- - Sunday, January 17, 2016


Colombia, once a country controlled by drug cartels and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other terrorist organizations, has made a truly heroic and inspirational transformation. It is a model for what can and should happen in much of the rest of Latin America. During this transformation, with President Juan Manuel Santos‘ strong leadership, Colombia has become one of the best places to invest in Latin America, due among other things to their strong trading ties to the United States.

The tipping point came on Nov. 6, 1985. The 19th of April Movement, (terrorist organization M19), attacked the Palace of Justice in Bogot and held the Supreme Court of Colombia and other public employees hostage. The terrorists held the palace, and at one point, over 200 hostages. Rather than negotiate with the terrorists, President Belisario Betancourt ordered the Colombian Army to retake the palace. The assault lasted two days and the Army took the palace back from the terrorists but the result was catastrophic. At least 200 people died, including 11 Supreme Court justices, 48 Colombian soldiers and 35 M19 members, including at least six of their top leadership.

From that point on Colombia realized it was in a fight for its survival. The Colombian government established an elite anti-terrorism unit. The United States government, through five different administrations, provided training, money and support from Presidents Ronald Reagan up to and including President Barack Obama. The United States stood shoulder to shoulder with Colombia. To this day we provide this training. Just two weeks ago I personally witnessed the joint training still underway.

The results have been that Colombia has won back control of its government. The M19 signed a very strong peace agreement with the Colombian government and many of the former M19 members have been successfully pacified. Pablo Escobar and the cartel bosses were either imprisoned, killed or defeated. The final and most dramatic defeats came under the guidance and direction of President lvaro Uribe Vlez, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Gen. Oscar Naranjo and the brave, relentless and well trained Colombian Army and Police. The FARC was decimated.

Now under the leadership of President Santos, Colombia is attempting to negotiate peace with the FARC. It is, of course, a source of tension and controversy in Colombia. But as someone who has watched this transformation, as a government official and for the last several years, as an adviser to the Defense Ministry of Colombia, I believe if the terms set down by Mr. Santos are met, Colombia will be fully restored.

Of course the devil is in the details; some of the FARC members must be prosecuted. Others of lesser culpability must be pacified; a difficult process but one that Colombia was able to achieve with M19. The government must make every effort to recover as many of the innocent people killed by the terrorists for a proper burial. This and more must be worked out, including preparing the Army and the Police to remain in pursuit of the FARC members who remain recalcitrant and return to crime.

Critical to this process is President Santos‘ strong and unwavering ultimatum, that there will be no agreement until there is full agreement on all issues. No peace accord of this kind is ever perfect. This was true of the M19 peace, the peace accord in Northern Ireland or others where there have been decades, even centuries of hostilities and barbarities. Some terrorists may never agree and will do everything they can to disrupt the process with acts of violence, even terror. But if the agreement can be reached, with the overwhelming majority of terrorists (already a number much reduced by the successful campaign against them), then the remaining numbers will be much easier to divide and conquer.

None of this will be easy, but given my experience working as an adviser to the Colombian police on crime reduction strategies, particularly with then-Defense Minister, now Ambassador to the United States, Juan Carlos Pinzon, who as defense minister led the offensive that led to the killing of over 40 FARC leaders, I believe they are prepared for the task. For example, we are presently finishing a crime reduction pilot program in Medelln, and in just under six months they have accomplished a 37 percent reduction in homicide, a 46 percent reduction in car theft, an 18 percent reduction in violent crimes, an 11 percent reduction in overall crimes, and an over 20 percent reduction in overall crime in the worst parts of Medelln, the so-called Hot Zones. This strategy will then be utilized in Cali and ultimately in Bogota, which will put in place a very well trained and strategic police presence to deal both with day-to-day crime and whatever fallout occurs from the FARC members who do not agree to the treaty.

Of course if President Santos does not obtain agreement to the key principles and ultimatum he has set down, he is fully committed to renew the effort to eradicate the remaining terrorists. The Colombian Army and Police have more than demonstrated the capacity to accomplish this. The present Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas has recently made clear that “If peace does not occur through political negotiation — which is what I’ve believed in for all my life — I will also be ready for what would be the armed forces’ most victorious period.” But it would be far better for the continued growth and safety of our strong ally Colombia if it can be accomplished as peacefully as possible.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, is a security consultant to the minister of defense and President Santos, Republic of Colombia.



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