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The United States and Colombia: Untying the Gordian Knot

Authored by Ambassador David Passage.

March 01, 2000

36 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The United States is committed to helping Colombia fight its struggle against the violence and corruption engendered by the traffic in narcotics. This report examines the strategic theory within Plan Colombia, the master plan which the government of Colombia developed to strengthen democracy through peace, security, and economic development. The author argues that the United States and the international community must support this beleaguered nation. He cautions, however, that the main responsibility for success lies with the Colombians. They must mobilize the national resources and make the sacrifices to win back the country from the narco-traffickers, the insurgents, and the paramilitaries. To that end, Plan Colombia is a well-conceived strategy that must be sustained for the long term.


A long time ago in a mythical kingdom, far, far way, King Gordius of Phrygia tied an intricate and complex knot and decreed that anyone who could untie it would become Master of all Asia. Legend has it that Alexander the Great averted an ill omen, which could have resulted from his inability to untie the knot, by slashing through the latter with his sword.

Today, in Colombia, the United States is faced with just such a conundrum. Fearful of finding itself committed to a long-term struggle against Colombian guerrillas, U.S. counter-narcotics policy has been to help Colombia’s government in its efforts to halt cultivation, production, and trafficking in illicit narcotics while steering clear of its internal insurgencies, driven as they are by socio-political, ideological, and economic causes.

Meanwhile, Colombian authorities have acknowledged the danger that drug trafficking poses to their society. But the mortal threat that Colombia faces is from two guerrilla armies that are intent on violent revolution. What is even more complicating is that the collusion between drug traffickers and the insurgents is growing. For the United States, the menace of drugs is real and urgent. But the memories of Vietnam also linger, giving pause to those who contemplate increasing commitments in faraway places in circumstances that even remotely resemble those extant in Southeast Asia in the last half of the 20th century.

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