Last Updated: 9/24/01

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"Why we oppose the Andean Regional Initiative," by the Center for Internaional Policy

1. It's still an overwhelmingly military plan.

military aidLast year's $1.3 billion « Plan Colombia » supplemental gave $860 million to Colombia for 2000 and 2001. Of that amount, 75 percent went to Colombia's military and police, with the remainder going to social and economic programs. This was hardly a « balanced package. »

This year's plan looks more benign. The 2002 Foreign Operations request includes six other countries in the Andean region, and is now being called the « Andean Regional Initiative » (ARI) instead of Plan Colombia. The State Department is selling its $882 million ARI as a 50-50 balance between military and economic programs. The Colombia portion is 63 percent military.

  • It is important to remember, however, that not all counter-drug military aid goes through the foreign operations appropriation. Much goes through Pentagon funding channels - channels which were included in last year's « Plan Colombia » supplemental, but don't appear in this year's request. Including DoD military aid shows that this is not a balanced package.
    1. Section 1004 of the 1991 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended, allows the Defense Department to provide counter-drug military and police assistance. While the amount of « Section 1004 » funding planned for 2002 is not available, an average of 1999 and 2000 would lead to an additional $107.18 million in military aid to the region:

(Millions of dollars)











(actual request, not an estimate)






  1. Still more Pentagon funding goes to Colombia through DoD's « riverine program » (Section 1033 of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act.) An average of 1999 and 2000 would indicate an additional $19.04 million in military assistance for Colombia in 2002.
  2. The Foreign Assistance Act also gives the President the power to « draw down » up to $75 million per year in defense articles for counter-drug programs in other countries. Averaging 1999 and 2000 drawdowns would indicate $33.23 million in additional military and police aid in 2002.

(Millions of dollars)

















Adding these estimates for non-foreign operations aid channels means that:

  • The 2002 « Andean Regional Initiative » actually would equal $1.041 billion, 57 percent of it military and police aid.
  • The portion for Colombia rises to $526 million, 71 percent of it military and police aid.
  • Several Andean countries will see large increases in military aid over 2000-2001 levels: Bolivia 20%; Brazil 345%; Ecuador 63%; Panama 220%; Peru 82% and Venezuela 144%
Colombia, 2002

military aid

2. Instead of reducing drug crops, it will only move them around.

Andean Coca CultivationEven if U.S. plans in Putumayo are totally successful, there is no reason to believe that U.S. fumigations will do more than merely move drug crops somewhere else. There is plenty of room to move:  Putumayo is the size of Maryland; the jungles east and south of Colombia's Andes are the size of California. Coca-growing can also move across Colombia's borders. All coca produced in South America in 2000 could fit in a square area 26.7 miles on one side (two-thirds the size of Rhode Island).

As recently as the first half of the 1990s, not much coca was actually grown in Colombia. Coca itself was grown in Bolivia and Peru.

This began to change in the mid-1990s, after the breakup of large drug cartels, interference with the « air bridge » between Peruvian and Bolivian coca sites and Colombian processing sites, and some successful alternative development programs. Though the net amount of coca cultivation in South America changed little, Colombia became the center of coca-growing.

Basic Economics

A Colombian peasant typically gets $1,000 for a kilogram of unrefined coca paste. That paste gets turned into cocaine sold for $150,000 on the streets of the United States. The profit for traffickers further up the production chain is $149,000.
An incredibly successful fumigation program might raise the price of coca paste to perhaps $5,000 per kilogram. There would be no effect on U.S. street prices, though, since traffickers' profit margin would still be $145,000.

colombiaColombian coca was first centered around Guaviare department in south-central Colombia. The United States set up a large-scale fumigation program there in 1995 - but never offered affected peasants a cent of alternative- development aid.

The U.S. fumigations drastically reduced coca cultivations in Guaviare by the late 1990s. But the total amount of coca in Colombia more than doubled - and became centered in Putumayo department to the southwest, out of the range of the spray planes and deeper into guerilla territory.

Coca cultivation in Colombia by department (hectares)


































N. Santander















Nothing in the current strategy guarantees that increased fumigation in Putumayo won't just move coca somewhere else. We've seen coca move from Bolivia and Peru to Guaviare to Putumayo. Continuing the same strategy will simply cause coca to pop up elsewhere.

This is already happening. In March, immediately after the first fumigations in Putumayo, the New York Times reported of new coca cultivation in a department immediately to the west, Nariño, in an area the locals are calling « Little Putumayo. » According to the Times, the spraying in Putumayo « displaced coca growers and their crops, sending them to the jungles here in Nariño Province. It is a familiar pattern. »

3. It could fail militarily - and an escalation could come next.

The strategy at the heart of the U.S. military package is centered on Colombia's department of Putumayo, along the border with Ecuador. Putumayo has been dominated by Colombia's FARC guerillas for over twenty years, and the FARC shoots back at drug-crop fumigation planes. The strategy has set up three battalions in Colombia's army, armed with dozens of helicopters.

The battalions' mission, according to the U.S. Southern Command, is « setting the security conditions that are mandatory for safe and productive execution of eradication and other counterdrug operations » in Putumayo.



But can « security conditions » be achieved by this plan? The strategy calls on 2,250 troops with a few months' training to force Colombia's FARC guerillas out of one of its most fiercely defended strongholds. Several battles in the past few years have demonstrated the guerillas' ability to launch large-scale military attacks in Putumayo. The Southern Command's Gen. Charles Wilhelm told a House committee in 2000, « We've received numerous reports that the insurgents have surface-to-air missiles. We've heard everything from U.S. Redeye missiles on up to SAM-16s from Eastern Europe. »

What happens if our plans in Putumayo fail? What will the next step be? It is not too far-fetched to imagine that the debate over a 2003 aid package might take place after several pitched battles that may involve losses in Putumayo. There is some likelihood that we may be debating another escalation in our military involvement a year from now. While Vietnam analogies are not quite adequate, we must guard against « mission creep » and an uncomfortable level of military involvement in a country fighting one of the world's bloodiest conflicts.

4. It relies too heavily on unaccountable private contractors.

At least six private U.S. corporations on State Department and Pentagon contracts and sub-contracts operate in Colombia. They perform services that include flying drug-crop fumigation aircraft, ferrying battalions into combat, serving as mechanics and logistics personnel, performing bottom-up reviews of the armed forces, and gathering aerial intelligence.

The contractors operate with very little transparency or oversight, raising several important questions:

  • Are we wasting money? Expensive failures like MPRI aside (see box at right), the contractors are performing services while taking in a hefty profit. Shouldn't we be paying U.S. personnel to perform these services without adding funds for corporate profit margins?
  • Are the contractors able to do their jobs? We keep hearing reports about contractors in the Andes who don't even speak Spanish. Who is guaranteeing the quality of the people being hired to carry out U.S. policy? Wouldn't U.S. personnel be more qualified?
  • Are the contractors taking on dangerous missions? Are they taking on roles considered too dangerous for U.S. personnel? Could it be that a dead contractor is less controversial for the overall policy than a dead U.S. serviceperson?
  • « Unlike U.S. military trainers in Colombia, » the Miami Herald reported in February, contractors « are not covered by orders to avoid combat. » How close are contractors getting to Colombia's shooting war? Are they likely to be involved in human rights abuses?

We can't even answer these questions because of the lack of transparency and accountability in which the contractors operate. Because these risks are so plausible and real, it is absolutely crucial that existing limits on contractors be maintained.

As they operate without any accountability or oversight, civilian contractors in the Andes have been involved in some disturbing incidents:

  • April 2001: a CIA contractor, Aviation Development Corporation, helps the Peruvian Air Force target a planeload of missionaries as a possible drug-smuggling flight. The contractors, who speak little Spanish, are unable to call the Peruvians off before they strafe the plane, killing two missionaries.
  • February 2001: A Dyncorp search-and-rescue team of 4 U.S. citizens and 2 Colombians is involved in a firefight with FARC guerillas in heavily guerilla-controlled Caquetá department.
  • February 2001: The Pentagon does not renew a one-year, $4.3 million contract with Military Personnel Resources International (MPRI) to perform a bottom-up review of Colombia's military. Colombian officials criticized MPRI's work as irrelevant and not tailored for Colombia's needs. Worse, MPRI staffed its Bogota office with people who spoke no Spanish and had little or no experience in Latin America.
  • 1997-1998: Three Dyncorp spray-plane pilots die in crashes in guerilla-controlled territory. The first is ruled an accident; the other two die in crashes with unknown causes.

5. It could bring increased human rights violations.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other human rights groups have documented very close ties between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups in Colombia's Putumayo department, the zone where most U.S. military aid is being spent. Nothing is being done to break those ties. Will U.S. assistance inadvertently help the paramilitaries?

Excerpt from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' 2000 report
(Published February 8, 2001 and released in March 2001)

[In Putumayo,] At the entrance to the village of El Placer, a notorious paramilitary roadblock exists just fifteen minutes from La Hormiga, where an army battalion belonging to the 24th Brigade is based. Eight months after the [High Commissioner's] Office reported observing this directly, the roadblock was still in operation. The military authorities denied in writing that this paramilitary position exists. The Office also observed that at the hacienda "Villa Sandra," between Puerto Asís and Santana, the paramilitaries are still operating only a few minutes from the 24th Brigade's installations. Afterward we were informed of two searches of the site carried out by the security forces, which apparently found nothing. However, the existence and maintenance of this paramilitary position is a matter of full public knowledge, so much that it was visited several times by international journalists, who published their interviews with the paramilitary commander there. Testimonies received by the Office have even included accounts of meetings between members of the security forces and paramilitaries at "Villa Sandra." At the end of July [2000], the Office alerted the authorities to an imminent paramilitary incursion in the town center of La Dorada, in San Miguel municipality [county], which indeed happened on September 21. The paramilitaries remain there, even though the town is only a few minutes from the army base at La Hormiga.

Paramilitaries have been on a rampage in Putumayo. Since they first appeared in the zone, the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia have killed hundreds and displaced thousands. Their collaboration with military units in the area is disturbingly common. In October 2000, a bold police officer denounced military-paramilitary cooperation in Puerto Asís to local civilian authorities. According to the Bogotá daily El Tiempo, the policeman reported that the paramilitaries blatantly identify themselves with insignia and move easily in clearly marked vehicles. The policeman said he did not understand "the abilities and skills that they use to make a mockery of the Army's roadblocks, and to station themselves right in front of them." He added that he has heard numerous charges that the local army command meets regularly with paramilitary leaders.

In August 2000, a BBC reporter showed how easily and openly the paramilitaries operate in Putumayo:

I was looking to contact the paramilitaries who control the town [of Puerto Asis, Putumayo] and some of the neighbouring hamlets. ... Finding them was not as hard as I had thought. Despite the fact that the Colombian state denies there are any links between them and the right-wing death squads, their headquarters in Puerto Asis is five minutes drive past the local army base, in a luxurious villa. To get there I just hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the paramilitary headquarters, as if I knew where it was and something I did every day of the week. He did not even blink, simply put the car in gear and sped down the potholed streets, passing the army checkpoint and into the countryside outside the town.

The United States is pumping arms, helicopters, and well-trained military units into this zone of close military-paramilitary cooperation. It is not unreasonable to expect increased human rights violations to result. There is a danger that U.S.-provided intelligence, equipment and perhaps even weapons could find its way to the paramilitaries. This appears to have happened already with some U.S. aid in Putumayo, as the Boston Globe reported in March.

On a recent day, one gunman, dressed in plain clothes and standing guard in a village, picked through a pack of US Army C-rations, hunting for chewing gum and pound cake. He shrugged off questions about where he got the supplies, issued to the three Colombian Army antidrug units that have been trained by US Special Forces advisers.

6. Our European allies do not support the policy.

Except for Spain, not one of our European allies has endorsed Plan Colombia. Most see it as a big mistake, and many have expressed disappointment that they had no chance to take part in designing it.

The European Parliament declared in February that « Plan Colombia contains aspects that run counter to the cooperation strategies and projects to which the EU has already committed itself and jeopardize its cooperation programs. »

The U.S. and Colombian governments had hoped that non-U.S. donor countries would contribute $2 billion to Plan Colombia. After several donors' conferences, however, Europe has pledged only $350 million in assistance, which they insist is support for Colombia's peace process and not for Plan Colombia. (They also point out that the $350 million contribution is about equal to the United States' pledges of social and economic aid in 2000-2002.)

« We are preparing a European Program of aid to the Peace Process in Colombia, which is totally different from Plan Colombia. » - Renaud Vignal, European Union, October 2000



Millions of dollars

Donations specifically for Plan Colombia: $1.8 billion

United States

Law, July 2000


United States

Previously-planned aid, 2000-2001


United States

Andean Initiative, Colombia portion



Madrid donors' conference, July 2000


Donations to the peace process and specifically not for Plan Colombia: $721 million

United Nations

Madrid conference, July 2000



Madrid conference, July 2000



Brussels conference, April 2001



Brussels conference, April 2001



Brussels conference, April 2001


What should we be doing instead?

  1. Attack drug demand at home. A 1995 Rand Corporation study found that a dollar spent on treatment of addicts at home is as effective as 23 dollars spent on overseas eradication and interdiction. Yet while funding for treatment rose 41 percent during the Clinton administration, funding for overseas interdiction rose 175 percent. Treatment programs remain so underfunded that addicts in most U.S. cities who want to get off drugs must first add their names to waiting lists.
  2. Increase alternative development - and listen to the residents of coca-growing zones. Eradication programs without alternative development have proven to be a recipe for failure. Yet so far this year, the United States has been in a rush to get the fumigation program going, but moving very slowly toward getting economic programs in place.
    The economic desperation and government neglect of rural Colombia are key reasons Colombian peasants choose to grow drug crops. Most would like to stop growing these crops, which have brought only violence, but have no other economic option in the remote areas where they are forced to live. Alternative development programs must be more than just crop-substitution efforts. The United States should listen well to the governors, mayors, indigenous and peasant leaders in the affected areas, almost all of whom insist that eradication and alternative development should be manual, gradual, and negotiated with communities. Alternative development should also include infrastructure-building, access to credit, and help with marketing legal alternatives.
  3. More funding to strengthen civilian institutions. Military aid should not be large arms transfers. In fact, it shouldn't be a large part of our aid to Colombia. The institutions that are weakest and need the most aid are Colombia's civilian government institutions: the courts, the health and education systems, the legislature, development agencies, and many others. Any military aid to the region should come with strict human rights conditions - with no waiver provisions.
  4. Support Colombia's peace process. The United States must recognize that Colombia's ongoing peace process is going to be a multi-year process. Instead of launching criticisms, the United States must do everything possible to facilitate the talks. This includes cooperating with every invitation from the Colombian government to participate in the process - even if this requires contact with guerilla representatives.
  5. Urge Colombia to contribute more. It is far from certain that Colombia will even come close to the $4 billion that it has committed toward Plan Colombia. There are key reasons to doubt the commitment of Colombia's ruling elite either to fighting drugs or fighting rebels. First, corruption is widespread, earning Colombia a ranking of 50 out of 91 on Transparency International's ranking of the world's least corrupt countries. Second, Colombian law excludes anyone with a high-school education from serving in combat, guaranteeing that Colombia's war is fought only by the poor. Third, Colombia has one of the world's lowest rates of tax collection - 10.1 percent of GDP in 1998. This compares unfavorably not only with the United States (20.4%) and Europe (mostly over 35%), but also with Latin American neighbors like Brazil (19%), Chile (18.4%), Ecuador (17.8%), Bolivia (15.1%) and Peru (13.7%).
  6. Economic and social programs need not wait for « security conditions. » One of the best ways a country can gain territorial control is through social and economic aid projects. Successful pilot projects can have an enormous demonstration effect, building confidence in government in areas where it had never existed. Security conditions are built by strengthening all parts of government, not just the military and police.

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