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Colombia: Issues for Congress

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Publication Date: September 2008

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Topic: Social conditions (Alcohol and drug addiction and trafficking)

Coverage: Colombia


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 security concerns that have come into sharper focus after the attacks of September 11, 2001. 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. Since 2002, Congress has granted expanded authority to use counternarcotics funds for a unified campaign to fight both drug trafficking and terrorist organizations in Colombia. In 2004, Congress raised the statutory cap on U.S. personnel allowed to be deployed to Colombia in support of Plan Colombia. The three main guerrilla groups in Colombia participate in drug production and trafficking and have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department.

President Alvaro Uribe, elected in 2002, is seeking to address the 40-year conflict with the leftist guerrilla organizations, as well as the rightist paramilitary groups that have been active since the 1980s. President Uribe enjoys high levels of popular support, but still faces challenges resulting from the defeat of an October 2003 referendum that would have strengthened Uribe's control of the budget and implemented government reforms. He also faces opposition to a controversial proposal to grant conditional amnesties to rightist paramilitaries that agree to demobilize.

The Congress has expressed concern with respect to a number of Colombiarelated issues including human rights, the aerial eradication of illicit drug crops, interdiction programs, the situation of U.S. hostages, and funding levels for Plan Colombia. Moreover, Congress has debated U.S. policy options in Colombia on the basis of the country's prominent role in drug production, and the effects that drug trafficking has with regard to terrorism, regional security and oil production. U.S. policy in Colombia remains controversial, but inroads have been made with regard to the eradication of illicit drug crops and improved security conditions. However, nongovernmental organizations argue that U.S. policy does not rigorously promote human rights, provide for sustainable economic alternatives for drug crop farmers, or provide protections for Colombian nationals in the United States who fear returning to their homes. In 2005, Congress will likely consider the progress of U.S. programs in light of an anticipated Administration request to continue funding for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative.

For more information on legislation affecting Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, see CRS Report RL32337, The Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) and Related Funding Programs: FY2005 Assistance by Connie Veillette. This report will be updated as events warrant.