Clinton inaugurated Plan Colombia last August. The fumigations began in earnest in December, and ran until March. The new US President added another $800 million to Clinton’s $1.3 billion. Bush has broadened the scope of the plan, with interventions co-ordinated across the Andean region.
Has the plan worked so far? The principal victims of the aerial fumigation programme have been the peasants and indigenous people in the southern departments, suffering from the poisonous chemicals rained down on them. The AUC right-wing paramilitary death squads have been integral, they have been rapidly expanded, their leadership claims 5,000 recruits in just two months, and thrown into the area to massacre and clear a way for the crop spraying. Thirdly, and most worrying for the high command in Bogot· and Washington, Colombia’s main guerrilla movement the FARC has not been seriously dented. On the contrary, the FARC has recently shown a capacity to resist the new tactics. The Washington/Bogot· military strategy rests on air superiority, the capacity to spot guerrilla movements from spy planes above and then to rapidly deploy and concentrate anti-guerilla forces in helicopter gunships. In recent engagements FARC guerillas have joined battle, and then laid in wait to pick off the airborne reinforcements as they arrive at the battleground. The stock military answer to this anticipated resistance is ever more devastating hardware and ruthless official forces prepared to fight very dirty. Hence Apache attack helicopters and new battalions are now arriving.
Moreover politically as well as militarily Pastrana has been unable to defeat his main guerrilla opponent. The peace talks have gone nowhere, apart from facilitating the accord to exchange prisoners. Pastrana hoped to win politically from this, but it soon became clear that he was blocking the release of more than 15 guerrillas. So FARC broke out over a hundred prisoners from the state’s Picota jail. There was a terrible reprisal, the government allowed paramilitaries to massacre guerrilla prisoners of war held in Modelo prison. To date FARC has released 359 prisoners while still holding 42 officers. Once again it has won the propaganda battle.
The USA is deeply worried. It commissioned the Rand Corporation to evaluate overall US strategy. Their report Colombian Labyrinth subtitle The Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional Stability came out in June. It examines the deep roots of Colombia’s guerrilla movements, and posits various outcomes to the war. The report’s principal recommendation is that the White House should stop pretending the war is about drugs, and to focus on the counterinsurgency effort.
The stakes are very high. According to the report, an imminent FARC victory would raise in the neighbouring countries the call for multilateral military intervention (invasion), possibly under OAS auspices, as happened in the Dominican Republic in 1964. But this would probably unleash FARC attacks on strategic points outside Colombia’s frontiers, such as the Panama Canal, and there would be the resurgence of a revolutionary wave in the region. To prevent this ‘worst case’ outcome, the advisers pose what they call the Central America scenario (remember the El Salvador death squads, the contras against Nicaragua). For the government to tilt the balance of power in its favour and so create the conditions for a future peace accord, as was the case in Guatemala, the army must retake the FARC’s liberated zone and regain the operational and strategic initiative. The advisers conclude that it will require sustained US support for the Colombian armed forces to achieve this. There is a fundamental dimension which for all its scenario setting the US advisers simply cannot grasp. That is the depth and breadth of opposition across Colombian society to imperialist intervention. Pastrana’s acolytes in Europe prefer to fix attention on what they call the social dimension of Plan Colombia. But just what is this social dimension? It is not the setting up of a few projects to be displayed to gullible visitors. The social dimension of Plan Colombia is privatisation, displacement and dispossession of the mass of people. The Colombian people are fighting a militarised structural adjustment programme. It will be a long war. But with international solidarity they can defeat US imperialism. Colombia has emerged as one of the first great causes of the 21st century. It is time for us to unite to defeat Plan Colombia.