By Mark Souder for The News-Sentinel/TodayColombia
When I was elected to Congress, I was appointed to the committee with jurisdiction over narcotics policy. Combined with my previous work for Dan Coats, I wound up as the point person on the drug issue for most of my career, a position I would not have chosen, but it needed to be done.
Cocaine and heroin, centering on the nations in the Andes Mountains — Bolivia, Peru and Colombia — put them all on the verge of being failed nation states as well as corrupting everything north in Central America up through Mexico and the Caribbean up through Miami.
Most Americans think of coffee and Juan Valdez when they think of Colombia in terms other than cocaine. Others think of emeralds. Colombia was, before the terrorists, our eighth-largest supplier of oil (it is next door to Venezuela), and it also supplies coal and other natural resources.
Most American flowers come from Colombia in an extraordinary supply system through Bogota and Medellin, where airport service can supply flowers we buy in major stores with in 24 hours, greenhouse to shelf.
In 1995, we had machine guns pointing out of our armored vehicle windows, with armed police on rooftops and fleets of motorcycles around us and were not allowed to stay overnight. Riding in a vehicle with former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Morris Busby, I commented that it was like Tom Clancy’s book “Clear and Present Danger.”
He replied: “Yes, but I died in the movie.”
To watch the evolution from that first visit in 1995, to being escorted and unloaded in hotels underground with 50-100 soldiers guarding your motel, to going to eat at a restaurant in Bogota (which itself took years) without arriving by driving the wrong way on a one-way street with protection inside and outside the restaurant, to attending President Uribe’s inauguration where terrorists blew off one side of the adjoining presidential mansion (rather unnerving), to the comparative freedom when President Uribe left office was truly astounding.
Your eyes don’t lie, nor does the amount of protection afforded American officials (except to ambassadors in Libya under this administration, but that is another story).
Former Colombia President Alvaro Uribe’s new book, “No Lost Causes,” tells the success story of Colombia in depth. He is an amazing man, a Colombian patriot and true hero. For that he was falsely smeared and unjustly vilified, but he stayed the course. Murders and kidnappings were reduced to a fraction of what they had been, education improved for all, the criminal justice system became fairer and the Colombian economy was stabilized.
I do not know whether Colombia leaders will sustain his success. I do not know if those who follow Uribe will continue his leadership. What I do know, from observing firsthand nearly every year during my 16 years in Congress and through multiple Colombia and U.S. presidents, that change for the good can be done and the drug mafias can be dramatically reduced in power.
President Alvaro Uribe proved it.
Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressional representative.