Cárdenas, co-author of the controversial
Plan Colombia that guarantees $1.3 billion in U.S. aid
to the South American country, returned to his alma mater
a part of the Colombia in Context conference to discuss
the plan, and spent much of his energy defending it.
plan is an effort to make a big transformation in Colombian
society, which is now affected by severe problems, like drug
trafficking, corruption, crime, low growth, and high unemployment," said
Cárdenas, 38, to a crowd of some 300 students, activists
and faculty from UC Berkeley.
$7.5 billion plan, conceived by the Colombian and U.S. governments
in August 2000, addresses the full range of problems affecting
Colombia, Cárdenas said. Also, he added, the "$1.3
billion [in U.S. aid] is just for two years. Colombia's problems
will not be solved in such a short period of time. You need
resources for at least five." Critics say that because so
much of the aid money - about $1 billion - is going to counternarcotics
activities mostly by way of the military, it will only escalate
debate, Cárdenas said, is fueled by the "many misconceptions,
misperceptions, and misunderstandings about Plan Colombia." While
acknowledging that the war on drugs plays a major role in
the plan, he said that "there is not one strategy that will
solve all problems, given the complexity of the situation."
Colombia, he said, "is structured around four basic strategies:
the first is economic and social reform. It is absolutely
a priority to get the economy growing again. And what has
caused economic recession in Colombia?" he asked. "Essentially,
the fiscal mismanagement of the 1990s has diminished private
investment. So the first strategy of Plan Colombia is economic
stabilization, and fiscal adjustment."
the economic reforms, he said, "We have to start negotiating
with the insurgents, and that is already in process." Cárdenas
has met several times with the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC), to explain the details and the scope
of the plan, and to discuss other aspects of government policy.
According to Cardenas, the FARC "say they like the social
part [of the plan]. And they can't say that they oppose fighting
drug traffic, however, remains an essential element in setting
Colombia back on the path of prosperity and development,
he said. The majority of Plan Colombia's funding - $4 billion
dollars - will be used in the fight against drug production
and distribution. "It is fundamental for making peace possible," he
said. Military training and materials to fight narcotraffic
is also where most of American aid will be used. That, countered
others at the Colombia in Context conference, is precisely
the problem with it.
Cárdenas said that even the plan's counternarcotics
strategy is not purely military. "We have to provide the
peasants in the areas where the coca and the poppy are being
grown with alternatives. It is not just bringing them new
seeds, so they can change their coca leaves or their poppy
seed crops for corn; we have to bring them infrastructure,
roads, health, education, electricity, and institutions,
like justice and an improved local government."
of Plan Colombia's critics who attended the one-day conference
said that the money being sent as military aid to Colombia
would be better spent reducing the demand for drugs in the
United States. Cárdenas agreed, though only in part. "I
think that the most effective way of solving the drug problem
in Colombia is by reducing or eliminating demand, especially
here in this country. But I disagree with those that say
that nothing should be done in Colombia, because what Colombia
cannot afford is to wait for 10 or 20 more years of unrest,
conflict and tension, [which] are generated by the drug problem."
pointed out that it is futile to attempt to solve other problems
Colombia is facing without tackling the drug traffic. "It
is very important to put that in context," he said. "The
drug business is funding the Colombian conflict. It is funding
both the insurgents and the paramilitary; it is exacerbating
the conflict. We have to fight the production and distribution
of drugs as a prerequisite for the solution of the armed
conflict in Colombia."
who is moving to the Boston area to be a visiting scholar
at Harvard, said he expects to return to Colombia later this
year. He feels that as a Colombian, it is his responsibility
to try to end the violence that has displaced more than 1
million people. "I have to serve my country, " he said. "This
means I can't turn my back and walk away."
Barbassa is a first-year M.A. student in Latin American