How to save Plan Colombia

We have to stop Plan Colombia, because of its “high political cost for the country’s dignity”, Colombia’s vice-president Francisco Santos said a few days ago in the country’s daily El Tiempo.

And how does Plan Colombia affect Colombia’s dignity? I don’t see the relation. Santos complains that certain sectors in the American congress and in the Colombian opposition damage Colombia’s reputation because they criticize human right in Colombia. He talks about minorities within the Colombian trade unions, infiltrated by the guerrilla, who do this damaging work. Francisco Santos talks like his boss, Colombia’s president Álvaro Uribe, who loves to accuse his opponents of ties with the FARC.

The vice-president is probably referring to a group of Colombians, especially human rights defenders, who wrote a letter to mr. Obama to ask him to change the focus of Plan Colombia. They ask respect for human rights and a change in the policy against drugs. They also ask a different policy to find a solution for the war in Colombia, between the leftist guerrillas, the army and the (new) right wing paramilitaries. This is also very much like his boss, accusing people without saying exactly whom he is referring to.

In response, president Uribe reacted ‘against’ vice-president Santos. The President said the war on drugs has to go on because there are still a lot of coca crops to be destroyed. Uribe did respect Santos’ point of view and stressed that there is freedom of speech within the government. The vice-president however had predicted that he would be scolded by the president and by his cousin, the defense minister Juan Manuel Santos. It didn’t even happen.

Santos said he thinks Plan Colombia has to stop because of the criticism it receives from some groups in Colombia and in the United States. Isn’t that strange? You stop a policy or strategy because you think it doesn’t work, not because it is criticized. There is always criticism against policies and plans. That is quite normal. It is also logical that the Colombian opposition takes the opportunity to convince the new American government that a change in the relation is necessary.

Besides, hasn’t the free trade pact not received far more criticism inside the U.S. than Plan Colombia? The U.S. administration has always said to continue, at most slightly alter Plan Colombia. Colombia never threatened to pull the plug on the FTA, because of criticism.

Santos’ so called bold initiative has two goals: first to save Plan Colombia. Of course the vice-president doesn’t want to stop it, as he himself said recently. If Santos had been serious, the president would have reacted quite differently. Most likely is that the President knew exactly what Santos was going to say and didn’t stop him, because it was not against his interest.

The vice-President’s second goal was to attack the opposition, which according to the government is damaging Colombia’s image abroad and as far as the government is concerned should just shut up.

This typically Uribista tactic is not very smart in foreign politics, because the stigmatizing of the opposition not only worries human rights groups in Colombia, it also worries the international community and it worries mr. Obama as well.

It would be a good idea if Uribe and Santos read Obama’s inauguration speech again.

Author Wies Ubags is a Dutch freelance journalist in Bogotá, works for media in her country and has her own weblog.

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