The following text is taken from a speech given at the Colombia Solidarity Campaign Dayschool on 23rd February: ‘Plan Colombia – Clearing the Way for the Multinationals’.
Plan Colombia is part of a regional strategy and indeed of a continental one. It has a serious impact on all of its neighbours. In the case of Ecuador, on the Southern border of Colombia and very near some of the operating zones of the FARC, I want to discuss four types of impact. First I will look at the specific ramifications in terms of military activity by the US. Second I will describe some of the environmental effects of the operations of Plan Colombia. Then I want to look at the economic and political implications of the Plan and of the general direction of US policy at present.
The main focus of US military intervention in Ecuador has been the huge Manta airbase on the coast of the province of Manabi. An agreement for its expansion was signed by the Ecuadorean government in 1999. The base has undergone a massive overhaul in the last couple of years to make it a principal centre of USAF operations. $62 million has been spent on runway construction, hangars, accommodation for US personnel and maintenance facilities. There are now 400 US military personnel there. The base is now ready to be the hub of US airborne surveillance, with facilities for AWAC planes and KC-135 refuelling planes. Also deployed, according to the US Southern Command, are C-130 giant transport planes, two US Coastguard P3s and one of two US Navy P3s. These can cover the whole Caribbean region and reach as far South as Bolivia, thus replacing Panama as the major base for US flights. It also houses Special Operations forces. Colonel Pausto Cobo, ex Director of the Ecuadorean armyís Escuela de Guerra, summed Manta up succinctly: ëThe base permits the USA to intervene directly with strategic, operative, technological and logistical means in its whole theatre of operationsí.
In terms of regional military training, there is the Coca (honest!) jungle facility, which trains military personnel from Peru, Brazil and Ecuador and has been in operation since March 1999. It is financed by the US Defence Department.
There has also been increased joint military activity between US and Ecuadorean forces, especially in the Amazon border regions with Colombia. The US provided $20 million to the Ecuadorean armed forces to secure the border in 2001, with a further $76 million projected for 2002. Ostensibly the funding is for operations to prevent incursions by Colombian guerrillas either for rest or for securing supplies. This in itself is likely to bring increased militarisation and the displacement of large numbers of refugees, as Plan Colombia has done inside the country. Colombian government helicopters have already made incursions into Ecuador and paramilitaries from AUC have attacked Ecuadorean indigenous people and forced them to abandon their land. FARC commanders in the Southern Bloc have indicated that Ecuador will be regarded as a military target if its government continues to collaborate with the North Americans in operations directed at the Colombian guerrilla. Despite continual denials from Ecuadorean militry sources, it seems that the Ecuadorean army is already playing a de facto part in the implementation of Plan Colombia in its operations in the FARC rearguard.
US funding is also directed against coca growers in the region and in particular it is part of a security operation for a big expansion of oil company investment in the Ecuadorean Amazon. There are 5,000 Ecuadorean soldiers posted on the border at any one time.
A giant oil pipeline is under construction from the Amazon to the port of Balao on the Pacific Coast near the Colombian border. It will have a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day and according to Ecuadorís Energy Minister Pablo Teran will double the countryís productive capacity in three years. Once in place, it will allow expansion of drilling, with US company Occidental committed to spending £1 billion to expand its jungle operations. Environmental objections to the plans have been dismissed by President Noboa, who has pledged to allow no ‘interference’í. The pipeline is to cross traditional lands of indigenous people, who may well find that the military operations outlined above are used to clear the area of ‘undesirables’.
The oil industry has wreaked truly terrible environmental destruction in the Ecuadorean Amazon. There has been widespread water pollution, the appearance of new diseases and increased incidence of others, an utter disregard for the cultural traditions of the regionís people and of course a brutal exploitation of the wealth of the area for the benefit of the oil companies and their partners in the Ecuadorean establishment. Plan Colombia will inevitably extend its project of clearing the way for the multinationals into Ecuador and other neighbours.
As well as the plunder of the jungle by the oil companies, there have been specific instances of environmental damage caused by the systematic crop spraying in the South of Colombia. The details of this have been well publicised in terms of Colombia itself, but the water and eco-systems of the region are such that, of course, the environmental damage and human consequences of the use of highly toxic defoliants are not confined to Colombia’s borders. Ecuadorean environmental and indigenous activists have already been in Colombia to denounce the effects of fumigation in the province of Sucumbios, presenting a detailed medical report commissioned by Accion Ecologica and CONAIE, the Ecuadorean Indigenous Peoplesí Confederation. The issue is part of an ongoing conflict between CONAIE and Noboaís government.
Economic and Political Strategy
More generally, Ecuador is the target of the same economic and political strategies as Colombia. We are arguing today that Plan Colombia is about clearing the way for the multinationals. It is about regional security for the interests of capital. It is about breaking any resistance to the neo-liberal economic agenda. It is about the criminalisation of dissent and its physical elimination where necessary to achieve that agenda. It is about throwing the regionís economies wide open to despoilation by the multinationals and the banks. It is about propping up corrupt, venal and brutal ruling classes who share in the rape of their countries and the oppression and exploitation of their peoples.
Ecuador has seen all this in the last decade. As a weak economy, it has been an early victim of globalisation and the neo-liberal agenda. It has fallen deeper and deeper into debt, while foreign bankers and individuals have enriched themselves. Its industry and agriculture have been devastated by the WTO/IMF free market models. Its people have been impoverished while its rich have grown richer and secured their interests through dollar bank accounts in which to salt away the proceeds of their corruption. Its economy has been dollarised to fit the needs of capital. Its environment has been ruined and its indigenous peoples ignored and oppressed.
Plan Colombia seeks to extend all this across the region and eventually through the FTAA the project is for the whole continent. Fortunately, in Ecuador as in Colombia there is resistance, both to Plan Colombia itself and its ramifications and to the neo-liberal model. The popular organisations and human rights groups in Ecuador are at one in their denunciation of Plan Colombia, their governmentís slavish involvement in it and the ever greater US incursion into their country. This is part of their own continuing resistance to their government, the bankers and the neo-liberals project.