January 14, 2013
At the request of President Juan Manuel Santos, I made this trip a week earlier than planned. The primary purposes of the visit were to be briefed on the peace talks underway between the FARC and the government of Colombia, to promote support for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and Court, and to explore how existing drug control procedures might be improved. President Santos had helped to orchestrate an extensive discussion of drug policy at the Presidential Summit of the Americas in April 2012, which resulted in a directive to the Organization of American States (OAS) to assess the various strategies and make a report in April 2013. We are contemplating a follow-up meeting at The Carter Center, including interested leaders from Europe and this hemisphere, if it is deemed advisable. It was also helpful to ascertain Colombian attitudes toward the many changes now taking place in this hemisphere, including the formation of UNASUR and other regional political organizations that might challenge the status of the OAS.
Joined by Jennifer McCoy and Marcelo Varela, I first met with a group of civil society leaders who have worked with The Carter Center on various projects, and who described current political and economic developments in the region and gave us a cautiously optimistic assessment of the ongoing peace talks. Our next meeting was with Foreign Minister Maria Holguin, who described some of the current relationships with Nicaragua, Ecuador, Venezuela, the OAS, and European nations. She explained that Colombia wishes to strengthen the human rights system, but will explore some reforms now being proposed by several countries.
Our next meeting was with Minister of Interior Fernando Carrillo, who is responsible for relations between the federal government and authorities in regional and local communities. He is monitoring the peace talks quite closely, since it is in some of these local regions where the FARC and other revolutionary groups have been influential or dominant at times during the past half century. He described the key elements in the existing agenda for the talks, and he will be involved in implementing any agreements reached.
Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia and Secretary General of the OAS, briefed us on key issues from his position as a member of the Global Commission on Drugs. He explained the generic need to shift from military action, destruction of crops by fumigating, and judicial punishment for those in possession of drugs to an emphasis on treating the drug problem as a health issue. I had recommended as president that marijuana be decriminalized (not legalized) and stressed treatment and not imprisonment for simple possession of drugs. That policy was subsequently changed and America's prison population has increased seven-fold, to the highest on earth. No progress has been made in reducing production or consumption of addictive narcotics.
In the evening we met with President Santos for an extended discussion of these same issues. In addition to initiating the peace talks, he has been able to ease existing tensions with Venezuela and Ecuador. He was proud of a system of compensation to victims of violence, which has already dealt with more than 160,000 claims. The total cost may be around $9 billion.
We then had a session with his team that is negotiating with FARC leaders in Cuba. As a result of a long series of discussions beginning almost two years ago, an agenda has been adopted comprising six issues. These are being addressed sequentially:
There were also international experts on negotiating techniques present, and we continued our discussion during the evening meal. The team presented a report on their current activities, emphasizing how helpful have been Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Cuban leaders. I answered questions about some of the peace talks in which I have been involved, including with China to normalize diplomatic relations, Israel-Egypt, North Korea, Haiti to prevent military action, Eritrea-Ethiopia, North-South Sudan, and Sudan-Uganda.
We were impressed with how intimately all the various issues are related, and how great the potential benefits from successful peace efforts can be to Colombia and to the entire hemisphere.