The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform

Plan Colombia

Since 1996 the US has given just under $7 billion in military and police aid to Colombia.[1] At the centre of this aid has been Plan Colombia, an initiative launched in 1999 towards the end of Bill Clinton’s administration to give US aid to Colombia’s military to eradicate illicit crops and target drugs ‘at source’.

The comments of then Senator (and now Vice President under Barack Obama) Joe Biden show the key thinking behind the initiative:

Never before in recent history has there been such an opportunity to strike at all aspects of the drug trade at the source. The United States should seize this rare enforcement opportunity by providing assistance to Plan Colombia…Helping Colombia is squarely in America’s national interest. It is the source of many of the drugs poisoning our people.[2]

The package for Plan Colombia included Blackhawk and Huey helicopters, radar systems, reconnaissance aircraft and other US manufactured products; as such a large amount of the funding never left Washington and the military plan could be interpreted as a way to fulfil US military and production budgets.

One academic’s views on the results of Plan Colombia make for troubling reading:

Colombia’s security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by “collateral damage.” They have carried a great cost in lives and resources. Progress on security has been stagnating, and even reversing. Scandals show that the government carrying out these security policies has harmed human rights and democratic institutions. Progress against illegal drug supplies has been disappointing [3].



Bill Clinton, interviewed for the film ‘Breaking the Taboo‘ himself admitted:

if the expected result was that we would eliminate serious drug use in America and eliminate the narcotrafficking networks — it hasn’t worked.

One of the most controversial aspects of Plan Colombia is the crop-spraying efforts to eradicate the coca plant. At a certain point around 8% of Colombia’s arable land had been sprayed with ‘Roundup’ – an strong and non-selective herbicide. Other issues include:

1. The violation of rights – crop eradication destroys the only economic option for the colombian farmers, causing forced displacement of communities due to loss of income and food supply.

2. The environmental impact on the biodiversity of the areas sprayed are still unknown, but are likely to be felt for years.

3. The health of the residents seems to have suffered, with a notably increased incidence of skin and respiratory illnesses.

4. The success of crop-spraying at reducing drug supply is highly questionable. The ‘balloon effect’ means that cultivation quickly moves elsewhere, either within Colombia or to neighbouring countries (the Colombian government reported that between 1999 and 2002, the number of provinces where coca was being grown rose from twelve to twenty-two). This would explain why there has been little change in availability or price of the drug despite the extensive crop-spraying programme.





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