Research: Commentary

Failing Grades: Evaluating the Results of Plan Colombia

Yale Journal of International Affairs, September 1, 2005 | Article


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On July 13, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law an emergency bill giving Colombia $860 million "to seek peace, fight drugs , build the economy, and deepen democracy." The U.S. and Colombian governments sold the aid package as the U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia, a six-year, $7.5 billion plan for "peace, prosperity and the strengthening of the state" in the conflict-ridden South American nation. Plan Colombia was supposed to employ $4 billion in Colombian resources, with the remaining $3.5 billion coming from foreign donors. The Bogotá government indicated that it expected 75 percent of that amount to go to non-military purposes. The U.S. contribution, however, was the inverse: 75 percent of the July 2000 appropriation went to Colombia’s military and police. Proponents of the plan predicted it would reduce the flow of cocaine and heroin from Colombia to the United States, increase Colombia’s security by bringing a government presence to historically neglected zones, improve an appalling human rights situation, speed the pace of peace negotiations with rebel groups, and revive Colombia’s economy. Proponents also claimed that Plan Colombia would do all of this with a limited military commitment from a U.S. government bent on avoiding mission creep.

With these goals in mind, the United States has given Colombia nearly $4 billion in aid over six years, amounting to about $1.82 million per day, vastly more than all other donor contributions. About 80 percent of that aid ($3.2 billion) has gone to Colombia's military or police with the remainder dispersed among smaller non-military programs. The aid package has not helped Colombia meet its goals. Cocaine and heroin are as cheap and pure as ever on U.S. streets, while initial drops in Colombian coca growing have leveled off. Improvements in security -- largely resulting from the Colombian government's own efforts -- do not extend to rural zones, and the areas most heavily targeted by U.S. military aid remain insecure. Efforts to retake territory have been solely military in nature, with barely a trickle of civilian government presence or assistance. And while human rights conditions have improved slightly, notorious human rights violators still operate with impunity. Instead of providing momentum to peace talks with guerrillas, Plan Colombia has been a factor in their demise. Meanwhile, the role and presence of U.S. military personnel and contractors is much greater than envisioned in 2000.

Copyright 2005, Yale Journal of International Affairs


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