It’s election day, finally. Citizens are out in force voting for the next president. Whoever gets elected will face enormous challenges; but there are also opportunities for reform and change.
Colombia was never a central theme in the presidential campaigns, however the issue surfaced a few times. In the final presidential debate, during a contentious exchange on free trade, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy in Colombia. Yet the next U.S. president won’t just be debating policy, he will be making it–and in the case of Colombia, a new approach, not simply changes along the margins, is critical.
A Compass for Colombia Policy, a new report written by some of Washington’s top Colombia experts, makes a detailed case for a new U.S. approach that uses tough, smart diplomacy to achieve our goals and strengthen the rule of law in Colombia.
The new administration should use its first one hundred days in office to communicate, at the highest levels, that the United States will:
Support and protect human rights defenders and victims. The U.S. must stand by and empower the truly courageous individuals “human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, trade leaders, and countless others” who are the driving forces for a more just and peaceful Colombia.
Demand an end to the military’s human rights violations. Despite assurances that the Colombian army’s human rights record would improve with U.S. training, in recent years the army has committed hundreds of extrajudicial killings of unarmed civilians. The State Department should apply the human rights conditions already in law to ensure these abuses are investigated and ended.
Invest in institutions and fight impunity. In Colombia, human rights violators are still rarely brought to justice for their crimes. The U.S. must invest in–and demand accountability from–the institutions, such as the judiciary, charged with investigating human rights abuses and politicians’ ties to illegal armed groups.
Get serious, and smart, about drug policy. Today, there is as much coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine, in Colombia as there was nine years ago. The U.S. must stop bankrolling the inhumane and ineffective aerial spraying program, and instead invest strategically in alternative development projects for small farmers in rural Colombia and drug treatment programs here at home.
The report also offers policy prescriptions on trade, minority rights, peace negotiations, and the humanitarian crisis of displacement.
Blog entry adapted from a post by Travis Wheeler of the Latin America Working Group.