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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Colombia: Issues for Congress

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

In the last decade, Colombia—a key U.S. ally in South America—has made significant progress in reestablishing government control over much of its territory, combating drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and reducing poverty. Since the development of Plan Colombia in 1999, the Colombian government has stepped up its counternarcotics and security efforts. The U.S. Congress has provided more than $7 billion to support Colombia from FY2000 through FY2010. In October 2009, Colombia and the United States signed a defense agreement that provides U.S. access to Colombian military bases for counter-terrorism and security-related operations for the next decade. The improving security conditions in the country and the weakening of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are cited as evidence that the strategy is working by supporters. Critics, however, argue that while pursuing these security improvements, U.S. policy has not rigorously promoted human rights, provided for sustainable economic alternatives for drug crop farmers, or reduced the amount of drugs available in the United States. 

First elected in 2002, President Álvaro Uribe initiated an aggressive plan to reduce violence. He has made substantial progress in addressing both Colombia's 46-year conflict with the country's leftist guerrillas and the rightist paramilitary groups that have been active since the 1980s. Uribe, who enjoys wide popular support, was reelected with a strong majority in 2006. He is credited with restoring public security and creating a stable environment for investment. Backers of the president helped to organize a referendum to change the constitution again (after it was changed in 2005 to allow a second term) so the president could run for a third term. The Colombian Constitutional Court, however, ruled on February 26, 2010, that the referendum was unconstitutional citing several irregularities. President Uribe immediately accepted the ruling and removed himself as a candidate for president in the election slated for May 30, 2010. 

Concerns in the 111th Congress regarding Colombia continue those of prior sessions: funding levels, and U.S. policy regarding Plan Colombia, trade, and human rights. In FY2010, Congress reduced overall funding for Plan Colombia by about 3%. Congress continues to seek an almost even balance between social and economic aid (including rule of law programs) and securityrelated assistance (i.e., equipment and training to the Colombian military and police). In the FY2011 request, the Obama Administration asked for 9% less than what was enacted in FY2010 with the balance between "soft-side" traditional development assistance and "hard-side" security and counternarcotics assistance closer to 50/50. 

While acknowledging the progress in security conditions in Colombia, some Members of Congress have expressed concerns about labor activist killings and labor rights in Colombia; extrajudicial killings of Colombian civilians by the Colombian military; the para-political scandal (linking Colombian politicians with paramilitaries); and the domestic security agency (DAS) scandal concerning unauthorized spying on President Uribe's political opponents and human rights activists. These concerns have delayed consideration of the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA). President Obama in his State of the Union address in January 2010 supported strengthening trade ties with Colombia, but prospects for the CFTA in the 111th Congress remain uncertain. For more information, see CRS Report RL34470,
The Proposed U.S.- Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Economic and Political Implications
and CRS Report RL34759,
Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Labor Issues.

Date of Report: April 23, 2010
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL32250
Price: $29.95

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