Inside Colombia's War on Kidnapping

The State Department is helping train elite police units to go after kidnappers and rescue hostages.

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Still, with kidnappings having fallen dramatically, the overall security picture in Colombia is much brighter. "An inherent part of security is the ability of the ordinary Colombian citizen to feel secure in their ability to walk the streets without being kidnapped," says Ambassador Brownfield. "Without that sense of security, they are not going to cooperate on counternarcotics efforts or cooperate with the government on fighting guerrillas." In the past two years, many Colombians who fled abroad have returned, and the cities are once again very lively at night. "Security allowed us to regain the trust of our investors," says Araujo, the foreign minister. "That causes economic growth, and the economic growth results in further resources for the nation."

He may be overstating the case slightly. FARC remains a potent organization, and Colombia has been widely criticized by human-rights groups for the tactics it is using to enforce security, particularly a spate of alleged extrajudicial executions. The country also remains very poor and handicapped by narcotics trafficking.

Even critics of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe concede that he is taking on the FARC and right-wing paramilitaries more successfully than his predecessors. But Luis Eduardo Celis, a consultant for the Corporación Nuevo Argo Iris, a nonprofit that advocates for a negotiated solution with the guerrillas, says that Uribe is ignoring deepening economic gaps in Colombia that could eventually give new life to the guerrillas. "There is a serious social conflict," he says, "that has not been resolved."