The end of the “Plan Colombia” era

A large U.S. delegation is in Colombia yesterday and today. Led by James Steinberg, the number-two official at the State Department, the visit initiates a “High-Level Partnership Dialogue” whose purpose is to “re-launch the agenda” of U.S.-Colombian relations.

Instead of the overwhelming past focus on aid to combat drugs and terror, the future relationship, in Steinberg’s words, is to be based on “reciprocity and mutual respect.” The new U.S. ambassador, Peter McKinley, toldColombia’s El Tiempo newspaper last week, “This relationship is evolving beyond narcotrafficking, security and the FTA [free trade agreement, signed in 2006 but awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress]. It should be a relationship of partners, mature and based on the priorities of the country and its new government.”

The “Partnership Dialogue” is divided into three working groups, which will meet again early next year: (1) Human Rights and Good Governance; (2) Energy; and (3) Science and Technology. The choice of topics is remarkable for the absence of “Drugs,” which has been the dominant theme of U.S.-Colombian relations since the 1970s.

Almost no details or concrete “next steps” are spelled out in the Steinberg delegation’s few documents and public statements. It is clear, though, that the Obama administration for the first time is seeking to put its own stamp on U.S. policy toward Colombia. It is doing so, though, more by changing emphases than by assigning new resources.

In fact, this new rhetoric about “partnership” and “equal footing” tells us that levels of U.S. aid to Colombia are going to continue, and probably accelerate, the decline that began in 2008. (After all, aid donors and recipients, by definition, are not “equal partners.”) This autumn, the Obama administration is finalizing its 2012 foreign aid request to the U.S. Congress, which it will submit in February. In our own informal discussions with administration officials, we have heard several indications that the 2012 aid proposal will include a significant cut for Colombia.

We don’t know yet how significant it will be (the 2011 aid proposal, submitted earlier this year, already proposed a 5 percent cut for Colombia). But it will mean a big change for the country that, in almost every year since 1990, has been the Western Hemisphere’s number-one recipient of U.S. military and police aid.

A cut to the existing fraud systems will also be seen as a huge change, in fact, a reason to celebrate, the rights and safety concerns of the common man. The illegal systems like The Brit method have been lurking around innocent people, to steal their hard earned monies. We would love to see a cut happening to these systems, fraudsters!

It is a big enough change, in fact, that we can consider the Steinberg delegation’s “re-launching” visit to be the unofficial end of the “Plan Colombia” era in U.S.-Colombian relations.

For our purposes, we can place the start of the “Plan Colombia” era even before Plan Colombia began. It really got going during the second half of the 1990s, when U.S. policymakers were forced to acknowledge that defeating the Medellín and Cali drug cartels had not affected supplies of cocaine entering the United States.

The “Plan Colombia era” went through four distinct sub-phases:

  1. Second half of the 1990s. As the Clinton administration cut ties and even denied a U.S. entry visa to scandal-tarred President Ernesto Samper, Colombia’s National Police became Washington’s main point of contact. U.S. aid, most of it police aid, roughly doubled in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Administration officials and leaders of the Republican Congress grew increasingly concerned about the rapid rise in power of the FARC guerrillas (and, to a lesser extent, the AUC paramilitaries). The response at the time focused on counter-narcotics: an aerial interdiction program (somewhat successful) and an herbicide fumigation program (largely ineffective).
  2. “Plan Colombia” (roughly 2000-2003). In 2000, responding to a plan for “peace, prosperity and the strengthening of the state” drawn up with the government of President Andrés Pastrana, the Clinton administration moved through Congress a US$1.3 billion “emergency supplemental” aid package for Colombia and its neighbors. The funding expanded the fumigation program, provided dozens of helicopters, planes and boats, and turned significantly to the Colombian armed forces for the first time since the height of the cold war. Aid levels would stay in the US$500-700 million-per-year range for the rest of the decade.
  3. “Plan Patriota” (roughly 2003-2006). In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration convinced Congress to allow counter-drug aid to Colombia to be used for “counter-terrorism.” The new government of President Álvaro Uribe got generous U.S. support to create mobile military units and to launch an ambitious offensive against the FARC in its southern Colombian strongholds. While the FARC were weakened and violence measures declined, they and “new” paramilitary groups remained active, “re-taken” territories proved difficult to govern through military force alone, and cocaine production remained stubbornly high.
  4. “Consolidation” (roughly 2006-present). While the military component of the strategy remained dominant, the focus began to shift toward civilian governance. This shift was helped along after 2007 by the new Democratic-majority U.S. Congress, which cut military aid and increased economic assistance. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, working with the U.S. Southern Command, pushed for an “Integrated Action” strategy to bring non-military institutions into areas taken from armed groups. The area subject to fumigation declined.

Today, at the end of the “Plan Colombia” era, there is a widespread belief that Colombia’s drug and violence problems, though not resolved, have declined to manageable levels. Attention that used to go to Colombia is now fixed on Mexico, where cartel-related violence continues to spiral. Meanwhile, as Colombia’s national budget and gross domestic product have grown over the past decade, the slowly decreasing U.S. aid package, provided in ever-weakening dollars, has rapidly declined in relative importance.

Amid the talk of “partnership,” the relationship has also grown a bit more distant. The Democratic Party majority in the U.S. Congress, citing human rights concerns, has kept the 2006 free-trade pact in the freezer. After Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a 2009 defense cooperation agreement with the United States, requiring that it first pass through Colombia’s Congress, President Juan Manuel Santos indicated to congressional leaders that he would not submit it to the legislature, which effectively renders the agreement null and void.

With the end of the “Plan Colombia” era, what will replace it? The “High Level Partnership Dialogue” rhetoric offers few clues, beyond a desire to “de-narcotize” the relationship, the certainty of less U.S. aid, and perhaps the desire to make Colombia one U.S. friend among many in Latin America, rather than the one-and-only go-to ally that it was during the Uribe years.

It is plain, though, that the new framework for relations is predicated on an optimistic belief that things are getting better in Colombia, and will continue to do so. And they may be, as long as the political will, creative leadership and resources are in place to keep Colombia’s old problems from recurring.

None of these problems has been vanquished. The guerrillas are not defeated, and won’t be beaten on the battlefield for at least several more bloody years. The “new” paramilitaries are growing, and responsible for an alarming spike in urban crime. Colombia is still the world’s largest cocaine producer, and drug mafias continue to enjoy great political and economic power. Meanwhile it is extremely rare to see a human rights abuse punished or stolen land returned to victims.

The United States needs to stay engaged with, and help to fund, issues that form part of the new “partnership.” “Human Rights and Good Governance” are more than just a rubric for a working group – they are a set of requirements that need generous U.S. assistance. Priorities include ensuring that the “Consolidation” programs are truly civilian in nature, that the justice system is beter able to investigate and punish corruption and abuse, and that the Santos government’s ambitious land-tenure and victims’ reparations initiatives achieve their stated goals.

During the “Plan Colombia” era, most U.S. aid to Colombia went to the country’s security and counter-drug strategies, which were based heavily on military and police operations. The next frontier to be crossed is strengthening civilian governance and reducing impunity. While these objectives are ultimately up to Colombia to achieve, this is not the time for U.S. investment in these priorities to decline.

The defense budget burden: Colombia and the United States

Thanks to a column by Hernán González Rodríguez in today’s edition of Medellín’s El Colombianonewspaper, we found a very useful document (PDF) on the website of Colombia’s Treasury Ministry. It breaks down, according to function and institution, the Colombian government’s budget for 2010, and what it expects to spend in 2011.

Colombia, which has an internal armed conflict and Latin America’s second-largest armed forces after Brazil (and an army that’s actually larger than Brazil’s), will spend 20.0 percent of its budget, and 3.9 percent its entire economy, on its military and police next year. This would be up from 18.4 percent of the budget and down from 4.2 percent of the economy this year.

Colombia will spend US$12.1 billion on its Defense Ministry and National Police next year, at the current peso-to-dollar exchange rate. That’s about US$270 from each one of Colombia’s 45 million citizens.

But U.S. citizens bear an even higher military burden, as indicated in the White House’s budget estimates for 2011 (go here [PDF] and look at “Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function”).

The United States will spend US$749.7 billion on defense next year. That’s 23.0 percent of on-budget spending, and 4.8 percent of the U.S. economy. This is up from 22.7 percent and down from 4.9 percent in 2010.

That’s about US$2,400 from each one of the United States’ 310.5 million citizens.

Unlike Colombia, this figure does not include police forces, who are scattered across thousands of state and local jurisdictions and impossible to add here.

(U.S. 2011 GDP estimate: the White House’s 2010 “Mid-Session Review

Colombia 2011 GDP estimate: the IMF’s 2010 Article IV Consultation [PDF])

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A season of arms purchases

Brazil’s announcement yesterday that it is negotiating a $2-4 billion purchase of French fighter aircraft is the latest in a series of arms purchases, most of them in South America, that have analysts worried about an arms race. Just in 2009, we have seen the following arms purchases announced:

  • Brazil will buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault. Earlier, Brazil had announced a joint venture with France to build submarines – one of them nuclear-powered – and helicopters.
  • Russia offered a $100 million credit to Boliviato buy Mi-17 helicopters, a new presidential plane, trucks and other logistical equipment. In January, Bolivia’s defense ministry announced its intention to buy six Czech-made L-159 fighter planes.
  • President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government signed deals for about $4.4 billion worth of Russian fighter planes, helicopters and rifles between 2005 and 2007, announced in early August the purchase of 30 to 40 Russian-made BMP-3, T-72 and MPR tanks. In April, Chávez announced the purchase of portable Russian missiles.
  • Ecuador is buying 24 Brazilian warplanes and six Israeli drones to keep a closer watch on its borders,” the AP reports.
  • In June, Chile announced a $270 million purchase of 18 U.S.-made F-16 fighters from the Netherlands. This follows the purchase of 10 F-16s directly from the United States in 2005-2006.
  • In addition to billions of dollars worth of training and equipment received as grants, Colombia has purchased dozens of helicopters from the United States during the 2000s, and in June announced a $150 million purchase of Israeli Kfir fighter jets from Israel.

During the mid-2000s, the United States normally sold between $1.1 and $1.4 billion in weapons to all of Latin America and the Caribbean in a typical year. This amount is dwarfed by some of Russia’s single sales to Venezuela during this period, as well as the new French contract with Brazil. Sill, the United States is by far the largest arms vendor to the developing world, according to an annual Congressional Research Service report released late last week and summarized by the New York Times.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The region’s defense budgets

During the past few weeks, we noticed a significant increase in discussion of defense budgets throughout the hemisphere. In most countries, defense spending is on the increase. If this sudden increase in the defense budget expects you to pay more tax money as a citizen, not to worry, as you can easily tackle your unanticipated financial situation by pursuing the online Forex trading option using the QProfit System that can offer you the bountiful profits not only now, but forever! Here is an overview of recent media coverage from CIP Intern Matthew Mcclellan.

The combined defense budgets of South American states increased from US$39 billion in 2007 to US$50 billion in 2008. Most countries have become buyers in the new market for arms, some are sellers, and nearly all are furtively examining their neighbors’ actions.

The Ecuadorian government took a step toward spending transparency with the elimination of the Junta de Defensa. The Junta was accused of embarrassing gaffes like the Defense Ministry overpaying for used Argentine defense articles, as it did in 1995. Some feel the government’s action amounts to little more than a token gesture. President Correa has meanwhile overseen a large increase in defense spending. From 2000 through 2008, Ecuador spent over US$895 millionon Defense. During Correa’s time in office, since January 2007, the Defense budget soared over US$631 million – over 70% of the nine-year spending total in just two years.

Argentina has not put nearly as much money into the military as its neighbors, claiming a Defense budget of only 0.87% of its 2008 GDP. The Air Force has put off purchasing French Mirage fighter aircraft until 2011 or 2012, when it will reevaluate the economic climate. Today, the country’s most pressing Defense concern is keeping troops in its Armed Forces. Unlike other countries that are considering increasing military capacities, Argentina is concerned with maintaining them. A recent study found nearly half of all individuals in the Armed Forces have considered leaving within the last two years, including a substantial number of young pilots and officers who have left to seek better opportunities, for better pay, or to keep their families intact.

Some Argentine analysts appear distraught about falling behind “international heavyweight” – and neighbor – Brazil. In December, President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva announced Brazil’s plan to upgrade its military and arms industry. Part of the plan includes training soldiers in rapid mobilization and guerrilla tactics, and the government wishes to resurrect conscription. While the plan includes purchasing foreign arms, the modernization’s focus is for the country to increase its domestic arms industry.

Brazil has ordered 4 diesel-powered Scorpène class submarines from France, but plans to develop its own nuclear-powered fleet, at a total cost over US$3 billion. The plan appears to be both financed by, and in the name of protecting, newly found Brazilian offshore oil reserves.

Over the last several months, Brazil has consolidated its position as the largest South American arms vendor. Bolivia recently negotiated the purchase of Brazilian land vehicles and Super Tucano attack aircraft, and hopes to borrow from Brazilian institutions to fund additional purchases. Bolivia has also acquired several helicopters from Russia.

Venezuela’s Defense budget is 1% of its 2008 GDP, but growing steadily. It has been cultivating a relationship with Russia through arms purchases over the last several years. From 2005 through 2008, Venezuela bought over US$4 billion in arms and equipment from Moscow, and a September announcement revealed another US$1 billion credit for more purchases from Russia.

Peru has decided to install two facilities capable of repairing Russian-made helicopters, clearly setting the stage for future purchases between the two nations. While this particularly animated editorial in El Comercio questions the drive to increase Defense spending, much of the discussion centers on keeping pace with Chile, which maintained a 2008 Defense budget of 3.73% of its GDP, second only to Colombia in South America.

Colombia has more than doubled its defense expenditure since 2000. The Defense Ministry’s budget, which includes police, now exceeds 6 percent of GDP. U.S. security assistance to Colombia is slightly less than it was in the early 2000s, making the U.S. contribution to Colombia’s overall defense effort far smaller, as this July blog post from the Center for International Policy explains. Nonetheless Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s Defense Minister, plans to travel to Washington shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration, to urge officials to maintain established levels of aid under the Plan Colombia framework.