John McCain is heading to Colombia today to meet with President Alvaro Uribe, a man McCain considers a "friend". I would like to educate McCain about his so-called friend and enlighten those of us here at Daily Kos about the horrific failure of our government's main aid package to Colombia, known as Plan Colombia. I wrote a paper for my Foreign Relations of Latin America course at George Washington University recently about Plan Colombia's failure, and I would like to share it with all of you. It lays out in stark detail the abuses of Uribe's government, the coordinated killings of labor leaders and academics, and the actions of rogue U.S. soldiers in Colombia. Uribe has met several times with paramilitary leaders who are currently in U.S. custody on drug trafficking charges. Are these the kind of "friends" you are looking for, Senator McCain? My paper starts over the fold...
Plan Colombia, as originally envisioned by former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, was to be a "Marshall Plan for Colombia" (Speech at Tequendama Hotel, June 8, 1998). As originally conceived, it was to focus on economic development and manual destruction of coca crops, rather than on aerial fumigation and military aid. The first drafts of the agreement focused on ending violence and addressing economic inequality, but the finished product ended up looking entirely different – focusing instead on military aid and combating drug traffickers. According to Ambassador Robert White, who was ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay and the former number two official at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, the original Plan Colombia contained no mention of military drives aimed at the FARC rebels. Instead, President Pastrana called them "a part of the history of Colombia" and that they "should be treated as Colombians." (Ottawa Citizen, September 6, 2000) The final Plan Colombia ended up being written by officials in Washington, rather than by the Colombians themselves. In fact, the first copy of the final version of Plan Colombia was written in English rather than in Spanish. According to the Center for International Policy, under the first year of Plan Colombia’s implementation, over 78% of all U.S. aid sent to Colombia was for military or anti-drug purposes.
So then what went wrong? What caused Plan Colombia to deviate so strongly from its promise of economic development and become a largely military-based aid package? One major factor was the change in leadership in both the United States and Colombia. In 2001, the comparatively leftist administration of President Bill Clinton was replaced by the right-wing administration of George W. Bush, who as we have seen has been far more willing to use military means to accomplish its goals than was the Clinton administration. In 2002, Alvaro Uribe, who took a much harder line on the problem with the FARC, replaced President Pastrana. The more militaristic styles of the two administrations entrenched the military aspect that came to define Plan Colombia and failed to live up to the promise it once had. In addition, Uribe’s government has formed close ties with right-wing paramilitary death squads as it seeks to crush any leftist sentiment in the country.
Plan Colombia is not working. It is merely prolonging a stalemate between the government and the FARC rebels. A recent article in the Washington Post (June 9, 2008) quoted the Colombian defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, as saying that last year, for the first time in 25 years, the FARC was unable to take seize control of a single town. This comes despite the United States funneling money to the Colombian government for nearly a decade, most of which has gone towards defeating the FARC. The United States military presence in Colombia has doubled, and there has been a massive infusion of complex military equipment, and still the FARC rebels have not been driven back or defeated. Plan Colombia must be reexamined, as the conditions on the ground have changed. The leader of FARC since its inception, Manuel Marulanda, has recently passed away, and its new leader, Alfonso Cano, is seen as someone very well positioned to lead the FARC into talks with the government. There may be a short burst of intensified fighting as Cano seeks to consolidate his control over the movement, but following that, he may be more willing to negotiate than his predecessor. In addition, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reversed his support for the FARC on June 8, 2008, calling for them to disarm and to release their hostages. Chavez was alleged to have been a benefactor of the FARC, making this public U-turn more pronounced.
Colombia’s government has harassed members of labor unions and many people suspected of having leftist sympathies. A February 2005 congressional report found that labor union leaders were being targeted by paramilitary groups, and that Colombia’s security forces were in some instances cooperating with the paramilitaries and committing "serious" human rights violations. Colombia has a long history of harassment and targeting of labor unions and labor activists. Nearly four thousand labor activists were killed in Colombia from the mid-1980s through mid-2002, with over one hundred labor activists killed in the first six months of 2002. In the year 2000, more labor activists were killed in Colombia than were killed in the entire world in 1999. In 2001, murders of union members increased by 30%. This is a problem that has plagued Colombia for decades, but which has only gotten worse since Plan Colombia’s implementation. A report from the Henning Center at Berkeley states,
"it is hard to avoid the conclusion that US aid to the Colombian military is facilitating the persecution of Colombia's trade unions."
It is clear that the cooperation between the U.S.-funded Colombian military and the right-wing paramilitary groups in carrying out these attacks on trade unionists is not merely limited to a few cases, but is part of a larger pattern of military-paramilitary coordination.
There have been reports of "rogue" U.S. soldiers aiding and abetting right-wing death squads. In May 2005, a shipment of nearly 33,000 rounds of ammunition was discovered by police – along with two members of the U.S. Special Forces and a Colombian. The ammunition was to be sold to right-wing paramilitaries. There was also an incident in which five U.S. soldiers who were supposed to be aiding in anti-drug operations were caught with 16 kilograms of cocaine inside a U.S. military plane.
President Alvaro Uribe was elected on a promise to crack down on all illegally armed groups. However, all indications are that Uribe’s government, while taking a very hard line against leftist rebels, has done very little to combat the right-wing paramilitary forces in Colombia, and there have been numerous reports of government involvement with paramilitary groups. In 2006, reports emerged that Colombia’s intelligence agency had been infiltrated by paramilitaries, who supplied lists of labor leaders and academics to the right-wing terror groups for them to hunt down and kill. A former senior official at the agency, Rafael Garcia, told prosecutors and journalists that the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS, had worked in very close contact with several right-wing paramilitary groups, including the "Northern Block" led by the paramilitary leader known as "Jorge 40". Garcia asserts that Jorge Noguera, who was the director of DAS at the time, initiated the contact with the right-wing terror organizations.
Another charge made by Rafael Garcia is that Noguera coordinated a massive campaign of electoral fraud in 2002 with the aid of right-wing paramilitaries. At the time, Noguera was Alvaro Uribe’s campaign director in the northern state of Magdalena. Garcia alleged that this resulted in 300,000 fraudulent votes for Uribe. A similar plan was used in the 2002 congressional elections in some northern states. Garcia also alleges that DAS coordinated with right-wing paramilitary groups on plots to assassinate Venezuelan officials, including President Hugo Chavez.
President Uribe has admitted to meeting with paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, who has been convicted of human rights abuses and was extradited to the United States in May 2008 on charges of drug trafficking. In a May 22, 2007 Washington Post article, Mancuso is quoted as saying,
"Paramilitarism was state policy. I am proof positive of state militarism in Colombia."
Mancuso further accused Colombia’s vice president and defense minister of having met with right-wing paramilitary groups in the 1990’s, before the groups began talks on disarmament. The May 2007 article about Mancuso’s trial and investigations into government ties to paramilitaries further states,
"So far, authorities have charged 14 members of Colombia's Congress, seven former lawmakers, the head of the secret police, mayors and former governors with having collaborated with paramilitary commanders. A dozen more current congressmen are under investigation. Most have been close Uribe allies who supported a constitutional amendment permitting his reelection."
Another major goal is eradication of coca crops, so as to combat cocaine use in the United States. However, because of the increased attention paid to stopping drugs from being imported into the United States, drug traffickers are not folding, but proving more resilient than ever. A disturbing new trend has emerged due to Plan Colombia – Africa and Europe are now facing a far worse drug crisis than they were before. As a November 27, 2007 article in the Christian Science Monitor shows, drug trafficking has increasingly shifted from getting drugs into the United States to getting them into Europe. In doing this, the drug traffickers are using West Africa as a staging ground before the drugs are transported into Europe. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of cocaine users in Europe is now at four million, which is triple the number of only a decade ago. The cartels find that West African nations are far easier to traffic drugs into, due to the weak governments of the region and poor oversight.
Some friend, huh, Senator McCain? Right-wing death squads going around killing labor leaders and academics, meetings with drug-trafficking paramilitaries, U.S. soldiers selling arms to terrorists and smuggling cocaine on military planes - do you approve of this? I urge all of you to get the message out. This needs to be made clear to everyone. If Senator McCain condones this behavior and considers Alvaro Uribe a "friend", he should be held accountable. This is a bombshell waiting to happen, folks. Let's get to it.