- Next month, the U.S. government releases the first in
$1.3 billion in aid to Colombia's besieged government. Officially, the
aid is intended to eradicate drugs. But the aid will probably have impacts
far beyond Colombia's coca fields, as is detailed in this first installment
of a three-part series, The Price of War.
- The Price of War Part I. Beyond Colombia
- Marxist guerillas battling to control Colombia threaten
to escalate the country's civil war when more than $1 billion in U.S. military
aid begins to flow into the country in October. After 36 years, Colombia's
civil war is at a turning point, its impacts about to flood across its
borders into neighboring nations. Washington is inadvertently gambling
with its interests in Colombia and much of the rest of the region.
- Plan Colombia is a U.S. $7.5 billion strategy to eradicate
the cocaine trade in Colombia -- the world's largest producer of the drug.
The aid package involves military force to combat drug traffickers and
programs to encourage crop-substitution that will wean peasant farmers
from growing coca and poppies.
- Over the next several years, the United States will spend
$1.3 billion to train and equip three anti-narcotic battalions, made up
of 3,000 Colombian soldiers, who will fly into combat aboard 60 helicopters.
With this added reach, Colombian forces will destroy coca plantations,
laboratories and distribution networks in joint operations with the Colombian
National Police. The United States also will provide logistics, intelligence
and unified command-and- control support to Colombian forces deployed on
- These missions will put Colombian troops face-to-face
with Marxist guerillas, known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), who control a substantial part of the drug trade and who have battled
for control of Colombia for more than 30 years. To what degree will Plan
Colombia escalate the war and trigger a flood of refugees? How will the
plan impact the security and stability of the entire Andean region of South
- In fact, the U.S. cure for what White House Drug Czar
Barry McCaffrey calls a cancer, not a war, will fail. The drug trade and
FARC will suffer losses, but both will survive as they have for decades.
Loss of life and civilian displacement, however, will increase significantly.
Many refugees and some fighting will spill over borders into Ecuador and
Peru. U.S. relations with Colombia's neighbors will suffer, and Americans
will be targets, as a result.
- The first phase of Plan Colombia's drug eradication strategy
will focus on southern Colombia, particularly the departments of Putumayo,
Caqueta and Guaviare. In the south, German Briceno, also known as Mono
Jojoy, commands 11 FARC fronts, of some 2,000 fighters. Briceno is the
top warlord in the entire organization and its best battlefield commander.
Under him, the organization grows, processes and ships cocaine all along
the San Miguel and Putumayo rivers that form part of the borders with Ecuador
- Within this complex of jungles and rivers, FARC trades
cocaine for weapons with Brazilian and Russian organized crime elements.
A key target of government forces is FARC's 14th front, which controls
coca labs in the Peruvian jungle between the Napo and Putumayo rivers.
These rivers flow directly into Brazil, allowing FARC to ship cocaine
down the Amazon River to ports on the Atlantic Ocean and on to the United
States and Europe.
- Early next year, when a second battalion completes its
training, government troops will begin to destroy crops, particularly in
Putumayo, and Colombia's neighbors will quickly feel the effects.
- Ecuador is at greatest risk of fighting and refugees
spilling across the border. The United Nations has warned Ecuador to expect
an influx of between 25,000 and 30,000 refugees, but Ecuadorian officials
believe the total could exceed 40,000. Thousands more will flee into nearby
Peru to escape the fighting and aerial defoliation of their coca crops.
- The border is too porous to control and FARC sympathizers
fill the area. The FARC has used the province of Sucumbios in Ecuador as
a base for rest and re-supply for more than three decades and says it plans
to continue doing so when the fighting begins in Putumayo. The Ecuadorian
daily, El Universo, reports that FARC leaders have warned the government
in Quito to maintain strict neutrality when FARC units cross the border.
- Already, FARC threatens to attack targets in Ecuador.
FARC has criticized Ecuador's government for letting the United States
operate anti-drug flights out of the Pacific coastal town of Manta, one
of the new forward operating locations set up by the Pentagon's Southern
Command when Howard Air Base, Panama, closed. According to CRE Satelital
radio, FARC leaders warn that if U.S. aircraft fly out of Manta to eradicate
crops, the guerrillas will strike targets in Ecuador. Buffeted by political
and economic crises, the country is significantly less stable than other
nations in the region.
- Anticipating trouble, Ecuador stationed more than 5,000
soldiers along the Colombian border, in the Napos and Sucumbio provinces.
The troops comprise three battalions, a special forces unit, a jungle regiment
and a helicopter regiment. Ecuador's government will spend $150 million
to $200 million over the next three years to build a security buffer zone
on its border. The United States reportedly put up $30 million and is supporting
the border build-up from Manta and the Coca Jungle School training facility.
Ecuador also has appealed for international help to set up camps for the
anticipated influx of Colombian refugees.
- Other governments in the region are bracing themselves.
Peru will also see refugees spill over from Colombia. Raul Reyes, FARC's
chief negotiator with the Pastrana government, says FARC has no military
or other interests in Peru. FARC also wants to avoid provoking Brazil,
the region's loudest critic of Plan Colombia. Guerrilla leaders have repeatedly
assured the Cardoso government that FARC forces will stay out of Brazilian
- But Brazil will face problems because of its river routes
for cocaine. Units of the Brazilian Army's Solimoes Frontier Command's
8th Jungle Infantry Battalion are in Tabatinga, directly across the Amazon
River from its sister-city of Leticia at the southern tip of Colombia.
Both cities have about 57,000 inhabitants.
- Tabatinga and Leticia lie along a major route for shipping
drugs to Brazilian organized crime elements and for smuggling in precursor
chemicals, weapons and explosives. Drug trafficking and arms smuggling
are the dominant economic activities and FARC units in the area frequently
rest and re-supply in Leticia. While FARC will try to avoid provoking the
Brazilian government, guerrilla operations in the area will complicate
- The Brazilian government fears the U.S. aid plan will
ultimately force the drug trade increasingly into the Brazilian Amazon.
The government openly worries that river-borne toxic chemical runoff from
aerial defoliation in Colombia will enter river systems, poisoning the
regions waters, while thousands of Colombian refugees push into the Brazilian
state of Amazonas. The state is only about the size of Pennsylvania, with
- In Colombia, the guerrillas are bracing for a dramatically
widened conflict. FARC has been preparing for all-out war since President
Andres Pastrana conceded to FARC a demilitarized zone in southern Colombia,
an area roughly the size of Switzerland. FARC has consolidated control
over the cocaine trade in southern Colombia and its ranks now include more
than 17,000 full-time fighters who range freely across more than half the
country, supported by an estimated 36,000 civilian militia members.
- FARC also has stockpiled a huge arsenal of weapons and
explosives, some from Central America and Brazil, but many more from Russian
organized crime syndicates. FARC negotiator Reyes says the organization's
political goal has always been to achieve power, either peacefully or by
force. But with peace talks stalled in Bogota, the fighting will only escalate.
- For more on the Colombia see: http://www.stratfor.com/hotspots/colombia/default.htm
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