Over the past several decades Colombia has emerged as the world's leading cocaine exporter. Its drug cartels are the most successful organizations for the production and export of this illicit drug. Many argue that the drug problem should be solved primarily at the consumption end, by targeting demand rather than production. If other countries reduce consumption of cocaine, Colombian peasants would stop producing it.
Under the previous Pastrana administration, relations with the United States improved significantly. In 2002, the United States pledged approximately US $400 million in additional funding for programs that include a combination of military and police assistance to increase counternarcotics capabilities and projects for human rights, humanitarian assistance, alternative development, and economic and judicial reforms.
The attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001 led the international community to join in the effort to combat terrorism. Because Colombians have had to deal with terrorism for decades, the new international focus on fighting terrorists and those who protect them has put Colombia at the center stage of antiterrorist activities in the Americas. The left-wing guerrillas, closely linked to the drug trafficking business in the country, have been denounced by the government as terrorist organizations. The United States has provided funds to help combat terrorists, and President Uribe has vowed to eliminate terrorism from Colombia. Yet, Uribe will have to be vigilant about preventing the emergence of right-wing militias that can turn the war against terrorism into a civil war. Because of similar experiences elsewhere in Central America, and Colombia's prior history of civil violence, the threat of a civil war is real. President Uribe's effort to draw support for his war against terrorism in Colombia must rest on a solid human rights record for his government and for Colombia's military. If human rights violations increase during his tenure, President Uribe will find it more difficult to present his case against terrorism before the international community.
Because the main market for Colombia's drugs is the United States, President Uribe understands that he must actively engage the U.S. government in his fight against drugs. Yet, Uribe knows that he must dissuade the U.S. government from approaching the fight against terrorism in Colombia exclusively as a military affair. Support to develop alternative crops for peasants who plant coca leaf, economic aid to bring about the development, and consolidation of democratic institutions must all be central components of Uribe's plan if his war is to succeed.
Perhaps the only area where President Uribe can safely count on credible and effective support is the international front. His foreign policy objectives are cut out for him: he must convince the world that he is fighting a real war against terrorism—without employing the weapons of terror and human rights violations that terrorists use to advance their goals.
Colombia is a member of the Andean Common Market, which includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. In the 1980s, Colombia also joined the Contadora Group, which later joined with the Lima Group to form Rio Group, and the Non-Aligned Movement, which it chaired from 1994 until September 1998. In addition, it has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela. The nation has played an active role in the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS). Colombia also regularly participates in CICAD, the OAS's body on money laundering, chemical controls, and drug abuse prevention.