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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Colombia: Issues for Congress

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010 in Colombia after winning 69% of the vote in a runoff election held in June 2010. Santos defeated Colombian Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus. In his first months in office, President Santos has taken the country in a new direction, building on the accomplishments of his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, who served for two terms, pursuing social, economic and political reforms in a program he calls “democratic prosperity.” Santos has strengthened relations with neighboring countries, including Venezuela and Ecuador, which had been strained under Uribe. Early indications are that he wants to broaden the scope of U.S.-Colombian relations to include issues such as energy and technology. Former President Uribe pursued an aggressive plan to address Colombia’s decades long conflict with the country’s leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitary groups and to reduce the production of illicit drugs. Uribe is credited with restoring public security and creating a stable environment for investment.

In recent years, Colombia, in close cooperation with the United States through a strategy known as Plan Colombia, has made significant progress in reestablishing government control over much of its territory, combating drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and reducing poverty. The improving security conditions and the weakening of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are evidence that the strategy is working, according to supporters. Critics, however, argue that while pursuing these security gains, 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.

This report provides an overview of recent political developments in Colombia. It reviews the administration of President Uribe (2002-2010), continuing into the election of President Juan Manuel Santos and his first months in office. The report then provides background on the longstanding conflict with internal armed groups that has marked Colombia’s modern development, examining the roots of the conflict and its major actors as well as their present status. The report considers ongoing challenges such as human rights, demobilization and displacement, drug trends, and Colombia’s regional relations. It outlines the National Consolidation Plan which updates Plan Colombia with a whole-of-government approach to eliminate the insurgency, and it describes the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement. The report raises some of the major policy issues that the U.S. Congress has had, and will continue to pursue, in relation to U.S.-Colombia policy, such as the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Date of Report: March 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: RL32250
Price: $29.95

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