rooted neglect, discrimination, poverty, and lawlessness.

Since 2020, the United States has invested more than $11 billion in a counter-drug strategy in Colombia that was never sustainable and has largely failed, as it has failed in Mexico and Central America.  As long as the demand for illegal drugs in this country remains high, the only solution in source countries like Colombia is a strategy based on sustainable social and economic development, a professional, accountable police force, and a judiciary that is independent, accessible, and that the people trust.

Colombia has the advantage of being a democracy with exceptionally talented people and extraordinary geographic and biological diversity.  But if the underlying causes of conflict and poverty are not addressed, the country’s future stability is far from assured.  I urge the White House, the State Department, and the Defense Department against pursuing the same old failed strategies.  With a new government in Bogota, there is the chance to avoid repeating past mistakes and to measure progress not in the short term by the amount of money spent or the number of hectares of coca destroyed, but by long term investments in institutions and local communities.  The people of rural Colombia need our support, but not in the form of myopic approaches that have consistently failed to get at the root of the injustice, impunity, and inequality they have been struggling with for generations.

The U.S. Congress will do its part to support a strategy designed by the Colombians that is not just more of the same, that is consistent with the Peace Accord, that has the support of civil society, and, most importantly, that has the support of rural Colombians who have paid the highest price of past policies that have failed them.   

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