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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield, discussed U.S.-Colombia bilateral relations.

William R. Brownfield, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia
William R. Brownfield
U.S. Ambassador to

Event Date: 2/8/2008

Joshua in U.S. writes:

What are you doing to curb the Colombian drug trade?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Joshua, narcotics trafficking damages society in many ways – and combating the illegal drug trade is a key priority for both the U.S. and the Colombian Governments. Through Plan Colombia, we have focused on eradicating coca crops and interdicting narcotics; expanding police and government presence throughout Colombia; and offering alternative development programs to Colombians seeking a way to make a living besides growing coca. Our joint efforts have shown impressive success in reducing violence in Colombia, establishing increased security and government control, improving human rights and stopping the rapid increase in drug cultivation that we saw in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Since 2002, kidnappings are down by 76 percent, terrorist attacks by 61 percent, and homicides by 40 percent. Interdiction and eradication successes have kept an average of 400 metric tons per year of cocaine from reaching the U.S. market. Alternative development programs have benefited over 135,000 families and supported over 158,000 hectares of licit crops.

Tom in Florida writes:

Mr. Ambassador,

I am a college-bound student interested in pursuing a career as a Foreign Service Officer. What do you recommend that one should major in so as to be better prepared for such a career?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Tom, I'm glad to hear you're considering a career in Foreign Service. There is no specific background for the Foreign Service. I for example, studied engineering and history as an undergrad, worked for a year in the oilfields, and then studied law before entering the Foreign Service. Foreign Service Officers come from all backgrounds, unified by their interest in world affairs and public service. Consider studying international affairs, political science, American history, or economics, and be sure to keep up with current events and read a good newspaper daily. Find out more about taking the Foreign Service Exam at http://careers.state.gov/. Also, I highly recommend reading Inside a U.S. Embassy, a Foreign Service career guide that offers first-hand accounts of diplomacy in action in over 50 of our embassies around the world. Inside a U.S. Embassy is produced by the American Foreign Service Association and can be ordered online at www.afsa.org/inside.

Andres in Colombia writes:

Mr. William R. Brownfield, I have a question for you:

After the sentence of 60 years against the terrorist Ricardo Palmera, alias “Simon Trinidad,” what option is available to secure the release of all the hostages, including the three Americans held by the FARC?

Will U.S. negotiate directly with the FARC? What is the position of the government of your country?

(Translated from Spanish...)

Señor William R. Brownfield, tengo una pregunta para usted:

¿Después de la condena de 60 años contra el terrorista Ricardo Palmera, alias "Simón Trinidad" que opción queda disponible para lograr la liberación de todos los secuestrados, incluidos los tres norteamericanos en poder de las FARC?

¿Acaso EE.UU va a negociar directamente con las FARC? ¿Cuál es la posición del gobierno de su país?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Andres, thank you for your question. The sentencing of Simon Trinidad is the result of an independent judicial process and does not change our position regarding hostages in Colombia. We remain committed to working with the Government of Colombia to win the safe release of all hostages held by the FARC. We hold the FARC responsible for the safety and well-being of all hostages and call for their immediate release.

Mike in Washington, DC writes:

Colombia is known to have a landmine problem. What is the U.S. doing to assist Colombia in alleviating the problem? How serious do you think the problem is?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Mike, Colombia has recorded more casualties from landmines than anywhere else in the world, due largely to mines planted by the FARC, and this problem is taken very seriously by both the U.S. and Colombian governments. We support the Colombian government's efforts to rid their country of mines by providing mine detection equipment and training to the Colombian military, including funding Colombia's only two platoons specifically dedicated to emergency humanitarian demining missions. One of these platoons recently cleared 23,000 square meters near San Jose de Guaviare. The other is working to clear a town in Montes de Maria, where FARC operations have displaced over 300 people.

However, there are many challenges that currently limit the effectiveness of the Government of Colombia and others to address the impact of landmines, including a lack of data on the location of landmines and minefields; limited geographical coverage of Mine Risk Education programs; and limited access to emergency care, physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, and social and economic reintegration for mine casualties. We hope to overcome these challenges together.

Stephen in Colombia writes:

Ambassador Brownfield,

Thank you for taking time to field questions about Colombia. As an American citizen living in Colombia my question is the following:

The U.S. government has taken a strong position in support of President Uribe and his government against the FARC but has apparently said and done little about the Colombian military which has a well documented tendency to commit extrajudicial killings on civilians and pass their victims off as FARC by planting guns or other means. What is the U.S. government going to do about this problem and why should American citizens support further carrots (in the form of free trade) to a government that seemingly has no problem with these types of human rights violations?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Stephen, I thank you for your candid remarks. With all respect for your views, here are mine. I do not claim that the Colombian government and Armed Forces are perfect; nor do they.

I do say that by every measurable trend line, the human rights situation in Colombia has improved over the past ten years. We work closely with Colombian Government, including the Colombian military, in protecting human rights. We support Colombia's pledge to fully investigate – and prosecute where warranted - all allegations of human rights abuses by security forces. In 2007 the Colombian government took important steps forward, as seen in the Ministry of Defense Directives on preventing extra-judicial killings, promoting respect for rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombians, and prohibiting the use of ex-paramilitaries as informants.

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement serves the interests of both the U.S. and Colombia, and will solidify the gains Colombia has made by promoting growth and creating further economic opportunity for the Colombian people. This will weaken the lure of the illicit economic sector, and address the underlying causes of social ills. It will also create new jobs in the U.S., give U.S. exporters the same access to Colombia that Colombian exporters enjoy to the U.S., open new markets for the U.S., and facilitate our efforts to transfer important Plan Colombia programs to the Colombian government.

Liz in New York writes:

Secretary Rice has said that protecting and supporting human rights defenders around the world is a central component of U.S. foreign policy. What action are you taking to protect Colombian human rights activists?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Liz, Secretary Rice's words ring true here – human rights remain a priority in our relationship with Colombia. We continue to work closely with the Colombian government to promote human rights, ensure access to justice, and end impunity. The U.S. government supports the Ministry of Interior and Justice's protection program for over 6,900 human rights activists, journalists, unionists and other threatened individuals. Most crimes of violence against civilians are carried out by the country's illegal armed groups. The permanent solution to human rights abuses is an effective justice system. This was true when Secretary Rice said it and is true now. With U.S. support, Colombia has just completed its historic three year transition to an oral accusatory criminal justice system. Under this new system, which is similar to the U.S. system, cases move from arrest to verdict in months instead of years and conviction rates have soared from less than three percent to over sixty percent.

Jason in the Netherlands Antilles writes:

Hello Ambassador Brownfield,

I wanted to fly to Bogota this weekend as a tourist and am wondering if there are any warnings for American travel to Columbia currently. Thank You Very Much

Ambassador Brownfield:

Jason, it's a good idea to check http://travel.state.gov for travel warnings and other information before making travel plans. The current travel warning for Colombia explains that while security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, violence by narco-terrorist groups continues to affect some rural areas and cities. The potential for violence by terrorists and other criminal elements exists in all parts of the country. For additional details about the general criminal threat, please see the Department of State's Country Specific Information for Colombia at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1090.html.

Abe in Minnesota writes:

When, if ever, will Colombia be removed from the State Department's warning list?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Abe, travel warnings are issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make travel to certain countries (or particular areas in those countries) potentially dangerous. The travel warning has been adjusted several times in recent years, and tourism is increasing in Colombia. Travel warnings are not meant to stigmatize any countries, but rather to provide U.S. citizens with important information to ensure their safety. We continue to monitor the situation in countries around the world and make periodic updates to our travel warnings – Colombia has made tremendous progress in terms of security and that is reflected in changes to the travel warning over time. As Colombia's security situation continues to improve, I look forward to the day when a travel warning is no longer issued.

Lucedu in Colombia writes:

Hello Mr. Brownfield... I am a girl, I am 18 years old and I want to know the principal requisites for traveling to the U.S.A.! For example, what is the visa price and what documents do I need for it? Thank you!

Ambassador Brownfield:

Lucedu, everything you could ever want to know about how to obtain a visa for travel to the U.S. can be found on the “United States Visas” page of the State Department website at http://www.unitedstatesvisas.gov/, or in Spanish on our Embassy Bogota website at http://spanish.bogota.usembassy.gov/visas.html . We encourage anyone interested in legitimate travel to visit our country.

Lieselotte in Germany writes:

How would you describe the situation in Colombia with regard to the demobilization of the rebels and terrorists?

What can be done to reduce the extreme violence which predominates in a lot of parts of Colombia?

Do you see any significant progress?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Lieselotte, it's encouraging to report that over 45,000 guerrillas, paramilitaries, and terrorists have demobilized - including 32,000 paramilitary members – and the FARC and ELN are significantly weakened. We are working with the Colombian government on improvements to the demobilization process, such as increasing the capabilities of the Prosecutor General's Justice and Peace Unit, helping the GOC with reintegration programs; and promoting victims rights, including helping them to get compensation through reparations.

Security has greatly improved and violence decreased in Colombia. As I explained in answer to Joshua's question, under President Uribe, homicides have dropped by 40 percent, kidnappings by 76 percent, and terrorist attacks by 61 percent – and violence continued to plummet in 2007.

Jeff in Idaho writes:

Do you like being an Ambassador?

Ambassador Brownfield:

Jeff, I couldn't ask for a better job – or a better country in which to work. Last year I humbly accepted the challenge and honor of representing my country here in Colombia, and have very much enjoyed the experience so far. My only beef is that my wife, who is U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, lives 11, 000 miles away. Fortunately, she is still able to provide me daily guidance and advice on how to improve myself.

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