Regional relations remain good despite occasional issues with neighbors, especially regarding spillover from Colombia’s civil conflict, including cross-border guerrilla crossings, the flow of refugees, and the spread of drug crops. These issues are of particular concern to the bordering countries of Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. For example, Ecuador has closed its main border crossing with Colombia every night since August 2002, when evidence emerged that Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries were asserting control over Ecuador’s border communities. On May 1, 2004, Ecuador placed further stringent visa restrictions on Colombians seeking to enter Ecuador. Relations with Nicaragua and Venezuela have been strained over territorial disputes. Bilateral committees are negotiating the dispute with Venezuela over waters in the Gulf of Venezuela. Other issues with Venezuela include the presence of illegal undocumented Colombians in Venezuela, and activities of Colombian narcotics traffickers.
In the 1980s, Colombia broadened its bilateral and multilateral relations, joining the Contadora Group, the Group of Eight (now the Rio Group), and the Non-Aligned Movement, which it chaired from 1994 until September 1998. In addition, it has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Colombia has traditionally played an active role in the United Nations and the Organization of American States and in their subsidiary agencies. Former President César Gaviria became Secretary General of the OAS in September 1994 and was reelected in 1999. Colombia was a participant in the December 1994 and April 1998 Summits of the Americas and followed up on initiatives developed at the summit by hosting two post-summit, ministerial-level meetings on trade and science and technology.
Colombia regularly participates in international fora, including CICAD, the Organization of American States' body on money laundering, chemical controls, and drug abuse prevention. Although the Colombian Government ratified the 1988 UN Convention on Narcotics in 1994 -- the last of the Andean governments to do so--it took important reservations, notably to the anti-money-laundering measures, asset forfeiture and confiscation provisions, maritime interdiction, and extradition clauses. Colombia subsequently withdrew some of its reservations, most notably a reservation on extradition. hi people
Relations with the United States became a foreign policy priority for the Uribe administration, and President Uribe is an important ally in George W. Bush’s "War on Terrorism". In March 2002, in response to a request from Bush, the U.S. Congress lifted restrictions on U.S. assistance to Colombia to allow it to be used for counterinsurgency in addition to antidrug operations. U.S. support for Colombia’s antidrug-trafficking efforts included slightly more than US$2.5 billion between 2000 and 2004, as compared with only about US$300 million in 1998. In addition to the challenge posed to the United States by Colombian drug trafficking, illegal Colombian immigrants in the United States are an issue in U.S.-Colombian relations. An estimated one million illegal Colombian immigrants were in the United States by 1999. In early 2003, Colombia ranked among the top seven countries in the world exporting illegal aliens to the United States.
In 2004, the EU as an entity did not offer unrestricted support for the Uribe government’s peace initiative with paramilitaries, citing concerns over the possible lack of a credible and comprehensive peace strategy and its application, but it did approve 2 million USD in aid for the process. Individual EU members such Sweden, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands also provided limited support on their own.
The replacement of Spanish right-wing Prime Minister José María Aznar by left-wing José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in March 2004 prompted Spain to distance itself ideologically and politically from the earlier support that Aznar had offered to the Colombian government, while still maintaining cordial diplomatic relations.
Colombia underwent a dispute with Ireland over the return of three Irish citizens, known as the Colombia Three. The men were first convicted due to their use of false passports and, after an appeal by the prosecution, of providing training to Colombian guerrillas. They escaped while on bail and the Irish government and media are aware of their presence in Ireland.
Despite the death of Medellin cartel drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the arrests of major Cali cartel leaders in 1995 and 1996, Colombian drug cartels remain among the most sophisticated criminal organizations in the world, controlling cocaine processing, international wholesale distribution chains, and markets. In 1999 Colombian police arrested over 30 narcotraffickers, most of them extraditable, in "Operation Millennium" involving extensive international cooperation. More arrests were made in a following "Operation Millennium II."
Colombia is engaged in a broad range of narcotics control activities. Through aerial spraying of herbicide and manual eradication, Colombia has attempted to keep coca, opium poppy, and cannabis cultivation from expanding. The government has committed itself to the eradication of all illicit crops, interdiction of drug shipments, and financial controls to prevent money laundering. Alternative development programs were introduced in 1999.
Corruption and intimidation by traffickers complicate the drug-control efforts of the institutions of government. Colombia passed revised criminal procedures code in 1993 that permits traffickers to surrender and negotiate lenient sentences in return for cooperating with prosecutors. In December 1996 and February 1997, however, the Colombian Congress passed legislation to toughen sentencing, asset forfeiture, and money-laundering penalties.
In November 1997, the Colombian Congress amended the constitution to permit the extradition of Colombian nationals, albeit not retroactively. In late 1999, President Pastrana authorized the first extradition in almost 10 years of a Colombian trafficker to stand trial for U.S. crimes. Three such extraditions to the United States have taken place, the most recent in August 2000, with cases against others pending in Colombian courts. Under the Pastrana administration, Plan Colombia was developed and implemented with U.S. backing.
In 2005, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that some 860 km² were under cultivation.
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