U.S. ambassador William Brownfield's declaration--delivered in an office adorned, incongruously given his Texas background, with a prominent Baltimore Orioles logo--becomes no less impressive once you realize that by "this century" he is referring to a century that is less than ten years old. This i
s the century, after all, of Afghanistan and Iraq--wars that have consumed far more resources than the low-key commitment to Colombia involving no U.S. combat troops. But Brownfield is being modest. The progress in Colombia, which this professional diplomat has overseen not only in the past two years as ambassador but also in previous stints at the State Department, has few rivals in the annals of 20th-century nation-building either.
A decade ago Colombia was on its way to becoming a full-fledged narco-state. An article in Foreign Affairs' July/August 2000 issue written by a former Colombian minister of defense, Rafael Pardo, summarized his country's woes:
In the last 15 years, 200 bombs (half of them as large as the one used in Oklahoma City) have blown up in Colombia's cities; an entire democratic leftist political party was eliminated by right-wing paramilitaries; 4 presidential candidates, 200 judges and investigators, and half the Supreme Court's justices, 1,200 police officers, 151 journalists, and more than 300,000 ordinary Colombians have been murdered.
Andrés Pastrana, president of Colombia from 1998 to 2002, revealed the weakness of the state when in 1999 he formally ceded 42,000 square kilometers--an area the size of Switzerland--to the control of the primary insurgent group, FARC (the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). A Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1964, FARC had become one of the most powerful guerrilla armies on the planet. And it seemed to be on the verge of victory. The government in Bogotá controlled so little of its own territory that people considered it unsafe to drive out of the capital. The insurgency was fueled by drug production which made Colombia the world's largest producer of cocaine and one of the largest producers of heroin.
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