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From Plan Colombia to Peace Colombia

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, an important assistance program sponsored by the US to combat drug cartels and left-wing guerrilla groups in Colombia. President Santos and President Obama met in February in Washington to commemorate the date and also announced the next chapter of the program, which will be known as “Plan Paz Colombia,” and will help to build a peaceful Colombia during the post-conflict period.

Colombia and the FARC signed a peace treaty in Havana in March that will end over 50 years of conflict. The post-conflict period will be tough, as the current 4,000 FARC fighters will have to rejoin society, nearly 3 million displaced persons would like to return to their regions of origin, and cocaine plantations will have to be replaced with legal alternatives to name a few of the challenges ahead.

Several governments have signed up to support Colombia and, in that regard, the US will be one of the main international partners that will help the nation to attain stability and security. “And just as the United States has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war, I indicated to President Santos we will be your partner in waging peace,” announced Obama as he rolled out the framework for the next chapter of the partnership.

The Colombian government will receive over $450 million from the US to reinforce security gains andextend the rule of law into areas denied for decades, although those funds have yet to be green-lighted by the US Congress. Colombia and the US met again in April to finalize this agreement and ensure progress in the post-conflict just as Plan Colombia strengthened the state during the last decade and a half of conflict.

When Plan Colombia was agreed to in 1999, Colombia became one of the largest US military aid recipients in the world and national security forces significantly gained ground against the FARC and the ELN, another guerrilla group. Signed during the Bush Administration, the US backed the country with over $10 billion that made Colombia’s military power stronger.

The army obtained state of the art military equipment and training that became essential to inflict several overwhelming defeats to both the paramilitaries and guerrilla insurgents that financed their operations with illegal drug trafficking. Around 70 FARC leaders were killed in the last 15 years, and cocaine cultivated land shrunk by 60%.

The program also bolstered democratic institutions in Colombia and the government reformed several land laws, in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the victims. At the beginning of Plan Colombia, approximately 70% of the assistance was to cover military costs and 30% was dedicated to humanitarian aid, but in the last years those expenses balanced and to date is about 50-50.

Peace Colombia will be the fourth chapter of Plan Colombia. The first chapter took place between 2000 and 2006, when the army targeted the interdiction of narcotics in Putumayo department and reducing the presence of guerrilla forces in Cundinamarca and Meta regions. The second stage developed between 2007 and 2009 and focused on returning the presence of the state to certain rural areas and the demobilization of the paramilitaries. The third one was named Strategic Development for Colombia, which went from 2010 to 2015 and emphasized the eradication of drug trafficking and focused on humanitarian aid advancement.
Back in the early 2000s, Colombia was on the brink of collapse. The economy was going through a severe recession and nearly a third of the territory was controlled by paramilitaries while another third was in the hands of the guerrillas. Both groups were largely financed by drug trafficking and Colombia was close to being declared a failed state.

However, the situation has changed dramatically after the implementation of Plan Colombia and today the country is on the brink of peace. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in Spanish), a large paramilitary organization, demobilized in 2006 and FARC leaders eventually decided to sit at the negotiating table. “Peace will help us consolidate a new nation, a country that will be safer, more prosperous, more just and equitable, better educated, and of course, happier,” Santos stated in Washington.

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