HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html US-Funded Colombian Anti-Drug Program To Change
Pubdate: Tue, 28 Dec 2004
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The Miami Herald
Author: Pablo Bachelet, Miami Herald
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


WASHINGTON - Plan Colombia, the United States' signature international 
drug-fighting effort, is to get a major overhaul once its five-year term 
ends at the end of 2005, with policymakers looking to give it more of a 
social and less of a military character.

Officials say the $3.5 billion program has succeeded in putting Colombian 
drug traffickers and armed groups on the run or suing for peace. 
Kidnappings and other violent crimes in the South American nation also have 

Still, major changes for a successor program could include not just 
emphasizing social rather than military spending but reducing direct U.S. 
involvement by putting key aspects of the plan, such as the drug crop 
eradication program, in the hands of Colombians.

Also on the agenda: coaxing Europeans to get more involved in the drug war, 
and making sure Colombia gets equipment and aid to target the heroin as 
well as cocaine industries.

Officials say the debate is at an early stage and any changes would be more 
the result of a natural evolution of a program that has worked, rather than 
the need to fix something that's broken.

"If we are going to consolidate our gains, we will have to shift in the 
direction of greater attention to the social fabric in the country," said 
Robert Charles, head of the State Department's Bureau for International 
Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which oversees Plan Colombia.

The debate over Plan Colombia is occurring at a time of rising demand for 
U.S. aid around the world.

"For a lot of budget cutters, the ... initiative looks like low-hanging 
fruit," said Adam Isacson, who follows Colombia affairs at the Center for 
International Policy, a Washington group that advocates spending more on 
social programs in the war-torn country.

Republicans, he added, "aren't all that crazy about foreign aid" as the 
Iraq war continues to drain resources. In addition, President Bush has 
pledged billions of dollars for the Millennium Challenge Account, an 
initiative to help the world's poorest nations and to fight the spread of HIV.

Congressional appropriators have increased the total foreign operations 
assistance - from $16.5 billion in 2000 to $19 billion in this year's 
budget - but that might not leave enough money for an ambitious second Plan 
Colombia, Isacson said.

The White House remains committed to Plan Colombia. Bush likes President 
Alvaro Uribe's gutsy leadership and his aggression in pursuing anti-drug 
programs and the country's three illegal armed groups, which all allegedly 
profit from links to the drug trade.

Uribe also supports Bush on the Iraq war and on hemispheric initiatives 
such as a free-trade pact for the Americas.

"My nation will continue to help Colombia prevail in this vital struggle," 
Bush said in a news conference with Uribe in Colombian port city of 
Cartagena last month.

Colombian and U.S. officials have already been discussing the future of 
Plan Colombia in regular, almost daily contacts, according to officials on 
both sides.

The process has been picking up speed lately as both countries work to put 
something together before Bush makes his 2006 budget request to Congress in 

The final version of the next Plan Colombia, however, will be shaped later 
in Congress, with several committees weighing in.

Plan Colombia has historically had bipartisan support. It was first crafted 
by the Clinton administration, together with former Colombian President 
Andres Pastrana, with the idea of reducing the area under coca cultivation 
by 50 percent in five years.

The Clinton-Pastrana initiative, initially budgeted at $1.6 billion, aimed 
to modernize Colombia's armed forces by providing greater mobility and 
resources to go after coca and opium poppy crops, interdict drug shipments 
and pursue traffickers.

The plan also had a social component, mainly reforming Colombia's judiciary 
to improve human rights. In the end, the social component never exceeded 
more than 20 percent of the plan's outlays, in part because European 
partners failed to come up with most of the $1 billion they had pledged for 

Colombians say the plan is working. Since taking office in mid-2002, Uribe 
has extradited nearly 200 drug-trafficker suspects to the United States. He 
has added 46,000 troops and 26,000 police officers to help set up a law 
enforcement presence in the remote countryside. Drug seizures and spraying 
of coca and poppy acreage with herbicides are at all-time highs.

As a result, Colombians say, violent crime is on the decline. Kidnappings 
have fallen off 53 percent in the first 10 months of this year against 
2002, and homicides 27 percent. About 6,600 guerrillas and paramilitary 
fighters have been killed or demobilized this year, more than double the 
number in 2002.

"The fact is that the Colombian government has shown very positive 
results," said Colombia's ambassador to Washington, Luis Alberto Moreno. 
"That is the best argument to keep (Plan Colombia) going."

Critics, however, say the program has done little to sever the links 
between the armed forces and the right-wing paramilitary groups that have 
been accused of the worst human rights atrocities in Colombia. A 
demobilization program for the paramilitaries does not have enough 
safeguards to ensure that rights violators go to prison, human rights 
activists say.

They also say that Plan Colombia, by diverting most of its resources to 
military programs, has ignored the social ills that spawned the guerrillas 
and the drug trade.

And, they note, Plan Colombia has failed to lower the purity of the cocaine 
and heroin available in the United States, or reduce their price, a sign 
that supply is not being affected despite massive herbicide spraying.

U.S. officials recognize that the project has yet to make an impact on U.S. 
streets, but they say the latest measurements from 2003 are based on drug 
shipments coming into the United States before the full impact of Plan 
Colombia hit the supply chain.

Nobody is expecting a future Plan Colombia to take on a completely new 
look, but, as one Senate aide put it, the support in Congress for 
additional military assistance "is going to be much thinner now than seven 
years ago."
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