by Tim Rogers
Z magazine December 2000
In an historic round of multi-sector dialogue on peace, a
delegation of more than 300 people representing the Colombian
government, guerrilla leaders of the National Liberation Army
(ELN), members of civil society, and international observers from
36 countries, gathered in Costa Rica on October 16 to discuss
the 36-year-old armed conflict. Notably absent from the peace
talks were representatives of the differ concentration of discussion
was on analyzing the controversial $7.5 billion war-plan dubbed
the Plan Colombia.
"The Plan Colombia was drafted in the U.S. Senate and
implemented by [Colombian] President Andres Pastrana, but the
people of Colombia were never consulted or included in this important
decision," said Episcopalian priest Monsenor Jaime Prieto
during the opening press conference. "[As a result], the
Plan is undemocratic...it does not represent a social investment
in peace, but a plan for escalating the war."
Although advertised by both the Clinton and Pastrana administrations
as a plan designed to bring peace to Colombia, a closer look at
the money allocations for the $1.3 billion in U.S. financial contributions
tells a much different story.
"Eighty percent of the U.S. aid [in the Plan Colombia]
is for purchasing helicopters and weaponry," said Marcos
Romero, a spokesperson for Paz Colombia; "only 20 percent
of the money is going toward social programs."
A further break-down of the 20 percent earmarked for social
programs reveals that 8 percent of the aid is going to alternative
development; 6 percent to human rights programs; four percent
to assist the 2 million Colombians who have been displaced by
the war during the last 10 years; 2 percent to judicial reform;
and less than 1 percent to directly support the ongoing peace
process, according to a non-profit publication called the Colombia
In the language of the Plan, "the success of the [government's]
strategy depends on its efforts to reform and modernize the military
forces in order to guarantee the application of the law and to
return the sense of security to all Colombians, in the totality
of the national territory."
However, by referring to the role of the army to establish
"security" throughout all of Colombia, the document
clearly eludes to a military offensive to regain control of the
entire nation, some 40 percent of which is currently under the
control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
"The main motivation behind the war is territory,"
said Almando Balwena, the president of the National Organization
of Indigenous Colombians (ONIC). "For five centuries we indigenous
have maintained our sovereignty and been anti-imperialist. [But]
now the Plan Colombia is escalating the war to new levels."
According to Bolwena, the military component of the Plan is
equivalent to a genocidal war that is intended to eliminate the
72 different indigenous cultures from their land, clearing the
way for the economic phase of the Plan-Colombia's integration
into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"The [government] knows that it can not negotiate with
the indigenous to gain access to the natural resources on our
lands," said Bolwena. "So it is waging a war that is
intended to kill us or drive us off the territory."
Through a massive and indiscriminate fumigation campaign to
eradicate coca crops-a majority of which grow on land that is
inhabited by the indigenous and under the control of the FARC-dangerous
herbicides are poisoning the food crops and water supplies of
many rural poor people, according to local testimonies.
"Indiscriminate fumigation is not only destroying the
subsistence food crops in some of our communities, but it is also
poisoning the soil of primary rain forests, killing animals and
traditional plants that we use for medicinal purposes," according
to a document provided
by the Traditional Authorities of the Awa People. "But
the greatest injury is when our water supplies are poisoned, resulting
in the deaths of fish and affecting the health of our people-especially
the very young and old-who have experienced bone aches, vomiting,
noxiousness, and fevers."
According to Manuel Alzate, Mayor of Puerto Asis, located
in the southern department of Putemayo, "Not much attention
has been given to the ecological dangers of the biological warfare
that is being employed as part of the Plan Colombia.... Originally
the Plan called for the eradication of 50 percent of coca production
over the course of 6 years; however, government functionaries
are now talking about achieving this goal in the next 10 months."
As the adverse affects of the fumigation campaign become more
widespread and well known, many Colombians are questioning the
motives behind the strategy for eradication.
"The intention behind the U.S. strategy of fumigation
is to force the indigenous off of the land so that transnational
companies can access the natural resources, such as oil reserves
and mineral deposits," explained Victor Matiz, leader of
the left-wing political party Union Patriotica. "Many campesinos
have also proposed plans for gradual and manual crop substitution,
but these efforts are being rejected because of the concrete economic
interests that are fueling this war. The U.S. uses the rhetoric
of human rights and combating drugs, but this war is really about
subversion and intervention."
Although the non-governmental organizations that were in attendance
at the San Jose talks seemingly all opposed Plan Colombia, the
talks ended without any concrete agreement being reached between
the government, civil society, and the ELN.
The largest proposal to be shot down by the government was
that of a 100-day bilateral cease-fire starting on December 1,
and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia. The proposal was introduced
by Jorge Rojas, spokesperson for Paz Colombia, during the opening
night of the peace talks, and was widely supported by the non-governmental
organizations in attendance-including the ELN, the second largest
guerrilla army in Colombia.
According to a written statement released by Ramiro Vargas
of the ELN central command, his soldiers (of whom there are an
estimated 5,000) would agree to a bilateral cease-fire with the
government. Vargas even went so far as to admit the ELN's role
in the conflict, stating "we share the worries expressed
regarding the human degradation of the armed conflict and we assume
responsibility for our share. "
However, despite the broadbased enthusiasm for a cease-fire
and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia, no agreements were reached
with the government.
"Nothing will change, the war will continue," stated
a frustrated Mayor Alzate after the conclusion of the peace talks.
"There were no agreements on the fundamental themes such
as a cease-fire, human rights, and a moratorium on the Plan Colombia."
Yet, despite the failure to reach any landmark agreements
during the peace talks, important steps were taken to open new
democratic spaces to allow for an inclusive dialogue on peace
in Colombia, analysts say.
Tim Rogers is a journalist for Mesoamerica. This article first
appeared in the Tico Times, October 20.