Plan Colombia : its Consequences in Ecuador: A Report by the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU)
Plan Colombia is designed to eradicate drug crops, put a stop to the violence and raise the socio-economic level in Colombia, but the effects of the plan are not limited to within the country’s borders. All four nations that border Colombia face certain repercussions and have reacted in various ways to the plan. The two nations that have openly voiced their support are Peru, which happened only after Fujimori resigned and an interim prime minister was appointed, and Ecuador. Both Venezuela and Brazil have made clear their intention to withhold support.
It is Ecuador that faces the greatest danger as the Colombian military sprays coca fields and violence escalates in the southern Putumayo region of Colombia. The main consequences in Ecuador of the military push south in Colombia are the arrival of hundreds of refugees, the spillover of violence and the possibility of coca cultivation and processing on Ecuadorian soil. These are problems that would confound any nation, but Ecuador in its weak and vulnerable socio-economic and political condition is especially susceptible to their negative consequences.
In the past three to four years Ecuador has experienced several shocks at the national level that have affected all levels of society. Beginning with President Abdalá Bucaram’s fall from power in 1997, the nation entered a period of political and economic instability that worsened when dozens of banks closed their doors in March 1999 and the government of President Jamil Mahuad froze all bank accounts in the country. Then, in June 1999, Ecuador shocked the world when it defaulted on its repayment of Brady Bonds lent by the United States.
The country’s situation deteriorated further in 1999 when President Jamil Mahuad announced that the country would dollarize its economy. This led thousands of indigenous and other citizens, with the support of the army, to march to Quito in January 2000 and attempt a popular revolt that resulted in his flight from office. Though meant to reverse the decision to dollarize, the revolt did not succeed — Vice President Noboa became president and continued with the same socio-economic policies. Effects of these crises and overall deterioration have been profound. The country’s sub-and unemployment rate rose to 74.9% in 2000, inflation skyrocketed to 91% in the same year and external debt is now at $14.2 billion. Economic measures are periodically forced upon the population to maintain compliance with the regulations of international lenders (IMF and World Bank). These measures generally result in popular protests and indigenous uprisings. Amidst all of this, "discoveries" of corruption among government and business officials routinely appear in the news, disillusioning the public. With little hope for the future, hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians have left the country in search of employment abroad. It is no wonder, then, that the country, while officially supportive of Plan Colombia, fears its consequences.
Ecuador is dealing with the effects at the national level but it is in the north that the effects are most immediate. The province of Sucumbios lies directly south of the region of Putumayo in Colombia, in the Amazon region of Ecuador. Despite being one of the main centres of oil production in Ecuador, Sucumbios lacks a potable drinking water system, a sanitary sewage system, paved roads and consistent electricity service.
In addition, its education and health care systems are underdeveloped and inadequate, and sub- and unemployment rates in the province rival national levels. This reality is shared by the jungle province of Orellana, south of Sucumbios. In the other border provinces of Carchi, in the Sierra region, and Esmeraldas, on the coast, infrastructure is more developed. However, should the effects of the Plan further encroach upon Ecuadorian territory, these provinces will also be forced to deal with consequences for which they are not prepared.
Sucumbios began to work on its response to Plan Colombia when the plan was announced. The Plan of Contingency, developed and executed by the state, the Church of St. Michael in Sucumbios (ISAMIS), and the UN High Commission for Human Rights (ACNUR), is Ecuador’s answer to the refugee problem in Sucumbios. Since August, those in charge of the joint effort have registered the refugees, operated two refugee centers and provided other forms of support, including the provision of basic health care and food coupons.
In anticipation of the arrival of still more Colombians, they also constructed a facility in the area to house 5,000 people. Though the Plan of Contingency has addressed the refugees’ most immediate needs, there still exists the issue of employing those eligible to work. Jobless, they remain idle in the homes of relatives and friends or in the refugee centers. If displacement of Colombians continues at the same rate and other funds are not procured, funding for the plan, currently provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR), will run out.
Sucumbios faces not only the displacement of Colombians to Ecuador but also the displacement of its own citizens. In January and February of this year, due to the escalation of the guerrilla-paramilitary-army warfare in the Putumayo area, the members of four indigenous communities at the very edge of the province were forced to leave their homes under threats of death. Over 300 Ecuadorian citizens have sought refuge in Sucumbios, Quito and other parts of the country. Ultimately, they want to return to their homes but it is unclear whether they will be able to while Plan Colombia is in operation.
At the national level, Ecuador has other problems to address. The base in Manta has been called a compromise of Ecuador’s neutrality by some. Certain anti-U.S. groups in Colombia view the base as a sign of Ecuador’s willingness to collaborate with "the enemy." In addition, should the war regionalize as is feared, the government might take money from other parts of the national budget to spend on defense and beef up the military. This will lead to further militarization of the state, a result almost guaranteed since Dr. Moeller received $150 million from the U.S. in March, including a percentage to fortify military patrols of the Ecuadorian-Colombian border.
There are also concerns about the health and environmental effects of the sprayings and the growth of the drug industry in Ecuador. Although the sprayings are taking place only in Colombia, the chemical Glyphosate can be carried by air and water over the border. Officially not harmful to the environment or humans, the chemical is being blamed for illnesses reported since last summer. It has also been proven that the chemical is not only destroying drug crops but other plants as well. "Acción Ecológica", an environmental organization in Ecuador, has reported that crops in Sucumbios are suffering the effects of the arrival of the chemical to Ecuadorian soil. One criticism of eradication efforts such as Plan Colombia is that if cultivation is destroyed in one region, it will increase in others, commonly known as the balloon effect.
This effect has already been seen in Ecuador. Between January and March of this year, three drug-processing plants were discovered and destroyed in Sucumbios. In addition, Ecuadorians fear that some of the displaced and idle Colombians will resort to the only means of making a living that they know — coca cultivation.
Perhaps the most immediate fear of the Ecuadorian population, especially in the northern provinces, is an increase in violence resulting from the Colombian conflict. There have already been documented cases of murders between paramilitaries, guerrillas and military forces of Colombia and Ecuador, violent acts committed by Colombians against Ecuadorians and vice versa and disappearances of civilians by military forces in both countries. The provinces of Esmeraldas, Sucumbios and Carchi are among the four provinces in the country with the most homicides.