Featured Scholar: Juan Botero

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Featured Scholar: Juan Botero
Watson, Sara
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Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Featured Scholar:
Juan Botero

2002 - 2003 University Scholar
Mentor: Juan Carlos Molleda
College of Journalism and Communications

Colombia is in the midst of a civil war, and Americans are funding both sides. On one side
are the guerrilla groups, funded by Colombia's cocaine trade, which is largely supported
by American drug users. On the other side is Plan Colombia, an anti-drug offensive
funded by US tax dollars. Juan Botero, who was born and raised in Colombia, is trying to
make sense of it all.

"The Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces is very strong in Colombia right now," he
says. "What they do is take care of illegal drug crops and sell them to buy weapons on
the black market, which are used to fight the government. The Colombian government
doesn't have enough people or money to cover the whole territory, so the places that are
more distant from the cities are free to do whatever they want. So the money that is
coming from the states is being used to train more policemen and more armies and
providing more weapons so that the Colombian government can be at the level of the

Called "Plan Colombia," the US funded counter-drug operation was launched in June
2000 as part of the US "War on Drugs" and, at the time, made Colombia the third largest
recipient of US foreign aid, after Israel and Egypt. But the plan is controversial in the
United States, where opponents criticize the plan's heavy focus on militarizing the

"The money is going into building up the arsenal-helicopters and weapons-when people
say what they need to do is to build up the national institutions so they can rule
themselves instead of everybody fighting," Juan says. "Ideally, if you want to deal with
this kind of thing you have to educate, you can't just arm. The problem is really complex.
Country people are growing the coca and marijuana crops, and they are not doing it
because they want to, but because it's a necessity. Either they're being threatened by
the drug lords to do it or the economy is so bad that there is nothing else they can do to
provide food for their families."

Though often viewed throughout the world as US interference, Juan says Plan Colombia
was actually initiated by the Colombian government. As a public relations senior, Juan's
USP project focuses on the public relations strategies that were used by Colombia when it
petitioned the US to aid in its fight against the guerrillas that have all but overthrown the

"Colombia started a campaign here in the states to promote a better image," Juan says.
"They hired a US public relations company and took out advertising in the New York
Times and the Washington Post to recruit businesses and influence Congress. They also
flew key officials to Colombia to give them a better feel for the reality of the country."

Juan got the idea for his USP project from his mentor, Juan Carlos Molleda, a public
relations professor who grew up next door to Colombia in Venezuela. "I took an
international public relations course with him and was helping him out with some
translations," Juan says. "He suggested the USP and thought we should work on a
project on Colombia." Juan's paper, "Public Relations and Public Diplomacy for Plan
Colombia" won a Best Qualitative Paper Award in the 2002-2003 USP Best Paper

Juan, who moved to the US with his father in 1994, hasn't been to Colombia since Plan
Colombia was established. His USP project brought him up-to-date on what is going on in
his home country. "When I was studying, I felt that Plan Colombia was too military
driven," he says. "I didn't feel that things like hospitals and universities were given
enough attention, but I do think Plan Colombia was a necessary step, a right step,
because people now have a little more confidence in government and a little more

Upon graduating from UF in December of 2003, Juan plans to apply to law schools in
south Florida, in order to be closer to his father who lives in Miami. He hopes to practice
international law and some day serve as a diplomat between the US and Colombia. "I
would love to be involved in a diplomatic environment, where I can be a liaison between
the US and Colombian government," he says. "My dream is to work for the United
Nations. That would be incredible. But I think I have a long way to go before reaching
that goal."


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