Despite the expenditure of nearly five billion
dollars in US military, security, and economic assistance, the cultivation
of coca leaf and production of cocaine in Colombia actually increased between
2000 and 2007, according to a major review by the US Congress's independent
In a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO),
investigators found that "Plan Colombia" the comprehensive
anti-drug scheme initiated under the administration of former President Bill
Clinton in 1999 has largely failed to achieve its goal of reducing illegal
drug production in the Andean nation by at least half by 2007.
While the Plan appears to have reached that goal for opium poppy cultivation
and heroin production, the far greater cultivation of coca increased by about
15 percent and cocaine production by about four percent over the six years,
according to the report.
The results should prompt a major new assessment of Washington's anti-drug
strategy by the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, particularly
as it pertains to Colombia and other Andean countries, according to several
critics of the Plan.
"The new Congress and administration should take this opportunity to launch
a serious debate and establish a realistic drug policy one that doesn't expect
immediate and dramatic results and that makes the necessary investments in rural
development and building strong civilian institutions," said John Walsh,
a drug expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights
group here that has opposed the disproportionate emphasis under Plan Colombia
on military aid and the use of aerial fumigation to wipe out coca crops.
"It should also go without saying at this point that the best-designed
and most well-executed program in Colombia will be for naught if the United
States does not finally address cocaine demand here at home," he added.
"This certainly represents an opportunity to rethink a policy that is
obviously not working," said Adam Isaacson, a Colombia specialist at the
Washington-based think tank, the Center for International Policy (CIP). "This,
combined with the other bad human rights news coming out of Colombia, should
inspire a change in direction by the new administration."
He was referring to the dismissal last week of 27 officers, including three
generals and 15 who had received training by the US, and soldiers accused of
summarily executing innocent civilians and dressing up them up as guerrillas
in order to claim a high "body count" in the ongoing counterinsurgency
campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The firings followed a lengthy investigation of a series of incidents that
human rights groups insist represent just the tip of the iceberg of a growing
scandal. They reportedly resulted in the suspension of US military aid to
three army units implicated in the killings, as required under the so-called
"Leahy Law," a foreign aid provision named after Senate Appropriations
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy that denies military aid to any foreign military
or security unit for which substantial evidence exists of serious human rights
The firings were followed Tuesday by the resignation of Colombia's US-trained
army commander, Gen. Mario Montoya, who also faces serious human rights charges
These events, as well as the GAO report, have so far drawn little attention
in Washington due to the presidential election and its immediate aftermath,
but they could still have a significant impact once Obama and the new Congress
are sworn in Jan. 20.
Obama, like most Democrats, has opposed ratifying the long-pending free trade
pact with Colombia due to concerns about worker rights, and particularly the
assassination by right-wing death squads of union leaders in Colombia. The burgeoning
scandal over civilian executions, as well as the increase in Democratic majorities
in Congress, is certain to weigh against the hopes of Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe for quick approval.
Moreover, Uribe's perceived preference for Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John
McCain as underlined by his having been one of the few foreign leaders to
have met McCain's running-mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, in New York during the campaign
is unlikely to endear him to the new administration, according to Isaacson.
This despite the fact that Obama's likely choice to direct Latin American affairs
in the White House, Dan Restrepo, played a key role in introducing the Colombian
president to Democratic leaders earlier this year.
And with Washington facing a serious financial crisis, most analysts believe
that Plan Colombia could become a tempting target if Congress moves to cut next
year's foreign aid bill. Bogota has been averaging about 700 million dollars
for the last few years almost all of it from Plan Colombia annually in
bilateral aid, making it by far the biggest US aid recipient in Latin America
and one of the biggest in the world.
Plan Colombia was originally conceived as an anti-drug scheme to halt the importation
of cocaine to the United States at its source, so the perception that it has
largely failed in its major purpose could resound both in the White House and
An estimated 90 percent of cocaine used in the United States comes from Colombia,
according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP),
a strong defender of both military assistance and aerial fumigation.
In an appendix to the GAO report, ONDCP Director John Walters insisted that
Plan Colombia had substantially met or exceeded nine of its 10 original goals
not covered by the GAO and that the Plan's efforts to maintain security as part
of its drug strategy "had fully succeeded."
Indeed, the report noted that the military and security aid components of the
plan had indeed "improved (Colombia's) security climate through systematic
military and police engagements with illegal armed groups and by degrading these
groups' finances." It warned that these gains were "not irreversible"
so long as the FARC and other groups remained a threat.
On the other hand, one major finding of the report was that much of the aid
earmarked for alternative crop developments for coca farmers is not being used
in areas where coca is being grown. "So the end result is that we're spraying
massive amounts of herbicides over these peasants in less governed areas, and
we're not giving them any other way to support themselves or even provide them
basic food security," Isaacson told IPS.
In another report released last week, a consortium of groups, including WOLA,
CIP, and the Latin American Working Group called for reallocating the aid under
the Plan much more in favor of social and economic development, particularly
in rural and relatively ungoverned areas, as opposed to military and security
assistance, including aerial fumigation.
From 2000 through 2007, 80 percent of the aid was earmarked for the military
and police. For 2008, however, Congress reduced that allocation to 65 percent,
with the balance going to economic and social aid. Isaacson, who contributed
to the 32-page "A Compass for Colombia Policy" told IPS that economic
and social aid should exceed military and police aid beginning in 2009.
The report was initiated last year by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman and now Vice President-elect, Joseph Biden. Asked for a comment, his
office said it had not yet reviewed the report.
(Inter Press Service)