Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Compass for Colombia Policy

Four groups (the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for International Policy, the U.S. Office for Colombia, and the Latin America Working Group) have just jointly published a document entitled "A Compass for Colombia Policy." They propose seven broad steps:

1. Use U.S. aid and leverage for human rights and the rule of law

2. Actively support overtures for peace

3. Support expansion of the government's civilian presence in the countryside

4. Protect the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees

5. Protect the rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities

6. Ensure that trade policy supports, not undermines, policy goals towards Colombia

7. Get serious--and smart--about drug policy

The document is particularly useful because it goes well beyond platitudes and offers thoroughly cited and very specific suggestions for change.

In terms of getting a new administration to listen, I think the most compelling parts of the document are those that specifically link suggestions to policy goals of the United States. For that reason, #3 is especially good. Spreading non-military state institutions (courts, road-builders, doctors, etc.) can play a large role in reducing local support for guerrillas and, hopefully, drug traffickers as well.

This is also why I like #6. At no time have I heard anything in the U.S. about the consequences (unintended or otherwise) that will accompany an FTA. John McCain explicitly campaigns on the notion that the status quo benefits Colombia, and we need the FTA because it gets U.S. companies into Colombia. There must be programs for the people who will lose their jobs as a result; otherwise they will turn to the illicit economy.

Thus, if I were someone trying to convince a new administration, I would to explain how #1, for example, helps us. Elected officials in the U.S. use soaring rhetoric about being a model for the world, etc. but we all know policy makers need to have a concrete reason for doing good. Using leverage runs head-on into the "we're punishing our ally" argument that has been used for decades to avoid pressing allies for democratic change. The only possible way to get around that is to supply convincing reasons why it helps the U.S.

I will conclude more optimistically, however, by noting that the U.S. Congress does indeed pay attention sometimes. The report gives credit where credit is due in that regard.


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