On February 4, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with U.S. President Barack Obama to promote the peace process and mark the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, a U.S. assistance package that was accompanied by grave human rights abuses on the ground since it started in 2000. To mark the anniversary, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has prepared an interactive data presentation showcasing the lessons of Plan Colombia, and outlining the challenges ahead of a post-conflict Colombia.
President Obama also used the anniverary to announce plans for a robust new U.S. aid package to Colombia. WOLA will be monitoring this proposal closely to make sure that new aid does not follow the troubled legacy of Plan Colombia. Any commemoration of the original aid package must start by learning from what worked and is applicable elsewhere, what didn’t and why it failed, and what should never be repeated. WOLA offers this data presentation to guide that discussion.
WOLA opposed the Plan Colombia package 15 years ago because of its human rights risks, its faulty approach to drugs, and its potential to intensify the conflict. Today, several security measures improved more quickly than foreseen, Colombia contributed more of its resources than expected, and U.S. troops did not get stuck in a counter-insurgency quagmire. Still, Plan Colombia’s results are not the “clear success” that the reigning narrative implies. WOLA’s prediction was unfortunately correct about the human rights damage, the prolongation of the conflict, and the stubborn persistence of drug production.
Over the years, U.S. aid to Colombia became more balanced as development and justice programs grew more sophisticated, and human rights conditions strengthened. It is possible that a different approach from the start could have brought better results in less than 15 years. Today, though, a peace process nearing a final accord offers a historic opportunity to prevent the armed conflict—and the violent organized crime that still afflicts Colombia—from ever flaring up again. That will require a big new package of investments and foreign assistance: a new “Plan.”