The Guardian 12 November, 2008

"Plan Colombia" failing

A US congressional report released last week revealed that the US$5 billion that Washington has delivered to Bogota has failed to meet its goal of halving narcotics production, but had funded a bloody crackdown on left-wing militants.

Under the Plan Colombia "aid" program, Washington delivered US$657 million to Colombia in the fiscal year 2008, around US$605 million of which has been earmarked for the military.

The US has spent US$615 million on boosting the country’s army and police forces in 2007.

The ranks of Colombia’s military and police rose to 415,000 from 279,000 in 2007, the report noted, while it estimated that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had diminished by half to about 8,000 fighters.

Despite record aerial eradication efforts, coca cultivation rose by 15 per cent during Plan Colombia’s 2000-2006 run.

Colombia remains the source of 90 per cent of the cocaine in the US.

Washington-based think tank Centre for International Policy researcher Adam Isacson said: "I think it’s very, very important that a US agency has now said that the US drug war has failed in Colombia.

"We now know there’s a larger pattern of human rights abuses in the Colombian military. And, eight years after Plan Colombia started, this has not substantially improved the attitude to human rights abuses or to the investigations of such abuses," Mr Issacs added.

US Democrats want to reduce aid to President Alvaro Uribe’s administration in light of the economic slump and the widening scandal over army killings of civilians to boost FARC body counts that cost Colombia’s army chief his job last week. US President-elect Barack Obama is among those who have expressed concern over state involvement in human rights violations.

Washington has already suspended military aid to three Colombian army units implicated in the extrajudicial killings of at least 11 innocent civilians.

The report recommends that US and Colombian officials "develop a joint plan for turning over operational and funding responsibilities for US-supported programs to Colombia." It cautions that Colombia’s security gains are "not irreversible" as long as the rebels remain a threat.

Plan Colombia was announced in 1999 and was an initiative of then-president Andres Pastrana and US president Bill Clinton.

Mr Pastrana said that "Barack Obama is going to have to think about the fact that we’re combating a common enemy, which is narcoterrorism and that he can’t leave Colombia alone."

UN condemnation

Colombia’s army chief abruptly resigned last week after a top United Nations official declared that the extrajudicial killings of civilians by the military was "widespread and systematic."

General Mario Montoya, who won wide acclaim for the hostage rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors on July 2, is one of those officers who allegedly encouraged a policy of promoting officers whose units killed the most left-wing guerrillas.

Human rights groups charge that officers killed hundreds of civilians in order to inflate rebel body counts.

Prosecutors are investigating more than 90 army officers in such cases.

In the most publicised case, the bodies of 11 men who disappeared from the working-class Bogota suburb of Soacha early this year were later found in common graves in a conflict zone hundreds of kilometres away.

On Saturday, UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay announced after a week-long fact-finding mission that she considered the extrajudicial killings to be "widespread and systematic."

Ms Pillay emphasised that the killings of civilians were crimes against humanity and that, if Colombia’s criminal justice system didn’t deal with them adequately, they could fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

A former far-right warlord has accused General Montoya of providing illegal militias with weapons and a CIA memo leaked to the Los Angeles Times says that the general carried out joint operations with death squads as a brigade commander in Medellin before his promotion.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe praised General Montoya as "one of the best generals the republic has had" and swiftly named General Oscar Gonzalez as his replacement.

("Narcoterrorism" is widely understood to be a euphemism for the FARC.)

Morning Star

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