Pubdate: Thu, 09 May 2002
Source: Rolling Stone (US)
Copyright: 2002 Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P.
Author: T.D. Allman
Note: Posted to map in two parts due to size; both parts constitute the 
first of a two-part series

BLOWBACK (Part 2 of 2)

Co-Opting A Plan

Back in 1998, when Colombia's newly elected President Pastrana first took 
his idea of Plan Colombia to Washington, targeting coca plants with spy 
satellites was not what he had in mind. He wanted the emphasis to be on 
economic development. He also wanted to fight drug production by increasing 
Colombia's legal exports to the U.S. -- products such as textiles and 
flowers that face high tariffs and strict regulation, even as cocaine and 
heroin from the roadless Colombia flow into the U.S. uncontrolled and 
untaxed. "The original Plan Colombia was a beautiful vision," says 
Pastrana's ambassador in Washington, Luis Moreno.

His vision was never realized. "Pastrana's idealism ran into U.S. political 
reality," says Professor Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, a 
leading expert on America's drug consumption and our fitful attempts to 
control it.

"Bill Clinton warned me," Pastrana himself said, the first time I met him 
in the presidential palace in Bogota.

"When I told him I wanted U.S. help for , human development, President 
Clinton said, "I can't help you on that. What I can get for you out of 
Congress is weapons and military supplies."

The result, once it was fed into the Washington policy mill, was a makeover 
of Plan Colombia suitable to various Washington power groups. First, the 
State Department -- which tends to be even more compulsive about such 
things than the Pentagon -- transformed Plan Colombia from a development 
concept into a military-assistance program. Then Congress, as it habitually 
does, transformed the program into pork. That is, the senators and 
representatives directed the money away from Colombia, and into their own 
home states and districts.

Authorizing more than $1 billion in high-tech appropriations for Plan 
Colombia, as that farmer in Puerto Asis tried to explain, made no sense in 
Colombia, but it made a lot of political sense in Washington. In fact, the 
high-tech weapons were essential to getting Plan Colombia through Congress. 
For if the plan had been a low-tech, barrios-up approach -- if it hadn't 
contained hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for their home 
states and districts -- who in Congress would have carried the flag for 
Plan Colombia?

Perhaps not Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a former Peace Corps volunteer 
who speaks fluent Spanish. Dodd is generally considered a careful 
scrutinizer when it comes to U.S. involvement in places like Putumayo -- 
except, it would appear, when the military equipment is manufactured in 

Dodd, a liberal Democrat, along with Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker 
of the House, was one of the biggest flag-wavers for Plan Colombia. So were 
moderate Republicans such as New York Rep. Benjamin Gilman, a fervent 
backer of the Colombian National Police. Plan Colombia, as it rolled 
triumphantly through Congress, had something in it for practically everyone 
except the Colombians.

By the time the folks up in Washington had finished, at least eighty 
percent of the U.S. aid was going for military, police and other 
expenditures ostensibly necessary to make drug suppression in general, and 
aerial defoliation in particular, a resounding success clown there in 
Colombia. Simultaneously, they had jiggered this "aid" so as to ensure that 
scarcely any of the actual money ever gets to Colombia -- but instead gets 
spent right here in the U.S.

Even then, out of the money Congress voted for Plan Colombia, hundreds of 
millions weren't for Colombia at all. More than a third of the money was 
allotted for such "Plan Colombia" activities as improving airports on the 
Caribbean resort islands of Aruba and Curagao. Once the non- Colombia 
appropriations are edited out, only about $860 million appears to be left, 
but even that is an exaggeration. For out of that remaining sum, yet more 
hundreds of millions go for such items as "secure communications," 
"intelligence" support and "force protection."

That is, roughly half of what remains in Plan Colombia for Colombia 
actually goes to pay for "Made in USA" high-tech military toys, and for the 
salaries and creature comforts of the Americans, Colombians and contract 
personnel who use them, and to provide security for them. A lot of this is 
superexpensive, hush-hush technology, but we're also talking microwave 
ovens for popcorn and satellite TVs for hometown news. At the U.S. training 
base in Larandia, I find a lively debate has erupted on how to spend the 
Plan Colombia money: It is over the size of the bedrooms being built as 
part of the U.S. contribution to Plan Colombia.

"The Colombians like big rooms where they can entertain their wives, kids, 
friends and mistresses," a DynCorp executive tells me. "Our guys want small 
rooms that can be air-conditioned."

Only $68.5 million, just under eight percent, stands any chance of actually 
making a positive difference in the life decisions of the people whom the 
U.S. wants to stop growing coca. That's the total amount slotted for 
alternative-crop development -- to encourage Colombia's farmers to switch 
to crops like chili peppers, in the whole country of Colombia, not just in 


PHOTO. Bleeding bodies lying in road, captioned "Costs of War: Police 
killed five rebels in a shootout in the city of Medellin on February 27th."


In comparison, $234 million goes for just eighteen U.S.-manufactured Black 
Hawk helicopters, produced in Dodd's home state of Connecticut. Everyone 
agrees on three things: The Black Hawks are technological marvels. They are 
hideously expensive. And, considering their firepower and mobility, using 
them for anti-drug purposes is a curious allocation of very costly military 
resources -- like assigning Maseratis to meter-maid patrol. So why are 
these high-strung machines -- which cost $13 million each -- part of Plan 

The Black Hawks are there, it turns out, simply to discourage disgruntled 
farmers, drug dealers and guerrillas from taking potshots at the DynCorp's 
subcontract personnel when they appear overhead in their crop-dusters. 
That's the theory: In reality, the Black Hawks provide ideal guerrilla 
targets. With a single lucky hit, lightly armed insurgents can inflict 
dozens of fatalities and cost Colombia or the U.S. tens of millions of dollars.

As if nearly a quarter-billion for Black Hawks weren't enough, Plan 
Colombia allocates an additional $120 million for even more helicopters. 
This brings the total for helicopters up to $354 million, or forty-one 
percent of the total. In comparison to the money spent on the Black Hawks 
however, this is an example of fiscal rationality. The additional $120 
million pays for no less than forty-two reconditioned Vietnam-era Super 
Huey helicopters, plus operating costs for them, and eighteen more 
choppers, for a year. If helicopters really are the key to winning the drug 
war in Colombia, and if the choice of which helicopters to use were 
practical, not political, these proven workhorses of air warfare would be 
the first choice for the low- intensity conflict in Colombia -- not the 
enormously expensive Black Hawks, two of which already have been shot down 
during Colombian military operations.


PHOTO. Closeup of Clinton and Pastrana captioned: Not what he asked for. 
Colombian President Andres Pastrana wanted trade and aid, but Congress gave 
him more military equipment


So, thanks to the Plan, we now have (or to be precise, soon will have) a 
total of seventy-eight helicopters buzzing through the skies of Colombia, 
making sure that no one will dare open fire on the little spray planes when 
they appear overhead to zap the coca.

The results? As I overfly the burgeoning coca fields of south Colombia, 
listening to Dave Becker tell me how effective U.S. technology is, there is 
a sense of history -- and of the American capacity for self-delusion 
repeating itself.

Aerial defoliation has in fact already been tried, and has failed, in 
Colombia. During the 1990s, nearly 700,000 acres of coca were defoliated. 
Consequently, Colombia went from producing less than fifteen percent of the 
world's coca to producing more than three- quarters of the world supply. It 
is also the number-one supplier of heroin to the United States.


At that meeting in Puerto Asis, Dave Becker said something that stuck in my 
mind. One farmer was complaining about the defoliation when Becker 
interrupted him, saying something that, I later discovered, put Plan 
Colombia into even clearer perspective.

"You have no right to complain," Becker told him. "You shouldn't even be 
speaking. You refused to sign the social pact."

What is the social pact? A U.S. Ernbassy-generated briefing paper titled 
"The Results of Plan Colombia" and published last year explains, "The pact 
is a written agreement by which the peasants commit themselves to manually 
eradicate their coca crops in twelve months or less, from the moment they 
get the first government aid. In exchange for that, the government provides 
assistance in alternative development, subsidized agricultural supplies and 
funds the design, development and implementation of productive projects."

Curious as to what "productive projects" had been designed, developed and 
implemented since Plan Colombia was launched, I read the report from cover 
to cover. Not a single such completed project was mentioned.

"In terms of education, twelve new schoolrooms are presently being built in 
Putumayo, of a total of twenty-four that will be built under Plan 
Colombia," the report states.

Notice that those are new rooms, not new schools --- that they're "being 
built," not "have been built." That's the educational component under Plan 
Colombia for the entire department of Putumayo, which has a population of 
nearly 300,000 -- "Total investment," the report states, "for education 
infrastructure at a national level is $289,000."

So $234 million for eighteen Black Hawk helicopters,$289,000 for the 
millions of Colombian children of school age. As the U.S. was about to 
launch its defoliation flights, farmers around Puerto Asis were presented 
with an ultimatum. Sign this paper or we'll drop defoliants on you. Of 
course, it wasn't phrased that way. Villages were also invited to sign 
"alternative development agreements" or "pacts."

Many farmers did not sign the pacts because they are indeed guerrillas or 
drug profiteers, or are at least under their control. But there was another 
reason. "There wasn't time to build democratic consent," Luis Martinez, the 
acting mayor of Puerto Asis, told me.

SIDEBAR starts ~~~~~~~~~~~

State Dept. Cover-Up? Colombian coca cultivation has shot up twenty five 
percent since Plan Colombia was launched. Why official 'Washington tried to 
hide this number.

In March, the CIA announced that coca cultivation in Colombia was up nearly 
twenty-five percent since the U.S. first launched its effort to eradicate 
coca production by aerial chemical spraying. Illuminating as this fact is, 
the administration's reaction is even more revealing: When the statistics 
contradicted the official line, the State Department censored the statistics.

"U.S. omits Colombian coca figure from drug report," announced a 
little-noticed Reuters story on March lst. The article began, "The United 
States omitted a Colombian coca-production figure -- the most important 
single statistic -- from its 2001 drug-trade report ... as the CIA has not 
yet provided one."

That was the cover story. Every year, the State Department is required to 
assess the extent of the global drug trade, and this year it hoped to 
supply some cheery numbers for Colombia. And with the deadline for this 
year's report approaching, Colombia's drug agencies and their American 
advisers had generated some. Why, thanks to U.S. aid and Plan Colombia, 
coca farming was down by eleven percent! This figure, had it been accurate, 
would have served political agendas here and in Bogota. But the CIA would 
not sign off on it.

What to do? Bureaucracies act on the basis of consensus, and when there is 
none, they do nothing -- which was exactly what the State Department did, 
by providing no Colombian coca-production figure at all.

A short time later, the CIA released its findings. And then? Nothing. The 
White House did no re-evaluation.

Equally revealing was the lack of reaction in Congress and the press. In a 
reality-based situation, a drug report without drug statistics would be 
startling. But that's not how U.S. drug policy gets made. No matter who is 
president, the policy trundles along, divorced from reality, so this latest 
indication that Plan Colombia is a tissue of illusion was scarcely noticed.

"U.S. taxpayers might hope that the spectacular failure of our militaristic 
counternarcotics efforts in Colombia would cause us to rethink our 
approach," notes Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. "Instead, the administration 
proposes ordering more helicopters." --- T.D.A.

- --------- SIDEBAR  Ends

Democratic consent was necessary, first of all, because Colombia is a 
democracy. But why couldn't those farmers who wanted to simply have signed 
the pact, leaving those who didn't to risk the consequences?

The technological margins of error in U.S. high-tech warfare, again. The 
satellites and spray planes -- even with the helicopters hovering nearby -- 
can't reliably avoid hitting targets as small as an individual farm. Whole 
communities have to be targeted or not targeted, unless -- as in 
Afghanistan -- we insert U.S. ground forces to do the dirty work.

So it wasn't enough for individuals to sign the pact. Whole municipalities 
had to agree, and there was no time to organize democratic consent, because 
by then, the Americans couldn't wait.

In the end it came down to this: a lot of coca in Colombia; a lot of 
technology in the United States. And in between? A void -- a void of honest 
inquiry in Washington, a void of administrative capacity in Colombia.

So Plan Colombia wound up vindicating a law that also operates at the strip 
mall. When a retailer finds himself with too much technostuff on his hands, 
you get a discount sale. And when the Pentagon, the CIA and the White House 
find themselves with too many military video games on their hands, you get 
a free-fire zone.

That's what all the money, all the technology -- all the rhetoric about 
Plan Colombia being "a comprehensive strategy" -- ultimately produced: a 
free-fire zone for plants, along with whatever else, and whoever else, 
happens to be there when the spray planes, escorted by the helicopters, 
show up.

And as spraying anything in the way becomes standard operating procedure, 
an even more significant metamorphosis occurs. The perpetrator becomes his 
victims' moral superior. Or, as Becker put it to that farmer, "You have no 
right to complain."


Since September 11th, it has become commonplace for policymakers to 
announce that everything has changed forever, and that America can't and 
won't go on dealing with its problems in the old, outdated ways.

But when it comes to Plan Colombia and U.S. drug policy, it's as though 
9/11 never happened. Just before Christmas, Congress was finally able to 
take a break from anthrax and Afghanistan and get back to the once 
hot-button, now back-burner, issue of Plan Colombia and the Drug War.

The Senate and the House together voted an additional $625 million in aid 
for Plan Colombia, though there has been one change. It isn't called Plan 
Colombia any more but rather President Bush's Andean Counterdrug Initiative.

Plan Colombia has become what the war on terrorism already is in danger of 
becoming: another entitlement program for the Washington policy-spinners, 
grabbing appropriations and generating comforting press releases year after 
year. "It's a colossal waste of money," says Rep. Jim McGovern, who 
attempted last year to shift $100 million in spending from military aid to 
child development. "The ignorance among U.S. officials is astounding when 
it comes to Colombia, and yet we're trudging ahead."

Before leaving for Colombia, I visited the headquarters of the Drug 
Enforcement Administration, located not in downtown Washington, D.C., but 
in suburban Arlington, Virginia. Here at the DEA, as much as in the coca 
fields of Colombia, there was no real sense that the War on Drugs was 
something that might actually be lost or won, and end some day. Instead, 
the War on Drugs has become an institutionalized part of the American 
government, much like the Department of the Interior.

The DEA budget, which accounts for only a fraction of the money the U.S. 
spends "fighting drugs" annually, is more than $1 billion a year. This 
means that over the decades, billions and billions more dollars 
appropriated to fight drugs will be spent in suburban Virginia than will 
ever be spent in drug-producing countries, and it shows. Right near the DEA 
headquarters is a beautiful shopping mall with deluxe department stores, 
including a Saks as well as an exclusive Four Seasons hotel.

The pleasant, unhurried appearance of the people you see in the elevators 
at the DEA building complements this sense of recession-proof suburban 
ease, as does the landscaping surrounding the headquarters. At the time I 
visited, some of our "anti-drug" tax dollars were being spent on a major 
upgrade of the shrubbery surrounding the DEA building.

After completing my interviews with DEA officials and going outside, I 
spent some time observing the landscape work. Almost all the gardeners were 
Hispanic -- most of them recent arrivals from Latin America. How had they 
gotten here, I wondered, and had any arrived carrying drugs?

In a way that the U.S. government never intended, the DEA headquarters 
tells you everything you need to know about America's War on Drugs. Inside 
a seated, air-conditioned sanctuary, U.S. officials send one another memos, 
oblivious to the world outside.

This is T.D. Allman's first piece for ROLLING STONE, the first in a 
two-part series.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens