Published on Thursday, December 21, 2000 by Inter Press Service
Plan Colombia':
Anti-Drug Plan Adds Fuel to the Flames
by Yadira Ferrer
BOGOTA, Dec 21 - Plan Colombia', the military assistance package between Colombia and the United States was supposed to launch new prospects for peace and development but, at year end, it has instead led to a further escalation of the internal armed conflict, and the impact of the strategy has already begun to be felt by neighbouring countries, say local analysts.

Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez and U.S. Ambassador to Bogota Anne Patterson launched the Plan Colombia on Sep 28, with the signing of an agreement for the first disbursement of 800 million dollars in aid for the fight against drug trafficking.

Then, on Dec 2 there was the signing of an accord with a rural community in the southeastern department of Putumayo for the eradication of illicit crops by hand which one local magazine Cambio' saw as marking another starting-point for the Plan Colombia.

When President Andres Pastrana took office in August 1998, his chief aims were to launch peace talks with the guerrillas, reactivate the slumping economy, strengthen the justice system and crack down on drug trafficking.

In early 1999, the Pastrana administration began peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest rebel group.

The president also made his first trip to Washington in search of aid against the drug trade. But when he got there, ''they changed the script on him,'' according to Marco Romero of the Peace Colombia Initiative, a coalition created in September by 60 local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking an alternative to the Plan Colombia.

Pastrana's talks with U.S. congressional leaders and the head of the White House office on National Drug Control Policy, Barry McCaffrey, gave rise to the Plan Colombia, said Romero.

The programme, which the two governments describe as ''an integrated strategy for building peace, strengthening the institutions of the state and fighting drug trafficking,'' is painted by Romero in a very different light. In fact, the activist labelled it ''a war plan.''

Romero explained that ''the change in script was seen in how Congress earmarked the special aid'' for Colombia requested by President Bill Clinton.

The price tag on Pastrana's flagship project is seven billion dollars, four billion of which will be provided by the Colombian government, and 1.3 billion of which will come from the United States in the biggest package of U.S. aid in Colombian history.

The Pastrana administration is hoping the rest will be financed by other donor countries and multilateral lending institutions. The governments of Spain, Japan and Canada and international lenders pledged 871 million dollars at a meeting of donors held in Madrid in the middle of this year.

The European Union (EU), which the Colombian government hoped would come through with the rest of the aid, announced at a second donors meeting, on Oct 24 in Bogota, that it would provide 300 million dollars from 2000 to 2006, but on the condition that the aid only be used for infrastructure works and social development projects in areas affected by the eradication of drug crops.

Around 70 percent of the U.S. aid is to go towards financing, training and supplying army anti-narcotics battalions operating in southeastern Colombia, an area of FARC influence where an estimated 60 percent of Colombia's coca is grown.

In support of their request for aid to Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and drug czar McCaffrey told the U.S. Congress that the funds were to be used for ''restoring order in southeastern Colombia.''

McCaffrey said at that time that the Colombian departments of Caquet and Putumayo were in the grip of rebel groups, which he said were largely financed by drug traffickers operating in the area.

He added that the drug trade and its ties with the insurgents had become a national security problem for the United States and for the region as a whole.

Romero said such remarks substantiated the assertion by peace activists that the U.S. strategy was based on a strengthening of Colombia's armed forces, ''which would have a hard time obtaining foreign aid otherwise.''

He said the military component of Pastrana's anti-drug plan was leading to the ''narco-tisation'' of the peace process, and to a further escalation of the war, because the guerrillas would respond by building up their military capacity.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes), said the Plan Colombia was part of a ''long-term, continent-wide U.S. strategy that has very precise objectives.''

Rojas told IPS that under the pretext of the fight against drugs, control over national territory, the exploitation of natural resources, and the bio-diversity of the Amazon jungle were being put at risk for the benefit of the United States.

The Plan Colombia is not a peace plan, he maintained, because ''simply the announcement of the programme led to an unexpected increase in armed activity'' in the department of Putumayo, and the forced displacement of thousands of peasant farmers to Ecuador.

Rojas reported that more than 12,000 people had fled to Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela from January to September, prompting those countries to step up military controls along their borders with Colombia.

The eradication, by hand, of drug crops by local peasant farmers cannot not be considered the chief objective of Pastrana's anti-drug efforts, the real aim of which is the destruction of the large plantations and the fight against bands of drug traffickers, said Rojas.

The agreement signed this month for the voluntary elimination of coca crops involves 600 families who own a total of 1,580 hectares, of the more than 70,000 hectares planted in coca in Putumayo. The total number of hectares under coca in Colombia is estimated at over 120,000 hectares.

The coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin, Antonio Jacanamijoy, said the manual eradication of crops ''could be a good measure'' if it were carried out in consultation with local communities, if the agreements reached were respected, and if development alternatives were provided.

But Jacanamijoy, a member of the Inga ethnic group that resides in Putumayo, told IPS that his community was opposed to the Plan Colombia because it had not been consulted regarding the new strategy which, moreover, failed to address local needs.

The department of Putumayo, which is now home to some 350,000 of Colombia's 40 million people, began to receive a flow of settlers in the 1950s, who were drawn by the prospect of incomes from rubber-tapping. More colonists were attracted by the oil industry in the 1980s and, more recently, by the option of growing coca.

However, the region was neglected by the state, and is now the site of turf wars between leftist insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries.

According to Jacanamijoy, ''the debate over the Plan Colombia has been going on for a long time, but it is the inhabitants of Putumayo who are suffering the war in the midst of the most basic unmet needs, such as a lack of food, channels of communications, health services and education.''

The EU delegate to the donors meeting in Bogota, Renaud Vignal, said the European bloc's contribution was focused on social aspects and the strengthening of democratic institutions, to back Pastrana's efforts for peace.

The EU believes Colombia's political conflict requires a negotiated solution, which it supports. But it will not quarrel with the United States, its main trading partner, over the Plan Colombia, local analysts pointed out.

Jaime Zuluaga, a researcher at the National University's Institute of Political Studies and International Relations, said it was only to be expected that some EU countries would have reservations regarding the Plan Colombia, because ''Pastrana's plan is basically oriented towards an escalation of the war.''

Many European countries were upset that the government's plan failed to take into account the views of social or political organisations, or of rebel groups involved in, or planning to engage in, peace talks.

The Peace Colombia Initiative argues that the government strategy will have a severe impact on small farmers, the weakest link in the drug trafficking chain.

Andean Action, a private institution dedicated to studying the drug trade in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute agreed that the eradication of illicit crops would have to form part of ''an integrated proposal,'' which should be agreed with local communities, in order to sever the circuit ''of the drug and war economy of armed actors,'' the real motors behind the drug trade.

Copyright 2000 IPS