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Conference at YLS Examines U.S. Colombia Policy, Feb. 25-6

Yale Law School will host a two-day conference on U.S. policy toward Colombia on February 25 and 26. The conference, called "U.S. Colombia Policy at a Crossroads: Recent Experience and Future Challenges," will bring together academics, government policy makers, journalists, and activists to discuss innovative policy approaches.

As Ryan Calkins, an organizer of the conference, explains, this attempt to re-evaluate U.S. Colombia policy comes at a crucial moment. Since 2000 the U.S. government has funded "Plan Colombia," which was intended to address a broad range of Colombia's problems, including illegal drug trafficking, political violence, and economic instability. That support is scheduled to phase out in the next year.

The conference will look in part at how Plan Colombia has worked so far. "We've tried this now for five years. What are the successes and failures?" says Calkins. And Calkins hopes that the dialogue will bring more attention to changes that should be made in "a policy that many of us fear will crystallize into the status quo."

Each panel is constructed to provide balanced viewpoints of the efficacy of Plan Colombia, and speakers will focus much of their time on prescriptive solutions. Calkins describes all the speakers as "experts who are willing to consider unconventional ideas." Panelists will include former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Bogotá Mayor Antanas Mockus, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Thomas Martin, Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member Janice O'Connell, and Miami Herald reporter Steven Dudley.

The conference's three panels are titled "Evaluation of U.S. Counternarcotics Policies in Colombia," "Challenges of Recent U.S.-Colombian Relations," "From Plan Colombia to Plan Patriota and the New Peace Process."

The conference will also host a cultural event and a film screening. Calkins says that while the panels focus on the tough issues in Colombia, the cultural events will show Colombia's "vibrancy and artistic and cultural health, which is often forgotten or just not known in the U.S."

Calkins himself spent two years in Colombia working for an NGO called Witness for Peace. "It's an incredibly complex, multifaceted, and idiosyncratic situation," he says, "and any policy solution needs to recognize that complexity."

The Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at the Yale Law School, and the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund will sponsor the conference.