Interview | 4/20/2009 12:00:00 AM
“Colombia should pay more of the cost”
In the US Congress, Patrick Leahy is the key man as far as Plan Colombia is concerned. Leahy is the Chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which is in charge of approving the money for this initiative. Juan Carlos Iragorri, Semana correspondent in the United States, interviewed the 69-year old Democrat, who argues that the Colombian government should finance a bigger part of Plan Colombia and that the financial crisis will reduce the help Washington sends to Bogotá.
Patrick Leahy: No decision has been made yet about the release of these funds, which have been on hold since last year due to concerns with extra-judicial executions by members of the Colombian Army, the cost and effectiveness of the coca eradication program, and other issues.
SEMANA: Aren't you satisfied with the explanations regarding Human Rights given by President Alvaro Uribe and Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos?
P.L: Minister Santos has taken some important steps for which he deserves credit. However, we need to know why the Army committed such serious crimes for so long while it was receiving U.S. aid, and why so little was done about it before. We also want to know who is being prosecuted and punished.
SEMANA: Do you agree with those who say the U.S. should not interfere in the sovereign affairs of Colombia?
P.L: The American people provide over half a billion dollars in aid to Colombia each year – more than to all other South American countries combined. A portion of the aid goes to the Colombian Army, and we expect the Army to respect human rights. It is not interference; it is upholding the rule of law in Colombia.
SEMANA: Do you trust in the Colombian Army Commander, General Oscar Gonzalez?
P.L: There are concerns about General Gonzalez due to his past command of troops who reportedly were involved in extra-judicial killings and collaborating with the AUC.
SEMANA: Should President Uribe replace him?
P.L: That is up to President Uribe.
SEMANA: Has Plan Colombia been a success story, or a big failure?
P.L: It has been successful in important ways, and it has failed to meet some of its goals. Many parts of Colombia are safer than before, but production of coca and the traffic of cocaine to the U.S. has not changed significantly. In the future, we should focus on what has worked and make better use of the funds.
SEMANA: Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos recently said that Plan Colombia is not working and that it should be suspended. President Uribe said something completely different. What do you think about this?
P.L: I believe aspects of Plan Colombia have worked and we should continue to support them. For example, we should continue to strengthen the presence of Colombian Government institutions, such as the police and social services, in former conflicted areas where security has been established. We should do more to provide real economic alternatives to coca farmers, including title to land and markets. We should do more to strengthen the justice system.
SEMANA: With the economic crisis, will Plan Colombia funds decrease, or the Plan will continue?
P.L: We do not yet know how much President Obama will recommend in his 2010 budget for Colombia, but with the financial crisis I expect U.S. aid to decrease. After nine years and $8 billion in U.S. aid, it is time for Colombia to pay more of the cost.
SEMANA: Would you vote in favor of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia?
P.L: I have not decided how I would vote on the Free Trade Agreement.
SEMANA: Is the relation between Presidents Obama and Uribe in good shape?
P.L: You should ask them.
SEMANA: What would you think if President Uribe seeks a second reelection?
P.L: That is for the Colombian people to decide.
SEMANA: What is your opinion of President Uribe’s dispute with the Supreme Court?
P.L: The keystone of democracy is an independent judiciary. Without it democracy cannot survive. It is the responsibility of the courts to protect the people from abuses of power by the executive and legislative branches of government. As a former prosecutor and now Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee I have seen this first hand.