MADRID – Trapped since the 1960’s in a protracted armed conflict with the most unscrupulous militias imaginable, and hostage to drug lords who turned the country’s vast rural areas into fiefdoms of crime and untold atrocities, Colombia long projected to the world the image of a country addicted to violence. But no more.
The Colombian paradox is that violence and the drug economy coexisted with one of the oldest and most genuinely constitutional traditions in Latin America. Yet a long succession of presidents failed to solve the paradox. It was Alvaro Uribe’s exceptionally effective administration in 2002-2010 that finally made the difference.
President Uribe’s unwavering fortitude in sticking to his policy of “democratic security” – admittedly, its flaws were rightly and severely criticized by human rights groups – radically changed Colombia’s course and national self-image. Violence decreased most significantly with the disbanding of the right-wing paramilitaries, and with the decimation in battle of the left-wing FARC guerillas and the decapitation of its leadership. Colombia’s homicide rate, for years one of the highest in the world, has almost halved since 2002.
Moreover, Colombia is no longer the world’s gold medalist in producing cocaine. According to a report by the United Nations Office Against Drug and Crime, Colombia’s cocaine output has now reached its lowest level since 2000. In 2009 alone, the government eradicated more than 165,000 hectares of coca.