The United States-backed “Plan Colombia” officially began in 1999 aimed at stemming the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia to North America, however, according to a Washington-based think tank, the “decaying” plan has led to an uncertain future.
Plan Colombia and associated schemes were first conceived between 1998 and 1999 under the administration of former Colombian president Andres Pastrana with the intention of curbing the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. The United States has invested over $7 billion since 1999 yet the flow of drugs continues.
Colombia’s National Consolidation plan, a branch of the Plan Colombia package, was instigated with the aim of reinstating a civilian and government presence in areas of Colombia that were rife with coca cultivators and left-wing guerrillas.
Adam Isacson, a senior associate for WOLA (Washington Office of Latin America), told Colombia Reports that “the program itself is just decaying and being left, being neglected.”
“Even though the USA has just approved $227 million in new grants for [the National Consolidation plan], it is sort of directionless now…the director quit [and] a lot of the key positions are now being handed out according to which political party you belong to,” said Isacson.
“The problem in these areas isn’t that there are [still] bad guys, narco traffickers, or guerrillas, it’s that quite often there has been nobody. In some areas there honestly haven’t been any government [presence] at all. [The government] has just abandoned the Guaviare [department in southwestern Colombia] to their luck. Unless [you’re] in San Vicente [municipality in the Antioquia department] you don’t see the government ever, maybe a spray plane overhead, but that’s it. Then there’s other places that have government but with complete impunity…and those are all the parapolitics areas. Unless you are willing to bring [in] government with the least amount of impunity, which means the justice system, unless you are going to do that, you’re always going to have armed groups, you’re always going to have coca trafficking and organized crime activity.”
Regarding the current peace talks between the Colombian government and the country’s largest left-wing insurgency, the FARC, Isacson said that “it would be interesting to see if the process does go successfully, [what would happen] if all of a sudden, in a lot of these areas, you don’t have anybody shooting back at you when you try to build a road or get land titles, will they actually do it [will the government move in].”
“If they abandon this scheme that sought to bring in [government] to places that didn’t have a government [presence], and replace it with nothing, of course you’re going to [have the same problem]. They might not always be called FARC, ELN (Colombia’s second largest leftist rebel group) or “Los Urabeños” (notorious neo-paramilitary organization), they might be called something else in 10 years, but you’ll have something filling the space.”
BACKGROUND: Future of Plan Colombia remains uncertain
As a result of Plan Colombia’s pressure, traffickers were forced to find new cultivation lands in Peru and Bolivia, and new trafficking routes — a phenomenon known as the “balloon effect.” The primary shipping routes for drugs entering the United States is now based along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In response, the United States has shifted its anti-narcotics offensives away from Colombia to Central America. The latest version of the plan is the $165 million Central America Regional Security Initiative. The operation reportedly has no end date and focuses on the Central American coastline.
In 2011, $830 million, almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in [Latin America], went toward countering narcotics, a 30% increase in the past decade.
Adam Isacson noted this transformation as well.
“We are already seeing…indications that places like the eastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti are now seeing more [drug] trafficking. It’s the classic balloon effect.”