Plan Colombia is a policy, defined as a foreign aid package, with mixed and often continuously evolving objectives. Nevertheless, despite how it may be projected in other parts of the world, including the U.S. and Colombia, Plan Colombia has always been about the war on drugs and expanding U.S. presence and influence in South America. After all, Colombia does border Panama, a place of supreme strategic importance due to its canal, and Colombia borders Venezuela, with its oil resources and possessing a U.S.-hostile government which the Obama administration, declared a threat to U.S. national security. This is important context for the Pro position. For Colombia, there seems to be one primary objective; the end of the so-called Colombian War waged mainly between the Colombian government and several rebel, paramilitary groups, most significantly FARC and ELN who have battled one another and the government for control and influence in Colombia. There seems to be little doubt that much of the power of the insurgency is derived from the production and sale of cocaine. Ending the conflict seems to have involved several strategies including strengthening the capabilities of the Colombian military, and denying the paramilitary groups, their chief source of income; drug-money. The Colombian war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, massacres, kidnappings for ransom, murders, and many charges of human-rights abuses.
The Pro argues that as of this date, following sixteen years of committing U.S. tax dollars, Plan Colombia has failed to meet any of its objectives on both sides of the Caribbean Sea. While the production of Colombian cocaine has seen some decreases due to intense eradication efforts and thousands of arrests, cocaine is still flowing out of the country and is now increasing again. Moreover, despite the much praised and anticipated peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC, the people of Colombia have voted against the deal, killing any hope for peace for the time being.
Failure to Stop Cultivation
Much of the war on cocaine was focused on eradication supported by the idea of providing incentives for farmers to switch to other cash crops. The effects of dropping tons of herbicides on the Colombian countryside was devastating to the population.
Schaffer & Youngers (2015):
Since 1994, Colombia—with the financial support and encouragement of the United States—has sprayed coca with the herbicide glyphosate. In March of this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, concluded that glyphosate “probably causes cancer,” leading Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to call for an end to aerial spraying with the chemical. For a government to deliberately spray its citizens and their crops with a chemical considered likely to be carcinogenic is just plain wrong. Beyond that, it is also abundantly clear that fumigation—along with many forms of forced coca eradication—only exacerbates the problems of poverty and exclusion that lead many poor farmers to cultivate coca, perversely deepening their reliance on coca growing and ensuring renewed plantings and ever-more environmental devastation.
Mejía extends the impact of government eradication efforts and confirms the toll on the environment and human health in general. The evidence further shows the eradication program has undermined confidence in the government.
Other studies have shown that aerial spraying has a negative impact on the environment, causing deforestation, pollution of water sources, and harm to amphibian populations. Additionally, the use of glyphosate negatively affects human health, with exposure leading to skin problems and miscarriages. Moreover, studies have found that its use can reduce citizen confidence in state institutions.
Moreover, the authorities may have underestimated the resourcefulness of the growers' abilities to mitigate the eradication efforts. The farmers and growers adapted a multitude of strategies to protect their primary livelihoods.
The ineffectiveness of aerial spraying in reducing coca cultivation is explained by the fact that coca growers have developed various methods to protect coca crops from herbicide: (1) spraying molasses over the foliage of the coca plant prevents herbicide from penetrating the leaves and destroying the plant; (2) if coca growers cut the stem of a coca bush a few hours after an aerial spraying mission, the herbicide does not have enough time to kill the plant, which can quickly recover and produce again within just three or four months; and (3) even if the plants are killed by aerial spraying campaigns, coca growers often have additional seed beds prepared, ready to be planted.
Finally, after many years of intensive aerial chemical bombardment, the government has stopped flying its chemical-spraying aircraft over the countryside, but eradication remains a primary objective which is now carried out on the ground.
In areas targeted for fumigation during Plan Colombia, Márquez said, "The coca wasn't eradicated. The people were eradicated. Because it has killed the subsistence crops, because it has contaminated the water we drink, because it has destroyed our territories."
For years, US officials strongly defended the controversial program, despite its failure to substantially reduce the supply of cocaine in the international market and despite serious humanitarian concerns about the practice. The Colombian government recently suspended aerial spraying of herbicides, but glyphosate is still being used in manual eradication efforts.
When we look at the net effects of the spraying program on cocoa cultivation in Colombia, what is the bottom line? Here are the numbers.
After some reduction of coca crops in the 2000s, they are growing again. The area under coca cultivation in Colombia rose 44% in 2014 to 69,000 hectares or 175,000 acres, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which monitors the crops by satellite. Potential cocaine production soared from 290 tonnes in 2013 to 442 tonnes in 2014, up 52%. This year’s report, which will show 2015 figures, is expected to show an additional increase.
Pro contends that not only has the eradication program failed to have any lasting impact on the cultivation of cocoa in Colombia, it is likely we will be hearing about the environmental and health impacts for years to come.
Failure to Protect Humans
Colombia's internal unrest and conflicts began long before cocaine became a major cash crop. Colombia has endured decades of war as factions have struggled for power. The conflicts have been marked with atrocities on all sides and human rights abuses which grew all the more intense in the years following the implementation of Plan Colombia under which the Colombian government launched a U.S. backed counter-insurgency.
The crackdown was also accompanied by egregious human rights abuses. Since the plan’s inception, more than 1,000 trade unionists and at least 370 journalists have been killed; at least 400 human rights defenders were murdered, with many more activists tortured, disappeared, kidnapped or detained; and nearly half a million women were subjected to sexual violence from 2001 to 2009.
As international attention shifted to Colombia, it didn't take long for the public to take notice as human rights groups acted to expose the horrible toll of the plan. Remarkably, despite U.S. concerns for human rights, the Colombian government's own security forces were often the target of accusations.
To burnish claims of the plan’s success, security forces killed more than 5,700 civilians from 2000 to 2010, many lured to their deaths by the promise of jobs. Military members later staged combat scenes to make it appear as if the deaths were caused by warfare. Impunity has been widespread. Out of some 3,500 killings investigated by Colombia’s prosecutor general, only 402 resulted in convictions, mostly of low-level forces. Last year, Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre announced that 22 generals are being investigated, but their long overdue prosecution is far from certain. In fact, some top officers associated with the scandal have been nominated for promotions.
Recently, after wide-spread concern and attention upon the atrocities, the U.S. and Colombia are citing improvements. They are claiming a turn-around of sorts, with falling crime rates, and talk of peace. But some see this as a white-wash to cover-up a more tragic reality.
Various politicians and commentators have cited generally declining murder and kidnapping rates as achievements attributable to Plan Colombia. But much less public attention has been paid to the more than 6 million Colombian citizens victimized since the program began - including more than 4 million people displaced from their homes and more than 3,500 civilians murdered by Colombian security forces, who disguised many of the victims as guerillas in order to inflate the tally of "enemies" killed.
Carasik reveals a massive human toll to the war which now looks like it will continue since the peace agreement was rejected.
But glowing reviews of Plan Colombia obscure its ineffectiveness and the devastating human costs of the country’s militarization. The crackdown has led to massive upheaval, with more than 4 million people internally displaced since 2000. Of those, most were women and children, with Afro-Colombian and indigenous people disproportionately affected. The staggering number — about a tenth of the country’s nearly 50 million people — adds to those previously dispossessed, leaving Colombia second only to Syria in terms of internally displaced people. The National Unit for the Integral Attention and Reparation of Victims has registered more than 6 million people seeking restitution for harms inflicted during Plan Colombia’s operation.
Pro contends the human cost paid for Plan Colombia outweighs any benefits which Con may try to claim. We must end Plan Colombia today and begin to direct our aid toward restoration of human rights.
Failure to Bring Peace
This past October Colombian voters reject the much praised peace accord between the Colombian government and FARC. However, it seems that voters were not ready to accept a deal which would cover decades of atrocities and human rights abuses with a deal granting amnesty in exchange for confessions. In this deal, perhaps the "cost" of peace was too high.
Crisis Group (2016):
Myriad explanations are given for the vote. In areas with higher concentrations of the 52-year armed conflict’s victims and/or higher poverty rates, the “yes” vote tended to be stronger. But commuted sentences without jail for convicted FARC fighters who confess their crimes, even though their liberties would be restricted; a guaranteed ten seats in Congress; and the economic reintegration package for ex-combatants, with livelihood payments for two years, generated a sense, especially in big, formerly conflict-affected cities such as Medellín and Bucaramanga, that members of an illegal armed group would receive overly generous benefits. The fear that the country would “be handed over to FARC” or converted into chavista Venezuela was influential in higher-income brackets.
Despite assurances from both sides the commitment to peace remains, we can be sure for now Plan Colombia will also remain in place. But even if the peace accord was approved, would Colombia's internal strife have ended? There is no reason to believe it would when as the song-writer Glenn Frey proclaimed in his 1984 hit song, Smuggler's Blues, "it's the lure of easy money; it's got a very strong appeal". There are plenty of other militant groups waiting for FARC to move out of the way so they can seize control of the illegal narcotics business.
Even if the FARC totally fulfills its commitment to disarming and leaving behind its illegal activities, there are a plethora of criminal groups that could pick up the slack. Criminal bands, commonly referred to in the county as BACRIM, are active throughout Colombia, and reports indicate that they are salivating at the prospect of assuming the FARC's role in the drug trade.
It is claimed that many of these BACRIM are much more vicious, perhaps more willing to do what it takes to seize control. Further, there is no doubt that many suddenly-unemployed FARC members will join forces with the groups waiting in the wings.
There is also a likelihood that many FARC elements, either dissatisfied with the peace deal or enticed by criminal profits, will remain in the drug trade, consolidating the market share vacated by those FARC groups that do demobilize. A FARC group in remote eastern Colombia has already declared its refusal to disarm.
Other FARC members may make the jump to one of Colombia's many criminal organizations, continuing the same activities under new management. Many do already, according to Alcibiades Escue, the mayor of a town in southwest Colombia.
"By day they wear the FARC insignia and by nightfall they've switched to the ELN," Escue told Reuters, only partially in jest.
Pro contends that after sixteen years, despite billions of dollars in aid and support, Plan Colombia has failed to yield peace and security in Colombia.
Failure to Stop Smuggling
Curtailment of the flow of cheap cocaine into the country was a major policy of the United States. Even in the earliest years of the program it was clear Plan Colombia was failing to meet its objectives despite significant financial commitment.
As of 2013, the US was providing Colombia with more than $310m in annual military and economic aid, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, a significant decline from previous years. But it's still enough to make Colombia the largest recipient of US military aid in Latin America.
The Plan's initial official objective, to reduce by half the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia in the first five years, failed, said Juan Vargas, a professor at the University of Rosario in Bogota who studies Colombia's conflict.
Even after years of spraying and an all-out, horrific war on the cartels, cocaine smuggling was shifted to other Central American organizations.
The plan decreased the amount of Colombian land used in coca cultivation, but the price and purity of drugs on US streets - key figures for measuring the effectiveness of counternarcotics operations - remained virtually unchanged.
In the 1990s, large-scale Colombian crime gangs, including the infamous Medellin and Cali cartels, dominated the world's cocaine market by producing industrial quantities of coca on large plantations and controlling distribution to the US and Europe.
Plan Colombia helped change that, fracturing the large cartels. The biggest beneficiaries of this move, however, were Mexico's vicious gangsters.
In the 1990s, Mexican cartels were hired by Colombian criminals to help move product across the US border. Following the fracturing of Colombian syndicates, Mexican mafias became the dominant criminal forces in the hemisphere, outsourcing production to diffuse groups in Colombia and other South American countries.
The U.S. should realize they are playing a game of whack-a-mole. We spend money and commit vast resources to whack one criminal organization and several more rise to take its place.
U.S. counternarcotics officials report that today the Mexican cartels are the largest players in the global cocaine trade and are steadily working to grab the portion of cocaine smuggling not yet under their control. But the efforts of the Mexican cartels to increase their share of the cocaine profit are not confined to the production side; they have also expanded their involvement in the smuggling of South American cocaine to Europe and Australia and have established a footprint in African, Asian and European countries. Furthermore, they have stepped up their activities in places like the Dominican Republic and Haiti in an attempt to increase their share of the cocaine being smuggled through the Caribbean to the U.S. market. As seen by recent operations launched by U.S. law enforcement, such as Operation Xcellerator, Operation Chokehold and Operation Imperial Emperor, the Mexican cartels have also been increasing their presence at distribution points inside the United States, such as Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas, in an effort to increase their share of the cocaine profit chain inside the United States.
The Pro urges the end of Plan Colombia. After years of spending and presumed commitment to the cause of reduced trafficking and a secure Colombia, we have made little to no progress. The time has come to admit failure and begin a new direction. I leave the final word to Amnesty International who have documented the horrible toll of Plan Colombia since inception.
Year after year US policy has ignored the evidence and the cries of the United Nations, Colombian and international non-governmental organizations and the people of Colombia. Plan Colombia is a failure in every respect and human rights in Colombia will not improve until there is a fundamental shift in US foreign policy.
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