Since the Pro will be advocating a total ban of Plan Colombia, they will need to justify their position which will in most cases, point to a collection of failures and tragic outcomes arising from the policy. But the Con side, needs to advocate we should NOT ban Plan Colombia. The most obvious justification for the position, in light of Pro claims of failure, is we should not ban it because we still have work to do. While this may seem trite, the evidence shows that despite the much publicized failures, Plan Colombia has had some remarkable successes and we will argue it has turned an important corner on the road to stability, peace and economic viability. We need to understand, the objectives of Plan Colombia have been a bit of a moving target, at least for the purposes of political expediency. However, there are several key and strategically important objectives that have been present from the beginning, and these are being met. Moreover, though I may not do so in this analysis, Con can legitimately argue, that many of the criticisms levied by Pro are not failures of the plan itself, but rather failures of the Colombian government to conduct its operations in such a way as to minimize collateral harms. For example, its fairly easy to claim from the comfort and quiet of a U.S. classroom, the so-called "scorched earth" tactics of the Colombian security forces was excessive and result in numerous human rights violations. It is much more difficult to assess whether those tactics were in keeping with present capabilities and if the heavy-handed tactics ended up helping more than hurting. After all, internal conflict had been going on for a half-century and there was no end in sight. In fact, there was a reasonable expectation that the Communist FARC may succeed in toppling the government. The Pastrana administration came along at a critical juncture, when the people were already crying out for an end to FARC.
As the situation in Colombia deteriorated in the late 1990s, U.S. foreign policy experts talked about Colombia being on the verge of state failure, representing a major threat to regional security and to U.S. interests. Importantly, in what would constitute a key ingredient in Colombia’s return from the brink—as Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, has noted—“by 1999, Colombians had reached a collective conclusion that, if the deteriorating conditions remained unchecked, the viability of the nation was in question. In October of that year, more than 1 million Colombians marched against the FARC in a ‘No más’ nationwide protest.”
At the time the U.S. was shaping a kind of "globalization is peace" foreign policy (see The Lexus and Olive Tree and the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention). Clinton, opened the a door to Latin American with the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the prospect of a hostile, communist-leaning government at the door to the South American continent was probably disturbing to some strategists in the U.S. Note, this is speculation on my part, but I think it is logical speculation. Nevertheless, the original goals of Plan Colombia started with Clinton, evolved under Bush, with the War on Terror and democratization and evolved again under Obama and the shift toward conflict resolution. So when Pro says Plan Columbia failed, which variant of Plan Colombia do they mean?
The initial purpose of Plan Colombia lays the ground work for the Con position. As started previously, Pastrana came to power at a time when the internal conflict had already taken a horrible toll on the Colombian people. Pastrana looked north to the U.S. for help and proposed a plan.
Plan Colombia was developed by President Pastrana (1998-2002) as a strategy to end the country’s 40-year-old armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote development. The initial plan was a $7.5 billion six-year plan, with Colombia providing $4 billion of the funding and requesting $3.5 billion from the international community.147 The U.S. Congress approved legislation in support of Plan Colombia in 2000, as part of the Military Construction Appropriations Act of 2001 (P.L. 106-246) providing $1.3 billion for counternarcotics and related efforts in Colombia and neighboring countries. Plan Colombia was never authorized by Congress. Subsequent funding has been appropriated for Plan Colombia and follow on plans annually. President Bush continued support for the plan under the Andean Counterdrug Program (ACP) aid account. The ACP account funded counternarcotics programs in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and, until FY2008, Venezuela. The U.S.-Colombian partnership, initially focused on counternarcotics, shifted in 2002. Because narcotics trafficking and the guerrilla insurgency had become intertwined problems, Congress granted the Administration flexibility to use U.S. counterdrug funds for a unified campaign to fight drug trafficking and terrorist organizations.
I should note that even though Pastrana lists three goals; conflict resolution, elimination of drug trafficking and economic development, there is no reason to assume they must be completed in a certain sequence. But it goes without saying, solving the internal conflict would be key to enabling economic development and elimination of drug trafficking. Aerial crop eradication was a primary strategy of Colombian President Uribe which led to mass migrations, intense conflict and human rights abuses. The U.S. strategy was different. In fact, Beittel, in her report to Congress, notes, that funds initially earmarked for crop eradication where shifted to human rights training programs in 2008 (Beittel 2012:31).
Within the U.S. government, the concept of a “war on drugs” was jettisoned years ago in recognition that narcotics trafficking is but one source of profit for organized criminal groups. Instead, U.S. security assistance programs increasingly gravitated toward a balanced approach against organized crime utilizing all available tools to reduce the combined societal harms caused in source, transit, and destination countries. These efforts seek to prevent the vast ecological damage caused by growers and traffickers who clear cut forest and dump precursor chemicals and the violence caused by traffickers as they defend territory and conduct extortion and murder-for-hire. These criminal activities leave behind money in Colombia that fuels corruption and undermines licit economic activity.
Strategists in the U.S. government believed that a strong, democratic Colombia was the key to meeting key U.S. objectives, of reduction in drug trafficking, a democratic and economically stable trading partner, and military ally in a critical geographical location, but they were reluctant to intervene too deeply into President Uribe's popular government which was showing signs of success.
The critics missed the point. Plan Colombia was sold politically in the United States as a crackdown on drugs, but in reality it was always first and foremost a counter-insurgency strategy. For Colombia to be a viable democracy, it needed a stronger state able to provide security to its citizens and to tame the illegal armies, which were financed by the world’s cocaine habit. It worked. Colombians backed the strategy—American aid was more than matched by increased domestic spending on security. Under Álvaro Uribe, who followed Mr Pastrana as president, the paramilitaries demobilised and the FARC guerrillas were battered so hard that they agreed, in 2012, to start peace talks with the government of Juan Manuel Santos, Mr Uribe’s successor (and his former defence minister).
Building Toward Success
Another key component of the Plan Colombia initiative focused in the economic stability of Colombia. It had minimal infrastructure and good roads and bridges capable of supporting the transportation of goods as well as troops. Power distributions systems were limited and often attacked by FARC guerrillas. Food production was at sustenance levels and a large portion of the economy was based upon illicit narcotics but U.S. consumption was on the decline.
The architects and implementers of Plan Colombia always understood that helping Colombia build stronger, more capable institutions was the best way to strengthen governance and deny criminal groups space in which to operate. Preventing cocaine consumption in the United States was never the sole aim of Plan Colombia, but part of a broader plan to reduce production in Colombia and demand in the United States. It is noteworthy that U.S. cocaine consumption dropped by 50 percent in the past decade.
Early in the program, large parts of Colombia were controlled by militants, enriching themselves on illicit crop production and forcing farmers to work for them. But as government military operations began to take back control of the those regions, the U.S shifted focus to alternative crop production. However, the Colombian government policies harmed progress by insisting that farmers immediately eradicate cocoa and switch to other crops with little concern for the fact that it may take several growing seasons to transition away from cocoa, in addition to other policy barriers which limited U.S. assistance and angered farmers.
The two core projects of the USAID strategy that ran between 2006 and 2011 were the More Investment for Sustainable Alternative Development (MIDAS) and Areas for Municipal Level Alternative Development (ADAM). Both projects have generated thousands of hectares of licit crops and jobs. In FY2010, USAID reported that it helped rural families produce more than 95,000 hectares of licit agricultural products and to create more than 150,000 jobs. However, the USAID projects have been criticized for neither reaching those most vulnerable to coca cultivation nor providing adequate income substitution during the comparatively long time needed for alternative crops to mature and generate sufficient and sustainable income. Several assessments of USAID’s alternative development program under Plan Colombia cite the “zero coca” policy of the Colombian government as actually a barrier to reaching those impoverished farmers most vulnerable to coca growing. For example, in one assessment, researchers were told “alternative livelihoods assistance reaches only a small segment of the population in need, i.e. either cultivating coca or vulnerable to coca cultivation.” 
Despite these barriers to success, Plan Colombia provided the necessary incentives to turn the Colombian economy to one more indicative of a viable nation, rather than a country on the cusp of being declared a failed state.
Colombia has made tremendous economic strides during the past 15 years as its security situation has improved. By 2014, Colombia’s gross domestic product, or GDP, had grown to $377.7 billion, compared to $99.88 billion in 2000, making Colombia the third-largest economy in Latin America. Colombia also has seen major reductions in poverty, with the percentage of the population living below the national poverty line, for example, decreasing from 64 percent in 1999 to 28.5 percent in 2014. Extreme poverty has dropped even more precipitously from 23 percent in 2000 to 8.1 percent in 2014. Colombia’s Gini coefficient, the leading indicator of economic inequality, although still high, has narrowed from 58.7 to 53.3 in the past 15 years, an improvement comparable to Brazil’s during that country’s much touted efforts to move millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.
The Security Metric
The insurgency and counter-insurgency took a huge toll on the nation of Colombia. Crime rates were through the roof. Murders, kidnapping, robberies, and violence were the tools for control and intimidation. Plan Colombia helped slowly and deliberately to chip away at the rebel grip on the nation through infrastructure, military equipment and training, and investments which strengthened the government and allowed it regain control of the country.
The gains against the insurgents and the increased control of the state over territory led to an improvement in citizen security. First, homicide rates have followed the intensity of conflict in Colombia, so although homicides rose around the year 2000 as the armed conflict intensified, as the military gained success and pushed the insurgents out of more and more areas, the homicide rates fell.89 Just in case this scenario comes across as a case of an organization fixing a problem it was responsible for creating, it is worth emphasizing that the FARC was the organization that was dedicated to violently overthrowing the democratically elected government and was consciously increasing the violence in pursuit of that goal. Indeed the Pastrana government (1998–2002) had tried during most of its tenure to negotiate peace with the FARC.
Second, as an organization that finances itself through drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping, one would expect that as the FARC experienced substantial loses in manpower, territory, and materiel, there would be some effect on its financing activities. A more detailed discussion of crime statistics follows, but the short answer is that we do see a significant drop in these crimes commensurate with the military’s counterinsurgent fight.[22-23]
Shifter extends the impacts of the improving security situation in Colombia. For those who have looked to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (a common Lincoln Douglas debate theme), security is a core requirement to higher levels of self-actualization. More importantly, people get to regain hope and faith in their government.
The positive changes in the security situation are, however, undeniable. Under the rubric of “democratic security,” developed by Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s two-term president (2002–2010), the presence of the national police was extended throughout the country, to all of Colombia’s 1,300 municipalities.
Thanks to the strengthened capacity of Colombia’s security forces and vastly improved intelligence capabilities, kidnappings declined between 2002 and 2009, from nearly 3,000 to just over 200 annually, and killings were reduced by nearly half in the same period. The size of the FARC insurgency was also halved, from an estimated 17,000–20,000 members to 8,000–10,000.
The counter-insurgency supported by Plan Colombia began to break the strongholds of rebel groups like FARC and demoralized the leadership.
Flush with cocaine profits, by the late 1990s the FARC was at its peak, with nearly 20,000 fighters. It terrorized Colombians with kidnappings, bombings and brazen attacks that came to represent a major threat to the government, controlling as much as one-quarter of Colombian territory. But the FARC's tactics and its criminal reputation earned it little support among the ordinary Colombians on whose behalf it was supposedly fighting. As the state fought back and FARC soldiers grew fearful of increasingly effective military airstrikes, the rebel ranks thinned, with many defecting or deserting. Today the FARC has fewer than 7,000 troops, according to Colombian military intelligence.
The change in the security situation in Colombia is key to events which enabled President Santos to shift the strategy once again to one which focused on negotiation instead of bombs. It was this effort which eventually led to the peace agreement recently voted upon by the Colombian people. In Shifter's analysis, he claims that despite all outward appearances, the U.S strategists understood well how Plan Colombia could function to achieve U.S. interests in the region. The drug-war, while it may eventually yield results, was never the primary goal. In fact it is a model for how to achieve policy goals with minimal direct intervention.
But using a different metric, it can be argued that the plan was a win-win for both countries. By heading off what seemed to be the collapse of the Colombian state, and avoiding the ensuing chaos and uncontrolled violence, U.S. foreign policy furthered its goals in the hemisphere of protecting democracy and defending human lives.
It is now clear that supporters of Plan Colombia in President Clinton’s administration, understood this—even though for public consumption, and for political support, the emphasis was largely on drugs. The policy’s bipartisan support—between Democratic and Republican administrations as well as Congress—was fundamental to its success.
Plan Colombia was also a successful demonstration of how the U.S. could achieve security aims with a limited investment of military force. The use of U.S. soldiers and contractors as military advisors generated the most controversy during domestic debates over the plan, as critics worried that American forces would increasingly be drawn by mission creep into a Vietnam-style quagmire in the Andes. But the numbers of U.S. personnel—set in 2004 at 800 for military and 600 for private contractors—were kept within legal bounds. The U.S. maintained an essentially supportive function.
A Lasting Peace
The leading argument in support of not banning Plan Colombia is found in the fact that Plan Colombia has undeniably lifted Colombia from near failed-state status to a much more secure and viable nation ranked among the most productive on the South American continent. However, the work is not yet complete. It was Plan Colombia which made the Santos peace settlement possible and it was the failure of the vote which justifies its continuance. The vote was close, but some dissatisfaction remains, especially among the Uribe faction of voters. But even if the peace agreement had been approved by the voters, no one was ready to shout victory. There are other rebel groups and the drugs are still being processed but these are among the justifications for the Con position.
Just as confronting Colombia’s security crisis required partnership with the United States, so too will consolidating and sustaining peace. Doing so will require overcoming the U.S. habit of prematurely declaring victory in the Americas and moving on to a new challenge. Continued support to Colombia, however, does not mean identical support. Just as the nature of U.S. support has evolved during the past 15 years, support going forward must keep pace with changing realities.
While Runde was looking forward in this source and was unaware the peace deal would not be approved, he rightly understood that Plan Colombia was the one of the main reasons for success.
With the reelection of President Juan Manuel Santos, it is likely that Colombia’s peace talks will conclude in the next calendar year. After nearly 50 years of armed conflict, Santos may finally reach an agreement with the leftist insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As Colombia’s largest bilateral provider of economic and security assistance, the United States has played a significant role in getting Colombia to where it is today: a growing economy looking toward peace in the near future. Much of this success is due to Plan Colombia, the joint effort of the U.S. and Colombian governments that began in 2000 to address the country’s security issues. In order to ensure a thriving post-conflict Colombia, the United States will need to commit to a sustained engagement for three to five years following the completion of the Peace Accords. Though the benefits of peace for Colombia and its neighbors are clear, peace in Colombia will also provide significant economic and security dividends for the United States and other countries in the region.
It's not over. Now is not the time to ban Plan Colombia. The U.S. must continue its support role.
Colombia’s security institutions, for example, will need support as they transition to new roles and missions—in Colombia and beyond. This will be particularly true as the National Police, with its approximately 180,000 members, bears more responsibility across the Colombian territory and as Colombia’s armed forces move toward a more supporting role, with a growing focus on international engagements. In offering support, however, the United States needs to be cognizant of its limits and be open to Colombia broadening its security partnerships, as one key to Plan Colombia’s success was its focus on areas, such as technology and equipment, where the United States had unique competitive advantages.
For all these reasons and more we urge a Con ballot.
For links to the Intro and Pro positions or for more information about Public Forum debate, click the Public Forum tab at the top of this page.
Beittel, JS (2012), Colombia: Background, U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest, Congressional Research Service, Nov 28, 2012, accessed 11/4/2016 at: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL32250.pdf
Economist (2016), A new plan for Colombia, The Economist, Jan 23, 2016, accessed 11/4/2016 at: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21688936-juan-manuel-santos-seeks-support-peace-washington-new-plan-colombia
Miroff N (2016), The staggering toll of Colombia’s war with FARC rebels, explained in numbers, The Washington Post, August 24, 2016, accessed 11/4/2016 at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/08/24/the-staggering-toll-of-colombias-war-with-farc-rebels-explained-in-numbers/?tid=a_inl
Muller G 92015), How military actions affected citizen security during Plan Colombia, Calhoun, Institutional Archive of teh Naval Postgraduate School, Jun 2015, accessed 11/4/2016 at: http://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/45909/15Jun_Muller_Graydon.pdf?sequence=1
Restrepo D (2016), The United States and Colombia: From Security Partners to Global Partners in Peace, Center For American Progress, Feb 2, 2016, accessed at: https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/01064932/Colombia-brief.pdf
Runde DF (2014), Preparing for Peace in Colombia: An Economic and Security Imperative for the United States, Center for Strategic & International Studies, June 24, 2014, accessed 11/4/2016 at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/preparing-peace-colombia-economic-and-security-imperative-united-states
Shifter M (2012), Plan Colombia: A Retrospective, America's Quarter, Summer 2012, accessed 11/4/2016 at: http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/3787
Whitaker K (2016), It’s Not Just Counter Narcotics: Plan Colombia’s Balanced Approach Made It a Success, The World Post, June 16, 2016, accessed 11/4/2016 at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-whitaker/its-not-just-counter-narc_b_10509068.html?utm_hp_ref=world&ir=WorldPost