Future of Plan Colombia remains uncertain

The future of U.S. military aid to Colombia is in question, following the absence of any mention of Plan Colombia in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal to Congress on Tuesday

The U.S. president proposes cutting aid to Colombia by $55.5 million in 2011. If the proposed budget goes ahead, military aid will have fallen by 20% between 2009-2011.

This creates uncertainty as to whether Plan Colombia, the U.S. financial and military aid program intended to help the South American country fight drug trafficking and leftist guerrillas, will continue.

Colombian Ambassador to Washington Carolina Barco told El Tiempo that previous U.S. aid was designed “to combat drug trafficking and strengthen our institutions … so now that we are stronger and our institutions are stronger, funding cuts are forseeable.”

Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy (Cipcol) told Colombia Reports that the fact that the majority of proposed aid cuts affect military spending signals that “Plan Colombia is beginning to wind down.”

Meanwhile U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told W Radio that in future Plan Colombia would be “broader” and the aim would be “to correct many things.”

Isacson also believes that funding will shift emphasis, with “more of a focus on state-strengthening and not so much on counternarcotics efforts like fumigation.”

Isacson says that U.S. policy is moving away from its emphasis on the military, towards a policy that “takes into account poverty, statelessness and human rights,” with “more emphasis on protecting the population and coordinating with the non-military part of the government,” such as the joint Colombian-U.S. army humanitarian mission currently underway in southern Colombia.

Isacson believes this to be a positive step for Colombia, as long as potential problems such as “militarizing development aid, unpunished human rights abuses, or failing to address issues like land tenure and local corruption” are avoided.

The U.S. Ambassador to Bogota William Brownfield told the Colombian public that proposed aid cuts should not be viewed as a punishment.

“I can’t imagine it’s a punishment to be given US$465 million,” Brownfield told Vanguardia.com. “This is a collaborative effort that spans ten years.”

The leader of Colombian political party Cambio Radical, German Vergas Lleras, blamed the proposed funding cuts on the furore surrounding Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s potential re-election. The politician called the situation a “diplomatic failure” on the part of the Colombian government, El Espectador reported.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva will travel to Washington next week to lobby Congress against the proposed funding cuts, and for the continuation of Plan Colombia.

Ever since taking office, Obama has been unclear about his desire to continue the controversial aid program. The Colombian government has repeatedly insisted that Plan Colombia has been a success, while critics note that it has not achieved its goals on decreasing coca production.

The U.S. and Colombia recently signed a pact that allows the North American country to use Colombian military bases and airports for U.S. missions.

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