In keeping with earlier statements from senior members of his administration, President Bush has re-launched an escalated version of Plan Colombia now known as the "Andean Regional Initiative".
Subject to congress approval, $250 million will be made available to the governments of Peru and Bolivia with an additional $100 million funding to go to Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela as part of an increased investment in the US sponsored war in Colombia.
While this latest development seems to have escaped the notice of the English speaking press in America and Europe, the implications for Colombia’s neighbours could be huge. Although couched in the usual media-friendly language, it is clear that this is an escalation of the conflict in order to solidify and enhance US economic and political hegemony in the Andean region; a necessary pretext to full economic integration under a US corporate-friendly free trade agreement.
Testifying in front of the House budget panel, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the new initiative would "provide alternative sources of income, alternative crops, democracy, nation building and the preparation of military and police forces to handle the kind of challenges they face in the Andean region". By this we can take "democracy, nation building and preparation of military and police forces" to mean the eradication of popular resistance to the imposition of "alternative sources of income", i.e. corporate ownership of the local economy.
This escalation of funding for a perceived regional aid package is also a useful spin to put to an increasingly sceptical audience. Congress are the first of these audiences.[par][par]Funding needs to be found in order to raise much needed capital, currently unforthcoming from Bush’s sceptical European partners. The fact that Bush is seeking every available means to slash capital expenditure to pay for tax cuts means that Washington-based funding for his war in Colombia will be harder to come by, hence the need for Powell’s charm offensive with its high-minded talk of addressing ‘tough social issues’.
Also, keenly aware of the distress caused by civic society’s outrage at the crimes committed in their name by the Pentagon and White House, the revamped initiative will play a useful role in heading off the protests amongst a domestic audience uncomfortable with the words of the delegation of Colombian state governors or influential Senators like Paul Wellstone, for example, who have pointed out the ecological, economic and social calamity being caused by the extensive use of crop spraying in the ‘war on drugs’.
Finally, and most importantly, Powell’s words are also meant for the ears of Colombia’s neighbouring governments, few of whom have shown any interest in throwing their support behind Plan Colombia. Ecuador and Venezuela are already experiencing large influxes of refugees displaced by the devastating crop eradication programmes in states such as Cuaco, Putumayo and Bolivar. The talk of addressing the needs of the ‘victims’ of the conflict will act as a much needed pacifier to the government of Ecuador, already experiencing armed conflict along its Colombian frontier and having to accept an escalating US military presence within its borders.
However, behind the kind words the more sinister implication of the initiative is the ability that this gives the US to arm the security forces throughout the Andes in order to suppress popular resistance, improve the US’s ability to deploy military force where any armed insurrection occurs beyond Colombia and to enhance reactionary and military forces support for Plan Colombia throughout the region. In so doing, the initiative would enhance the US aim of isolating President Chavez’s pro-peace process and pro-Cuba government in Venezuela. It would also help to impede the possible return to government of the similarly populist Alan Garcia in Peru in the forthcoming elections, unlikely though this may seem at present.
The announcement of the Andean Regional Initiative also puts paid to speculation about the Bush administration’s change of attitude towards Andean policy. Comments recently made by Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, about the need for ‘demand-side initatives’ in the war on drugs was taken by some to hint at a cooling off of US sponsored militarism in Colombia. Those who understand this strategy only in terms of the ‘drugs war’ have seen their short sighted analysis exposed here. Following a visit by a concerned delegation of pro-Plan Colombia Senators a spokeswoman commented that ‘there was nothing to cause concern about the administration’s commitment to continue the support’.
Much of this relaunch has been about winning ‘hearts and minds’, but it is the hearts and minds of the oligarchic and military powers in the region that Bush is most intent on winning over to his vision of Andean economic subservience to the United States in the name of ‘security’.