The joint efforts of the U.S. and Colombian governments to eradicate coca
(and, to a lesser extent, opium poppy
) cultivation within Colombia
The current Colombian government feels this to be in its interests as coca production partially supports the activities of the FARC (who tax coca to raise money). The U.S. government ostensibly wants cocaine off of its streets.
Plan Colombia consists of two separate offensives. The first is chemical warfare: Roundup Ultra (manufactured by Monsanto) is sprayed by crop dusting planes over coca fields. The planes must fly high enough to avoid FARC (and farmer) gunfire, and, as such, the herbicide spreads over wide areas, contaminating whole villages. The crop dusting planes are flown by American civilians who have been contracted for the job.
The secondary offensive is counterinsurgency warfare. The Colombian regular army and the usual paramilitary death squads raid coca fields to arrest (and/or kill) coca farmers and (alleged) FARC members/supporters. The brutality of these armed forces is nothing new. U.S. Army Special Forces trains the Colombian militaries and paramilitaries involved in these counterinsurgency actions, but are not as yet participating in actual combat.
By most accounts, Plan Colombia has been utterly useless so far. Coca and poppy production simply shifts to areas of Colombia (and Ecuador) which are not under direct chemical attack. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the total estimated area of coca cultivation in Colombia in 1998 (one of the early years of the Plan) grew from 101,800 hectares to 122,500 hectares. Congresswoman Jan Schakowksy (D-Illinois) is quoted as saying:
"We've seen no change in the availability or price of cocaine. Coca production simply moves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if demand is strong you move your operation. Fumigation is never going to get ahead of that."
However, in reality, Plan Colombia is most definitely serving a purpose. First of all, the U.S. military requires enemies to maintain its budget. Deciding to declare war on Colombian coca farmers means more tasty expenditures on hardware and personnel. Secondly, the continuing propaganda and social control functions of the War on Drugs are enhanced and supported. Thirdly, Plan Colombia benefits the corporate elites either directly (as in the case of Monsanto and arms manufacturers) or indirectly via the aggravation of conditions created in Colombia by the IMF.
Colombian farmers are growing coca because of the IMF's structural adjustment policies. The IMF requires banks to loan money only to farmers who grow export crops. As such, the Colombian market is flooded with export crops, namely coffee, and farmers cannot survive by growing such a highly devalued commodity. They turn to a sure source of income: coca. By spraying coca fields (and, by extension, the arable land of entire villages), the U.S. is destroying any ability Colombian farmers might have to survive outside the IMF system.
Additionally, the WTO has created a situation in which Colombia (and most other Central and South American countries) is flooded with extremely cheap agricultural products; exports from the United States and Canada. Yet another reason why local farmers cannot possibly survive via traditional, legal farming.
Local farmers must support themselves and their families. Since all the usual avenues of doing this have been closed by capitalist globalization and its legislative minions, they turn to the only logical alternative.
Plan Colombia is also, for the U.S., the height of hypocrisy. If another country were to support chemical warfare inside the borders of the United States in order to eradicate tobacco (a far, far more deadly and addictive drug than cocaine), there would be outcry and, most definitely, war. The World Health Organization has stated that tobacco-related illnesses will be the worldwide leading cause of death within the next few years, and yet you don't see any Ultra Roundup-loaded crop dusters over South Carolina.
The farmers of Colombia are having deadly poisons dropped on them by a foreign power for that power's own imperial designs. This is completely unacceptable and must be opposed.
quotation taken from the Village Voice, Vol. XLVI No. 30, dated July 31, 2001. WHO claim paraphrased from the Guinness Book of World Records.