by Colombian Defense Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, Washington,
October 8, 2002
SECURITY, TRANSNATIONAL THREATS
AND THE RULE OF LAW
MARTA LUCIA RAMIREZ
Minister of Defense
Republic of Colombia
CENTER FOR STRATEGIC
AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
Washington, 8 October
I would like first
of all to thank the Center for International and Strategic Studies and
especially Mr. Phillip McLean and Mr. Miguel Diaz for their initiative
in organizing this conference, and for giving me the opportunity to share
with you the challenges that not only Colombia, but the whole Andean region,
presently face. The transnational organized crime, drug traffickers, money
laundering, arms trafficking, and the strategic alliances within the terrorist
groups are developing a clear path to destabilize the economies and democracies
in our region, because the former elements weaken our institutions. In
the mid-term weak institutions mean the absence of the rule of law, which
in turn makes the ruthless acting of this groups become some sort of "the
law of the land". To stop this kind of scenario from being a reality,
the Colombian people have just given a strong mandate to President Uribe.
As you are all probably
aware, Colombia is facing today one of the greatest challenges in its
history. That challenge is in the first instance a challenge to the very
existence of the State.
Our democracy and
our society are threatened as never before by the terror of left and right
wing armed groups, supported by the enormous resources of the drugs trade.
What policies we adopt or fail to adopt in order to meet that challenge
will determine the future shape of our country. So it was both with gratitude
and with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to speak before
such an expert audience in security matters as is here assembled at CSIS.
I wish to present
to you today the broad outline of President Alvaro Uribe´s governments
Democratic Security and Defense Strategy, which will be the framework
that will guide our policies and our actions, and to clarify points of
detail about how we intend to implement and are already implementing that
strategy. But let me first make some general remarks about the nature
of the problem we are facing and how it is perceived: if our policies
are to be successful, it is imperative that we first be clear about the
nature of that problem.
is not something that the international community has always understood
well, as comparisons are made with, and analogies are drawn from, other
Latin American countries that are more familiar, but have very different
Take for example
the case of the recent peace process with the FARC. As many of you know,
the United States, the member states of the European Union and other European
and Latin American countries took part in three international conferences
of the Support Group of the Peace Process, which culminated with the meeting
in Brussels on 30 April 2001. At the same time, five members of the EU,
along with Switzerland, Canada and three Latin American nations, participated
directly as "facilitators" in the peace dialogues. This international
participation was probably the most significant achievement of a peace
process that sadly ended on 20 February 2002 when the FARC, in spite of
President Andres Pastrana´s efforts to achieve peace, and after
a particularly intense series of terrorist attacks, hijacked a commercial
airliner and subsequently kidnapped the president of the Senates
Peace Commission - a provocation tantamount to breaking the process, as
the United States and the EU recognized.
With hindsight, the
international support for the peace process in Colombia resembles the
familiar distribution of roles in the peace processes of Central America.
When Europe decided in 1983 to engage for the first time in the region
and support the process of San José, it was with an agenda of democratization,
peace and development. Issues of security were left to the United States.
That model was successful and seemed to suit everyone. So it is perhaps
natural to suppose that what has once worked well should be tried again.
But we must understand that the case of Colombia is different.
In particular, we
must be wary of the assumptions behind that model. The process of democratization
that many Latin American countries went through in the last two decades
set a pattern in which the activism of civil society, for lack of political
alternatives, played a decisive role in turning back the states
power to coerce, which closed all avenues of political activity and frequently
violated the citizens rights. That is how many dictatorships fell
and that is why the armies of the Central American nations were severely
reformed and reduced as a result of the peace processes. It is an understandable
temptation to set the Colombian conflict against that familiar Latin American
pattern. But it is a mistake.
With the Constitution
of 1991, Colombia itself deepened its democracy, as peace was being made
in Central America. But the strengthening of Colombias democracy
had little to do with the turning back of an authoritarian-bureaucratic
state, as political scientists call the recent Latin American dictatorships.
Colombias problem is precisely the opposite: the states lack
of capacity to provide security for its people has left power vacuums
over its territory that are filled by the terror of insurgent groups or
of the no less brutal so-called paramilitary groups that have grown as
a reaction to these.
The problem is compounded
by the existence of the drugs trade, in which all armed groups participate.
Without its resources, it is doubtful that the Colombian conflict would
be what it is today. An example: in 1983, there were 13000 hectares of
coca in Colombia and the FARC had approximately 2000 men in arms. In 1999,
there were 122000 hectares of coca and the FARC had 16000 men in arms.
In the space of sixteen years, the coca fields had grown by a factor of
9; the FARC by a factor of 8. That is how the drugs trade feeds the Colombian
conflict and has turned it in to a savage battle among the illegal armed
groups for control over the territory.
The violence that
results directly or indirectly from this conflict is unimaginable: over
34000 homicides a year; over 3000 kidnappings, including that of one presidential
candidate, five members of Congress, and 12 deputies; 370 mayors threatened
with death and the whole infrastructure of the country under permanent
attack. Last year alone, one of the main oil pipelines was blown 270 times,
causing irreparable damage to the environment and loses of 500 million
dollars to the economy (oil accounts for a third of Colombias exports).
Colombians are tired
of this violence. We want to live with peace and security. But to achieve
peace, irrespective of any future negotiation with the armed groups, we
must first strengthen the rule of law, as a necessary pre-condition to
have a stronger and more sustainable democracy. That is the very clear
mandate that President Alvaro Uribe received last May when he won the
presidential election in the first round with 53% of the vote, the first
time that this has occurred in Colombian history: to restore the rule
of law over the national territory in a transparent, lawful and determined
manner. This is what his government intends to do, through its policy
of Democratic Security.
means nothing more no less than security for every citizen, whatever his
condition may be. And the best guarantee of each citizens security
is the strengthening of the rule of law. If the rule of law is strengthened,
the citizens rights and liberties will be protected; and if the
citizen feels protected, a climate of security and respect for the rule
of law will prevail.
This means that to
make Democratic Security work an integrated effort of the whole of the
state is necessary. The security of the citizens will no longer be only
or primarily the responsibility of the police or the Armed Forces, but
of the whole of the state, under the direction of the President, with
the support of the population. What is needed is a coordinated effort
in which the judiciary works hand in hand with the security forces to
capture and try those who break the law; and once a minimum of security
and justice is in place, a subsequent effort to bring basic welfare to
the people education, health and employment - where it has been
absent. Only in this way can the rule of law be consolidated over the
territory. This is what we have set out to do in the recently created
That is the solution
we are proposing to the problem of the states weakness or even absence
in large areas of the country. We will use all our resources to achieve
this, including, when necessary, the legitimate use of force. Unfortunately,
that is precisely what some human rights organizations object to, with
a curious logic: they insist that the Colombian state comply with its
obligations to protect its citizens, while demanding at the same time
that it not be given the means to do so.
During the last four
years, the Colombian Armed Forces have gone through a process of professionalization
that has made them a much better trained and better equipped force. Above
all, it has made them utterly respectful of civilians. No other army in
Latin America receives such thorough training in human rights, and it
shows: less than one percent of human right violations in Colombia are
attributed to the Armed Forces. With more professional Armed Forces, with
the police and with a coordinated effort of the Colombian state, we shall
bring security to the citizens of our country.
It is a challenge
to fight on two fronts, as we combat right and left wing extremist groups.
Those familiar with the Troubles of Northern Ireland will know how difficult
this can be for an army. But this is what we are doing, and I am convinced
the institutions and our democracy shall prevail, precisely because of
our citizens support in favor of the freedom, but with a stronger commitment
The protection of
our citizens will certainly not be the only priority of this government,
but it will be the first. Without a minimum of security, the grave social
problems that afflict us cannot be tackled. And let us not forget: there
is no greater source of inequality in Colombia than access to security.
It is the poor who are without protection, who suffer under the terror
of the armed groups.
I say "terror",
because that is what the arbitrary violence of the armed groups, which
knows no ideological discipline, has lead to. The recent mortar attacks
of the FARC in Bogotá on the 7 of August were again proof of that,
if proof were needed. Twenty five humble Colombians died under the shells
that were recklessly aimed at the presidential palace in the center of
We are determined
to combat terrorism by all means. This is not out of opportunism on the
part of the government, after the tragic events of 11 September. The opposite
is true: those attacks made countries such as those of the European Union
realize that the terrorist conducts that they condemned in their common
anti-terrorist legislation, such as kidnapping, the destruction of infrastructure
or the murder of innocent civilians, were precisely the conducts that
the armed groups in Colombia had been putting into practice. That is why
they and we consider them terrorists, and will continue to do so, so long
as they do not abstain from killing the innocent. There is no justification
for the murder of civilians.
For that reason,
too, we call on all countries to implement resolution 1373 of the Security
Council of the United Nations. There can be no country that lends its
financial system or its territory to the activities terrorist groups.
If we are to contain
the terrorist groups, we will need appropriate legislation, such as the
Security Council has asked us and all countries to develop. We are working
on that. For the moment, we have introduced special legislation under
the temporary Sate of Internal Commotion to confront terrorism and collect
the necessary resources to boast security. This has included a 1.2% tax
on net assets, through which we will raise more than 700 million dollars.
I am pleased to tell you that last week the Constitutional Court gave
its blessing to this legislation. But it is still too weak by the standards
of European legislation. Whereas under the anti-terrorist legislation
of the United Kingdom a person can be detained without charges for up
to a week, with the consent of the judicial authorities after an initial
period of 48 hours, in Colombia he or she can only be detained for a maximum
of 36 hours.
We have a common
agenda with Europe and the United States in defeating terrorism, but we
have it many other areas as well. We all know that terrorists and drug
traffickers use the same channels, that often they are one and the same.
Conceptual differences between Europe and the United States on how best
to stem the traffic in drugs have in the past made cooperation difficult.
We must overcome these differences, because we all suffer the consequences.
I was very pleased
to find out that the CSIS has set up a Transnational Threats Initiative,
to study the links between these threats. When I had the honor recently
of being Colombian ambassador to France, I made every effort to make clear
to my counterparts the transnational character of these threats.
I believe we are
all coming closer to a common understanding of these problems and of the
solutions they call for. Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister,
has repeatedly reminded us that the greatest danger to the world today
is not the excesses of power, but the vacuums that allow such threats
to flourish. The new National Security Strategy of the United States expresses
similar views. These are precisely the sort of problems we face in Colombia,
the problems that the Democratic Security and Defense Strategy is intended
We will make every
effort, but we cannot succeed alone. If we all agree on the transnational
nature of these threats and on the need to strengthen the state to guarantee
the rule of law, we must draw the consequences and act responsibly: first,
by taking determined and effective measures against money laundering and
the illegal trade in narcotics, chemical precursors, and weapons; and
second, by helping democratic states such as Colombia, which have paid
a high price combating these threats with their own resources, to strengthen
its institutions and enforce the rule of law.
This is not a time
for finger-pointing, but for true international cooperation against threats
that are a grave danger to us all.
As of October 24, 2002,
this document was also available online at http://www.colombiaemb.org/statements.htm