RAND Hosts Conference on Emergent Colombia Crisis

Drug trafficking and political insurgency in Colombia could well confront the United States with its most serious security crisis in the hemisphere since the Central American wars of the 1980s. To date, the United States' response to Colombia's crisis has been limited to the provision of military assistance and technical support to the Colombian government's counternarcotics effort. However, Colombia's narcotics and insurgency problems are so intimately intertwined that dealing effectively with one will almost certainly involve dealing with the other.

On June 13, 2001, RAND's Washington office hosted a conference attended by 70 U.S. and Colombian government and military officials, U.S. and Latin American journalists, and academic experts on the emergent crisis in Colombia. The conference, which received widespread coverage in the Colombian and U.S. media, coincided with the release of Project AIR FORCE's report Colombian Labyrinth: the Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional Stability, by Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk.

Conference discussion focused on the main themes of the PAF report: the sources of instability in Colombia, the major actors involved in the Colombian conflict, the effectiveness of "Plan Colombia," the country's strategy for dealing with its multiple crises, the impact of the current U.S. assistance program to Colombia, and recommendations for future U.S. policy.

The panelists agreed with a key recommendation made by the report's authors to move current U.S. policy on Colombia beyond the narrow focus on narcotics. Several participants concurred that the report's most valuable finding was that Colombia's drug and insurgency problems are intertwined in complicated and changing ways. The problems posed by Colombia's narcotics trade cannot be addressed effectively without simultaneously dealing with the problem of armed challenges to the state's authority.

In addition to the authors of the report, the panel included:

  • Jaime Ruiz, Executive Director of the World Bank and a former head of National Planning Office of Colombia;

  • Camilo Granada, a former senior Colombian official, current advisor to the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States and Coordinator for Hemispheric Security Affairs;

  • Michael Shifter, Vice President for Policy of the Inter-American Dialogue and Project Director of the Council on Foreign Relations' independent task force report entitled Toward Greater Peace and Security in Colombia: Forging a Constructive U.S. Policy.

According to Jaime Ruiz, a former advisor to President Pastrana and one of the principal architects of "Plan Colombia," one of the most important contributions of the RAND report was to widen understanding of the Colombian conflict.

RAND analysts Brian Jenkins and Bruce Hoffman chaired the conference discussion. Hoffman is Vice President of RAND's Office of External Affairs, which sponsored the event.