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"Re-Plan Colombia"

People place lighted candles on bricks with names of people murdered or missing allegedly by paramilitary groups in front of Costa Rica's embassy, in Bogota, Apr., 22, 2008, after one of President Uribe's allies entered the embassy to request asylum.
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"Re-Plan Colombia"

Advice to President Obama

Policy Memo, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

January 2009

Author: Sarah Zukerman Daly, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Intrastate Conflict Program, 2008–2010

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Intrastate Conflict Program



From Advice to President Obama—A quick guide to pressing policy issues, published by MIT's Center for International Studies:

"Barack Obama will be flooded with advice on the many crucial matters that he must face as 44th President of the United States, as will the new Congress. Here we offer a few fresh ideas, succinctly stated, on issues ranging from security strategy to the financial crisis to human rights. The advice is offered by scholars affiliated with the MIT Center for International Studies (CIS), and draws on their deep knowledge and experience."

Research Fellow Sarah Zukerman offers her policy recommendations on U.S. aid for Colombia.


The financial crisis will require a reevaluation of U.S. aid. Critics of Plan Colombia argue that, in Colombia, union leaders remain at risk, human rights abusers are not brought to justice, the military commits "false positives," and drug eradication has failed. Based on this record, they conclude that the U.S. should reduce or withhold aid from Colombia. This is unsound advice. Colombia has made great advances against the guerrillas and paramilitaries because of U.S. aid. Some 340 politicians who conspired with paramilitaries, 3,000 paramilitaries who committed crimes against humanity, and 14 perpetrators of abuses against union leaders face prosecution because of U.S. aid. These advances in security, justice and democracy would not have occurred without U.S. assistance. However, the critics are not wrong; there is much work left to be done.

The U.S. should continue to fund Plan Colombia; cutting aid would jeopardize Colombia's ability to complete this work. However, the Plan should be amended in three critical ways. One, military aid should be withheld from army units not complying with international human rights standards. Two, the U.S. must admit that aerial spraying will lose the War on Drugs and instead prioritize policies that work: alternative development and property rights in drug-producing regions and demand-side drug prevention and treatment programs in the U.S. Three, the Colombian military has been strengthened; now it is time to bolster Colombia's social and judicial institutions.

Sarah B. Zukerman is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at MIT, and a research fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Download all the Advice to President Obama policy memos here.


For more information about this publication please contact the ISP Program Coordinator at 617-496-1981.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Zukerman, Sarah B. "Re-Plan Colombia." Policy Memo, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, January 2009.

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