The country that is Columbia is the third largest Latin/South American country after, Brazil and Mexico. Columbia is considered to be an ethnically and culturally diverse country. This is a result of the intermingling of the indigenous people and intermarriages with settlers from different parts of the world such as Europe and America. Consequently, only 1% of the people who live in Columbia can be considered to be absolutely indigenous in terms of customs and language (US Department of State, 2008).
While most countries in the world began the 21st century on a platform of peace, the reverse was true for Columbia. According to Wadlow, at the advent of the 21st century, Columbia was experiencing a situation that could only best be described as deplorable. On the one hand, there was open disintegration and extensive violence within the civil society, the machinery of the state was unstable to say the least. In addition, there was a crisis in the area of political representation plus the economy had greatly declined.
All these culminated in making the country greatly international vulnerable (2002). Generally, it was a ‘man eat man society’. It was evident that the local citizens had no respect for each other. Otherwise, how else could the widespread violence and societal disintegration of the state be explained? Thus, to a great extent, it could then be concluded that Colombia was experiencing something close to the Hobbesian state of nature; where life is ‘short, nasty and brutish’. It may appear that despite having a government in place, it was not able to maintain law and order (Roskin, 2001).
Little wonder therefore that there was rampant violence in society. Consequently, without some common power, over them individuals take it upon themselves to preserve their own liberty and safety. The end result of this is that life in that society becomes not only ‘short’ but also ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ (Hampton, 1988). This then goes to show that the governments and in particular the executive arm had failed in their role of maintaining law and order and thereby keeping the Colombian society stable.
For a long time, there was no pace in Colombia as a result of conflict between the Colombian governments and the guerilla organizations/rebel groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Democratic Alliance (M-19) that had established themselves in the rural undeveloped parts of the country (Wadlow, 2002). However, with the signing of a truce in the late 1980’s, the country was able to draft a new Constitution. The Constitution was then enacted in 1991. It brought the much needed political reforms (Kline, 1999).
For instance, it sealed the position of the president, provided provisions for a three branch system of government (with an executive, judiciary and the legislature) and created the offices of human rights ombudsman and inspector general. It also formed a Constitutional Court and an advanced Judicial Commission (US Department of State, 2008). Colombian Presidents. The Colombian Constitution that was created in 1991 preserved the position of the President. It would be correct to argue that individuals who have taken up the position of Colombian presidency, 39 to date, since the enactment of the Constitution, have had very daunting tasks.
Consider this. Ask any one on where illegal drugs, such as cocaine originate from and Colombia is sure to be mentioned. Drug cartels have been the norm rather than the exception in Colombia. More over, guerillas and other paramilitary defense forces such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Democratic Alliance (M-19) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have also been a challenge. It is important to note that these groups have then entered in to the drug trafficking trade as away of financing their operations.
Accordingly, they have become dangerous and a big threat to the stability of Colombian governments, committing arbitrary acts of aggression and causing volatility (Shifter & Jawahar, 2004). For instance, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also known as the FARC, a leftist (Marxist) insurgent group in Colombia has had as its main goal since the 1960’s, to overthrow the Colombian government. As the conflict between the group and the Colombian government has ensued, it is the civilians who have suffered the most. Over the years, FARC has held over 700 hostages.
The group justifies the taking of hostages as a legitimate military tactic (CNN. com 2008). The last three individuals who have held the position of Colombian Presidency have been Ernesto Samper (1994 – 1998), Andres Pastrana (1998 – 2002) and Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002 – 2010). The task of ruling a country like Colombia is by no means an easy task. However, these three individuals took it all in their stride. As such they have had both success and failures. Ernesto Samper (1994 – 1998). Description Ernesto Samper who was elected into office in 1994, served the country for four years until 1998.
He got to the helm of the country through the Liberal Party. It could be concluded that it was during his reign that the rebel groups entrenched themselves deeper into Colombian society to appoint of threatening the overall stability of the country. Successes. While there is no apparent success that could be linked to Samper, it is worth noting, that the rebel groups, however strong they had grown, did not take over the country. The groups may have caused untold suffering on the people and highly destabilized the government but Samper was able to keep Colombia intact; despite the internal threats.
Failures Samper was elected into office in 1994. However, within the first year in office, corruption scandals were tabled against him. Samper was accused of having used funds, from what was referred to as the Cali Cartel, in his presidential political campaign. The Cali Cartel was a cartel that was not only involved in the trafficking of drugs but also in the social cleansing, of people who were known as the desechables in Colombian society. They included prostitutes, homosexuals, and street children (Castells, 2000). To a great extent, the corruption scandals highly discredited Samper.
More over, relations between the US and Colombia became strained. The US was not keen on supporting a corrupt regime. In the end, the US withdrew its political support (US Department of State, 2008). Andres Pastrana (1998 – 2002) Description Andres Pastrana who served as Colombian President from 1998 to 2002 after he took over power from Ernesto Samper. The interesting thing about Pastrana is that he was son to Misael Pastrana, who also served as Colombian President between 1970 and 1974. Before he became President, he had at one time served as the Mayor of Bogota. He first ran for Presidency in 1994, but he lost to Ernesto Samper.
He was elected on a conservative party ticket. Successes Pastrana could have been President as early as 1994, had he not been defeated by Ernesto Samper. When President Pastrana was elected in 1998, the mandate from the Colombian people was the search for peace. According to Ruiz, President Pastrana could easily be described as having been a peacemaker. Pastrana not only invited the revolutionaries to broaden their boundaries of consideration, but he also shattered what he termed as a culture of dissent by the Colombian elite. More over, he made dispensations to create trust.
Pastrana was committed to the resolution of disagreement with something that others leaders do not possess; historical awareness (2001). Pastrana introduced what was referred to ‘Plan Colombia’, as a way of dealing with the issues of drug production and also to suppress the growth of such paramilitary groups as FARC. The main aim of the plan was to effectively deal with narco-terrorism while at the same time stimulating economic activity in the country (Dion & Russler, 2008). In addition, the plan would also assist in the strengthening democratic bodies and also the reverence for human rights.
Increasing respect for human rights and human rights issues was especially important since it had been completely run down by the rebel groups (Dudley, 2004). Furthermore, through the plan, humanitarian support would be offered to Colombians living in camps and shelters as a result of internal displacements (Delacour, 2000). To achieve the goals of ‘Plan Colombia’, Pastrana even sought the help of the international community. The United States was highly impressed by this move that they offered to send counter narcotic officers to help in the war against the production and trafficking of illegal drugs (Delacour, 2000).
According to Loveman, the US had failed in its war against the trafficking of drugs. As long as there was demand for the drugs, Latin American countries such as Colombia were more than willing to supply (2004). The effort by the Colombian government to show some commitment was a big boost towards the war against trade in the illicit drugs. For many years, relations between the United States and Colombia had been strained. This could be blamed on the fact that Colombia was one of the drug trafficking nations.
An activity clearly not supported by the United States for the simple fact that the drugs almost always ended up in the United States, meaning more problems for the country to deal with (Loveman, 2004). Accordingly, for a record 23 years, no Colombian President had ever made a state visit to the United States. Pastrana, the peacemaker as he was known, was the first to break this hiatus. On October 28 1998, Pastrana made the first ever state visit to the US where he was received by the then US President Bill Clinton. This marked a new beginning for Colombia.
The move by Pastrana to renew cordial relations with the US has important ramifications. If Pastrana had not paved the way, the now President Alvaro Uribe may not have had the chance to sign the trading pact that would also see the US assist Colombia in its war against drug trafficking (Ruiz, 2001). Failures As much as Pastrana was labeled as a peacemaker, it would be important that he failed in certain areas. While President, Colombia faced increased expansion and attacks by such paramilitary/rebel groups as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the ELN (National Liberation Army) (Ruiz, 2001).
More over, there was widespread drug production. The fact that drug production and paramilitary expansion had become issues of serious concern was one major reason that Pastrana had taken it upon himself to unveil what was to be referred to as ‘Plan Colombia’. Through the plan, the country would wage war against drug production and also quell paramilitary expansion (Dion & Russler, 2008). Increased expansion of the paramilitary groups led Pastrana to relinquish part of the country to one of the groups. This was another of Pastrana’s failure. In 1998, Pastrana gave up part of Colombia to FARC.
Initially, the land was to serve as neutral ground where the government and the group would engage in negotiations for peace (US Department of State, 2008). The interesting thing to note about this is that while FARC accepted the area and all that it was meant to stand for, they did not in any way stop their attacks. More over, they continued their growth of coca which is the main ingredient in the production of drugs (Roskin, 2001). This goes to show that the move by Pastrana had been ill advised from the get go. He should have fought fire with fire.
It was apparent that FARC was not willing to compromise, so Pastrana should have adopted the same stance. However, it could be argued that Pastrana was more concerned with negotiating for peace, which is why he was reaching out to the guerillas. After all had he not been mandated to find peace by the Colombian people? Nevertheless, Pastrana realized that FARC was not committed to peace. It is for this reason that he ordered the Colombian military to attack the rebels so as to gain of the area he had given up. But his was only done after, the FARC had hijacked a commercial plane and also kidnapped one of Colombia’s senators (Roskin, 2001).
The attack by the Colombian military on the FARC rebels was not uneventful. As a way of demonstrating their resistance, rather than the rebels targeting their retaliatory attacks on the assets of the Colombian military, they instead launched attacks on Colombian infrastructure. It is an open fact that no country can develop effectively without infrastructure (transport and communication networks). It may then be argued that FARC was out to sabotage the progress of Colombia. Thus, Pastrana by not avoiding the destruction of infrastructure that was already in place (US Department of State, 2008).
Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002 – 2010). Description The current Colombian President; in his second term in office. However, he is the thirty ninth President to have led Colombia. He was elected in power on a Colombian First – Uribist Coalition party ticket. According to Posada-Carbo, the fact that Colombians elected President Uribe for a second term meant that they were keen on continuity. Uribe had transformed the Colombian society for the better and for this reason the Colombian electorate elected him into power again to demonstrate their support (2006).
While Pastrana had been mandated by the people of Colombia to search for peace, President Alavaro Uribe was mandated to restore security in the country. This was justified as it came at a time when it was becoming apparent that the FARC rebels were getting out of hand. The election year, 2002, was also the time when the rebels had hijacked a commercial plane and also hijacked one of the senators (US Department of State, 2008). Accordingly, President Uribe promised he would continue with ‘Plan Colombia’, which had been started by his predecessor Pastrana.
However, he would include a long term security strategy in the plan. Successes When President got into power in 2002, he got right down to business. The very first thing that he did was to formulate a countrywide security plan. The plan was unique in that it would not only employ military but also economic and political means to halt all paramilitary/rebel groups and drug cartels. As part of the security plan, President Uribe also agreed to confer for a peace agreement with the rebels (US Department of State, 2008). However, he gave certain conditions for the fulfillment of this end.
Peace negotiations would only commence only if the rebels would first agree to a ceasefire and also if they were to put an end to all drug trafficking and kidnapping activities. The president was successful in his endeavor. Through the strategy, in 2003 the government entered into peace talks with one of the rebel groups, Colombian United Self Defense Forces (AUC). This move was highly significant for it led to the collective demobilization of more than 31 000 rebels who were part of AUC. More over, another 14000 rebels in such groups as FARC, AUC and ELN individually gave up their arms.
Accordingly, President Uribe signed a law titled Justice and Peace whose aim was to lessen the penalties for the discharged rebels. However, this was only to apply only, and only, if the rebels completely relinquished violence and also gave up the assets they had stolen from the civilians (US Department of State, 2008). This goes to show that unlike, Pastrana, President Uribe was ready and wiling to fight fire with fire; there was no coaxing the rebel. Therefore, out of the military operations of the Uribe administration, the strength of such rebel groups as FARC became greatly reduced, especially in the urban areas (Posada-Carbo, 2006).
To a great extent, since the Uribe administration took over power, the activities of such rebels groups as FARC have been restricted to the remote rural areas. as a result, FARC has not been able to carry out large scale attacks (US Department of State, 2008). Another big success achieved by President Alvaro Uribe was the signing a trade agreement with the United states. In February of 2006, President Uribe shook hands and signed a trading pact with the then president of the US, George Bush. By all means this was a step in the right direction.
Despite the economic crisis that has significantly the American economy, it is still regarded as the greatest economy of the world. It has all the necessary resources (economic, technological) at its disposal to use to achieve its goals. With such a country by its side, Colombia will be better able to wage and sustain a way against the drug trafficking and also civil insurrection. The eradication of these will go along way in helping Colombia foster peace and stability. It will also help turn around the economy. Trade with a country like the US will lead to the creation of employment opportunities for the youth in Colombia.
Employment will help keep them away from drug trade (Schott, 2006). Failures While President has worked tirelessly at maintaining the stability of Colombia, he has made a few blunders. The major one has been making allegations of terrorism agents being part of human rights organizations working in Colombia. For these allegations, President was highly condemned both locally and internationally. It does not take much understanding to realize that such comments could greatly endanger human rights work within Colombia. The comments do not help in any way (Centre for International Policy, 2003). Conclusion
Paramilitary groups (FARC, AUC and ELN) have been by far the biggest impediment to peace in Colombia. For a long time they have financed their operations by engaging in the illegal trade of drugs. The three presidents have worked tirelessly towards eradicating the rebel groups and putting Colombia back on the path to economic development. Though such groups as FARC launch periodic attacks, it is important to note that they have been greatly weakened. By far, the current President Uribe has been the most successful in the war against the rebels. Nevertheless, it is important that negotiations involving the rebels and the government continue.
It is only after, all the parties are satisfied that Colombia may boast of long lasting peace. References. Background note: Colombia. (2008). United States Department of State. Retrieved 9 April, 2009 from http://www. state. gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35754. htm Castells, M. (2000). End of Millennium. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. The Uribe government and NGO’s. (2003). Centre for International Policy. Retrieved 9 April, 2009 from http://ciponline. org/colombia/ngos. htm. Colombia gripped by hostage saga. (2008). CNN. com. Retrieved 9 April, 2009 from http://edition. cnn. com/2008/WORLD/americas/01/04/child. hostages/index.
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AL: University of Alabama Press. Loveman, B. (2004). Bad neighbor policy: Washington’s futile war on drugs in Latin America. Latin America Politics and Society. 46 (1). Posada-Carbo, E. (2006). Colombia hews to the path of change. Journal of Democracy. 17 (4). Roskin, M. (2001). Crime and politics in Colombia: Considerations for US involvement. Parameters Journal. 31 (4): 126 – 135. Ruiz, B. (2001). The Colombian civil war. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Publishers. Schott, J. (2006). Trade relations between Colombia and the United States. Stockholm: Institute of International Economics.
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