The term Plan Colombia is most often used to refer to controversial U.S. legislation aimed at curbing drug smuggling by supporting different Drug War activities in Colombia. Plan Colombia also refers to a wider aid initiative originally proposed by Colombian President Andres Pastrana Arango, which contemplated the above piece of legislation but was not limited to it. The plan was conceived between 1998 and 1999 by the administration of President Andres Pastrana with the goals of social and economic revitalization, ending the armed conflict and creating an anti-drug strategy. The most controversial element of the anti-narcotic strategy is aerial fumigation to eradicate coca. This activity has come under fire because it damages legal crops and has adverse health effects upon those exposed to the herbicides. Critics of the initiative also claim that elements within the Colombian security forces, which receive aid and training from it, are involved in supporting or tolerating abuses by right-wing paramilitary forces against the population and left-wing organizations.
Original Plan Colombia
The original version of Plan Colombia was officially unveiled by President Andres Pastrana in 1999. Pastrana had first proposed the idea of a possible "Marshall Plan for Colombia" during a speech at Bogota's Tequendama Hotel on June 8, 1998, nearly a week after the first round of that year's presidential elections. Pastrana argued that "[Drug crops are] a social problem whose solution must pass through the solution to the armed conflict...Developed countries should help us to implement some sort of 'Marshall Plan' for Colombia, which will allow us to develop great investments in the social field, in order to offer our peasants different alternatives to the illicit crops."
After Pastrana was inaugurated, one of the names given to the initiative at this early stage was "Plan for Colombia's Peace", which President Pastrana defined as "a set of alternative development projects which will channel the shared efforts of multilateral organizations and [foreign] governments towards Colombian society." Pastrana's Plan Colombia, as originally presented, did not focus on drug trafficking, military aid or fumigation, but instead emphasized the manual eradication of drug crops as a better alternative.Pastrana, p. 116 According to author Doug Stokes, one of the earlier versions of the plan called for an estimated 55 per cent military aid and 45 percent developmental aid. p. 96
During an August 3, 1998 meeting, President Pastrana and U.S. President Bill Clinton discussed the possibility of "securing an increase in U.S. aid for counternarcotics projects, sustainable economic development, the protection of human rights, humanitarian aid, stimulating private investment and joining other donors and international financial institutions to promote Colombia's economic growth". Diplomatic contacts regarding this subject continued during the rest of the year and into 1999.Pastrana, p. 115-116; 120-122
For President Pastrana, it became necessary to create an official document that specifically "served to convene important U.S. aid, as well as that of other countries and international organizations" by adequately addressing US concerns. The Colombian government also considered that it had to patch up a bilateral relationship that had heavily deteriorated during the previous administration of President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998). According to Pastrana, Under Secretary of State Thomas R. Pickering eventually suggested that, initially, the U.S. could be to able commit to providing aid over a three year period, as opposed to continuing with separate yearly packages. Pastrana, p. 203
As a result of these contacts, US input was extensive, and meant that Plan Colombia's first formal draft was originally written in English, not Spanish, and a Spanish version wasn’t available until "months after a revised English version was already in place." **Crandall, Russell (February 6, 2003) p. 9 [Word document] In fact, a Spanish language version of the plan in Spanish did not exist until months after a copy in English was available.--Author interview with US Department of State official. Washington, DC. November 2000.** p. 15 [PDF file] The original format of Plan Colombia (written by President Pastrana) was focused primarily on economic development, human rights and judicial reform. It was a prospect of change for Colombian civil society and an ambitious attempt to dig to the root of Colombian’s strife.*Nagle, Luz Estella p. 17. Nagle quotes Ambassador Robert White.** p. 36-45
Critics and observers have referred to the differences between the earliest versions of Plan Colombia and later drafts. Originally, the focus was on achieving peace and ending violence, within the context of the ongoing peace talks that Pastrana's government was then holding with the FARC guerrillas, following the principle that the country's violence had "deep roots in the economic exclusion and...inequality and poverty."
The final version of Plan Colombia was seen as considerably different, since its main focuses would deal with drug trafficking and strengthening the military. Ambassador Robert White stated: "If you read the original Plan Colombia, not the one that was written in Washington but the original Plan Colombia, there's no mention of military drives against the FARC rebels. Quite the contrary. (President Pastrana ) says the FARC is part of the history of Colombia and a historical phenomenon, he says, and they must be treated as Colombians...[Colombia] come and ask for bread and you (America) give them stones." White is the president of the Center for International Policy and former American ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, and former No. 2 man with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. In the final U.S. aid package, 78.12 percent of the funds for 2000 went to the Colombian military and police for counternarcotics and military operations. (See graph, below)
President Pastrana admitted that most of the resulting US aid to Colombia was overwhelmingly focused on the military and on counternarcotics (68%), but argued that this was only some 17% of the total amount of estimated Plan Colombia aid. The rest, focusing mostly on social development, would be provided by international organizations, Europe, Japan, Canada, Latin America and Colombia itself. In light of this, Pastrana considered that the Plan had been unfairly labeled as "militarist" by national and international critics that focused only on the US contribution. Pastrana, p. 256-257
This original plan called for a budget of US$7.5 billion, with 51% dedicated to institutional and social development, 32% for fighting the drug trade, 16% for economic and social revitalization, and 0.8% to support the then on-going effort to negotiate a political solution to the state's conflict with insurgent guerrilla groups. Pastrana initially pledged US$4.864 billion of Colombian resources (65% of the total) and called on the international community to provide the remaining US$2.636 billion (35%).
In 2000, the Clinton administration in the United States supported the initiative by committing $1.3 billion in foreign aid and up to five hundred military personnel to train local forces. An additional three hundred civilian personnel were allowed to assist in the eradication of coca. This aid was an addition to US$330 million of previously approved US aid to Colombia. US$818 million was earmarked for 2000, with US$256 million for 2001. These appropriations for the plan made Colombia the third largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States at the time.
Colombia sought additional support from the European Union and other countries, with the intention of financing the mostly social component of the original plan. Some would-be donors were reluctant to cooperate, as they considered that the US-approved aid represented an undue military slant, and additionally lacked the will to spend such amounts of money for what they considered an uncertain initiative.
Initially, some of these countries donated approximately US $128.6 million dollars (in one year), which was 2.3% of the resulting total. Larger amounts, in some instances up to several hundred million dollars, were also donated to Colombia and continued to be provided either directly or through loans and access to credit lines, but technically fell outside the framework of Plan Colombia. "European countries provide economic and social development funds but do not consider them to be in support of Plan Colombia." In any case, the sums raised fell well short of what was originally called for. In addition, Colombia's eventual contribution was less than planned due in part to a 1999-2001 economic crisis.
The war on drugs
Although Plan Colombia includes components which address social aid and institutional reform, the initiative has come to be regarded by its critics as fundamentally a program of counternarcotics and military aid for the Colombian government.
In the United States Plan Colombia is seen as part of the "war on drugs". Plan Colombia has numerous supporters in the United States Congress. Congressional supporters assert that over 1,300 square kilometres of mature coca were sprayed and eradicated in Colombia in 2003, which would have prevented the production over 500 metric tons of cocaine, stating that it eliminated upward of $100 million of the illicit income that supports drug dealers and different illegal organizations considered as terrorist in Colombia.
Prominent in the aid package approved by former President Clinton is the "Push into Southern Colombia", an area that for decades has been a stronghold of Colombia's largest guerrilla organisation FARC, which is also a major coca-producing region.
This funding was earmarked for training and equipping new Colombian army counternarcotics battalions, providing them with helicopters, transport and intelligence assistance, and supplies for coca eradication.
Criticism of Plan Colombia
Research studies before Plan Colombia
The US Defense Department funded a two year study which found that the use of the armed forces to interdict drugs coming into the United States would have minimal or no effect on cocaine traffic and might, in fact, raise the profits of cocaine cartels and manufacturers. The 175-page study, "Sealing the Borders: The Effects of Increased Military Participation in Drug Interdiction," was prepared by seven economists, mathematicians and researchers at the National Defense Research Institute, a branch of the RAND corporation and released in 1988. The study noted that seven previous studies in the past nine years, including ones by the Center for Naval Research and the Office of Technology Assessment, had come to similar conclusions. Interdiction efforts, using current armed forces resources, would have almost no effect on cocaine importation into the United States, the report concluded. * *
During the early to mid-1990s, the Clinton administration ordered and funded a major cocaine policy study again by RAND. The Rand Drug Policy Research Center study concluded that $ 3 billion should be switched from federal and local law enforcement to treatment. The report said that treatment is the cheapest way to cut drug use. President Clinton's drug czar's office rejected slashing law enforcement spending. ** p. xii, 87 * * * *
Plan Colombia itself didn't exist at the time of the second RAND study, but the U.S. aid package has been criticized as a manifestation of the predominant law enforcement approach to the drug trade as a whole.
Guerrillas and Oil
Critics of Plan Colombia, such as authors Doug Stokes and Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, argue that the main intent of the program is not drug eradication but to fight leftist guerrillas supported by part of the lower rural class in Colombia. They argue that these Colombian peasants are also a target because they are calling for social reform and hindering international plans to exploit Colombia's valuable resources, including oil and other natural resources.; * As of 2004, Colombia is the fifteenth largest supplier of oil to the United States and could potentially rise in that ranking if petroleum extraction could be conducted in a more secure environment. From 1986 to 1997 there were nearly 79 million barrels of crude oil spilled in pipeline attacks. Damage and lost revenue were estimated at $1.5 billion, while the oil spills seriously damaged the ecology. [PDF file]
While the assistance is defined as counternarcotics assistance, critics such as filmmaker Gerard Ungeman argues it will be used primarily against the FARC. Downloadable on Google video Supporters of the Plan such as the U.S. embassy in Bogota and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman argue that the distinction between guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug dealers may have increasingly become irrelevant, seeing as they could be considered as part of the same productive chain. As a result, counternarcotics assistance and equipment should also be available for use against any of these irregular armed groups when necessary. (English version available)
Human Rights Conditions
In June 2000, Amnesty International issued a press release in which it criticized the implemented Plan Colombia initiative:
Plan Colombia is based on a drug-focused analysis of the roots of the conflict and the human rights crisis which completely ignores the Colombian state's own historical and current responsibility. It also ignores deep-rooted causes of the conflict and the human rights crisis. The Plan proposes a principally military strategy (in the US component of Plan Colombia) to tackle illicit drug cultivation and trafficking through substantial military assistance to the Colombian armed forces and police. Social development and humanitarian assistance programs included in the Plan cannot disguise its essentially military character. Furthermore, it is apparent that Plan Colombia is not the result of a genuine process of consultation either with the national and international non-governmental organizations which are expected to implement the projects nor with the beneficiaries of the humanitarian, human rights or social development projects. As a consequence, the human rights component of Plan Colombia is seriously flawed.
During the late 1990s, Colombia was the leading recipient of US military aid in the Western Hemisphere, and due to its continuing internal conflict has the worst human rights record, with the majority of atrocities attributed (from most directly responsible to least directly responsible) to paramilitary forces, insurgent guerrilla groups and elements within the police and armed forces.
A United Nations study reported that elements within the Colombian security forces, which have been strengthened due to Plan Colombia and U.S. aid, do continue to maintain intimate relationships with right-wing death squads, help organize paramilitary forces, and either participate in abuses and massacres directly or, as it is usually argued to be more often the case, deliberately fail to take action to prevent them. Critics of the Plan and of other initiatives to aid Colombian armed forces point to these continuing accusations of serious abuse, and argue that the Colombian state and military should sever any persisting relationship with these illegal forces and need to prosecute past offenses by paramilitary forces or its own personnel. Supporters of the Plan assert that the number and scale of abuses directly attributable to the government's forces have been slowly but increasingly reduced.
Some paramilitary commanders openly expressed their support for Plan Colombia. In May 2000, paramilitary commander "Yair" from the Putumayo Southern Bloc, himself a former Colombian special forces sergeant, said that the AUC supported the plan and he offered to assist U.S.-trained counternarcotics battalions in their operations against the FARC in the coca-growing department of Putumayo. Paramilitaries and FARC fought it out in the region one month before a Plan Colombia mandated military offensive began later that year. AUC fighters would have passed through checkpoints manned by the army's 24th Brigade in the area during the fighting. One paramilitary leader who supports Plan Colombia is the commander of the 800 right-wing shock troops of the paramilitaries' Putumayo Southern Bloc. He is a former Colombian special forces sergeant who frequently trained alongside U.S. Special Forces Rangers and Navy SEALs during his eight years in the military
!!! SOA and human rights
According to Livingstone, more Colombian School of the Americas (SOA) graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses than SOA graduates from any other country. All of the commanders of the brigades highlighted in the 2001 Human Rights Watch report were graduates of the SOA, including the III brigade in Valle del Cauca, where the 2001 Alto Naya massacre occurred. US-trained officers have been accused of being directly or indirectly involved in many atrocities during the 1990s, including the Trujillo massacres and the 1997 Mapiripan massacre. Livingstone, p. 169School of the America's Watch www.soaw.org Livingstone notes: The relatively high number of Colombian officers is partly due to the fact that more research has been done into the names of abusers in Colombia, whereas the names of officers who committed offences in other countries--particularly in Central America--are not known.
In addition, Livingstone also argues that the Colombian paramilitaries employ counter insurgency methods that US military schools and manuals have been teaching Latin American officers in Colombia and in the region at large since the 1960s, and that these manuals teach students to target civilian supporters of the guerrillas, because without such support the guerrillas cannot survive.Livingstone, p. 171
The Pastrana administration replied to critics by stating that it had publicly denounced military-paramilitary links, as well as increased efforts against paramilitaries and acted against questionable military personnel. President Pastrana argues that he implemented new training courses on human rights and on international law for military and police officers, as well as new reforms to limit the jurisdiction of military courts in cases of grave human rights abuses such as torture, genocide or forced disappearances. Pastrana, p. 87-88; 351-353
Pastrana claims that some 1300 paramilitaries were killed, captured or surrendered during his term, and that hundreds of members of the armed forces, including up to a hundred officers, were dismissed due to the existence of what it considered as sufficient allegations of involvement in abuses or suspected paramilitary activities, in use of a new presidential discretional faculty. These would include some 388 discharges in 2000 and a further 70 in 2001. Human Rights Watch recognized these events, but questioned the fact that the reasons for such discharges were not always made clear nor followed by formal prosecutions, and claimed that Pastrana's administration cut funds for the Attorney General's Human Rights Unit.
!!! Leahy Provision
In 1997 the US Congress approved an Amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act which banned the US from giving anti-narcotics aid to any foreign military unit whose members have violated human rights. The Amendment was called the "Leahy Provision" or "Leahy Law" (named after Senator Patrick Leahy who proposed it). Partially due to this measure and the reasoning behind it, anti-narcotics aid was initially only provided to Police units, and not to the military during much of the 1990s.
According to author Grace Livingstone and other critics, the problem is there have been very few military units free of members that have not been implicated in any kind of human rights abuses at all, so they consider that the policy has been usually ignored, downplayed or occasionally implemented in a patchy way.Livingstone, p. 168-169 In 2000, Human Rights Watch, together with several Colombian human rights investigators, published a study in which it concluded that half of Colombia's eighteen brigade-level army units had extensive links to paramilitaries at the time, citing numerous cases which directly or indirectly implicated army personnel. Stokes, Doug ; *Citing
The State Department certified that Colombia would have complied with one of the human rights conditions (Sec. 3201) attached to Plan Colombia aid, due to President Pastrana's directing "in writing that Colombian Armed Forces personnel who are credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights will be brought to justice in Colombia's civilian courts...". In August 2000 President Clinton used his presidential waiver to override the remaining human rights conditions, on the grounds that it was necessary for the interests of U.S. national security. Livingstone argues that if the US government funds military units guilty of human rights abuses, it is acting illegally.
Expansion under Bush
In 2001, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush expanded the program with the appropriation of $676 million for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative. Of this appropriation, approximately $380 million was targeted at Colombia. The rest went towards other South American countries covered by the Andean Counterdrug Initiative. The 2001 initiative reduced the limitations on the numbers and the activities of civilian contractors, allowing them to carry and use military weapons which, according to the U.S. government, would be necessary to ensure the safety of personnel and equipment during spray missions. The United States Congress rejected amendments to the Andean initiative that would have redirected some of the money to demand reduction programs in the United States, primarily through funding of drug treatment services. Some critics have opposed the rejection of these modifications, claiming that the drug problem and its multiple repercussions would be structurally addressed by curbing the demand, and not the production, of illicit drugs, since drug crops can always be regrown and transplanted elsewhere, inside or outside Colombia and its neighboring countries, as long as there is a commercially viable market.
In 2004, the United States appropriated approximately $727 million for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, $463 million of which was targeted at Colombia.
In October 2004, the compromise version of two U.S. House-Senate bills was approved, increasing the number of U.S. military advisors that operate in the country as part of Plan Colombia to 800 (from 400) and that of private contractors to 600 (from 400).
In a November 22 2004 visit to Cartagena, President Bush stood by Colombian president Uribe's security policies and declared his support for continuing to provide Plan Colombia aid in the future. Bush claimed the initiative enjoys "wide bipartisan support" in the US and in the coming year he would ask Congress to renew its support.
U.S. 2005 Estimate
On April 14, 2006, the U.S. Drug Czar's office announced that its Colombian coca cultivation estimate for 2005 was significantly greater than that of any year since 2002. The press release from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy stated that "coca cultivation declined by 8 percent, from 114,100 to 105,400 hectares, when those areas surveyed by the US government in 2004 were compared with the same areas in 2005". However, "the survey also found 144,000 hectares of coca under cultivation in 2005 in a search area that was 81 percent larger than that used in 2004...newly imaged areas show about 39,000 additional hectares of coca. Because these areas were not previously surveyed, it is impossible to determine for how long they have been under coca cultivation."
Critics of Plan Colombia and of ongoing fumigation programs considered this new information as a sign of the failure of current U.S. drug policy. The Center for International Policy stated that "even if we accept the U.S. government’s argument that the high 2005 estimate owes to measurement in new areas, it is impossible to claim that Plan Colombia has brought a 50 percent reduction in coca-growing in six years...Either Colombia has returned to [the 2002] level of cultivation, or the 'reductions' reported in 2002 and 2003 were false due to poor measurement."
UN 2005 Estimate
On June 20, 2006, the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) presented its own survey on Andean coca cultivation, reporting a smaller increase of about 8% and confirming a rising trend shown by the earlier U.S. findings. UN surveys employ a different methodology and are part of the ongoing "Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme" (ICMP) and its "Integrated Illicit Crop Monitoring System" (SIMCI) project. The UNODC press release stated that during 2005 the "area under coca cultivation in Colombia rose by 6,000 hectares to 86,000 after four consecutive years of decline despite the continued efforts of the Government to eradicate coca crops". This represents a small increase above the lowest figure recorded by UNODC's surveys, which was 80,000 hectares in 2004. For UNODC, current cultivation remained "still well below the peak of 163,300 hectares recorded in 2000", as "significant reductions [...] have been made in the past five years and overall figures remain nearly a third below their peak of 2000".
UNODC concluded that "substantial international assistance" is needed by Colombia and the other Andean countries "so they can provide poor coca farmers with sustainable alternative livelihoods" and that "aid efforts need to be multiplied at least tenfold in order to reach all impoverished farmers who need support".
The results of Plan Colombia have been mixed. From the perspective of the U.S. and Colombian governments, the results of Plan Colombia have been positive. U.S. government statistics would show that a significant reduction in leftover coca (total cultivation minus eradicated coca) has been observed from peak 2001 levels of 1,698 square kilometres to an estimated 1,140 square kilometres in 2004. It is said that a record high aerial herbicide fumigation campaign of 1,366 square kilometres in 2004 has reduced the total area of surviving coca, even as newer areas are planted. Despite this, effective reductions may appear to have reached their limits as in 2004, despite a record high aerial herbicide fumigation campaign of 1,366 square kilometres, the total area of surviving coca has remained constant, as an estimated 1,139 square kilometres in 2003 were followed by about 1,140 square kilometres in 2004.
Additionally, recent poppy seed cultivation has decreased while coca cultivation actually has not. Overall attempted coca cultivation by growers (total planted coca without taking eradication into account) increased somewhat, from 2,467 square kilometres in 2003 to 2,506 square kilometres in 2004. Coca cultivation reached it's highest point during the program in 2002 at 2,671 square kilometres.
The U.S. and Colombian governments interpret this data to show a decline in potential production of cocaine, from a peak of 700 metric tons in 2001 to 460 in 2003 and 430 in 2004, as result of an increase in "newly planted [coca fields] in response to eradication," which should be less productive than mature coca.
U.S. government officials admitted in late 2005 that the market price of cocaine has yet to rise significantly, as would be expected from the above reductions in supply. They pointed to possible hidden stashes and other methods of circumventing the immediate effect of eradication efforts which allow for a relatively constant flow of drugs able to enter into the market, delaying the consequences of drug eradication. U.S. Drug Czar John Walters stated that "the reason for [reductions in supply not immediately driving prices up] is that you are not seizing and consuming coca leaves that were grown in 2004 in 2004. You are seizing and consuming coca leaves that were probably grown and processed in 2003 and 2002."
Other observers say this points to the ultimate ineffectiveness of the Plan in stopping the flow of drugs and addressing more important or underlying issues like providing a viable alternative for landless and other peasants, who turn to coca cultivation due to a lack of other economic possibilities, in addition to having to deal with the tumultuous civil conflict between the state, guerrillas and paramilitaries. They also say that simply making coca difficult to grow and transport in one area will lead to the movement of the drug cultivation processes to other areas, both inside and outside Colombia, a consequence also known as the balloon effect.
As an example of the above, it is claimed by critics that Peru and Bolivia, as countries which had earlier monopolized coca cultivations until local eradication efforts later led to the eventual transfer of that part of the illegal business to Colombia, have recently had small increases in coca production despite record eradication in Colombia, which some years ago accounted for about 80% of the coca base produced in South America. Supporters of the Plan and of drug prohibition in general consider that the increase has, as of yet, been significant to be a sign of the above "balloon effect".
The Colombian government announced that it eradicated around 73,000 coca hectares during 2006 which, according to it, would be above all local records in coca plant destruction. The Colombian government said that it plans to destroy an additional 50,000 hectares of coca in 2007. .
- "The intensification of Plan Colombia is extremely dangerous. It could produce a Vietnam-isation of the region, that is to say, an extension of the conflict to neighbouring countries, especially Brazil." Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's party statement on Plan Colombia, October 2002.Livingstone, p. 141
- "U.S. assistance will fund training and support for human rights-related nongovernmental organizations as well as government investigators and prosecutors, including a specialized human rights task force. Working with the Colombian Vice President's office, the U.S. is promoting and assisting the development of a national human rights policy. The U.S. is providing human rights-related training for security force members and judges and assistance to the human rights ombudsman. The U.S. also supports enhanced security protection for human rights monitors in Colombia." 2001 Plan Colombia Fact Sheet from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
- "We are strongly opposed to the amount of military aid being sent to the Colombian army when unionists and innocent people are being killed by the very military forces we are financing." Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers president. p. 61*
- "Without Plan Colombia, the Colombian police and military would not have the additional ability they now have to combat irregular armed groups and drug trafficking. The state has acquired a greater degree of control over territory in good measure thanks to Plan Colombia." Alfredo Rangel of the Security and Democracy Foundation.
- Colombian Armed Conflict
- History of Colombia
- Leahy Law
- U.S.-Colombia military relations
- United States and South and Central America
- [PDF file]
- Photos, statistics, graphs, and maps
- Successful coca eradication results in Colombia
- 4 video clips
- Video clips
- Fictional story. Love story about Fernando, an older man who has recently returned to his crime-ridden and drug influenced hometown of Medellin, Colombia.
- Volume two contains "China," "India," and "Colombia."
Other pages about Government of Colombia
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Other pages about Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
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