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Lasso says that there is talk of a ‘Plan Ecuador’ to fight drug trafficking

Published on November 09, 2021

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Last Friday, President Lasso spoke about the possibility of having a Plan Ecuador. He did so at the ABC Spain-Ecuador Forum: “Thinking in the 21st century.” The event was organized by the Spanish media ABC to discuss the “opportunities and challenges facing economies such as those of Ecuador and Spain,” according to its website.

For some people, Lasso’s the announcement reminded them of the questioned ‘Plan Colombia’ that occurred in the neighboring country for 15 years and was aimed at “fighting drug trafficking, strengthening institutions, restoring security, and consolidating social development,” according to the Colombian government. That plan had the financial and military backing of the United States government. However, it failed to reduce coca plantations, and while it was active, human rights violations and illegal mining increased. 

However, Lasso did not mention Plan Colombia or elaborate on what this strategy would involve.

What would the Ecuador plan be like?

Lasso did not elaborate on what the Ecuador Plan would involve. However, he said that this plan “demands the support and backing of friendly countries – such as Colombia and Peru, the United States, and the European Union.” Lasso also said that without that ” Ecuador alone will not be able to fight drug trafficking.” However, he did not say what the resources would be used for, if they are delivered by those nations.

In his speech, to justify the reasons why he considered it necessary to take stronger measures, Lasso spoke about the sale of drugs and the impact that drug use has on Ecuador. Lasso said that drug trafficking causes insecurity in prisons and on the streets. He described the use of these substances as “a public health and safety problem.”

At the security level, President Lasso insisted that the support of other countries is necessary for Ecuador to “move forward.” In the case of public health, he said that it will take “a few decades to recover the youth.” According to him, a specialist from the National Police told him that “drugs mark the lives of children from the age of 6 years old” and that is why they should be treated from the first years of life.

Lasso said it was key to have an “efficient government that responds to the needs of Ecuadorians.” According to him, a society Ecuador in which only 3 out of 10 people have a formal job, “clearly shows the absence of a State or the presence of inefficient governments for 14 years.”

According to the President, a starting point is to have “a society that works, with an economy that works.” That is why he said that the only possible answer was to increase private investment, open the economy to the world, sign trade agreements, expand markets for Ecuadorian products in the world and attract foreign investment in Ecuador.

In addition, Lasso said that his government is taking concrete actions such as increasing the control of irregular flights.

On October 27th, the radar began to work on Cerro Montecristi, in Manabí. At the radar’s inauguration, Air Force Commander General Geovanny Espinel said that the equipment “will allow the arrest of unidentified air traffic.” Espinel said that the radar will be on 24 hours a day, every day of the year. [Note: an explosion occurred at the new radar site on Sunday, the current extend of damage is unknown. A “terrorist attack” is being blamed for the bombing.]

By February or March of next year, Lasso said that “we will have 100% control of the Ecuadorian territory.”

However, Lasso said that was not enough. He said that it is also necessary to “strengthen the equipment for the intersection of irregular flights… we need a law that authorizes the demolition of irregular flights with aircrafts of the Ecuadorian State.” Although he did not clarify if those actions would be part of the Ecuador Plan that he proposes.

In the event in which Lasso spoke of a potential Plan Ecuador, the former president of the Spanish government José María Aznar, the director of ABC, Julián Quiroz and the former vice president of the International University of La Rioja, Emilio Lamo Espinoza, also participated.

What were the results of Plan Colombia?

Plan Colombia was the main strategy of the government of that country to combat drug trafficking. It had the financial and military backing of the United States government. It was in effect for 15 years, until it was replaced by another program called Paz Colombia.

While Plan Colombia was active, it was unable to reduce coca plantations and reports of human rights violations increased.

A little history

Plan Colombia was approved in 2000, in a joint action between the governments of Colombia and the United States, then headed by Andrés Pastrana and Bill Clinton. In 2016, at an event for the 15th anniversary of the strategy, Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Barack Obama – from Colombia and the United States, respectively – announced that Plan Colombia would be transformed into Paz Colombia.

In the 15 years it lasted, the Colombia plan “had the approval of the United States” to approve plans and allocate resources to strengthen Colombia’s defense sector. In 2016, the Colombian government revealed that $141 billion was invested in this plan. Of that, $10 billion was provided by the United States and $131 billion came from Colombia.

Its results and criticism

According to the Colombian government, the plan “succeeded in strengthening the intelligence and criminal investigation capabilities of the armed forces, which allowed the weakening of drug trafficking networks and illegal groups.” However, Plan Colombia has been questioned by international human rights organizations.

Amnesty International criticized the implementation of Plan Colombia, insisting that human rights violations and illegal mining increased.

Gimena Sánchez, director of the Andes of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which is dedicated to defending human rights, says that Plan Colombia was established as an anti-narcotics initiative, but that it was based in “a very wrong theory:” if coca crops were uprooted, it would be much more expensive to traffic the drug and that would reduce demand in the United States and the public health problem in Colombia. That is why they concentrated on fumigating the plantations, because it was the fastest way to get rid of them, to establish a military and police presence in the areas generally occupied by the guerrillas.

However, Sánchez says that did not stop traffic in Colombia or affect demand in the United States. One of its purposes was to reduce the coca (which is used to produce cocaine) plantations by 50%. However, according to the most recent report of illegal crops in Colombia, made by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it says that the cultivation levels of 2020 were similar to those of 2001. In the first 6 years of the plan, cocaine cultivation and production increased by 15% and 4%, respectively.

Coca plantations reached their lowest point in 2013, when they covered 50 thousand hectares (in 2001, there were 140 thousand hectares). However, since that year they have rebounded sharply, approaching 180 thousand hectares in 2017. The following year, the trend began to decline, and by 2020 they returned to levels similar to those of 2001. However, cocaine production has multiplied, even though there are fewer coca crops.

Another of the consequences of Plan Colombia was that the coca plantations spread to more regions of the country, instead of concentrating only in some as it was before the plan. Sánchez says that this happened because drug traffickers moved to different places to make smaller crops when the fumigation arrived in the area where they were.

One of the most questioned aspects of Plan Colombia was the spraying of glyphosate to eradicate coca crops. Glyphosate is a substance classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization since 2015, the same year that Colombia stopped using it to fumigate coca plantations. A WOLA study says that one of the actions of Plan Colombia was to fumigate 1.6 million hectares of coca plantations with glyphosate to eliminate them. According to WOLA, the spraying put the health of thousands of people at risk and did not work to eliminate the drug.

WOLA’s Andes director says it was “terrible” for the people who lived in those parts of the country. Because in addition to insurgent groups entering that forced coca cultivation, they also destroyed the fragile legal agricultural economy that was already precarious in some towns.

Another consequence of the use of glyphosate is that it also burned the crops of other plants and endangered the food security and biodiversity of those who lived in the fumigated areas. Sánchez says that one of the most affected areas is Chocó in the west of the country.

Ecuador also claimed for collateral effects of the fumigations in border provinces such as Sucumbíos. The case even reached the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, Holland. But Ecuador withdrew from the lawsuit in 2013, when the foreign ministers of both countries signed an agreement to terminate the case.

While the plan was in place, human rights abuses increased. Gimena Sánchez says that one of the main ones was the death of more than 6,400 people who were tortured and killed as if they were guerrillas without having been. Sánchez says that the country’s military forces were under great pressure to “show results that the war was being won and the way to do it depended on how many guerrilla casualties they gave.” This is known in Colombia as “false positive” cases.

For this reason, Sánchez says, innocent people were murdered and later dressed as guerrillas who had been “killed in combat.” She claims that those 6,400 people are just the cases that have been confirmed, but that there could be more.

Sánchez says that the lack of success of Plan Colombia forced the governments of the United States and Colombia to decide in 2016 to negotiate peace with subversive groups.

1 Comment

  1. This would be a disaster for Ecuador. The only way to stop the drug trafficking problem is to fix it at its source: improve the lives of the tens of millions of people in the United States self-medicating to escape the violence and emptiness of their culture. A “Plan Ecuador” would only serve the interests of the military/surveillance complex of both countries, increasing militarism, violence, fear, and mistrust, and curtailing civil liberties. Ecuador is paying for the sins of the most dangerous and dysfunctional country on the planet, the USA.

    Reply

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