Pubdate: Thu, 21 Jun 2001
Source: Inter Press Service (Wire)
Copyright: 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service


BOGOTA -- Plan Colombia, the anti-drug strategy promoted by President Andrs 
Pastrana, and the escalation of the war are the driving forces behind the 
displacement of thousands of Colombians, said the Consultancy for Human 
Rights and Displacement (CODHES) today.

The humanitarian group's report indicates that 3,200 people in Colombia 
abandoned their homes in this year's first quarter to seek refuge in 
bordering countries, following the footsteps of some 15,000 who did the 
same last year.

"Plan Colombia is a war strategy that intensifies the armed conflict and 
multiplies and expands the cultivation of illicit crops," such as coca for 
cocaine production and poppies for manufacturing heroine, a CODHES 
representatives told press conference today.

The government initiative, launched late last year, presents "a flimsy and 
meaningless social mask, which is sustained by the poverty of women and 
young people that government publicity transforms into 'beneficiaries' of 
meager subsidies."

Thousands of families are being displaced from the interior of Colombia's 
border departments, such as Putumayo in the southeast, Nario in the south, 
Norte de Santander and Arauca in the northeast, and Choc in the west.

The number of people who have been forced from their homes reached 9,400 in 
the first three months of this year, compared to 3,500 in the same period 
in 2000.

Among the causes of displacement are the Plan Colombia-ordered fumigations 
of illicit crops in the southeast, and the cycles of violence occurring 
within the decades-long civil war, says the CODHES study.

The Colombian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 
(UNHCR), meanwhile, said in a report released yesterday that this country 
is ranked fifth in the world in the number of forced displacements.

And the non-governmental United States Refugee Committee (USRC) indicated 
that Colombia is at the top of the list of countries in the Americas for 
the number of people expelled from their place of origin.

According to the U.S.-based organization, the Colombians hardest hit by 
this phenomenon last year were coca growers in the southern department of 
Putumayo, the focus of the counter-insurgency campaign the Colombian army 
is executing with military assistance from the United States.

The USRC criticised the aerial spraying of plantations under the auspices 
of Plan Colombia, which has $ 1.3 billion in U.S. support, asserting that 
it is also destroying the subsistence crops of the peasant farmers in 
Putumayo, and is taking a heavy toll on the environment and society.

CODHES director Jorge Rojas told IPS today that "Plan Colombia in addition 
to the Andean Regional Initiative that President George W. Bush proposed to 
his country's Congress are beginning to cause all the negative effects that 
national and international figures had warned would happen."

Rojas pointed out that from 1985 to 2000, some 432,000 Colombian households 
were abandoned, involving a total of 2.16 million people, or more than 4 
percent of the national population.

He also stated that in this year's first quarter, violence prompted the 
displacement of nearly 92,000 people, a figure CODHES interprets as a 
negative sign for the rest of 2001.

The CODHES study shows that Pastrana, despite reaching the final phase of 
his term in office, has not yet been able to articulate a policy of 
protection and recovery for the displaced.

Governmental entities do exist, such as the Social Solidarity Network, 
which are entrusted with carrying out the social investment programs of 
Plan Colombia and intended to serve as a counterweight to its heavy 
military component.

The document indicates that the Network is endowed with $ 36 million to 
attend to Colombia's displaced families.

According to CODHES, the execution of the anti-drug plan has fuelled an 
escalation of the long-running civil war to the extent of the changes in 
the correlation of forces between the military and irregular armed groups.

Putumayo department, epicenter of Plan Colombia, is in crisis as a result 
of the army's aerial fumigations and its attacks on drug-trafficking 
operations and on leftist rebel groups. In Nario, increased incidents of 
political violence reflect the expansion of the civil war, says CODHES.

The northeastern department of Arauca, bordering Venezuela, has been the 
scenario in recent weeks of a mobilization of leftist guerrilla forces 
clashing with right-wing paramilitary groups.

Plan Colombia has an extension in the Andean Regional Initiative, which is 
currently being studied by the U.S. Congress. It is intended to improve 
security in the region, including Colombia's border areas with Venezuela, 
Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

The Initiative calls for regional assistance of $ 881.6 million to curb the 
effects of the displacement of Colombians beyond the country's borders, to 
invest in development, to replace illegal crops and to protect the human 
and social rights of the affected population.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager