Colombian President Álvaro Uribe spoke at a September 24, 2002, breakfast co-sponsored by the Latin American Program, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Inter-American Dialogue, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America, and the Heritage Foundation. Uribe outlined a program of “democratic security” to protect Colombian civilians from armed groups of the left and right, and pledged to enlarge the armed forces and national police. He also pledged to expand drug eradication efforts and to protect human rights.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Chair of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, introduced President Uribe, stating that it was “in the interests of the United States to promote stability in Colombia by helping it address its long-standing problems.” Kolbe noted a bipartisan compromise in the Congress over erasing the “imaginary line between counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism,” indicating that Uribe had an unparalleled electoral mandate to combat terrorism and implement fiscal austerity.

Uribe began by noting a significant deterioration in the security situation, low economic growth, and unacceptably high unemployment. He pledged to restore the confidence of the average Colombian in the government’s capacity, by “strengthening the military to enhance security, to restore law and order,” [and] by reforming state institutions. Uribe outlined several initiatives to reduce government expenditures and raise revenues, including through pension reform, the freezing of government salaries, the streamlining of government bureaucracy, and the implementation of emergency measures and the introduction of ordinary legislation to increase income taxes. He promised to honor Colombia’s financial obligations to the international community as well as to meet its domestic social obligations.

Asked about reports of collaboration between Colombia’s armed forces and paramilitary groups, Uribe emphasized a strategy of democratic security for all Colombians. For security policy to be sustainable, he said, it needed public support, and that depended on the observance of human rights. Uribe stated emphatically that to end terror in Colombia, the country needed to destroy narcotics. He pointed to increased spraying of coca crops during his administration, as well as the need to provide incentives to farmers for alternative crops. Uribe invited illegal armed groups in Colombia--the FARC, ELN, and AUC--to enter into dialogue with the government following a cessation of hostilities. Uribe also noted that the Secretary-General of the United Nations had agreed to lend its good offices in the search for a negotiated settlement.