COLOMBIAN LABOR MONITOR
Thursday, 17 May 2001
Better lead than bread? A critical analysis of the U.S.'s Plan Colombia
By Doug Stokes
Bristol University Politics Department, 10 Priory Road. BS8 1TU. UK
[This article, with footnotes, appears in the Journal "Civil Wars Vol 4:2. 2001"]
Traduction de la conclusion :
J'ai pris en compte les trois objectifs déclarés du Plan Colombie et j'ai analysé la logique et les faits utilisés par les E-Unis pour justifier chaque objectif. J'ai alors confronté chaque point à des faits contraires et des argumentations critiques. Considérant le fait que l'agence principale des Etats-Unis pour sa guerre antidrogue, la DEA, a fait état, dans un rapport, que les paramilitaires sont, de loin, beaucoup plus intensément impliqués dans le trafic de drogues que les FARC, conjugué avec une pression exclusive sur le territoire des FARC, il apparaît évident que le principal souci des E-Unis est une guerre de contre-insurrection contre les guérillas marxistes. La composante "guerre antidrogue" du Plan Colombie est simplement une extension d'une stratégie globale de guerre ciblant de façon sélective les ressources des ennemis de Washington. En outre, les Etats-Unis ont été directement impliqués dans le renforcement des liens entre les militaires colombiens et les notoires escadrons paramilitaires d'extrême-droite. Ces pelotons de la mort se sont engagés dans une violence terrible en Colombie, massacrant régulièrement des paysans, des dirigeants syndicaux, des défenseurs des droits de l'homme, et des journalistes.
J'ai pu démontrer le fait que la logique soutenant la guerre de contre-insurrection et l'utilisation des escadrons de la mort est le désir d'éliminer les FARC qui constituent la principale menace pour les intérêts corporatistes américains dans la Colombie d'aujourd'hui. Le plan Colombie fait partie d'une configuration historique d'interventionisme militaire des Etats-Unis en Amérique latine. Il est conçu pour détruire n'importe quelle menace à l'hégémonie américaine et sert à stabiliser les alliés de Washington dans la région tout en domestiquant l'imaginaire politique de ses adversaires. Dans l'absence de l'Union Soviétique dans le rôle de « l'empire du Mal », mais avec la continuité des menaces pour les intérêts vitaux des Etats-Unis, le côté réserve « guerre anti-drogue » fournit une justification commode pour la poursuite des opérations post guerre froide du conflit de basse intensité des Etats-Unis en Colombie. Le plan Colombie recherche à éliminer la menace la plus immédiate aux intérêts des Etats-Unis (les FARC). Une fois les FARC pacifiées, alors resteront en place les avant-postes militaires américains (Forward Operating Location) dans les pays tels que l'Equateur et le Panama.
Ces bases ont été établies comme composant pour projeter la Colombie en escaladant la présence militaire des Etats-Unis dans la région. Elles servent également de points militaires principaux de projection des Etats-Unis pour contenir l'insurrection et pour servir d'avertissement aux Etats dont les amorces peuvent compromettre des intérêts américains ou les rechercher à repenser la version de Washington de la " démocratie " néo-libérale. Il y a déjà des indices montrant que le Venezuela et la Colombie formeront un pôle central de nouvelle gestion du Président Bush. En outre, les mercenaires des Etats-Unis, assurés par DynCorp à côté des employés militaires colombiens, ont débuté l'enclenchement direct avec les guérilleros.
La Colombie a commencé à demander plus d'argent aux Etats-Unis avec une première demande classée par l'ambassade colombienne à Washington pour une concession annuelle de quatre ans de 600 millions de dollars pour des programmes alternatifs de développement. Pour améliorer les droits de l'homme, la bonne gouvernance et le développement économique, la Colombie doit apporter aux problèmes socio-économiques des solutions socio-économiques telles que le développement rural et la redistribution équitable des terres à la majorité de la population de Colombie. Cependant, avec le refus du Président G. W. Bush d'envoyer des représentants américains pour assister à des entretiens colombiens pour la paix, il semble bien que le plan Colombie va continuer à être une politique « de "plomb plutôt que de pain ».
Colombia's continuing 35-year civil war has claimed over 300,000 lives. Plan Colombia is a $1.3 billion dollar U.S. military aid package to the Colombian military. It is the largest international intervention into Colombia's civil war and will make Colombia the third largest U.S. military aid recipient in the world today. The U.S. Government claims the aid will be used to wage a war on drugs against Colombia's "narco-guerrillas" as 90% of all cocaine entering the U.S. originates from Colombia. However, the U.S.'s own agencies state that whilst the guerrillas tax the drug traffickers for operations on their territory they are not involved in drug trafficking or transshipment to the U.S. These same agencies identify the paramilitary "death squads" as being far more heavily involved in drug trafficking and yet the U.S. completely ignores these groups. Furthermore, the U.S. is using a military with an atrocious human rights record. If Plan Colombia is not about a war on drugs then what is it about? Additionally, how does the U.S. justify using an infamous military which continues to employ clandestine paramilitary "death-squads" in the prosecution of counter-insurgency warfare? This paper argues that Plan Colombia is designed to eliminate insurgency movements which threaten U.S. interests in South America and the U.S.'s war on drugs is a selective targeting on crops which are controlled by groups opposed to U.S. interests. Furthermore, Plan Colombia forms part of a long term strategy of regional containment of a newly emerging radical opposition which encompasses Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Bolivia and which poses a serious threat to U.S. corporate interests.
Colombia's 35 year old civil war has claimed over 300,000 lives, created the third largest refugee population in the world, and produces over 4,000 politically motivated murders every year. U.S. funding and training of Colombia's security apparatus during the Cold War added an international dimension to Colombia's conflict. Whilst the Cold War has ended the U.S. has continued to fund the Colombian military. With a recent U.S. $1.3 billion funding package called Plan Colombia, the U.S. is set to radically increase its involvement in Colombia's civil war. This money will make Colombia the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt. The U.S. Government argues it has three primary objectives in Plan Colombia. The first is economic development, the second is the promotion of human rights and the third and most important is the eradication of Colombia's extensive cocaine plantations. However, the U.S. has completely ignored the right wing paramilitaries that its own agencies state are amongst the largest drug traffickers in Colombia. Furthermore, as I go on to show, the U.S. recently solidified the linkages between the paramilitary death squads which are responsible for over 80% of all of Colombia's human rights abuses and the Colombian military. There are two questions that emerge from this. First, how does the U.S. justify this policy in the light of this evidence? Second, if the U.S. is not pursuing a "war on drugs" what are its objectives in Colombia? In answering these questions this paper will examine each of Washington's three stated objectives which form the justifications used to sell the plan both domestically and abroad. I will examine the facts the U.S. uses to sustain each one. I will then subject these facts to critical competing claims. Having done so it is apparent that the stated justifications employed by the U.S to sell Plan Colombia are unsustainable. The paper then moves on to a consideration of the reasons the U.S. is implementing Plan Colombia. I will argue that Plan Colombia forms part of a long-term strategy of militarized pacification of threats to U.S. interests in South America from a newly emergent radical opposition within the region. This opposition encompasses guerilla movements across South America, which are loosely allied with Venezuela, the U.S.'s largest crude oil supplier.
WHAT IS PLAN COLOMBIA?
Colombia's President Andres Pastrana originally proposed Plan Colombia as a $7.5 billion aid package designed to address the country's interweaved problems of extensive narco-trafficking, civil war, and economic underdevelopment. The Plan has extensive long-term goals such as neo-liberal privatization, a negotiated peace process with the rebels and the eradication of narco-trafficking. $4 billion for the Plan will come from Colombia itself, mainly through the privatization of publicly owned utilities. Pastrana has called upon other countries and international lending organizations for the rest. So far only Spain has committed $100 million to the Plan, whilst other European countries have held back because of the $1.3 billion grant the U.S. is giving to the Colombian military. This money significantly changes Plan Colombia from a regional development initiative to an aggressive military engagement with what the U.S. terms "narco-guerillas". Critics point to the human rights implications of giving $1.3 billion to the Colombian military which has the worst human rights record in the Western hemisphere. Through the provision of this money and the subsequent conditions attached to it the U.S. has significantly changed the initial emphasis of Plan Colombia from rural development and civil society building to an anti drug emphasis which the U.S. argues is designed to aggressively eradicate Colombia's coca crops. The U.S. argues that it is giving the Colombian military the money to secure three key objectives. These are economic development, coca eradication and improving human rights. This paper will now examine each objective in turn and examine the facts employed by the U.S. to justify Plan Colombia. Having outlined the U.S.'s position I will then move on to examine critical counter facts by drawing on non governmental sources and reports of the U.S.'s own agencies. In this way it is possible to examine whether the justifications stand up to scrutiny. I will start with an examination of the U.S.'s first publicly stated goal of Plan Colombia which is economic development.
IMPROVING COLOMBIA'S ECONOMY THROUGH CIVIL AID
The official U.S. position
The U.S. government argues that integral to Plan Colombia is a commitment to economic development. Pastrana outlined the centrality of poverty in the explosion of violence and narco-trafficking in Colombia:
Most of the program that we want to invest in the Plan Colombia wants to go really into implement policies on health, on structural reforms, strengthening our institutions, human rights and alternative development and social investment. We want to get into the real essence of the problem: that is, bringing back to Colombia prosperity and health and richness to our people, and that's the way of eradicating drugs from our soil and from our territory.
In 1998 the U.S. spent $750,000 on alternative development programs for the displaced peasants and coca crop growers in Colombia who had lost their main source of income. In Plan Colombia the U.S. Government has proposed $68.5 million for alternative development which take the form of "community pacts". These pacts are agreements between the Colombian government and coca farmers whose total coca crop constitutes three hectares or fewer. If these coca farmers voluntarily eradicate their crops, the pact provides monetary and technical assistance with crop substitution schemes such as maize, mango or coffee. $15 million of the economic development aid is to go to peasants displaced as a direct result of the southern push into Colombia's southern coca regions. This money is in addition to $22.5 million allocated within Plan Colombia for the 1.5 million internally displaced people within Colombia's borders. This money constitutes 20% of the total of Plan Colombia. The U.S. argues that this developmental aid is vital, as it will "counterbalance drug trafficking, in that it will help create alternative legal employment, that will counteract against employment generated by drug trafficking as well as the same armed organisations that feed off it". The U.S. looks to what it portrays as the success of the developmental schemes used in Bolivia and Peru where "you can use the community to police the others to ensure that there's no return to coca cultivation". Whilst the economic development aspects of Plan Colombia are a welcome addition for Colombia's civilians as we shall now see there are a number of facts that seriously undermine Washington's claim to be promoting alternative development within Colombia.
Will Plan Colombia really improve Colombia's economy?
Current U.S. policy on Colombia will not fund any development programs in areas not completely under Colombian government control. This effectively rules out any developmental funding for areas in the southern regions which will be most affected by Plan Colombia. The sum of $68.5 million for alternative development projects for the whole of Colombia is less than Bolivia's $85 million for fiscal year 2000. This is an uneven emphasis when we consider the inevitable escalation of military activity within Colombia and the subsequent refugee flows that will result as a consequence of Plan Colombia's implementation. Furthermore, the community pacts between growers who voluntarily destroy their coca crops and the Colombian Government only has enough money to cover 13,250 people. Most of the 300,000 peasants in the Colombia's southern region of Putumayo are either directly or indirectly dependent on the coca trade. What will happen to the other 286,750 people who may wish to enter into community pacts but cannot due to the absence of funds? These newly displaced will only add to the 1.5 million Colombian refugees, 288,000 of whom were displaced in 1999 alone.
Pastrana states that the "real essence of the problem isbringing back to Colombia prosperity and health and richness to our people". If poverty is the root cause of drug cultivation then it would make sense to put most of the money from Plan Colombia into developmental programs, crop substitution schemes, land reform and so on. This would have a dual effect. First, displaced peasants who might otherwise end up joining the death squads or guerrillas groups would have jobs and thus incomes. Second, through the provision of economic development the economic grievances that often inflame insurgency will be lessened. However, only 20% of the overall money allocated by the U.S. will be spent on socio-economic aid. The rest will be spent on advanced military hardware supplied by major U.S. defence contractors. The original proposal put forward by Pastrana's government called for a 55% military aid and a 45% developmental aid split within the $1.3 billion plan. The final U.S. proposal erred heavily on the military side with over 80% of the money going to the Colombian "security" forces. This U.S. militarization of the Plan has also weakened potential support of European countries that Colombia had originally hoped would contribute to the overall $7.5 billion funding package. The military escalation of Colombia's civil war has been justified as a response to the existence of what the U.S. presents as "narco-guerrillas" threatening Colombian stability and U.S. national interests through drug trafficking. In response to these narco-guerrillas the U.S. has formulated a second major objective within Plan Colombia namely coca eradication.
The official U.S. position
The major U.S. and Colombian military initiatives have been the formation of two 950-man counter-narcotics divisions and additional funding for another division. The counter-narcotic units trained and equipped by the U.S. will initially aim at a southern push into the Putumayo region of Colombia. The U.S. argues that this is where the majority of the ad-hoc coca cultivation takes place and thus should be where anti drug operations should concentrate. The FARC rebels have consolidated their military hold on this area and the U.S claims that the rebels have profited from the sale and cultivation of coca through a system of coca profit taxation. The U.S. therefore argues that the rebels have a vested interest in the coca trade and in protecting it from being destroyed. The counter-narcotic units will thus come across the rebels during interdiction and eradication activity and therefore the U.S. argues that the Colombian military needs high tech hardware and training for potential military engagement with the rebels. To this end the U.S. has supplied the counter-narcotic divisions with 30 Black Hawk helicopters and 33 UH-1N helicopters. The sale of these helicopters represents the single largest arms sale to any Latin American country in the post Cold-War period. The U.S. has also provided a $341 million upgrade to radar facilities in Colombia as well as sharing intelligence on guerrilla activity in the southern areas. A riverine program will be deployed along the rivers on the Ecuadorian border to the south in conjunction with the recently upgraded A-37 aircraft used by the Colombian air force. The U.S. Department of Defence maintains that there are approximately 250-300 U.S. military personnel and 400-500 private mercenary contractors in Colombia at any one time. These personnel act in an advisory role to the Colombian security apparatus. Typically these units are made up of U.S. Special Forces and U.S. Navy Seals or retired U.S. military / intelligence operatives.
The U.S. argues that what it terms as the narco-guerrillas make huge profits from the drug trade and use those profits to wage a war against the democratically elected Colombian government. The U.S. argues that the eradication of the coca fields comes first, and any engagement with the rebels is secondary and subordinate to the primary military objective of coca eradication. U.S. military trainers are therefore in Colombia to advise and train for a war on drugs. Central to the southern push are the claims that the FARC are the biggest drug traffickers within Colombia, and that coca cultivation is strongest in the southern region. The paper will now examine alternative facts that undermine these central assertions.
If the U.S. wants to eradicate coca why only target the South and concentrate solely on the guerrillas?
The FARC is Latin America's largest guerrilla movement with approximately 20,000 combatants who are principally concentrated in the south of Colombia. They acknowledge that along with all businesses within their zones of control, they also tax coca cultivation. Also in existence, and primarily concentrated in Colombia's north, are well armed right wing paramilitary groups, the largest of which is the umbrella organisation, the AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia) which has 5-7,000 combatants and is headed by Carlos Castano. Large landowners formed the paramilitary death squads in the 1960's to protect their interests against guerrilla incursion and to suppress peasant demand for land reform. The death squads evolved during the 1980s into well-funded and well-armed units that have prosecuted a terror campaign against the leftist insurgents and their social base (mostly alleged civilian sympathisers).
In northern Colombia coca cultivation is largely industrialised on large well-organised "coca-estates" run by powerful landowners and paramilitary gangs. In the South there is a pattern of small-scale coca cultivation by peasants displaced through the decades of civil war and unequal landholding. Whilst the south is an area of significant coca cultivation more important are the major trafficking networks concentrated in the north of Colombia and connected to the paramilitaries and oilgarchal elite's. It is these trafficking networks that are responsible for transhipment into U.S. markets and laundering efforts into both Colombian and international financial networks, and yet the U.S. has completely ignored these in Plan Colombia. A report produced by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs found no evidence of the FARC's export of drugs to the U.S. but did point to the extensive nature of drug smuggling to the U.S. by "right-wing paramilitary groups in collaboration with wealthy drug barons, the armed forces, key financial figures and senior government bureaucrats". A report produced by the U.S. General Accounting Office argues that US embassy officials in Colombia have noted the recent deepening of the FARC's involvement in coca production, primarily in the form of setting coca prices, growing coca and transporting coca. This participation nets the FARC anywhere between $30-600,000 million annually. The same report also states that the "paramilitary groups also appear to have established a permanent base in major coca-growing area in southern Colombia" and that the leaders of these groups (and therefore the groups themselves) are "major drug traffickers". Most telling of all however was the statement by James Milford, the Deputy Administrator with the U.S.'s central drug eradication body the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Milford stated that Carlos Castano, the chief of the paramilitary AUC is a "major cocaine trafficker in his own right" and has close links to the North Valle drug syndicate which is "among the most powerful drug trafficking groups in Colombia". Furthermore, Milford stated that "there is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in cocaine themselves, either by producing cocaineand selling it to Mexican syndicates, or by establishing their own distribution networks in the United States". This would confirm a report by The Economist that argues that the right wing paramilitary groups are "far deeper into drugs" than the FARC and the U.S. DEA "knows it".
Upon examination of the U.S.'s own agency's reports and findings it becomes clear that the paramilitary death squads are far more heavily involved than the FARC in drug cultivation, refinement and transhipment of drugs to the U.S. Instead of the "narco-guerrilla" concept a more suitable term would be "narco-paramilitary". However this is a term conspicuous by its absence from official U.S. discourse. Why then does the U.S. ignore the narco-paramilitaries? Amnesty International argues that the Colombian death squads' recent military incursions into areas targeted by Plan Colombia form part of a wider strategy of "attacking and eliminating civilian organisational and grassroots structures designed to anticipate and prevent any organised opposition to the military eradication of illicit crops." The use of paramilitaries by U.S. proxy armies is a long established pattern within the Western Hemisphere, and forms a cornerstone of U.S. counter-insurgency policy. Traditionally used to fight the U.S.'s anti-Communist campaigns, paramilitary forces allow plausible deniability on the part of states and are a convenient tool for the more unsavoury aspects of counter-insurgency (civilian displacement, counter-terror campaigns, and assassination). However, as with all armies the narco-paramilitaries need funding for equipment, training, weaponry and so on. The historical record shows that the CIA has used drug money to fund previous counter-insurgency campaigns in Latin America, most notably in Nicaragua during the contra war. In 1989, the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations (the Kerry Committee) concluded a three-year investigation by observing that "one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement [in drug smuggling] either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.... Senior U S policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems." Given the evidence of the U.S.'s clear knowledge of paramilitary involvement in drugs, combined with the potential regional destabilisation of the largest communist guerrilla movement in South America today (the FARC), it is apparent that at the very least the U.S. is willing to turn a blind eye to paramilitary drug involvement so long as they co-operate with the wider U.S. objective of anti-Communist counter-insurgency. The escalation of military funding has a number of implications for human rights within Colombia as the Colombian military has a notorious human rights record. Furthermore, by giving advanced weaponry to the Colombian military the U.S. can potentially become more openly implicated in human rights abuses. The U.S. has claimed to have factored these issues into Plan Colombia and I will now turn to consider the U.S.'s official position on its third and final publicly stated objective.
PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS The official U.S. position
There are two main ways in which the U.S. Government claims to factor human rights into Plan Colombia. These are the establishment of a secure environment and the Leahy Law on human rights monitoring. I will examine both in turn.
Clinton's. Assistant Secretary of State of the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, Peter F. Romero, argues
"Colombia must re-establish authority over narcotics producing 'sanctuaries'any comprehensive solution to Colombia's problems must include the reestablishment of government authority over these lawless areas. To achieve this, we propose to give the GOC [Government of Colombia] the air mobility to reach deep into these lawless zones and establish a secure environment for GOC officials and NGO's to extend basic services to these long deprived areas".
This is supposed to establish a secure environment for officials and non-governmental organisations to provide essential services as a pre-requisite for encouraging economic growth and inward investment. The underlying rationale is the perception that rebel held territory provides a safe haven for drugs production and the recruitment of cadres for the guerrilla movements. The pre-existence of the FARC zones of control requires a military solution both to extend the rule of law (and thus bring these areas under control) and to weaken the insurgents power and bring them to the negotiating table. General Charles Wilhelm, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S.'s Southern Command stated, "While I share the widely held opinion that the ultimate solution to Colombia's internal problems lies in negotiations, I am convinced that success on the battlefield provides the leverage that is a precondition for meaningful and productive negotiations."
The second supposed guarantee of human rights is the use of the Leahy Law whereby "all assistance to the Colombian armed forces is contingent upon human rights screening. No assistance will be provided to any unit of the Colombian military for which there is credible evidence of serious human rights violations by its members". The U.S. argues that this will ensure that U.S. equipment and training will not be directed towards any members of the Colombian military involved in gross human rights violations. Furthermore, the U.S.-Colombian End Use Monitoring agreement of August 1997 provides for the screening of unit members for past corruption. The agreement also requires Colombia's Defence Ministry to submit certification of ongoing investigations of alleged human rights abusers within Colombian military units every six months. In 1998 the U.S. refused assistance to three Colombian military units on the basis of their human rights record. However there have emerged a number of ways in which Plan Colombia seriously worsens the human rights situation. This paper will now turn to outline these arguments and how they relate to each of the points made by the U.S. government.
Will the Colombian military bring law and order to alleged narco-sanctuaries?
The Colombian military has one the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere and has strong links with the narco-paramilitaries. Furthermore, there is a pervasive culture of impunity whereby members of the Colombian military who can be shown to have committed gross human rights violations are rarely brought to justice. The Colombian army have carried out counter-insurgency tactics of counter-terror against the civilian population throughout its history and the spreading of terror to weaken enemy morale has been a frequent Colombian military tactic in post Cold-War Colombian military strategy. Far from bringing security to what Romero calls lawless zones the Colombian military have consistently brought lawlessness and murder to the peasant inhabitants of Colombia as reported by international and Colombian human rights organisations. By comparing Colombia with regionally similar countries we can gain a sense of the size of this lawlessness. For example under General Augusto Pinochet's 17 year dictatorship in Chile 2,666 people were disappeared whilst during the 8 year Argentinean dictatorship 9,000 people were murdered by the security forces for political reasons. Under Colombian "democracy", 28,332 civilians were victims of political murder between 1986 and 1995. As Plan Colombia's funding begins to flow there has been a corresponding increase in Colombian military human rights violations with an explosion of paramilitary violence. Although the U.S. argues that the Leahy law is designed to check the end use of U.S. supplied military equipment and training there are dangerous weaknesses in the implementation of this law which will further weaken basic human rights in Colombia.
Leahy workarounds and the private - public partnership
The Leahy law is intended to address the issue of military human rights abuse by refusing to supply, train or equip any army unit where collusion can be proven to have taken place. However, there are three ways in which it is rendered effectively useless. First, instead of vetting the older units in the Colombian military for soldiers who have committed human rights violations newly created "counter-narcotic" units are being formed from scratch. In this way, the new emphasis in the Colombian military is on forming newly vetted units rather than investigating the bad apples in the older units. A second problem in the Leahy laws implementation is the fact that a soldier from a disbanded unit can still receive training if his personal record is clean. He can then go back to his unit and pass on training. In effect this means that tainted soldiers within banned units can still receive training as long as they are not present initially when U.S. military advisers are giving it. Third, and most significantly is the use of private contractors by Washington. Companies like DynCorp Inc and Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI) provide logistical support and training to the Colombian military. Not only has MPRI worked closely with the Colombian Government in performing a review of the Colombian military, but continues to maintain a database of over 11,000 private individuals who can be called upon for temporary assignment in the field. This public - private partnership is convenient in a number of ways. It allows Washington to deploy military know how in pursuing strategic objectives whilst avoiding congressional caps on official military personnel overseas. Privately outsourced contractors also circumnavigate the potential negative media coverage of U.S. military casualties, and thus lessen governmental exposure risks. Finally private contractors are only accountable to the company that employs them. Thus if involved in actions that may generate negative publicity, Washington can plausibly deny responsibility. This private-public partnership seriously weakens the transparent operation of the Leahy law that only covers public money and the use of official U.S. soldiers and equipment.
These three areas represent a serious weakening of the intent of the Leahy law, and ironically the good intentions of the Leahy law could see a lessening of emphasis on the bringing to justice of human rights abusers in the Colombian military in favour of forming U.S.-friendly vetted units. The Senate Appropriations Committee attempted to address some of these flaws by calling for more rigorous assessment of human rights abuses by attaching seven conditions to the Plan. However, on August 22nd 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed a presidential waiver excluding the human rights considerations within Plan Colombia. The reason given for the waiver was the threat to U.S. national security from drug trafficking. Although Clinton maintained that he could certify Colombia on one of the seven conditions, that of bringing to the civil courts military personnel who have committed gross violations of human rights, a recent joint report disputes the effective implementation of even this basic safeguard. The report prepared by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America argues that the Colombian government has "been unwilling to take affirmative measures needed to address impunity, it has also worked to block legislation designed to implement measures that would ensure human rights violations are tried within the civilian court system". In pursuing what the U.S. deems are its national interests in Latin America Washington has consistently violated human rights. Indeed studies have shown that the more involved the U.S. is in a countries security apparatus the higher the rate of human rights violations. These violations have nothing to do with policy failure or short-sightedness on the part of U.S. foreign policy makers but are a systematic historical effect of Washington's pursuit of regional stability through the use and training of highly abusive militaries and their clandestine (often drug funded) death squads. As I will now show the U.S. has worked to solidify the links between the Colombian military and the paramilitary death-squads.
U.S. involvement with the narco-paramilitaries
Whilst it is clear that the guerrilla movements of the FARC and ELN are responsible for a number of human rights abuses such as kidnapping, murder of non-combatants and ecological damage, the U.S. Department of State argues that the paramilitary death squads are responsible for over 80% of all recorded human rights abuses in Colombia. Amnesty International states these abuses are carried out with both overt and covert Colombian military support. The Pastrana government recently removed four Generals who were shown to have colluded with the death squads. The U.S. seized upon this fact as evidence that Colombia was taken strong measures against collusion. Whilst the removal of the Generals is a step towards addressing collusion, the failure to prosecute the Generals for human rights abuses hardly challenges the culture of impunity within Colombia. Human Rights Watch together with Colombian human rights investigators conducted a study that concluded that half of Colombia's eighteen brigade-level army units have extensive links to the narco-paramilitaries. This collusion is national in scope and these units include those receiving or scheduled to receive U.S. military aid. In a letter to Madeline Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, Human Rights Watch made a number of observations regarding the linkages between the Colombian military and paramilitary units including the shared use of intelligence, weapons, vehicles, and medical aid. Many of the officers involved remain on active duty. The report also highlights the use of narco-paramilitary networks in the assassination and intimidation of those involved in monitoring human rights and government peace talks with the rebels. At least seven of the officers mentioned in the report have been trained by the U.S. military's training academy School of the Americas and in one attack on a village alleged to be "sympathetic" to the rebels, the death squads were seen to arrive on four trucks owned by the Colombian Army's 24th Brigade. They then murdered approximately 150 civilians.
The Colombian military has a long history of gross human rights violations. It has also worked closely with the U.S. throughout the Cold War in waging campaigns against real or imagined communist insurgents. In 1991 U.S. military advisers travelled to Colombia and helped re-shape Colombian military intelligence networks. This restructuring was supposedly designed to aid the Colombian military in their counter-narcotics efforts. However, Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the order. They argue that nowhere within the Order is any mention made of drugs. Indeed the secret re-organisation focussed solely on combating armed subversion. Furthermore, the re-organisation solidified linkages between the Colombian military and narco-paramilitary networks that in effect further consolidated a "secret network that relied on paramilitaries not only for intelligence, but to carry out murder". This clearly illustrates U.S. complicity in narco-paramilitary violence. As already illustrated the U.S. has clear knowledge of paramilitary involvement in the majority of drug trafficking to the U.S. itself. The Colombian military reorganisation further illustrates the role of the paramilitaries in the overall strategy of U.S. counter-insurgency. The U.S. has not only solidified the symbiosis between the Colombian military and the death squads through its 1991 reorganisation of Colombian military intelligence, but now plans to further fund the death squads (amongst Colombia's largest drug traffickers) through its $1.3 billion grant to the Colombian military. This lends further evidence to the view that the narco-paramilitaries form an overall part of U.S. counter-insurgency in Colombia today and leads one to ask why is the U.S. pursuing counter-insurgency within Colombia in the post Cold-War era.
WHY IS THE U.S WAGING COUNTER-INSURGENCY WAR IN COLOMBIA?
So far this paper has clearly illustrated that whilst the U.S. is fighting drugs in Colombia it is doing so as a result of a wider war aim of counter-insurgency. It has selectively targeted the coca crops grown and taxed in FARC territory thereby denying them a source of revenue. In short, the "war on drugs" is actually a "war on the FARC's drugs" whilst totally ignoring Colombian military and death squads linkages and these groups' deep involvement in drug trafficking to U.S. markets. The U.S. has strengthened the largest players in Colombia's drug equation primarily because the death squads form an integral part of the U.S.'s overall strategy of counter-insurgent warfare. The publicly stated goals of Plan Colombia are merely propaganda devices employed to construct the U.S. as a moral agent in world politics whilst hiding motives that have more to do with geo-strategic reasoning. Central to this propaganda effort is the association of the rebels with drugs and thus immorality. The concept "narco-guerrilla" usefully conflates insurgency with drug running within official U.S. discourse. Having constructed the guerrillas as drug runners within the public imagination the U.S. can then act decisively against these enemies in the form of Plan Colombia. Why then is it necessary to suppress the rebels and to implement Plan Colombia? I argue that the U.S. is trying to defeat or at least contain the FARC as part of its broader objectives of tackling any perceived challenge to its oil and investment interests.
The rebels pose a threat to the Colombian state, and by extension Washington's interests. The FARC currently control a geographical landmass the size of Switzerland within southern Colombia, and enjoy widespread support amongst the peasant population. Whilst the FARC are militarily deadlocked with the Colombian army and its narco-paramilitary allies (and thus unlikely to overthrow the Colombian government) their very existence weakens the legitimacy of the state. Furthermore they are pursuing an alternative socio-economic project to the neo-liberal hegemony promoted by Washington and adopted by its Colombian ally. Targeting the coca plantations within FARC territory serves a dual purpose. It allows Washington to continue to claim that Plan Colombia is an anti-drug plan whilst pursuing counter-insurgency, but most importantly of all, by concentrating all of its efforts towards coca plantations within FARC territory it cuts off significant tax revenue for the FARC thereby making the insurgency harder to fund and thus sustain. In short, Washington has chosen to ally itself with the ultra right narco-paramilitaries that share Washington's common objectives.
The U.S. has substantial economic interests within Latin America in general and Colombia more specifically. By 2010 overall U.S. trade with Latin America is set to surpass trade with Europe and Japan. Colombia is the U.S.'s seventh largest oil supplier and has discovered vast oil reserves within its territory. The U.S. has sought to decrease its post Gulf War oil reliance on the Middle East and shift its oil supply purchasing to Latin America. Venezuela and Colombia increasingly figure in this equation. This in turn necessitates the elimination of any threat to U.S. corporate interests whose pursuit of profit within Colombia is an area of perceived "vital interest" to Washington. For example, Occidental Petroleum is a major oil producer in Colombia and has lobbied Congress intensively for the safe passage of Plan Colombia (along with major defence contractors who stand to gain $400 million from Plan Colombia with the purchase of high tech helicopters). Washington's interest merges with U.S. corporate interests not only through the mutual desire to increase access to Colombia's markets (and thus increasing U.S. power in the region) but also in eliminating the rebels who have consistently bombed Occidental's oil pipelines and whose very presence destabilises this crucial oil region.
The FARC can be seen as part of a complex and newly emerging radical opposition to U.S. interests within South America. Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez was elected in June 1999 and has taken a tough line against U.S. interventionism within Latin America. Venezuela has the largest petroleum reserves outside the Middle East and is the U.S.'s largest oil supplier. Chavez has consistently sought to use Venezuelan leadership within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to strengthen its bargaining power with Western countries. He became the first head of state to visit Saddam Hussein's Iraq (and thus helping to end the U.S.-led policy of Iraqi isolation) whilst travelling to Cuba and initiating an oil for medical expertise program with Fidel Castro, his self declared mentor. He has also expressed sympathy for anti-government forces in Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia, regimes all loyal to Washington. This has led the CIA to conclude that Chavez may be partly funding the FARC rebels as part of a wider pattern of de-stabilisation throughout the region. Romero, argues that there "are indications that the government of Chavez has supported violent indigenous movements in Bolivia, and in the case of Ecuador, military coup members" and has described Chavez and his foreign minister, Jose Rangel as "professional agitators." It has been claimed that Chavez has given over $500,000 to Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, the leader of a successful peasant rebellion in Ecuador which toppled former president Jamil Mahuad, and which Washington condemned as a "proto-coup". Furthermore, Chavez has hosted high-level delegates from the FARC within the Venezuelan congress and there are already signs that the CIA and President Bush have set their sights on Chavez.
This paper has examined the U.S.'s Plan Colombia. I took the three publicly stated objectives of Plan Colombia and outlined the logic and facts employed by the U.S. to justify each objective. I then subjected each point to critical counter facts and claims. Considering the fact that the U.S.'s lead agency for its war on drugs, the DEA, has stated on record that the paramilitaries are far more heavily involved in drug trafficking than the FARC combined with the exclusive emphasis on a push into FARC territory, it is obvious that the U.S. is primarily concerned with a counter-insurgency war against Marxist guerrillas. The drug war component of Plan Colombia is merely an extension of an overall war strategy of selectively targeting the sources of funding for Washington's enemies. Furthermore, the U.S. has been directly involved in strengthening the ties between the Colombian military and the notorious paramilitary death squads. These death squads have engaged in terrible violence within Colombia, regularly massacring peasants, trade union leaders, human rights investigators, and journalists. I have argued that the logic underpinning the counter-insurgency war and the use of death squads is the desire to eliminate the FARC who constitute the primary threat to U.S. corporate interests within Colombia today. Plan Colombia forms a part of an historical pattern of U.S. military interventionism within Latin America. It is designed to destroy any threat to U.S. hegemony and serves to stabilise Washington's allies in the region whilst domesticating the political imaginary of its opponents. In the absence of the Soviet "evil empire" but with the continuity of threats to vital U.S. interests, the supply side "war on drugs" provides a convenient justification for the continued post Cold-War operation of U.S. low intensity conflict within Colombia. Plan Colombia seeks to eliminate the most immediate threat to U.S. interests (the FARC). Once the FARC are pacified there will remain in place U.S. military Forward Operating Locations (FOL) in countries such as Ecuador and Panama. These bases have been built as a component to Plan Colombia in escalating U.S. military presence in the region. They also serve as key U.S. military projection points to contain insurgency and serve as a warning to states whose leaders may jeopardise U.S. interests or seek to re-think Washington's version of neo-liberal "democracy". There are already indications that Venezuela and Colombia will form a central focus of President Bush's new administration. Furthermore, U.S. mercenaries supplied by DynCorp alongside Colombian military operatives have commenced direct engagement with the guerrillas. Colombia has started to ask for more U.S. money with an initial request filed by the Colombian embassy in Washington for a four-year annual grant of $600 million for alternative development schemes. To improve human rights, good governance and economic development Colombia needs to address socio-economic problems with socio-economic solutions such as rural development and equitable land redistribution to the majority of Colombia's people. However, with U.S. President Bush's refusal to send U.S. representatives to attend Colombian peace talks it seems that Plan Colombia will continue to be a policy of "better lead than bread".