Can You Say "Counterinsurgency"?

In November 2000, Congress passed "Plan Colombia," a $1.3 billion plan to fight cocaine production in Colombia. Colombia is now the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt. More than 75 percent of the money in the package went to support the Colombian military and police.

This is radically different from the original Plan Colombia drafted by the Colombian government, which emphasized a negotiated peace process with the guerillas, restoration of economic and social stability, strengthening the civil society, and reducing the narcotics trade. The U.S. version of Plan Colombia (drafted behind closed doors, some say, with the help of oil companies and helicopter manufacturers) funded only the military portion of the anti-narcotics initiative and ignored the rest. It focuses on eliminating coca production in southern Colombia through forced crop eradication and on launching a military campaign against the guerrillas resisting the eradication.

The U.S. package made it increasingly difficult for Colombia to raise support for the other aspects of their plan. The European Union had promised aid for economic conversion programs and alternative development strategies in Colombia but withdrew that support when it learned that the U.S. contribution was nearly all military aid.

The U.S. version of Plan Colombia does not target the large coca plantations in northern Colombia, nor is there a significant strategy to pursue cocaine traffickers or crack down on the right-wing paramilitaries responsible for the majority of human rights abuses in Colombia. In fact, paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño claims that the Drug Enforcement Agency tried to recruit him to implement parts of Plan Colombia, even though he has stated that 70 percent of his income comes from drug trafficking.

The State Department has hired Virginia-based Dyncorp, a private company started by ex-CIA agents, to carry out an aerial herbicide program in southern Colombia. Crop-dusting planes piloted by Colombian police and Dyncorp sub-contractors spray farms with a version of Monsanto's herbicide "Roundup Ultra." The spray planes are accompanied by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships to protect them from guerrilla ground fire. In late February, government officials confirmed reports that U.S. pilots working for Dyncorp had engaged in a battle with the guerrillas when the guerrillas shot down one of their fumigation planes. While it is illegal for U.S. soldiers to engage in combat in Colombia, these restrictions do not apply to private U.S. contractors.

Since the U.S. and Colombian governments started fumigating coca fields, the amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia has tripled. Last year coca production in Colombia increased for the eighth year in a row.

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