In the 1990s the Colombian government implemented policies to liberalize trade by cutting tariffs, which had protected domestic industry and agriculture. These policies contributed to the country’s high levels of unemployment. By the end of the 1990s the official unemployment figure in Colombia had reached almost 20 percent, one of the highest levels in Latin America. Unemployment figures began to drop in the early 2000s. The Colombian economy also suffered from insecurity spawned by the country’s violence. With the greatest number of kidnappings in the world and the highest homicide rate in the Americas, Colombia held little attraction for investors. The gravity of the economic situation also contributed to the frequency of common crime and to the pool of potential recruits for guerrilla and paramilitary groups, both of which pay their combatants salaries.
President Álvaro Uribe, a former Liberal who ran as an independent, was inaugurated in 2002 after winning the first round of the presidential elections. Uribe stepped up the military effort against the leftist guerrillas and pledged to double the size of Colombia’s military and police forces, winning the support of the Conservative Party in the process. Like his predecessors, Uribe also pursued negotiations with the guerrillas, and he emphasized the need for international mediation to end the conflict. At Uribe’s request, the United States took a more active role in training and supplying the Colombian military in its war against the guerrillas. By 2003 U.S. forces were also actively involved in protecting Colombia’s northern pipeline.
The FARC responded to these initiatives by detonating bombs in Colombia’s cities and targeting U.S. forces directly. By mid-2003 some observers believed that Colombia was on the verge of a full-scale civil war.
The government began formal peace talks with the paramilitary AUC in 2004, and the AUC announced that it would disarm several thousand of its members. However, the AUC wanted total amnesty on any charges related to drugs or human-rights violations. The United States sought extradition of a number of AUC leaders for drug trafficking. The outcome of the peace talks remained far from clear. In March 2006 political supporters of Uribe won a majority control of the Colombian congress. The same month his government finalized a free trade agreement with the United States. Uribe was easily reelected in the May 2006 presidential elections, claiming more than 60 percent of the vote. Uribe again ran as an independent but with the backing of the Conservative Party, which did not field a candidate. Colombian voters credited Uribe with ending much of the daily violence that had plagued Colombia, while isolating and weakening the FARC. "Colombia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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