Really Mr. Biden, a Plan Colombia for Central America?

On occasion members of the Obama Administration make suggestions that are so lacking in basic knowledge that it takes one’s breath away. A recent example of this was Vice President Biden’s reference to Plan Colombia in a January 29, 2015 piece in the New York Times Opinion Pages. Mr. Biden ignores the fact that the Obama Administration acceded to a coup d’etat in Honduras—President Obama first correctly called the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya’s government a coup d’etat, but backtracked on his statement when the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected the characterization of the expulsion of President Zelaya as a coup—which has led to massive death and destruction to that country. Mr. Biden now proposes as a solution a “Plan Colombia” for Honduras and its neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala. He called for “systemic change” in these three countries, which he said “we in the United States have a direct interest in helping to bring about.”

This updated statement of the Monroe Doctrine matches the term used by Secretary of State John Kerry when he spoke of Latin America as the United States’ “backyard” back in 2013, thus using a demeaning term which is universally rejected by responsible Latin American governments. In that case Secretary Kerry received an entirely appropriate reproach by President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who threw the U.S. Government’s Agency for International Development (USAID) out of Bolivia in response to Secretary Kerry’s remarks. It is clear that the Vice President has internalized the approach to Latin America which President Clinton enunciated upon visiting Colombia in the company of Gary Drummond of the Drummond Corporation, which has extensively polluted parts of Colombia near its coal mines there.

It is, in fact, particularly inappropriate to call for a Plan Colombia for any Latin American country, as is readily apparent when one considers the real effects of Plan Colombia on Colombia itself. In establishing Plan Colombia, the United States Government under President Bill Clinton set forth two basic goals: 1) to assure access to Colombia’s natural resources for U.S. companies at very advantageous terms and 2) to open markets in Colombia for U.S. agricultural and manufactured products. A third goal was to carry forward the so-called “war on drugs” by providing billions of dollars for a coca crop-spraying program, using glyphosate (Roundup Ultra, manufactured by Monsanto) to kill the coca crop in rural Colombia. To guarantee that the first two goals could be profitably carried out for U.S. businesses, Colombia was expected to eliminate or suppress any effective opposition to these U.S. policy priorities. The Clinton Administration’s formula for doing so was called “Plan Colombia”.

The results of the implementation of Plan Colombia have been catastrophic for the Colombian people. When a Colombian Presidential candidate came along in 2002 with a plan to implement military and paramilitary suppression of any opposition to the neo-liberal development plans being promoted by the United States for Colombia, he soon became Washington’s darling. It didn’t matter that the candidate, Alvaro Uribe Velez, was on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency list of persons involved in the drug trade, and was reliably reported to have enabled and assisted drug lord Pablo Escobar’s airborne drug transportation by approving rural landing strips for his use when Uribe was the head of Colombia’s Civil Aeronautics Department. Implementation of Plan Colombia by the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002-2010) resulted in mass displacement of Colombian small farmers and others in rural areas and small towns, as Uribe’s government supported paramilitary forces which expelled people from their lands. The result was that more that 6 million people were forced out of their homes and thousands were killed. Colombia became the country with more internally displaced persons than any other country in the world. And the “War on Drugs” campaign led to displacement and ruin of food crops, as Roundup was indiscriminately sprayed over food crops, undermining the food supply for thousands of rural Colombians. Meanwhile, coca production was hardly affected; in statistical terms the spraying has been a monumental failure. And the U.S. eagerly supported Uribe, with President George W. Bush even awarding him the U.S. Government’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Plan Colombia did not, as Mr. Biden suggests, save Colombia from being a “failed state”. On the contrary, Plan Colombia took the country closer to being a “failed state”, one in which the government’s policies do not benefit the great majority of its people and social protest is criminalized and violently repressed. It is a grossly inappropriate model for U.S. policy toward Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—or anywhere else on the planet.

John Laun
President, Colombia Support Network
Madison, Wisconsin

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