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After a dark period, a better Colombia

WHEN ALVARO URIBE was inaugurated as president of Colombia two years ago, his mandate was clear: address the challenges threatening the country's security, law and order, and economy. At the midpoint of his presidency, a majority of Colombians are -- for the first time in a generation -- optimistic about their future. A recent poll indicated that 78 percent of Colombians approve of how Uribe is doing his job.

Colombia's transformation can be measured on many fronts, but most striking is the reduction of violence and terrorism. Since 2002, homicides have declined by 25 percent; kidnappings have declined by 45 percent; and incidents of terrorism have declined by 37 percent. Today, people and commerce are moving more freely and safely around the country.

Uribe has focused on the root of his country's terrorist violence: the illegal narco-trafficking industry, which also fuels guerrillas and paramilitaries. Colombia's illegal coca crop was reduced from 169,800 hectares in 2001 to 113,850 hectares at the end 2003; an additional 60,000 hectares were sprayed in the first half of this year. Colombia is on target to meet the commitment it made in 2000 to reduce our coca crop by 50 percent in five years.

A stronger, more capable military is targeting narco-terrorist organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, National Liberation Army, and United Self-Defense Forces. For the first time, they are on the run, and more than 10,000 members of these groups have been killed, or have deserted or demobilized in the past two years.

At the same time, Uribe's administration has left the door open for negotiations with illegal groups and individual combatants interested in giving up arms and rejoining civil society. A peace process is underway between the government and the United Self-Defense Forces and a second process may soon begin with the National Liberation Army.

Law enforcement has been strengthened. A total of 36,000 troops and 7,000 police officers have been added to Colombia's security forces in the past 24 months, and today there exists a police presence in every Colombian municipality. The government has expanded a security program for high-risk individuals, providing safety to more than 5,000 labor leaders, human rights workers, journalists, local government officials, and others.

Cooperation with the United States has led to judicial reform and an improvement in human rights performance. Over the past two years, the United States has provided training for more than 3,500 prosecutors, judges, magistrates, and defense attorneys, and 73,000 members of the armed forces received training in human rights and international humanitarian law in 2003 alone. Colombia has extradited more than 170 individuals to the United States for prosecution, and has more aggressively targeted individuals engaged in money laundering, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking.   Continued...

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