While Alvaro Uribe gets the credit for stabilizing Colombia, Plan Colombia was largely the brainchild of former Colombian president Andres Pastrana. The US has had a huge presence in Colombia since before Pablo Escobar, but Pastrana wanted to drastically increase that participation.
From the US embassy’s Plan Colombia page:
[T]he United States responded to the Colombian Government’s request for international support … to increase Colombia’s counternarcotics capabilities, to expand and consolidate government presence, and to improve the livelihoods of the most vulnerable Colombians by providing sustainable social and economic opportunities, protecting human rights, strengthening rule of law, and making governance more transparent, participatory and accountable.
Recognizing that terrorism and the illicit narcotics trade in Colombia are inextricably linked, the U.S. Congress … [offered] assistance to [make] Colombia more flexible in [supporting] President Uribe’s unified campaign against narcotics and terrorism. In 2004, the Uribe government established … a government presence in all of the country’s 1,099 municipalities (county seats). Attacks conducted by illegally armed groups against rural towns decreased by 91% from 2002 to 2005. Between 2002 and 2008, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 44%, kidnappings by 88%, terrorist attacks by 79%, and attacks on the country’s infrastructure by 60%.
As violence has been reduced, Plan Colombia now focuses on socio-economic assistance:
The new strategy … builds upon successful Plan Colombia programs to establish state presence in traditionally ungoverned spaces. By improving … justice, education, housing and health, strengthening democracy, and supporting economic development … the Colombian Government seeks to permanently recover Colombia’s historically marginalized rural areas from illegal armed groups and break the cycle of violence. Since 2007, nearly $570 million have been invested only in socio-economic and humanitarian assistance to Colombia.
In 1998, we had expected to start with a lot of money and see it gradually reduce over time; and that has happened … We had hoped to see a country that first dealt with its security and drug problems, and would then tackle its social development problems. And that has also happened … We may have got here pretty erratically and with some bumps in the road, I won’t deny that. But the truth is I think we’re pretty much where we wanted to be when we set out on the path to Plan Colombia a decade ago.
The cost of Plan Colombia since it began 10 years ago is estimated at $7 billion.
Summary of military programs ($ USD spent from 2000-2008):
- Army Aviation Brigade – $844 million
- National Police Air Service – $463 million
- National Police Eradication Program (fumigating coca fields) – $458 million
- National Police Interdiction Efforts – $153 million
- Infrastructure Security Strategy – $115 million
- Army Ground Forces – $104 million
- Police Presence in Conflict Zones – $92 million
- Coastal and River Interdiction – $89 million
- Air Interdiction – $62 million
- Other programs – $2 billion
Summary of non-military programs ($ USD spent from 2000-2008):
- Alternative Development – $500 million
- Internally Displaced Persons – $247 million
- Demobilization and Reintegration – $44 million
- Democracy and Human Rights – $158 million
- Promote the Rule of Law – $238 million
Plan Colombia is not without critics.
1) Fumigation – many oppose the mass-spraying of chemicals over Mother Earth.
2) False positives – human rights advocates including Amnesty International assert the US, by funding the Colombian military, are partly responsible for the false positives scandal (in which military were caught killing “undesirables” and dressing them in FARC uniforms) and other human rights abuses against Colombian civilians.
3) Oil – critics like Noam Chomsky claim the US is only interested in stabilizing Colombia to reap the benefits of its oil reserves.
4) Union leader safety – US union leaders oppose financial aid to the country with the worst record in labor leaders killed in the world. (This is also their objection to the free trade agreement.)
5) “Balloon effect” – Latin American leaders claim that curbing back the cocaine industry in Colombia will simply push it into other countries.
I’d estimate the critics of Plan Colombia are outnumbered by its supporters. Of these criticisms, I most agree with the “balloon effect.” See my War on Drugs Rant.
Read my narcoterrorism article.
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