Ambassador talks drugs

The Colombian Ambassador to the United States touted the country’s improvement in fighting crime and boosting the economy in a speech Thursday evening at Marvin Center.

Carolina Barco, Colombia’s ambassador since 2002, described the drug trade as an international issue that must be addressed throughout the world, not a problem specific to her country

“We must all be responsible,” Barco said.

Barco also discussed Plan Colombia, U.S. legislation aimed at reducing drug trafficking.

“We’re starting to see the effects of this very good cooperation,” Barco said of the work between Colombia and countries such as the United States.

As a result of this cooperation, Barco said Colombia has arrested hundreds of drug traffickers and extradited them to the U.S. She added that Colombia has seen a a decrease of more than 40 percent in homicide, and a similar decrease in kidnappings.

“We have made great progress, but we need to continue to improve,” she said.

Barco told the audience that as violence has decreased, the economy has improved, adding that companies from Latin America, the United States and Europe are investing in Colombia.

“Now that we have the security . Colombians are investing again,” she added.

Barco discussed some specifics of Colombia’s efforts to reduce violence and detailed the government’s attempts to keep peace among groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army.

“This behavior is not acceptable,” Barco said of the groups’ violent activities.

One specific cause of violence reduction is Colombia’s “peace and justice” law, one which allows members of the traditionally violent national organizations to get involved in the peace process by facing trial, handing over illegal assets, returning those who have been kidnapped and ceasing to traffic narcotics.

At least 60 leaders have already accepted these terms, Barco said, adding that 30 of these leaders are on trial and the 40,000 men who worked with them are being rehabilitated for re-entry into society.

“What we are facing in these trials is our history in the last twenty years,” Barco said.

In addition to their ability to decrease violence in Colombia, the peace and justice trials are also encouraging victims of the defendants to come forward, report their abuses and testify in the trials.

“(The victims) believe in the justice,” Barco said.

While Colombia has made great strides in its peace process with its violent national groups, Barco admitted that violence will continue to be as issue for years to come.

“You always have to be very patient and give these processes the time they need,” she said. “We will continue to make many, many efforts to reach out and address the situation. We want (the agressors) to realize the international community will not accept this.”

Along with GW students and faculty, the audience also included a number of Colombian natives.

Elena Elder, a 2002 GW graduate, said she had to leave Colombia in 1983 because of the political situation and asked Barco if legalizing drugs would make the situation in Colombia better.

Barco said the debate over that issue would have to take place in Congress, adding, “Colombia will continue to fight.”

Barco concluded by expressing her hope that Colombia and the United States would continue to work together and that Colombia would continue in its progress.

He said, “There is no doubt that Colombia will not only make it, it is strong and doing well.”

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