- Framing the conversation as an exploration of the significant and longstanding bipartisan relationship between the U.S. and Colombia, Liz Schrayer opened the session referencing Plan Colombia, which she cited as one of the greatest success stories of foreign assistance and development diplomacy. Now, 20 years on, the two countries continue to work together to transform Colombia in a bipartisan and bilateral manner.
- Commenting on last year’s announcement of the U.S.-Colombia Growth Initiative—a successor to Plan Colombia—Schrayer asked President Iván Duque about the challenges and opportunities facing the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia, particularly in relation to coca production. President Duque agreed with Schrayer’s analysis of Plan Colombia as a success story; it has provided a framework for bilateral relations, including the signing of the free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia during the Obama administration. However, Plan Colombia has faced challenges, particularly between 2015-2018 when Colombia experienced exponential growth in coca plantations, similar to growth rates experienced in 2000. Contributing factors to the increase in coca plantations included halting the anti-coca aerial spray program as well as the failed illicit-to-legal crop substitution program.
- When President Duque took office in 2018, he had several goals in mind: the first was to reduce the exponential growth in coca plantations, of which he succeeded; the second was to re-establish the anti-coca aerial spray program; the third was to combine security with social investment to help those who had been hit the hardest by violence.
- As highlighted by Adam Boehler, there is a tremendous disparity between the $10 billion spent by the U.S. each year to fight coca production and the $1 billion of revenue created for farmers through planting coca. Despite being an illicit crop, coca grows quickly, it’s easy to transport, and it’s highly lucrative. In response to this reality, the next phase of Plan Colombia must invest in making it economically viable for farmers to substitute cocaplantationsn for other licit crops. This is where ProColombia comes in, and its beauty is that “it is not a republican initiative, it’s not a democratic initiative—it’s an American initiative,” according to Boehler.
“One of our focuses is to change the economics behind the drug trade because farmers in Colombia sometimes feel that growing coca is the only alternative. So we’re striving to generate a commercial flow for products that can replace their need to grow coca,” Adam Boehler.
- Senator Chris Coons highlighted his role in driving continued progress in the U.S.-Colombia relationship, particularly in terms of improving transparency for those working in agriculture and providing the investment required for a mutually-beneficial development of Colombia.
- The importance of Plan Colombia becomes evident when looking back over the past 20 years when Colombia was in the midst of becoming a failed state. Not only has the country recovered its security and the rule of law, but it has become a trade partner with the U.S. through the free trade agreement. The next natural stage for Plan Colombia is to collaborate on everything that joins Colombia with the U.S., such as trade, security, innovation, and the mitigation of climate change, on which Colombia has pledged to decrease 51% of its CO2 emissions by 2030.
- As Schrayer explained, the private sector is a key partner in the development of Colombia. In 2021, Colombia will have its highest-ever budget for building tertiary roads to connect isolated communities, as well as for water and sewage investments. It will also have its highest-ever budget for education and healthcare.
- The question of why it’s vital for the U.S. to be investing in these plans was explained by Senator Coons, who referenced the Port of Wilmington in Delaware, which has the highest volume of imports—of bananas—from Colombia. This massive import operation, resulting from a more stable Colombia, directly impacts jobs in the U.S.
“If you provide an environment that attracts investment, we will help facilitate the investment. And together we can write a new chapter in the U.S.-Colombia relationship,” Chris Coons