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Plan Colombia: Some Differing Perspectives

Authored by Dr. Gabriel Marcella, GEN (RET) Charles E. Wilhelm, Colombian General Alvaro Valencia Tovar, Dr. Ricardo Arias Calderon, Mr. Chris Marquis.

June 01, 2001

49 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph, with an introduction by Dr. Gabriel Marcella, includes four short, but interesting and important papers presented at a conference on Plan Colombia, sponsored by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and the North-South Center of the University of Miami. General Charles E. Wilhelm, a former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Southern Command; General Alvaro Valencia Tovar, a former commander of the Colombian Army; Dr. Ricardo Arias Calderon, a former Vice President of Panama; and Mr. Chris Marquis, a correspondent for the New York Times, present four distinctly differing views regarding Plan Colombia. Their perspectives reflect the uncertainty and confusion expressed at the conference regarding U.S. policy in Colombia and the implementation of Plan Colombia. In that connection, there appears to be no consensus on what Plan Colombia is and what it is not. This disarray, as well as additional questions generated from it, demonstrates a pressing need to pursue the debate. This is important because, one way or another, Plan Colombia affects us all.


This volume in our "Plan Colombia" series contains four expert presentations which were made to the February 2001 Miami symposium. The writers are a high-ranking retired military commander from Colombia and one from the United States, a leading Panamanian political figure, and a U.S. journalist. As might be expected, they look at the complex dilemma of Colombia from somewhat different angles.

Yet, unlike the fable of the elephant and the blind men, the authors offer us more elements in common than contrasting views. First, it is clear that none of them offers a panacea or quick-fix solution or even believes that any short-term solution is possible. That judgment is critical for the Bush administration as it faces the need to develop and explain its own approach to the Congress and to the American public, audiences who are inherently against long-term involvements when they can be avoided.

Second, each writer, in his own way, gives at least tentative or conditional support to Plan Colombia as designed by the Colombian Government and as supported by the United States, with a Congressional commitment of $1.3 billion last year. No one states that the plan is perfect. But, as General Valencia points out, action is far better than "theoretical arguments" at this point, and the plan should be adjusted in the light of experience as time goes on. This is a sensible and pragmatic approach. All four agree, as well, that international support is crucial; Colombia cannot go it alone.

Third, the authors acknowledge that the real heart of the plan is what General Wilhelm calls the "soft component" consisting of "peace process, alternative development, social participation, human development, economic assistance, and fiscal and judicial reform." Yet, as he states, the U.S. assistance package so far ($1.3 billion of the overall plan's requirement of $7.5 billion) is focused on the military, or "hard" component.

Finally, the writers, especially Ricardo Arias Calderón of Panama, are keenly aware of the inability to contain the Colombian problems to Colombia. There is already a spill-over effect on Colombia's neighbors, and it can only increase. That understanding, plus an acknowledged need to give more attention to the social and economic issues, undoubtedly lies behind the Bush administration's new Andean Regional Initiative, announced May 17, 2001.

The Bush administration placed high priority, early in its tenure, on the economic integration of the Americas. That objective includes achievement of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas by the year 2005, and within the framework of democratic governance as agreed at the Third Summit of the Americas held February 2000 in Quebec City. A worsening of the situation in Colombia can cast serious doubt on the attainment of these goals.

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