Plan Colombia

by Tim Rogers

Z magazine December 2000


In an historic round of multi-sector dialogue on peace, a delegation of more than 300 people representing the Colombian government, guerrilla leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), members of civil society, and international observers from 36 countries, gathered in Costa Rica on October 16 to discuss the 36-year-old armed conflict. Notably absent from the peace talks were representatives of the differ concentration of discussion was on analyzing the controversial $7.5 billion war-plan dubbed the Plan Colombia.

"The Plan Colombia was drafted in the U.S. Senate and implemented by [Colombian] President Andres Pastrana, but the people of Colombia were never consulted or included in this important decision," said Episcopalian priest Monsenor Jaime Prieto during the opening press conference. "[As a result], the Plan is does not represent a social investment in peace, but a plan for escalating the war."

Although advertised by both the Clinton and Pastrana administrations as a plan designed to bring peace to Colombia, a closer look at the money allocations for the $1.3 billion in U.S. financial contributions tells a much different story.

"Eighty percent of the U.S. aid [in the Plan Colombia] is for purchasing helicopters and weaponry," said Marcos Romero, a spokesperson for Paz Colombia; "only 20 percent of the money is going toward social programs."

A further break-down of the 20 percent earmarked for social programs reveals that 8 percent of the aid is going to alternative development; 6 percent to human rights programs; four percent to assist the 2 million Colombians who have been displaced by the war during the last 10 years; 2 percent to judicial reform; and less than 1 percent to directly support the ongoing peace process, according to a non-profit publication called the Colombia Report.

In the language of the Plan, "the success of the [government's] strategy depends on its efforts to reform and modernize the military forces in order to guarantee the application of the law and to return the sense of security to all Colombians, in the totality of the national territory."

However, by referring to the role of the army to establish "security" throughout all of Colombia, the document clearly eludes to a military offensive to regain control of the entire nation, some 40 percent of which is currently under the control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"The main motivation behind the war is territory," said Almando Balwena, the president of the National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (ONIC). "For five centuries we indigenous have maintained our sovereignty and been anti-imperialist. [But] now the Plan Colombia is escalating the war to new levels."

According to Bolwena, the military component of the Plan is equivalent to a genocidal war that is intended to eliminate the 72 different indigenous cultures from their land, clearing the way for the economic phase of the Plan-Colombia's integration into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"The [government] knows that it can not negotiate with the indigenous to gain access to the natural resources on our lands," said Bolwena. "So it is waging a war that is intended to kill us or drive us off the territory."

Through a massive and indiscriminate fumigation campaign to eradicate coca crops-a majority of which grow on land that is inhabited by the indigenous and under the control of the FARC-dangerous herbicides are poisoning the food crops and water supplies of many rural poor people, according to local testimonies.

"Indiscriminate fumigation is not only destroying the subsistence food crops in some of our communities, but it is also poisoning the soil of primary rain forests, killing animals and traditional plants that we use for medicinal purposes," according to a document provided

by the Traditional Authorities of the Awa People. "But the greatest injury is when our water supplies are poisoned, resulting in the deaths of fish and affecting the health of our people-especially the very young and old-who have experienced bone aches, vomiting, noxiousness, and fevers."

According to Manuel Alzate, Mayor of Puerto Asis, located in the southern department of Putemayo, "Not much attention has been given to the ecological dangers of the biological warfare that is being employed as part of the Plan Colombia.... Originally the Plan called for the eradication of 50 percent of coca production over the course of 6 years; however, government functionaries are now talking about achieving this goal in the next 10 months."

As the adverse affects of the fumigation campaign become more widespread and well known, many Colombians are questioning the motives behind the strategy for eradication.

"The intention behind the U.S. strategy of fumigation is to force the indigenous off of the land so that transnational companies can access the natural resources, such as oil reserves and mineral deposits," explained Victor Matiz, leader of the left-wing political party Union Patriotica. "Many campesinos have also proposed plans for gradual and manual crop substitution, but these efforts are being rejected because of the concrete economic interests that are fueling this war. The U.S. uses the rhetoric of human rights and combating drugs, but this war is really about subversion and intervention."

Although the non-governmental organizations that were in attendance at the San Jose talks seemingly all opposed Plan Colombia, the talks ended without any concrete agreement being reached between the government, civil society, and the ELN.

The largest proposal to be shot down by the government was that of a 100-day bilateral cease-fire starting on December 1, and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia. The proposal was introduced by Jorge Rojas, spokesperson for Paz Colombia, during the opening night of the peace talks, and was widely supported by the non-governmental organizations in attendance-including the ELN, the second largest guerrilla army in Colombia.

According to a written statement released by Ramiro Vargas of the ELN central command, his soldiers (of whom there are an estimated 5,000) would agree to a bilateral cease-fire with the government. Vargas even went so far as to admit the ELN's role in the conflict, stating "we share the worries expressed regarding the human degradation of the armed conflict and we assume responsibility for our share. "

However, despite the broadbased enthusiasm for a cease-fire and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia, no agreements were reached with the government.

"Nothing will change, the war will continue," stated a frustrated Mayor Alzate after the conclusion of the peace talks. "There were no agreements on the fundamental themes such as a cease-fire, human rights, and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia."

Yet, despite the failure to reach any landmark agreements during the peace talks, important steps were taken to open new democratic spaces to allow for an inclusive dialogue on peace in Colombia, analysts say.


Tim Rogers is a journalist for Mesoamerica. This article first appeared in the Tico Times, October 20.

South America watch

Index of Website

Home Page