Militarizing the Andes

While the world’s attention is riveted on Iraq, the Colombia Plan, developed by the United States to fight drugs and left-wing guerrillas in Colombia, may soon be applied as a general strategy across the nations of the Andes, if not all of Latin America. Colombia, it seems, is only mentioned nowadays in connection with President Alvaro Uribe’s re-election bid later this month. As a result, the spread of the Colombia Plan, despite its meager and ambivalent results, has remained obscured.

When it was unveiled in 2000, the Colombia Plan had a double rationale: to slash narcotics production and exports while strengthening Colombia’s counterinsurgency campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. Back then, the US saw Colombia as hosting two increasingly interwoven threats, which, without a successful military response, heralded the grim prospect of Colombia becoming a failed state.

Indeed, despite receiving almost $1.4 billion from the US between 1989 and 1999 to fight drug trafficking, Colombia had not reduced the problem. Worse still, the economic, territorial, and military insurgency of the FARC guerrillas was growing stronger. Indeed, between 1995 and 1998, the Colombian army suffered its worst setbacks – including casualties, captures, and ambushes – in the four decades of the insurgency.

With the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the response of the Bush administration, the “war against terrorism” became relevant to Colombia. As a result, the failed three-year dialogue between the government of Andrés Pastrana, Uribe’s predecessor, and FARC was buried in February 2002, with the conflict definitively internationalized through massive and indirect US intervention.