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08 February 2005

United States Firmly Committed to Colombian Peace Process

USAID's Natsios speaks of effort to stop illicit drug trade

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States stands firm in supporting Colombia's ongoing peace process and in helping the Andean nation to end its illicit drug trade, says Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In his prepared remarks for an international donors' conference for Colombia held February 3-4 in the Colombian city of Cartagena, Natsios said that the global community, by working together, can provide the appropriate types and levels of assistance Colombia needs to end the drug trade and strengthen "legitimate" state institutions in a manner that protects the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

Natsios cited a number of successes achieved by the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in building a strong democratic state.  According to Natsios, these successes include reducing corruption and improving human rights as well as using the combined tactics of eradicating illegal coca cultivation, interdicting drugs and promoting alternative development programs to slash coca cultivation by 47 percent between 2000 and 2003.  Achieving the demobilization of nearly 6,000 ex-combatants in Colombia's long-running internal conflicts was also praised.

The Cartagena conference, known as the "International Cooperation and Coordination Meeting for Colombia," was a follow-up to a previous donors' conference held for Colombia on July 10, 2003, in London.  At that conference, the United States, Latin American nations, the European Union, and others expressed their strong support for Colombia in achieving a lasting solution to the violence being waged by illegal, armed narco-terrorist groups in the Andean country.

The United States, said Natsios, will continue to provide assistance to Colombia on alternative development programs to expand opportunities for social, economic, and democratic progress "by peasants caught up in illicit drug cultivation." It can also assist the country's internally displaced population, people at risk of human rights abuses, traditionally underserved populations such as Afro-Colombians, indigenous populations and other "vulnerable Colombians." 

Natsios said the United States is also working with Colombia's trade ministry and others to help maximize the effects that the upcoming U.S.-Andean Free Trade Agreement will have on employment and income-generation.

The USAID administrator also spoke about the daunting challenges Colombia still faces, such as the fact that cases of abuse and corruption go unresolved and that terrorist organizations continue to threaten the peace.

In addition, said Natsios, numerous rural municipalities remain isolated by poor infrastructure and fragile institutions, and are prone to illicit crop cultivation, forced displacement, violence and human rights abuses.

While Colombia's illegal armed groups have been weakened, "their presence and ability to exert violence against the state and civilians continues," said Natsios.  Even with an improved human-rights situation in the country, he said, "much remains to be done, both [in terms of] bringing to justice those responsible for past abuses, [and] preventing such abuses in the future."

Natsios said the United States applauds the Colombian government's efforts to demobilize paramilitary combatants and looks forward to the Colombian Congress passing an "effective legal framework that furthers the principles of truth, justice, and reparations."

The USAID administrator argued that stopping the flow of drugs from Colombia is a global problem that demands a global response.  The donors' conference in Cartagena, he said, offered the international community a "prime opportunity" to commit a level of resources that adequately buttress the Uribe administration's efforts to achieve peace and prosperity.

"Together, we must help Colombia prevail," said Natsios.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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