Bouvier leads talk on Plan Colombia

By Daniel Gilbert

Virginia Bouvier, a member of the United States Institute for Peace, presented an overview of the controversial Plan Colombia, a multiyear $7.5 billion national development strategy designed to combat the country’s drug-trafficking, revitalize its economy, and strengthen its unstable political institutions, at the International House on February 7th.

The talk, part of the Latin American Briefing Series sponsored by the University’s Center for Latin American Studies, also featured Luis Medina, professor in the political science department, and Andreas Feldmann, a post-doctoral student in human rights, in critiquing the current state of affairs and proposing future solutions.

Bouvier emphasized that the United States has a powerful incentive to invest in Plan Colombia, given that the bulk of cocaine and heroin arriving in the U.S. comes from Colombia. Since the Plan’s inception in 1999, U.S. foreign aid to Colombia has grown to $3.9 billion presently, making Colombia the fifth largest recipient of U.S. aid, with the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Bogotá.

Bouvier noted that some policy circles in Washington have supported Colombia after 9/11, as the country is the eighth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S. She criticized the U.S.’s “supply-side” approach to Colombia’s drug problem, financing expensive Blackhawk helicopters to destroy coca and poppy plants by aerial fumigation. Though both the U.S. and Colombian governments report that eradication targets have nearly been met, Bouvier cited statistics that showed increasing use of cocaine in the U.S., casting doubt on the effectiveness of the eradication approach.

Bouvier acknowledged some achievements—fewer guerrilla attacks on military targets, fewer kidnappings, and safer highways—but she remains skeptical of progress. She said foreign aid is sometimes granted on improvements that do not change human rights status, but only shift policy. Bouvier expressed the concern that Colombian police and military commanders, as well as U.S. contractors, have been allowed to tap telephone lines and conduct searches without warrants. In her closing remarks, Bouvier called for the U.S. to be more in tune with how its policies address the needs of Colombians. “I believe that through an honest evaluation of our policies in the past years, we can craft a better outcome in the coming years,” she said.