The ongoing terrorism and economic instability that plague Colombia have hampered progress on human rights issues and undermined the country’s government, a panel of experts on the Colombian situation said last night.
America’s overwhelming concern in the Middle East has led the U.S. to neglect other serious problems around the world, said Kennedy School of Government Dean Joseph S. Nye, who introduced the discussion at the ARCO Forum.
“We forget about terrorism in our own hemisphere,” Nye said.
Father Francisco De Roux, winner of the Colombian National Peace Prize, spoke about the effects of programs such as the development and peace initiative that he runs.
“We need to gain the heart of our people,” De Roux said. “Colombia is [one of the few] countries that entered the 21st century without a national community.”
His own organization has suffered 10 casualties by terrorist groups, he said, but he said he still maintains the importance of ongoing talks with all sides.
James Mack, deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of international narcotics and law enforcement, said the U.S. must balance its policy priorities with the protection of human rights.
Mack pointed to the persistence of terrorist groups, the three major divisions of which are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army and the paramilitary groups.
In order to achieve progress in securing human rights and curbing terrorism, the Colombian government needs to strengthen its authority and make its people feel safe, Mack said.
Colombia’s depressed economic situation has exacerbated the problems, said Alejandro Santos, who runs Semana, the country’s main weekly newsmagazine.
“We are on the edge, almost like Argentina a year ago,” Santos said of the Colombian economy.
Panelists agreed the government needs to increase funding through taxes, but Santos questioned such efforts in view of overwhelming poverty throughout the county.
Santos said arrogance on the part of both the government and the terrorist groups made it difficult to begin negotiations.
Terrorist groups are not motivated to come to the bargaining table, said Mark Schneider of the Brussels-based nonprofit International Crisis Group.
“Right now too many of them think there is [still] a military option,” Schneider said.
Anders Kompass, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, said it was especially important now to reach out to the entire Colombian society.
“Colombia is truly at a crossroads,” Kompass said.