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Andean Regional Initiative: A Policy Fated to Fail.

Volume 6, Number 29

July 2001

Key Points

* The U.S. is engaged in a costly military endeavor with no clear exit strategy.

* The Andean Regional Initiative is not likely to have a significant impact on the drug trade but will spread production to new areas.

* The heavy emphasis of U.S. assistance on support for security forces has skewed the focus of Plan Colombia.

The Bush administration is attempting to secure congressional approval for its Andean Regional Initiative--largely an expansion of U.S. support for Plan Colombia. The administration has requested $882.29 million in the 2002 State Department budget to support this initiative. Included in this request is a $731 million budget to fund a project component called the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, which would be administered through the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement budget.

This new request follows congressional approval in 2000 for a $1.3 billion two-year supplemental package for Plan Colombia. The amount of the requested funding flowing through normal budget channels for counterdrug programs in the Andes has jumped into the $1 billion range for just one year--2002. The administration's proposed budget allocations for Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador are more than double the amount the U.S. government spent on counternarcotics programs in those countries prior to Plan Colombia. Governments in the Andean region are expressing their alarm about the spillover effects of the counternarcotics and counterinsurgency wars in Colombia, and they are lobbying for increased aid from Washington to protect their borders. If these trends continue, the U.S. may be on the verge of a continuing annual commitment of $1 billion for counterdrug efforts in the Andes--an amount that would constitute a major portion of the diminishing overall foreign aid budget.

This administration's framing of its counterdrug efforts as an Andean regional strategy is reminiscent of the approach of the previous Bush administration, which launched the first Andean Initiative in 1989. Similarly, that earlier initiative also prioritized military hardware and training for the Andean military and police forces to combat drugs. According to the State Department International Narcotics Strategy Report, since 1989 the coca cultivation in the region has declined a mere 16%, as relatively large reductions in production in Peru and Bolivia have been paralleled by increased cultivation in Colombia.

In this expanded aid proposal, the Bush administration has attempted to address persistent critiques of its support for Plan Colombia. To address concerns about regional stability and spillover effects, it has taken a more regional approach to halting the spread of drug trafficking and political violence. Responding to critics that are concerned about an undue focus on military solutions, the administration has outlined a package of development and judicial aid to balance the budgets for military and police aid.

Not included in this regional proposal, however, is the military funding that will flow through the Defense Department (DOD). When asked by a congressional representative if additional funding for security forces through the DOD would tip the military/nonmilitary aid aid balance, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs William Brownfield responded, "guilty as charged." Estimates suggest that if DOD funding levels remain constant, 71% of the total U.S. assistance allocated for Colombia in 2002 will go to security forces. Both the Plan Colombia supplemental and the Andean Regional Initiative include assistance for democracy strengthening and economic development programs. But such nonmilitary assistance will continue to be overshadowed by the military component of the U.S. strategy in the Andes.

The U.S. is making a major investment in training and arming thousands of Colombian troops to combat Colombian guerrillas in coca producing regions of southern Colombia. This assistance is drawing the U.S. into this brutal 35-year internal conflict and undermining the fragile peace negotiations between the government and guerrillas.

The Bush administration is asking Congress to expand U.S. support for Plan Colombia and counterdrug efforts in the region, despite the fact that the attempts to attack drugs at the source have consistently failed to have a significant impact on the flow of drugs to the United States. Even after the new adjustments, the strategy as outlined in the Andean Regional Initiative fails to adequately address concerns about human rights abuses and rural unrest.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems

* U.S. officials have not made the paramilitary threat in Colombia a policy priority.

* Forced aerial eradication programs have not proven to be effective in the last decade in Colombia and pose both health and environmental risks.

* Aid to Andean militaries is unlikely to improve regional security and could have a destabilizing effect.

The Andean Regional Initiative is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the production and trafficking of drugs in the region. It continues U.S. support for eradication programs that have had little success, have angered rural communities, and present threats to human health and the environment. Moreover, the new package once again fails to address the major problem of the growth of paramilitary violence and associated human rights abuses.

The initiative includes millions of dollars in assistance to the Colombian Army, which continues to work hand-in-glove with paramilitary groups throughout the country. Yet, these paramilitary squads are largely absent from the U.S. debate over policy toward Colombia. In his February 7, 2000, testimony to the Senate, CIA Director George Tenet responded to questions about paramilitary links to the Colombian army: "You know, I'll have to get you an answer. I mean, we still look at that very carefully, but I don't know off the top of my head."

Paramilitary organizations are deeply involved in all phases of the drug trade: they tax drug production, run cocaine laboratories, protect trafficking routes, and even run drugs themselves. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) called Carlos Castano, leader of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, a "major drug dealer in his own right." It concluded that he is closely linked to the drug syndicates now responsible for shipping "tons of cocaine and heroin into the U.S." During the last year, paramilitary units have massacred peasant families, as they exert their own system of control in the areas of expanding coca cultivation. Paramilitary groups have also consolidated territorial control over strategic drug shipping routes in the Middle Magdalena Valley region and along the Atlantic Coast. U.S. counternarcotics strategy, which focuses on the southern regions where leftist guerrillas operate, ignores these northern regions, where paramilitary forces control the drug trade.

Paramilitary violence has increased in the past year. The Colombian Commission of Jurists reports that the daily average of politically motivated homicide has doubled in three years to almost 20 murders every day. In 2000, almost 85% of these murders were attributed to state agents and paramilitary groups, with the remaining 15% attributed to guerrilla groups. According to one Colombian government human rights agency, civilian deaths by armed actors have increased 75% in the last year, with paramilitaries responsible for almost all of the increase.

In one of the most brutal recent incidents, a paramilitary squad killed at least 40 peasants on April 12 in the town of Alto Naya, dismembering them with chainsaws. Less than a month before, UN and Colombian government representatives warned the security forces of possible paramilitary attacks in the region. Despite the warning, the Colombian Army did not respond to the reported attack until five days after the slaughter began. The Colombian government has failed to take the necessary measures--including prosecuting military officers involved in paramilitary activity--to stop paramilitary violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office reported that "the paramilitary phenomenon continues to expand and consolidate. The government's commitment to confronting these groups has been weak and inconsistent."

The Andean Regional Initiative will continue aerial fumigation programs, which have been carried out in Colombia for decades and were expanded by the Clinton administration in December 2000. In recent years, coca cultivation has dramatically increased, as aerial eradication--without accompanying alternative development programs--shifted production from Guaviare province to the Putumayo region. State Department officials recognize that current eradication efforts are causing a shift in cultivation to new areas in Colombia and, likely, back to traditional areas in Bolivia in Peru. Coca prices have already risen in Peru in response to eradication in Colombia, and government officials fear that families already engaged in alternative development may be tempted to return to coca cultivation. Because alternative development programs in Peru and Bolivia have not yet succeeded in establishing a sustainable alternative income for thousands of the farming families who have lost their livelihoods to eradication, these regions are vulnerable to a resurgence in coca cultivation.

Colombian officials boast that they have sprayed 38,000 hectares since Plan Colombia was launched, but even policy supporters note that the achievements have been nominal. Success is measured by the U.S. and Colombian governments not in terms of impact on the flow of drugs to the U.S. but rather only in terms of a reduced rate of expansion of coca production. Moreover, the DEA reported in May 2001 that since Plan Colombia was launched in December 2000, there has been no change in the price of cocaine in the United States.

Six governors from Colombia's southern provinces have denounced the negative social consequences of fumigation, complaining that the spraying has destroyed food crops farmers rely on both to feed their families and to maintain an income without turning to illicit coca production. The governors expressed their support for manual eradication, if accompanied by alternative development programs, while adamantly opposing aerial eradication. Because aerial herbicide spraying affects not just coca but nearby food crops, the Colombian government's ombudsman called for an immediate suspension of fumigation in February 2001, citing threats to human health and the environment. There is legitimate concern in the region that the social tension and dislocation exacerbated by fumigation will increase the likelihood that peasants will lose trust in the government, flee their homes, and possibly join the guerrillas or paramilitaries.

The Andean Regional Initiative aims to improve regional security by providing support to the governments of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Panama to guard against the potential spillover of drug production, trafficking, and political violence caused by the crackdown in Colombia. However, strengthening security forces to guard against the collateral damage of Plan Colombia is a costly approach that has little chance of success.

There are already strong indications that Ecuador will become involved in the Colombian conflict. In the last year, the Ecuadorian Army has clashed with Colombian guerrillas in the border region. In addition, construction is underway on an "operational facility" for the U.S. military in Manta, Ecuador, which is strategically located near Colombia's border. The Manta base will become the main hub for U.S. counterdrug surveillance flights, and up to 400 U.S. military personnel may be stationed there. Members of Ecuador's congress have expressed concern that the base will compromise their neutrality and embroil the country in Colombia's conflict.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations

* The U.S. should cease funding to Andean militaries for counterdrug purposes and should ensure that the Leahy Law is strictly applied to any counternarcotics assistance to civilian police forces.

* The U.S. should suspend funding for aerial fumigation in Colombia and improve the delivery and use of alternative development assistance throughout the region.

* The U.S. should dedicate additional funds to address the domestic drug treatment gap.

Many in Washington argue that U.S. assistance will help "professionalize" the Colombian Army and improve its human rights record, but the evidence from past military connections has not supported this claim. Last year many congressional members agreed to approve U.S. support for Plan Colombia because of the inclusion of human rights conditions in the aid package. However, these same members are now reconsidering their support. They were angered that President Clinton invoked a national security waiver in the bill, thereby allowing the delivery of military aid to the army, despite the Colombian government's failure to meet any of the congressional human rights requirements.

The Colombian government has not dismissed a single high-level military official implicated in connections with paramilitary forces, and the number of individuals killed in paramilitary massacres has risen dramatically. Further U.S. assistance to the Colombian government will continue to fuel human rights violations while indirectly strengthening the brutal paramilitary forces.

The Andean Regional Initiative also includes funding for the Bolivian Army, which provides support for eradication efforts. The Bolivian Constitution does not provide a legal basis for the army's involvement in counterdrug efforts and the role of the military continues to be a sensitive issue. Rather than financing the involvement of Andean militaries in antidrug efforts, the U.S. should shift those resources to augment existing programs aimed at strengthening democratic trends and enhancing the ability of civilian institutions to combat the corrosive impacts of the illicit drug trade.

Alternative development programs can be an important tool both in combating poverty in coca growing regions and sustaining eradication efforts. To be effective, such programs should involve the local population in the design and implementation of the projects, include market studies to guarantee that alternative crops will provide a steady income for farmers, and ensure that farmers have access to adequate post-harvest facilities. In addition, the U.S. should make certain that alternative development programs are in place prior to beginning eradication efforts. This would go a long way toward discouraging coca replanting or transfer of cultivation to new areas.

Finally, the U.S. must do more to address the drug problem here at home. Drug treatment was identified as the most cost-effective method of drug control in a RAND study commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Yet the U.S. does not fund adequate drug treatment programs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that 57% of hard-core drug users, nearly 300,000 people, do not have access to treatment. No one seeking treatment should be turned away. Although the Bush administration has launched a state-by-state treatment gap analysis and promised a welcomed $1.6 billion increase in funding for drug treatment, this increase is still unlikely to be sufficient to address the existing treatment gap.

It is well past time that the U.S. takes a step back and reevaluates drug control priorities. Current supply-side programs are likely to further involve the U.S. in the Colombian quagmire and exacerbate political violence and instability in the Andes region, without having a significant impact of the flow of drugs to the United States.
Sources for More Information


Accion Andina
Voice/Fax: (591) 444-6705

The Andean Information Network
Voice/Fax: (591) 422-4384

Center for International Policy
1755 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Ste. 312
Washington, DC 20036
Voice: (202) 232-3317
Fax: (202) 232-3440
Just the Facts website:

Latin American Working Group
110 Maryland Ave. NE, Box 15, Ste. 203
Washington, DC 20002
Voice: (202) 546-7010
Fax: (202) 543-7647

Transnational Institute
The Netherlands
Voice: (3120) 662-6608
Fax: (3120) 675-7176

Washington Office on Latin America
1630 Connecticut Ave. NW, Second Floor
Washington, DC 20009
Voice (202) 797-2171
Fax: (202) 797-2172


Drug Enforcement Administration

Lindesmith Center--Drug Policy Foundation

Office of National Drug Control Policy

U.S. Department of State

U.S. Southern Command

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Copyright [C] 2001 IRC and IPS. All rights reserved.

Editors: Tom Barry (IRC) and Martha Honey (IPS)

Gina Amatangelo <> is a Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, specializing in international drug control programs in the Andes region.
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Article Details
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Author:Amatangelo, Gina
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jul 16, 2001
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