Democracy and Plan Colombia
by Hector Mondragon, NACLA
www.zmag.org, January 14,2007
[NACLA Report on the Americas
Vol. 40, No. 1 - January/February 2007]
President George W. Bush has asked the
American people to "be patient" so that Iraq can become
like Colombia-so that the Iraqis can defeat terrorism and establish
a stable democracy like the one Washington has nurtured in Colombia.
I would like to comment on this nightmare.
Plan Colombia, a "pro-democracy"
aid package provided by the United States to Colombia, was established
in 1999. Its primary stated objective was to end drug trafficking
in Colombia. Later on, it was discovered that the plan had the
further objective of defeating the guerrilla movement, though
that component of the plan was never acknowledged by Washington
while Bill Clinton was in office. It was, however, made explicit
in subsequent versions of the plan devised by George W. Bush's
administration, which identified its principal objective as combating
"narco-terrorism," thus conflating the drug war with
the anti-guerrilla struggle.
Furthermore, the Bush government has proposed
that the plan combat any other threat to the security of the Colombian
state, a proposal that has since been repeated in a State Department
document. Obviously, these "other threats" to Colombian
security do not refer to extraterrestrials, but to forces like
the Chávez government in Venezuela and the indigenous mobilizations
in Ecuador-forces that represent anti-neoliberal, anti-imperial
changes in South America by way of democratic elections and popular
Washington has now spent $4.7 billion
on Plan Colombia, and if you include the expenditures of the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) in that total, it
reaches $7.7 billion. But despite this investment, the U.S.-supported
government of Alvaro Uribe has defeated neither the drug traffickers
nor the guerrilla movement. To the contrary, the plan's only success
has been to guarantee a majority to the parties that supported
Uribe in the Congressional elections of March 2006, and to guarantee
Uribe's own re-election last May.
When Uribe was first elected, his primary
campaign promise had been to defeat the guerrillas, and to accomplish
this, he instituted a one-time war tax. In his campaign for re-election,
he proposed a second "one-time" war tax. The reality
is that, far from being defeated, the guerrilla movement in Colombia
is today much stronger than when Uribe began his presidency. The
guerrillas had been hard hit in the last year of the Pastrana
government and during Uribe's first year, in part thanks to U.S.
technical assistance to the Colombian air force that allowed it
to engage in effective anti-guerrilla bombing campaigns. The guerrillas
had also suffered setbacks due to their own political and strategic
errors, many of which negatively-and gravely-affected the civil
Nevertheless, the U.S. Southern Command
and the Uribe government committed a huge military error known
as Plan Patriota, which called for the Colombian armed forces
to surround and annihilate the guerrillas in their interior strongholds.
But these were locations the guerrillas knew well and where they
enjoyed solid popular support, allowing them to soundly defeat
the military. Today the guerrillas-especially the FARC-have gained
political momentum after having launched an effective counter-offensive.
Over the past year the Colombian military's losses in the civil
war have considerably surpassed those of the U.S. military in
Iraq. The departments of Putumayo and Caquetá have been
paralyzed for well over six months, and in many areas of Colombia
the army cannot guarantee anyone's safety.
Yet despite failing to fulfill his main
electoral promise, Uribe still managed to be re-elected. How was
this possible? To paraphrase Bill Clinton: It was the economy,
Like many other areas in the world, Colombia
is experiencing a post-Iraq-invasion economic boom. But Colombia's
boom may be the least sustainable of them all. Stock exchange
values have increased 1,100%, meaning prices have multiplied 11
times. This has not occurred anywhere else since the 1920s, simply
because no other country would allow it. Any other national bank
or federal reserve system would intervene to curb such inflation,
knowing that such rapid unchecked increases in value-which are
not the result of growth but of pure speculation-will eventually
cause a terrible recession. In Colombia this has not only been
allowed, but actually encouraged through specific economic measures.
For example, the Colombian state buys its own treasury bonds.
It takes the money from its left pocket and lends it to its right
pocket, and whereas a moment ago it had only four dollars, it
now has eight-four dollars plus a certificate proving it has borrowed
another four! So Colombia receives billions of dollars from the
United States as part of Plan Colombia, and the Colombian government
then lends the money back to itself. It plays the same game with
its public health and pension funds. What's going to happen when
the government has to pay this money back?
But this doesn't explain the whole story
of Colombia's spectacular growth. There is a much more important
explanation: the agreement with the paramilitaries. Many have
criticized this agreement, arguing that it amounts to an amnesty
for crimes against humanity. But all of this discussion has obscured
the economic essence of the agreement, which is to allow the legalization
of billions of paramilitary narco-dollars. The paramilitaries
finance not only their operations, but also their lifestyles with
the country's largest drug-trafficking operations.
Since negotiations between Uribe and the
paramilitaries began, billions of dollars and euros in drug profits
have entered Colombia. Throughout 2003, 2004 and the beginning
of 2005, moreover, the paramilitaries exported a huge quantity
of the cocaine they had stockpiled, knowing that anything sold
prior to the amnesty would be pardoned under the peace agreement.
This is the true cause of the enormous wave of speculation-a sea
of illicit funds entering Colombia. And like an emperor of ancient
Rome, Uribe was able to provide the populace with "bread
and circuses" prior to the presidential elections of May
2006. Was Washington aware of this? Of course it was.
What is the primary objective of plan
colombia? Never before have drug traffickers had so much power
in Colombia. Today they have penetrated the stock market, laundered
their drug money in the form of treasury bonds and gained a foothold
in the electoral process. And although those in Uribe's party
who have been publicly identified as drug lords were purged, they
created their own parallel pro-Uribe parties and have gotten themselves
elected to Congress. This is not to say anything of those drug
lords who have not been publicly identified and who remain on
Uribe's party's lists.
In the past, drug traffickers financed
electoral campaigns from the shadows, financing publicity and
paying for hotels and travel. This was a relatively small-scale
operation. Today, however, they openly finance entire electoral
campaigns. The government's own statistics acknowledge that in
2005, $3 billion flowed through Colombia, with no record of how
the money entered the country. No one planted money seeds and
grew the $3 billion; this is just a portion of the billions of
dollars and euros that the paramilitaries have laundered. Why
does Washington, with its moral crusade, the War on Drugs, permit
this? Because Colombia serves as its base for attacking the democratic
processes taking place in neighboring countries.
This is the reality of U.S. intervention
in Colombia. Colombia is becoming an eternal battleground, in
order to secure the country as a base of operations for controlling
Ecuador, Venezuela and possibly even Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.
They say, "Have patience with Colombia; we're heading to
Venezuela and Ecuador! Be patient with Iraq; we're on our way
In Colombia we are used to the fabrication
of news that prevents us from seeing the reality that Uribe's
government reaps a harvest of terror; of 60 years of violence;
of the killing of 4,000 trade unionists; of the destruction of
workers' rights; of the displacement of three million peasants
from their land-and of transnational capital, which finds abundant
cheap labor now that its trade unions have been violently destroyed.
In Colombia, however, there is also a
democratic civil resistance that rejects the guerrillas' methods
and that is often, in fact, victimized by the guerrillas. It proposes
a different country-one not ruled by drug barons, where food is
secure and where the social movements that have resisted decades
of terror have the political weight they deserve. Before paramilitary
narco-dollars arrived, this civil resistance was able to elect
the mayor of Bogotá and defeat a referendum in which Uribe
sought to change the constitution to nullify our democratic rights.
It has organized general strikes in December 2002 and October
2004; massive indigenous marches called "mingas"; and
a popular consultation against the free-trade agreement in indigenous
regions, in which more than 86 percent of the population voted.
Every day those of us in social movements
risk our lives to change Colombia so that our country will stop
moving against the grain of the rest of Latin America. Every day
we risk our lives so that Colombia can be united with Venezuela
and Ecuador, with what the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais
Sem Terra) is building in Brazil, with what the Uruguayans are
doing, with what our people are doing these days in Los Angeles.
The future of our country is in the balance.
Héctor Mondragón has been
a human rights worker in Colombia for 35 years, working closely
with homeless shelters, labor organizations, human rights and
church groups, and a number of indigenous groups. Trained as an
economist, he has worked as an adviser to the Indian National
Organization of Colombia and the Peasant National Council.