Plan Colombia

As the United States escalates spending for its militarized anti-drug strategy, a growing movement of well-respected Latin American leaders has emerged calling for more peaceful and effective solutions. At the recent Summit of Americas conference in Quebec City, critics ranging from Nobel laureates to former world leaders submitted a letter to President Bush saying that Plan Colombia, while failing to stem the drug trade, will have three dramatically harmful effects:

Worsen Colombia’s devastating war and human rights crisis:
Plan Colombia bolsters Colombia’s military despite its persistent ties to right-wing paramilitary forces who represent the gravest threat to peace and democracy in that country. The paramilitaries commit the vast majority of human rights abuses and actively engage in drug trafficking. In early 2001 the paramilitaries increased their massacres of civilians and violently took control of territory in southern Colombia ahead of fumigation operations. The escalated war effort also undermines fragile peace negotiations, which are widely recognized as the only hope for lasting peace and a reduction of the violence associated with drug trafficking. Plan Colombia has emboldened efforts to solve the 35-year internal conflict on the battlefield while undermining government and civil society leaders seeking a peaceful resolution.

Poison food crops, and damage human and environmental health:
Last month, governors from four of Colombia’s southern states came to Washington to demand a halt to the U.S. backed campaign of aerial defoliation in their region. They described how subsistence farmers – not large coca plantations – were the most common targets of fumigation. Many families in the southern states have lost some or all of their food crops and been forced to leave their land. U.S. and Colombian officials insist that the defoliant chemicals being sprayed do not threaten human or environmental health. Yet the governors, as well as human rights monitors, report widespread respiratory and skin problems among people who have been directly sprayed. Environmentalists warn that defoliation threatens plant-life and animals in the fragile Amazon ecosystem.

Force drug production into neighboring regions:
As Colombia suffers the consequences of Plan Colombia, the economic and social factors will remain unchanged: massive poverty and a nearly inexhaustible supply of cultivatable land that guarantee new supplies will emerge to meet undiminished U.S. demand for drugs. Cocoa cultivation is already moving to new areas within Colombia and across its borders.

Three years later, the critics of Plan Colombia have been vindicated on all accounts. Plan Colombia has worsened the human rights situation in Colombia, poisoned people and the environment and failed to reduce the supply of narcotics into the United States. Take action today by urging your legislators to end this failed and counter-productive policy

Adapted from an article on the Washington Office of Latin America website: www.wola.org