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The U.S. Engagement with Colombia: 
Legitimate State Authority and Human Rights

Gabriel Marcella
Dante B. Fascell North-South Center, University of Miami

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The United States must adopt a strategy in Colombia that focuses on helping to establish state authority throughout the nation. This will enhance the chances of achieving the most noble element of U.S. foreign policy: the protection of human rights. The first step toward this goal would be to help the Colombians establish effective and legitimate public security at the many local areas now deficient. The next step would be for the Colombian government to coordinate state institutions and services, including education, justice, health and sanitation, communications, and resources for economic development, thereby addressing the valid aspects of the insurgents’ agenda of grievances. Institutions that provide essential services to all citizens are reasonable expectations of the social contract between democratically elected governments and the people they serve.

By following through with these two essential, though complicated and difficult steps, the Colombian government would seriously address the root causes of insecurity and begin reestablishing its connections with civil society.

A new, more holistic U.S. approach in Colombia would require a more comprehensive package of military assistance than one narrowly focused on narcotics suppression and interdiction. The United States needs to commit considerable funds and adept political and military advisors — not U.S. combat troops — to help Colombia win its war on all fronts and reestablish its government’s authority.

Paper no. 55 March 2002

April 8, 2002

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