Reversing Colombia's Security Deficit: Plan Colombia

Lost amongst global headlines dominated by chaos emanating from the Middle East is a U.S. foreign policy success story that helped bring a country back from the abyss right here in the Western Hemisphere.

At the dawn of this century, Colombia stood on the brink of state failure. The hemisphere's longest ‎illegal armed insurgency was in many ways laying siege to Colombia's large urban areas, and widespread violence was forced into the day-to-day lives of most Colombians.

At the invitation of Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush committed more than $6 billion in U.S. resources to support Colombia's capacity to combat illegal groups and expand the government's territorial control -- known today as Plan Colombia. Critical to its lasting success, the U.S. financing of Plan Colombia served as a catalyst to a far larger investment by Colombia itself.

Over time, U.S. investment in Plan Colombia has evolved. With the leadership of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, support to Colombia expanded to include greater socioeconomic support. Today, for example, the United States is helping fund Colombia's efforts to restore land and pay reparations to victims displaced by insurgents and paramilitaries during the course of Colombia's decades-long conflict.

As a result of Plan Colombia, with bipartisan U.S. support, the Colombian government has firmly retaken control of the state and greatly improved the social, political, and security environments for many in the country. Colombia stands on the verge of an historic peace agreement, is implementing far-reaching socioeconomic reforms, and has grown to be Latin America's 3rd largest economy.

Colombia's homicide rate today is at its lowest level in nearly three decades, dropping from 67 per 100,000 in 2002 to 30 per 100,000 in 2014. Kidnappings have dramatically declined from 3,500 in the year 2000 to approximately 280 in 2014. Control of corruption and government effectiveness has improved dramatically over the last 15 years as a result of improvements in state capacity. Colombia's middle class has risen from 16% in 2002 to just over 28% in 2011. In the context of counter-drug efforts, Colombia's drug-related economy fell from an estimated $7.5 billion in 2008 to $4.5 billion in 2013.

U.S. investment in Colombia is also yielding important benefits for others in the Americas, as Colombia has become an exporter of security. Between 2009 and 2013, Colombia contributed to the training of more than 20,000 police and military personnel, including countries in dire need of security assistance like Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. That number is much higher today.

To argue, as critics do, that Plan Colombia was a failure and the source of challenges faced by the Colombian people over the past 15 years, is to neither understand Plan Colombia and its historical context, nor the realities of Colombia today. Plan Colombia is one of the reasons behind Colombia's extraordinary turnaround. As Colombia enters the post-conflict phase, there is still much to be done but with continued U.S. support and Colombian commitment to inclusive governance, peace and development will finally come, and it will be in no small part thanks to Plan Colombia.