With the civil conflict in Colombia worsening, in many analysts’ perception, some policymakers are again questioning the wisdom and scope of U.S. policy and assistance toward that country. This is the context for debate over future U.S. policy toward Colombia, in particular whether the current levels of U.S. assistance are sufficient, and whether U.S. assistance to the Colombia military is desirable. This report first discusses U.S. interests in Colombia. It then provides information on Colombia’s current conflict, with sections on the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and President Pastrana’s efforts to deal with the conflict through the peace process, and the reform and rehabilitation of the Colombian military. The last section discusses possible policy options.
The United States has long been concerned with Colombia as a major producer and trafficker of the illegal narcotics entering this country: first marijuana, then cocaine, and now also heroin. Colombia's drug trafficking business has been dominated by two cartels during the two decades in which cocaine trafficking became a major activity: first the Medellin cartel, which dominated during the 1980s and then the Cali cartel, which dominated during the early 1990s. With the arrests of the major Cali cartel leaders in the mid-1990s, independent traffickers have filled the void.
Recent debate on U.S. policy toward Colombia has taken place in a context of concern for the volume of drugs readily available in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and regional security issues. The United States has made a significant commitment of funds and material support to help Colombia and the Andean region fight drug trafficking since the development of Plan Colombia in 1999. Congress passed legislation providing $1.3 billion in assistance for FY2000 (P.L. 106-246) and has provided more than $4 billion for programs in Colombia from FY2000 through FY2005 in both State Department and Defense Department counternarcotics accounts.
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