Washington’s “war on drugs” in Colombia is collapsing in chaos and corruption, and the drug producers are winning. The so-called Plan Colombia, which has cost the US more than $3bn (£1.6bn) in the past five years, is being abandoned, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced.
Last year, the hugely expensive effort to poison coca bushes – whose leaves are the source of cocaine – by aerial spraying ended in failure. More bushes were flourishing in January this year than in January 2004. Meanwhile, complaints have multiplied about the damage done by the chemical poisons to the health of humans, especially children, as well as to livestock, fish, and the environment.
Plan Colombia was designed to eradicate narcotics, control powerful left-wing guerrillas, and strengthen the position of the US military in South America. The scheme was eventually expected to cost $7.5bn.
The government of Colombia, the world’s principal source of cocaine, has sent out an emergency appeal to the Bush administration for an extra $130m to supplement the $600m it expects to receive in 2006 under Plan Colombia.
The extra money, the Colombians insist, is needed for more aircraft to increase the government’s capacity to spray poison on the jungle patches where coca bushes grow. They also want more helicopters to protect the spray planes and stop any more of them being shot down by growers and guerrillas.
The appeal for emergency cash comes in the wake of the details quietly put out by the White House during the Easter holiday about last year’s spraying debacle. On 1 January 2004 US satellite pictures showed that 281,323 acres in Colombia were under coca. The target was to reduce that area by half, so nearly 340,000 acres were sprayed with poison. But in vain.
In January, the acreage of coca bushes had increased slightly to 281,694 acres. Consequently, as Congressman Bob Menendez, leader of the Democratic caucus in the US lower house and a critic of Plan Colombia, remarked last week, the international price of cocaine has stubbornly refused to rise – as it would have if the anti-drugs effort had dented its availability worldwide.
Corruption in Colombian government service is said by the Home Office in London to cost $4bn a year.
Drug profits have also corrupted US troops stationed in Colombia. This month a US Green Beret lieutenant-colonel and a sergeant were caught selling 32,900 rounds of ammunition to the right-wing death squads who are flush with drug profits.
In March, five US soldiers – supposedly training local troops in anti-guerrilla and anti-narcotics techniques – were arrested after 16 kilos of cocaine were found in the aircraft taking them from a military base in southern Colombia back to the US.