Plan Colombia not over

Colombian right-wing paramilitary AUC.

United States Undersecretary of State James Steinberg, speaking in Bogota on October 26, claimed the future relationship between Washington and its most favoured client in Latin America, Colombia, would be based on “reciprocity and mutual respect”.

The stated purpose of Steinberg’s visit was to “re-launch the agenda” of US-Colombian relations” by initiating a “High-Level Partnership Dialogue”.

Steinberg’s remarks tied in with similar recent statements by other senior US diplomatic officials. The new rhetoric has been interpreted as nothing less than “the unofficial end of the ‘Plan Colombia’ era” by Just the Facts, a think tank specialising in US-Latin American relations.

It is true that the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from the multi-billion dollar “aid” package to the brutal Colombian regime initiated during the Clinton administration and expanded by Bush.

But it is clear that underlying foreign policy objectives have not changed.

Plan Colombia was sold to the taxpaying public as a necessary component of the “war on drugs”. In fact, it was a vehicle for furthering the traditional designs of US imperialism, of which there is a long and bitter history in Colombia.

Under Plan Colombia, which first received US congressional funding in 2000, billions of dollars have flowed to the Colombian military supposedly to combat the menace of drug trafficking.

This approach flew in the face of research that consistently showed the best and most cost-effective way to deal with the drug problem was by investing in measures to reduce domestic demand.

Planners were well aware that militarising the problem would not lead to a net reduction of cocaine production in the Andean region, but that scarcely mattered.

The drug war provided a justification for the projection of US power into regions controlled by the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas in southern Colombia. This projection used conventional military units and affiliated paramilitaries who engaged in narcotics trafficking on a far greater scale than any of Colombia’s rebel groups.

Having spent US$7.6 billion, Plan Colombia has yielded some noteworthy results. This includes the violent reduction of the FARC’s estimated strength from 20,000 to 8000 (a point dramatically underscored by the November 4 assassination by Colombian special forces of FARC leader Alfonso Cano).

In reality, however, the targets of Washington’s Plan Colombia offensive are not only armed FARC or National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas but also any peasant and indigenous groups standing in the way of capitalist globalisation.

Human Rights Everywhere estimates that today, of the 32 indigenous Colombian peoples faced with the imminent threat of annihilation, 20 are directly threatened by the huge expansion of mining operations.

It would therefore be wrong to describe Plan Colombia as a complete failure. Of course, it has failed miserably to make an impact on drug flows into the US, but in other areas it has proven well worth the investment of public monies on behalf of private economic power.

The corporate legal news outlet Mondaq said on October 17: “The mining industry has progressively gained an important role in the Colombian economy …

“In the past decade, Colombian mining and petroleum industries have doubled their exports; in the first trimester alone of 2010 this sector grew 13.2 percent.”

Colombia possesses the largest coal reserves in the hemisphere. Growth in this sector is predicted to increase exponentially in the next few decades.

It is no accident that this capitalist success story the conquest of Colombia痴 natural resources has coincided with the violent implementation of Plan Colombia.

Military and paramilitary aggression, and chemical warfare via aerial spraying by US contractors, has led to tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more 2.5 million internal refugees the largest refugee crisis in the Americas.

Every refugee has a horrifying story to tell, such as the following testimony provided by a member of the Kwet Wala reservation to Colombian human rights monitoring agency Verdad Abierta: “A family that went out of the reservation disappeared in 2001: father, mother and a nine-year-old child. They were found a few days later in a shallow grave near the [right-wing paramilitary] AUC encampment.

“Their severed sexual organs had been stuffed in their mouth. The child had been scalped with a machete.”