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Homeland Security

26 August 2004

U.S. Official Lauds Colombia's Fight Against Narcoterrorism

Noriega says continued U.S. support helps protect democracy in Colombia

The following column, "Colombia: Growing Strong Democracy Instead of Drug Crops," by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, appeared August 26 in The Miami Herald. There are no republication restrictions.

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"Colombia: Growing Strong Democracy Instead of Drug Crops"
By Roger F. Noriega

Thanks to the perseverance and ingenuity of the Colombian people and the leadership of President Alvaro Uribe, an important hemispheric ally is advancing toward prosperity and winning a decades-old struggle against narco-terrorism. The United States has stood by Colombia, helping it to turn the corner by providing vital resources and political support to this Andean nation.

The successes are undeniable. Continued U.S. engagement and support are essential to solidifying Colombia's hard-won gains.

My recent visit to Colombia has given me even more reason to be optimistic. The country has changed dramatically over the past five years. Colombia's murder rate, though still high, is at its lowest point since 1987. Kidnappings in 2003 fell by 39 percent over the previous year, and terrorist attacks dropped by 49 percent during the same period.

The Colombian government has re-established itself in regions that had previously been the preserve of bandits and lawlessness. And the Colombian people themselves have greater optimism and confidence in their country's future.

Uribe and his administration deserve credit for the significant decline in the number of criminal acts committed against civil-society leaders, human-rights workers and innocent civilians -- directly in line with our human-rights goals. Still, the human-rights situation needs improvement. The United States is working with honest Colombian government officials and committed nongovernmental organizations to eliminate the influence of the terrorists and to ensure that respect for human rights is universal in Colombia.

President Bush is committed to maintaining a robust partnership with Colombia. He has expressed his confidence in Uribe's government, citing him as a key ally in the war on drugs and terrorism. The results of our joint fight against narco-traffickers is impressive: since 2002, Colombian-U.S. teams have sprayed close to 760,000 acres of coca, and coca cultivation has declined dramatically each year. Opium poppy cultivation declined by 10 percent in 2003, and we are always seeking ways to find that crop and eradicate it.

The Bush administration believes that a prosperous Colombia will lead to the end of the drug trade. Free trade will broaden opportunities for enterprising Colombians and sustain economic growth. American businesses invested $3.7 billion in Colombia in 2003, and trade between our two countries approached $10 billion last year. American economic engagement is particularly important because an increase in exports, if coupled with job growth for Colombians, will result in a decline in cocaine and opium production as well as the movement of drugs to our shores.

Colombia has been embroiled in civil strife for more than 50 years, and its people have suffered greatly. The root causes of this terrible conflict are deeply embedded in the country's history and are not easily resolved. However, Colombia's problems are by no means intractable. I foresee the day when the images of Colombia as a haven for drug traffickers and kidnappers become a distant memory. And I believe this will happen, provided that Colombia is governed democratically and under the standard of competent leadership set by Uribe. The United States must continue to stand with Colombia and to provide the support, resources and help to ensure that the destiny of the Colombian people is prosperous and democratic.

(Roger F. Noriega is assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.)

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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