Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fifteen years of Plan Colombia (Feb. 3, 2016)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' state visit to the U.S. this week marks the fifteen year anniversary of Plan Colombia, a joint initiative between the two countries that mainly aimed to eradicate coca production in Colombia and strengthen the South American country's military and institutions. The push is being credited with turning Colombia's fate around, reports the Miami Herald.

Santos will meet with U.S. President Barak Obama tomorrow and is expected to request ten years of $500 billion annual aid: Plan Colombia 2.0. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

Obama wants to boost U.S. aid to Colombia to help remove landmines and implement the government's peace accord with a leftist rebel group, announced the White House yesterday according to ReutersOfficials said Obama will request a "significant increase" in funding for the Colombian peace process in next year's budget, reports Deutsche Welle.

It's an opportunity to revise aspects of Plan Colombia, argues Colombia Reports. In a WOLA/LAWGEF report from last month, experts give a series of detailed recommendations for continued U.S. support in Colombia, including support of the peace process and comprehensive, long-term support for the eventual agreement's implementation.

The past fifteen years have transformed Colombia, which now has one of Latin America's healthiest economies, notes the Guardian. Violence is drastically reduced and the country is on the brink of a peace agreement with the guerrilla FARC -- ending the fifty year conflict.

And U.S. officials are glowing when it comes to evaluating the impact of the plan. Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mark Feierstein, emphasized that it's the one of the most successful bilateral agreements in the world, notes Publimetro.

Still, Plan Colombia's results are not the "clear success" that the reigning narrative implies, warnsWOLA, which created an interactive data presentation showcasing the lessons of Plan Colombia, and outlining the challenges ahead of a post-conflict.

"Nowhere else—not Afghanistan, not Central America, not Mexico—has success come from emphasizing the so-called “hard side.” Plan Colombia is an important foreign-policy case study, but not a model to replicate elsewhere," warns the WOLA report, which emphasizes the preponderance of the military in the initiative, and unacceptable human costs.

La Silla Vacía reviews the long-term policy, noting that it has neither succeeded with the lofty goals of eliminating coca and establishing a new social pact, but also did not create a Vietnam-style quagmire or biological warfare, as critics said it might. The piece pulls up quotes from the plan's beginning and evaluates how the promises turned out.

Despite a positive turnabout in Colombia, the record of the initiative, which received about $10 billion from the U.S. is mixed. While Plan Colombia successfully reduced coca in it's target area of Putomayo, the crop and related violence moved to other areas of the country.

Aerial herbicide fumigation efforts to eradicate coca crops had counterproductive side-effects notes the Miami Herald piece, food crops were killed and paramilitary forces increased violence in certain areas.

In the first three years of the plan, 1.8 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes as violence and aerial spraying peaked, explains the Guardian. The bulk of U.S. aid went to the military, which has been involved in severe human rights violations. (See the post for June 24, 2015, on Human Rights Watch's report on the "false positives" scandal, in which refers as many as 3,700 civilians killed by army troops under pressure to boost body counts in the war against guerrilla groups.)

The plan was successful in permitting the government to gain control in of the national territory from guerrillas, leading to the current peace negotiations, notes the Guardian.

Aerial spraying of glyphosate -- a carcinogenic herbicide -- was suspended last year. (See post for Oct. 1, 2015.)

Santos himself gave a tempered assessment last week, noting that big drug trafficking cartels were eliminated and 100,000 hectares of coca crops were destroyed, but that the country remains the world's number one cocaine exporter. "It’s like being on a stationary bicycle. We make a huge effort, we sweat, and we end up in the same place," he said saying the evidence warrants a change in drug policy.

In an opinion piece in El Espectador, WOLA's Adam Isacson notes there's still a long way to go in Colombia. Though homicides and kidnappings dropped significantly in recent years, murder and displacement rates are still among the 10 and 20 highest in the world. He wonders whether a plan with less focus on "mano dura" would have had as much success, or come with less human cost. And he urges a new plan, with generous international aid, focused on implementing the peace agreements.

Peace agreements with the FARC include a more holistic approach that will involve important investment in rural development and targeting big time cocaine traffickers instead of coca growers.

News Briefs

  • As peace agreements move forward in Colombia, security forces and drug traffickers alike are preparing for changes, reports the Washington Post. An important part of Colombia’s billion-dollar cocaine trade will be up for grabs once the FARC lays down arms, and a drug organization known as Clan Úsuga could seek to fill the gap and hire out-of-work fighters. The Úsuga organization is by far the country’s most powerful criminal syndicate, with 1,500 to 2,000 members, a presence in more than half of Colombian territory, and an arsenal that includes mortars, rockets and land mines.
  • The Mexican government is letting the parents of two more sick girls import a cannabis-derived medicine for their treatment, reports the Associated Press.
  • A new Igarape Institute study, "Assessing Haiti's Electoral Legitimacy Crisis – Results of a 2016 Survey," shows that there is a widespread cynicism among citizens that individual votes will not count under the current electoral administration. The survey finds that less than 3 percent of respondents said they planned to participate in the January 25 2016 elections which were cancelled last week in the wake of mass street protests. Sixty-eight percent of respondents cited election fraud and corruption as the principle reason they would not participate in the voting process. Also, nearly all respondents said they had made a choice about who they favored for president, with Jude Célestin as the most popular presidential choice. Igarapé Institute's analysis indicates that, given the history of repeated coup d'états in Haiti, it is absolutely crucial that President Martelly step down on Feb. 7, as planned.
  • The number of suspected and confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil is on the rise. The health ministry said 17 babies are confirmed to have been born with Zika-related microcephaly, which health officials suspect is being transmitted by mosquito-infected mothers through the placenta to their fetuses, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An op-ed in the Guardian argues that the spread of Zika in Brazil is as much about inequality as health. Microcephaly cases have been concentrated in the poor north-east of the country, where only 51 percent of households had access to basic sanitation in 2012, explains Nicole Froio.
  • With officials around the region recommending women delay pregnancies in light of Zika, "the concern from international women’s health organizations is not only that women lack reproductive care options, but that the lack of options could lead to an increase of illegal and unsafe abortions. As it stands, 95 percent of abortions that happen in Latin America, where laws restricting the procedure are quite strict, are performed in unsafe conditions," writesGuardian columnist Jessica Valenti.
  • Brazilian experts say the lack of scientific knowledge about Zika and its effects has similarities to the emergence of AIDS, reports the Guardian.
  • The World Health Organization voiced concern today over a report that the Zika virus had been sexually transmitted in the United States and called for further investigation into the mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects, reports Reuters.
  • International Zika fears are leading travelers to cancel plans to Brazil -- ground zero for the virus' spread -- and dashing hopes of an Olympic boost to the country's tourist industry, reports the Wall Street Journal. It's bad news for the government which has spent spent billions of dollars over the past five years in preparation for global sporting events, an attempt to raise the country's profile as an international destination.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on Congress to approve a new tax on financial transactions. She addressed the congress in the legislative year’s opening ceremony for the first time in years, marking the importance of her request to legislators to pass potentially unpopular measures in order to make the recession-battered economy fiscally sustainable, reports the Wall Street Journal. A sign of Brazil's polarized politics at the moment, she was often interrupted by protests from opposition lawmakers, while her supporters clapped to counter the noise.
  • The Brazilian judge presiding over a wide-ranging corruption case that involves former executives of construction giant Odebrecht is delaying his verdict while he considers a petition from defense attorneys to throw out evidence provided by Swiss prosecutors to Brazilian authorities, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's state-run oil company, Petrobras, face class-action litigation in the U.S. by investors seeking to recoup billions of dollars in losses stemming from a corruption scandal, reportsReuters.
  • The head of Venezuela's largest privately owned company says the country must turn to international loans in order to avoid the collapse of the food supply caused by the country's grave economic recession and shortage of foreign currency, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lorenzo Mendoza, the president of Empresas Polar SA, a food-and-drink producer, said lack of dollars has left his company in debt and with no recourse to credit lines. As a result he has had to completely or partially shut eight facilities, including tuna plants and rice mills. President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly called Mendoza the chief saboteur behind the deepening food shortages gripping the country.
  • A United Nations panel has ruled that the 2013 arrest and continuing detention of a community police leader in Mexico was illegal, reports the Associated Press. Nestora Salgado led a vigilante-style – but legal – community police force, which mounted patrols to protect residents from cartel operatives.
  • "After the debt crisis of the 1980s, seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund had about as much appeal to Latin American nations as a root canal. The plunge in commodity prices may leave them no choice," reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentina struck a deal yesterday to pay $1.35 billion to a group of Italian investors whose bonds the country defaulted on in 2001. is the first settlement with so-called holdout creditors who have not participated in earlier restructurings over debt from nearly 15 years ago. But Argentina has yet to come to an agreement with the New York hedge funds — holdouts led by the billionaire Paul E. Singer’s Elliott Management, reports the New York Times.

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