American Foreign Policy in Colombia


U.S foreign policy in Colombia came as a result of the massive consumption of illegal drug substances in the U.S. The United States saw this as another security threat after the communist wave. Colombia was the main source of the illegal drug trade with guerrillas, paramilitary forces, and government forces taking part. This led to human rights abuse; killings, kidnappings, and the situation threaten to destabilize the country if it was not for the U.S strategy of overcoming the drug war.

U.S Foreign Policy in Columbia

In the last four decades, Colombia has suffered frequent internal conflicts triggered by the illegal drug trade. The drug trade cartel has been fuelled by small paramilitary groups and the guerrilla’s need for an income or revenue. By the end of 2002, Colombia was ranked fourth largest with a displaced population due to a rise in conflicts, violation of human rights, and violence due to dirty politics (Bagley et al 2000). However, the complex nature of this case coupled with the drug trade is a challenge posed to the U.S government’s task in Columbia. In this term paper, I have attempted to explore the following key areas the U.S policy touches on human rights, Colombian efforts in fighting drugs and narcotics, and countermeasures the governments have undertaken (Contreras et al 2000).

Human rights violation

The plight of the human rights situation in Colombia is by far a severe challenge the U.S government has undergone since its involvement with Colombia. In 2002, The U.S state department reported that close to 4,000 civilians died as a result of politics and other judicial causes involving guerrillas, forces of the government, and paramilitary organizations. Three-quarters of the deaths were as a result of paramilitary (Bagley et al 2000).

By early 2000, two hundred and thirty-five brutal killings occurred and approximately one thousand and seventy-three people getting killed. During the last 5 years, close to half a million people have been forced out of their homes and figures have even escalated to one million persons displaced because of rural violence (Contreras et al 2000). Colombia also poses the highest homicide and kidnappings in the world with figures going up to 25,660 and close to 4,000 respectively in a year. Government forces were also responsible for human rights abuse with worrying figures of 3-5% extrajudicial killings.

The efforts by the Colombian government to stop paramilitary activities and to enhance its policy on human rights are not encouraging. Human rights records show that 50% of government’s army generals have one way or another connection to paramilitary actions and activities (Contreras et al 2000). Therefore, this translates to increased political support among the locals in the country. This made it difficult for any U.S military assistance to Colombia in the 1990s because the Columbian government was not willing to state its position on paramilitary. During this period, however, the U.S government continued to provide training, military equipment to Colombia government forces (Contreras et al 2000).

Human rights watch reported that the U.S government had provided assistance to counter-narcotics between 1992 and 93 to various human rights units especially those areas considered producing more drugs. As such, military support was passed in 1994 by the U.S Congress to directly help the Colombian government fight anti-drug activities (Perl et al 1998). However, in Sep 1996, military support was suspended to those implied by the human rights violation as receiving aid to counter-narcotics, unless approval by states secretary that measures were being taken by the government to bring respective perpetrators to justice (Bagley et al 2000). During this time also Colombia purchased a lot of arms as reported by the human rights watch of 1996.

The United States lacked solid mechanisms in overseeing actual transactions of the sale of equipment between the two countries. By Jan 95, the government of Colombia began to understand the human rights issue (Campbell et al 1982). The president of Colombia acknowledged for the first time the state responsibility for the human rights violation. The president also ensured starting a permanent office for human rights in the United Nations, correction of the second protocol of the Geneva Conventions, agreement formalization with Red Cross to enable its presence in conflict high areas (Perl et al 1998).

In Aug 97, the Colombian government signed Leah agreement with the U.S government to spearhead human rights issues and to intensify military support in conflict-prone zones. This was a breakthrough in human rights because previously Colombian government had refused military assistance by the U.S claiming that they would violate Army dignity (Contreras et al 2000).

At the beginning of 1997, military aid by the U.S to the Colombian government had reached a record high. In 1999 U.S government aid to Colombia’s government forces rose to a record high of 289 million dollars as compared to 54 million dollars aid three years ago (Perl et al 1998). This according to Washington constituted 90 % of the aid that will be convenient in fighting drugs.

The shifts taken by the Colombian government in denouncing punishment for human rights abuses committed by military members have made way for intensified military support. It is now clear that paramilitary activities have been changed into an effective alternative to combating Colombian guerillas (Contreras et al 2000). This by far constitutes the largest U.S policy toward the government of Colombia.

Efforts of Colombia in fighting drugs

In the 1980s, drug trafficking became a more important agenda to the U.S because of the sharp figure-rise of crime and illegal consumption of this illegal substance. Policies about drugs have clearly remained intact and have stood the test of different administrations. President Reagan (1981-1989) introduced a strategy to allow military assistance against the war on drugs. The Bush regime intensified the fight against drugs through the Andean treaty. This initiative surpassed the U.S activities to counter-narcotics into Andean countries believed to be a source of these drugs.

Plan Colombia started by president Andres in 1998 evolved as a rescue to the Colombian government in promoting peace (Campbell et al 1982). It encouraged foreign countries to a Marshall plan meant for economic aid. However, the plan did not receive any response internationally until 2000 when President Clinton proposed another plan for Colombia after seeing increased drug production, failure of the peace process. The new initiative propelled a number of economic initiatives but much consideration was given to the military in fighting a war against drugs (Contreras et al 2000).

Colombia and the U.S relations on Drugs

Illicit drugs addressed in Colombia derived U.S approach in fighting illegal drugs. The measures adopted by the Colombian government to fighting the drug business have resulted from bilateral understanding with the U.S government. Given the rise in drug cartels in Colombia and the increasing consumption level in the U.S, there was a need to change counternarcotics policy and predetermining force in the war against drugs (Bagley et al 2000). However, the Virgilio administration upon considerable review of foreign diplomacy asserted the expansion of commercial assistance and improving diplomatic relations with the nations in order to preserve Colombia (Contreras et al 2000). This resulted in an unrealistic strategy of fighting drugs which had early won praise from Washington.

The Cesar formal policy on drugs differed greatly from the ones championed by Barco Administration. For Gaviria, his policy was to differentiate between drug trafficking and narcotic crime but had no distinction of problems to drugs (Campbell et al 1982). He said that narcotic crime was a real threat to the democracy of the country but not drug trafficking. The U.S pressure on Colombia led to some significant events (Perl et al 1998): the appointment of Rosso to head national police and come up with an initiative to stop corruption in the military and above all to carry out anti-drug campaigns. This resulted in few drug tycoons being jailed. The U.S success on narcotics was attributed to coordination by the Colombian police and Prosecutor General’s office. This resulted in counterproductive efforts by the two countries which translated to human rights assistance (25%), military aid (75%).

The countermeasures the Colombian government has undertaken

The objective of U.S foreign policy in Colombia was a clear definition of drug traffic. It clearly defines that as a security concern; drug trade extends to all sectors of the economy and may weaken the country’s democracy. By militarizing its activities, the Colombian government was able to fight narcoterrorism through the involvement of the U.S and the government forces. By the end of the cold war, the drug trade had replaced communism a new threat to national security experienced earlier with USSR.

The drug view in Colombia is quite complex because of the guerilla organizations and intertwined linkages the paramilitary groups have. The U.S government adopted a strategy in trying to understand the symbiotic relationship between guerrillas and drug traffickers and came to a conclusion that both worked hand in hand (Perl et al 1998). During Samper’s administration, Columbian government forces saw that a similar relationship existed.

U.S military support was given to Colombia to destroy these cartels (Campbell et al 1982). Colombian government through the assistance of the U.S government of defense has a stepped-up campaign against drugs and has concentrated mostly on drug-producing areas especially to the south in an effort to remove guerrillas and paramilitary groups. From 1994 to 1998, the Colombian government took a massive campaign to eradicate poppy and coca plantations that were the main source of illegal drugs. The process had positive results especially to the south of Colombia where previously it was a core concentration area for the guerrillas and paramilitary organizations manning the drug trade (Campbell et al 1982).

In order to additionally combat the drug trade and controlling human rights abuse, another significant U.S policy would be assisting the Colombian government to establish territory control as a step in confronting the domestic crisis (Bagley et al 2000). Misunderstanding by the U.S government within this wide drug war was a poor conception of the crisis in Colombia. The state according to Barry includes a base physically located and includes the population, the state idea comprising idea based on legitimate nationality, values, and the physical base comprising all the state mighty machinery. The ability to measure the state’s strength or weakness can be measured by the ability of the state in providing services to the locals and the overall citizen’s security.

The idea of a weak state comes about as a result of a state lacking concrete belonging to a given nation and these states lack political inclusiveness. The Colombia case is similar to the above because the social and economic welfare of the country was in a dilemma. The characteristics of the Columbian state were confusing because you could not draw a clear line between the government and guerrillas and weakened Colombia further. In 1991, the Colombian constitution improved the 1980 breakdown by actively increasing participation of the society and creating more transparency and accountability (Campbell et al 1982).

Role of U.S

United States policy was meant to rescue the Colombian state from economic and political fall. The growth of the U. S illegal drug consumption triggered the U.S government to come up with a policy to control the drug war since it was now a security concern (Perl et al 1998).

The presence of these illegal drug nets poised another concern of political abuse, corruption, and economic turmoil. In 1990 even after demolishing drug trafficking cartels, another complexity of the sophisticated network of drug trafficking organizations emerged and allowed them to virtually disappear. The U.S’s role was to provide security assistance to Colombia in dealing with drugs and also to provide political and economic recovery while at the same time providing avenues for diplomatic recovery (Perl et al 1998). The U.S claimed that by ignoring domestic issues state weakening can occur and if this concern is overlooked, the state may collapse at long last (Campbell et al 1982).

The U.S government came up with a plan for Colombia to revamp the Colombia crisis and approved a massive package for the national police to help fight the drug war (Perl et al 1998).


The U.S foreign policy in Colombia has worked mainly in the following areas:

The policy has helped reduce human rights violations and encouraged justice to all human rights perpetrators. The policy has substantially reduced illicit drug substances mainly by using the state forces to remove drug traffickers, guerrillas, and paramilitary organizations. The policy also came out with strategies for strengthening the Colombian government. The U.S policy had measures of achieving political and economic recovery. Nevertheless, the policy had its negative impacts. The U.S military presence suppressed the local security operations and made neighboring countries like Brazil, Peru as well as Venezuela strengthen their borders for fears of security threats.


Bagley, Bruce Mimeo (2000), “Drug Trafficking, Political Violence and U.S. Policy in Colombia in the 1990s,”.

Bagley, Bruce (1988), “U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs: Analysis of a Policy Failure,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 30, Nos. 2-3, pp. 189 212.

Contreras, Joseph and Steven Ambrus (2000), “Fighting the New Drug Lords,” Newsweek, pp. 8-13.

Campbell, David (1992), Writing Security. United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Crandall, Russell (2000), “The Eagle and the Snowman: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia during the Presidential Administration of Ernesto Samper (1994-1998),” Doctoral dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University.

Leogrande, William M. and Kenneth E. Sharpe (2000), “Two Wars or One? Drugs, Guerrillas and Colombia’s New Violencia,” World Policy Journal, fall, pp. 1-11.

Perl, Raphael (1988), “The US Congress, International Drug Policy, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 30, Nos. 2-3, pp. 133-160.

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