BOGOTA - A new anti-drug battalion trained by U.S.
instructors began to function Thursday, completing the military
component of Plan Colombia, the multi-billion dollar programme
with which the government of Andrés Pastrana is fighting drug
traffickers and the irregular armies involved in the country's
The 698-troop battalion will operate out of the Larandia base
in the southeastern department of Caquetá, the epicentre of Plan
Colombia, which the United States is helping to finance with a 1.3
billion dollar contribution, 70 percent of which has been
earmarked for the fight against drugs.
Members of the U.S. trained Colombian Army's 3rd counter narcotics battalion salute during their graduation ceremony at the Larandia military base in southern Colombia, Thursday, May 24, 2001. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
The United States has provided 25 helicopters, which sprayed
and eradicated 30,000 hectares of coca crops from December to
March, 40 percent of them located in southeastern Colombia,
according to Defence Ministry figures.
The new battalion is part of the ''Southern Task Forces'', made
up of 10,000 army and navy troops and police agents posted at the
Tres Esquinas military base in Caquetá, said brigade commander
General Mario Montoya.
The aim of Plan Colombia is to totally wipe out drug
trafficking in this country, which has become the world's leading
supplier of cocaine, within five years.
The anti-narcotics battalion will concentrate its operations in
the departments of Putumayo and Caquetá, a region with a heavy
paramilitary and guerrilla presence, where 70 percent of the coca
used to produce cocaine is grown, said Montoya. It will then move
on to fight drug trafficking in other parts of this country of 40
The battalion is equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and
technology, and has received military training from Washington in
the framework of Plan Colombia, which was designed by U.S. and
Colombian policy-makers and put into effect last August.
There are currently 170 U.S. military trainers and 60 advisers
in Colombia, said Montoya.
The U.S. military presence and the uses given to most of
Washington's aid for Plan Colombia have stirred up a storm of
opposition at home and abroad.
An alliance of 60 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from
Colombia, the United States and Europe, for instance, argues that
the mostly military aid will only lead to a further escalation of
the decades-old war, and could turn Colombia into a new Vietnam.
Independent Senator Rafael Orduz told IPS that the launch of
the new battalion completed ''the foundation of force of Plan
Colombia, a strategy designed by Washington and the Pastrana
administration that combines military strength and the eradication
of illicit crops.''
But Orduz maintained that the U.S. presence could not be
considered an act of ''interventionism,'' because it was based on
a U.S. law that was accepted by the Pastrana government.
The legislator said the strategy, which consists of fighting
drug traffickers, right-wing paramilitaries and guerrillas - with
which the government is involved in peace talks - alike, is a
''fatal combination'' which will end up displacing the civilian
population from areas where coca crops are being sprayed.
The U.S. presence is part of ''a long-term, continent-wide
strategy of the Pentagon (U.S. Department of Defence), which is
seeking to gain control over the territory for its global free
trade policy,'' said Jorge Rojas, with the coalition of local
NGOs, Paz Colombia.
The U.S. State Department is pressing for congressional
approval of a ''Regional Andean Initiative'', secretly negotiated
with Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela,
according to press reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell argues that the Andean
initiative would enable Washington to focus on the drug trade in
Colombia, without losing sight of the fact that it is a ''regional
The government of George W. Bush plans to assign 731 million
dollars to the Andean region initiative in next year's budget.
Half of the funds would go to Colombia, and the rest to the other
five countries, which fear the spillover effects of Plan Colombia,
already felt by Ecuador and Venezuela.
Copyright 2001 IPS