Don’t copy Plan Colombia, learn from it CINEP: extrajudicial executions still a big problem
Jul 092008

Using information on our “Just the Facts” military aid database (, here is a functional breakdown of the nearly $600 million in aid that the United States provided to Colombia’s military and police forces in 2007.

Using this information, this post attempts to estimate how much U.S. military/police aid goes to the “drug war,” with its well-publicized disappointing results, and how much is going to non-drug military programs. The non-drug programs include initiatives that appear to have contributed to some of the Colombian military’s recent military successes against the FARC, principally intelligence, mobility, and programs to improve Colombians’ own security. Non-drug programs also include efforts whose results have perhaps yielded less “bang for the buck,” such as big military offensives and oil-pipeline protection.

According to this exercise, we estimate that about 35 percent of U.S. military aid in 2007 went to non-drug missions. The remaining aid – nearly two-thirds – has gone to the drug war, which – as is now general knowledge – has not affected the amount of coca grown, or cocaine produced, in Colombia and the Andes.

Caveats: (1) There is not much transparency over many of these programs, and we have had to estimate percentages. For larger estimates, our reasons are explained in the notes. (2) Sometimes the drug vs. non-drug question is very hard to estimate: how often is a helicopter used for drug versus non-drug missions? We have tried to give the benefit of the doubt to non-drug missions, though we understand that U.S. officials still generally give priority to using equipment for counter-drug missions.

Funding Program
Estimated Percent Not Drug-Related
Estimated Subtotal Not Drug Related
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Army Aviation Support) $104,080,000 50% $52,040,000
Foreign Military Financing Foreign Military Financing $85,500,000 75% $64,125,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Support For Eradication) $81,950,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Aviation Support) $69,000,000 25% $17,250,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Critical Flight Safety $61,035,000 25% $15,258,750
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Counter-Narcotics OperationalSupport $46,178,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Carabineros $18,650,000 100% $18,650,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Support For Interdiction) $16,500,000 0% $0
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Air Bridge Denial Program) $15,800,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Hemispheric Radar System $14,808,000 25% $3,702,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Section 1033 Support $12,437,000 25% $3,109,250
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Counter-Narcotics Intelligence Programs $11,204,000 25% $2,801,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Colombia Airborne Surveillance $10,623,000 100% $10,623,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SOF Counter-Narcotics Support $9,924,000 0% $0
NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance NADR – Anti-Terrorism Assistance $3,395,000 100% $3,395,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Detection and Monitoring Domain Awareness $3,300,000 25% $825,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Counter-Narcotics Command Management System $3,267,000 25% $816,750
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Counter-Narcotics Joint Planning Action Teams $2,240,000 25% $560,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Army Counterdrug Mobile Brigade) $2,200,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding USARSO Support – SouthCom $2,140,000 100% $2,140,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding USMC Counter-Narcotics Training Support $2,004,000 25% $501,000
International Military Education and Training International Military Education and Training $1,646,000 100% $1,646,000
Non-Security Assistance – Unified Command Non-Security Assistance – Unified Command $1,609,148 100% $1,609,148
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding MilGroup Augmentation $1,589,000 100% $1,589,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Tactical Analysis Teams $1,169,000 100% $1,169,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to Colombian National Police (Administrative Support) $1,000,000 25% $250,000
Andean Counterdrug Initiative Support to the Colombia Military (Navy Maritime Interdiction Support) $1,000,000 25% $250,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding CNT Technology $1,000,000 100% $1,000,000
NADR – Conventional Weapons Destruction NADR – Conventional Weapons Destruction $691,000 100% $691,000
NADR – Humanitarian Demining NADR – Humanitarian Demining $691,000 100% $691,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SOUTHAF Support – Southcom $601,000 100% $601,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System $599,000 0% $0
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South $399,000 25% $99,750
Service Academies Service Academies $227,725 100% $227,725
Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program $222,659 100% $222,659
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding SouthCom Command Support $177,000 100% $177,000
Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies $96,750 100% $96,750
Aviation Leadership Program Aviation Leadership Program $59,383 100% $59,383
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding Bilateral Maritime Collection/Reporting $35,000 100% $35,000
Defense Department Counterdrug Funding ONI Maritime Intelligence Support $35,000 100% $35,000
Asia-Pacific Center Asia-Pacific Center $2,388 100% $2,388
    $589,085,053 35% $206,248,553


1. The Colombian Army Aviation Brigade’s aircraft get used for both drug and non-drug missions. Though drug-related missions probably make up the majority, let’s split this 50-50.

2. Foreign Military Financing is the main non-drug military aid program in the U.S. foreign aid budget. However, some FMF has always been used to support drug-related missions in Colombia. Let’s say 25%.

3. Eradication is the quintessential drug war program that has failed to yield results.

4. Most police aviation funded by the United States is counter-drug. This could in fact be closer to 0%.

5. The ACI Critical Flight Safety program was primarily intended to provide emergency repairs to aircraft worn out from years of performing counter-drug missions.

6. The Police Carabineros are a public security, not a narcotics, division.

7. Section 1033, or the “riverine program,” seeks to help Colombian forces interdict drugs on rivers. There is a counter-insurgency advantage to that, hence the 25 percent.

8. As with the “riverine program,” these intelligence programs probably yield some non-drug intel as well, hence the 25 percent.

23 Responses to “How much U.S. security aid is not counter-drug? Perhaps 35%”

  1. Chris Says:

    You can’t defeat the FARC, Paramilitaries, ELN, criminal enterprises in Colombia without going after their primary source of funding — drugs. Even if you can’t justify Plan Colombia via cost-benefit analysis, the mere fact that you’re going after their funding source makes it that much more difficult for them to operate. This has an effect on how they currently and continue to operate. The effect on their operations has to be considered when you determine the effectiveness of Plan Colombia.

    I am just not buying that the “drug war” aspect of Plan Colombia is the complete utter failure that it’s being made out to be.

  2. MZR Says:

    I completely disagree, Chris. The “war on drugs” has been a total failure. I have actually posted a comment in the article “Don’t copy Plan Colombia, learn from it” if you care to read (I didn’t want to subject blog users to two reads of my slightly long post, therefore I haven’t “copied and pasted” here, Chris).

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    In my opinion The “war on drugs” (is there anything that has not been waged a war against ?) is a complete failure because it’s simply a complete hoax.

    Not only outlaws and traffickers live from the money produced by the drug trading business. Xillions of dollars are surreptitiously yearly injected into the world currency circulation and economies, but it’s a fact, like so many others, that we are not supposed to talk about let alone believe in.

    jcg, for example would say that that’s another conspiracy theory, but unfortunately (without going into details) the facts contradict any rhetoric from patsies that still think that the world is square. :-(

  4. Chris Says:

    The quantatative analysis speaks volumes to the failure of Plan Colombia’s War on Drugs… I can clearly see that, so from a cost-benefit analysis I would completely agree with you; however, I am trying to look at this from another angle…

    The effect of the Plan Colombia drug war I speak of was one in which the criminal enterprise that was responsible for the cultivation and trans-shipment of illicit goods, went from operating in a benign environment one day to one in which it guarded against the actions it took for fear of reciprocity the next. This resulted in actions that opened-up vulnerabilities, and the totality of this effort effected the greater organization in ways that made the counter-insurgency strategy that much more effective.

    The vulnerabilities I speak of could be, for example, increased communications between regional commanders and others to ensure the safe passage of drugs and goods. More $$$ spent on security or increased cultivation to counter the government’s actions….

    Again, the totality of government effort, resulted in a response that opened-up vulnerabilities that the same govt them exploited.

    Kinda of like a hornet’s nest… you don’t know what you’re dealing with until you shake things-up a little, once you do then you determine where the weaknesses are and you attack.

    Note: I don’t have hard numbers or whatever to prove my theory… it’s just a thought.

  5. MZR Says:


    I respect your opinion. But, alas, the quantitative analysis does prove the failures of Plan Colombia in terms of an anti-narcotics aid package. However, as my earlier post argues, if we look at Plan Colombia as a counter-insurgency package then it’s efficacy is altogether different. But, the simple fact is, the flow of drugs (i.e. cocaine) into the US has not been inhibited by Plan Colombia. The fact that the price of cocaine has not increased (indeed, at times, has decreased) and rising (or, at the very least, constant) purity levels of cocaine in the US attests to this (see my other post for a fuller explanation if necessary).

    There is also huge problem with the logic of Plan Colombia as a anti-narcotics programme: simple economics dictates that if we lower the supply of coca in Colombia, then campesinos can simply ask for a higher price for the coca they produce. Now, in paramilitary controlled areas, this isn’t necessarily a huge problem as the paras can force campesinos to sell at a low price. However, in FARC controlled areas, where the FARC mediates the transactions between traffickers and campesinos, the price of coca will simply rise as the FARC has an interest in recouping as much “war tax” as possible from any such transactions. This continues to make coca the most attractive crop for campesinos to grow in FARC controlled areas. Moreover, seeing as though most of the resources of Plan Colombia are directed at FARC controlled areas (therefore, it is here where prices are most likely to increase), the Plan seems like a no-brainer in tackling coca production. And, indeed, evidence strongly suggest that it has failed in this instance. Furthermore, campesinos whom have had their crops fumigated simply replant their crops but in places that are more difficult to fumigate and in a more fragmented fashion which makes detection and targeting more difficult.

    A similar situation happened with the dismantling of the major cartels (1980s/1990s). New cartels emerged, although much smaller, operating more secretively (i.e. with less publicity) and were altogether harder to confront. Thus, after the large cartels were dismantled, cocaine-use continued to be a problem in the US and continued to grow. Indeed, while there continues to be demand for cocaine in the US, it seems hard to envisage that supply of the drug will not be forthcoming. This has arguably happened with the dismantling of the AUC. Smaller groups have emerged and they continue to traffic cocaine.

    The “balloon effect” is another impossible problem with eradication policies. We have seen from UN drugs reports that when production in Colombia falls, production in Bolivia and Peru often rises. Although these increases may not completely offset the volume of coca produced in a given year, there is still sufficient coca produced to more-than-satisfy the needs of US consumers of cocaine. Also, within Colombia, when areas are targeted by fumigation, coca production simply moves to a different area; then moves back once the fumigation planes change their target area (for example, this happened in Putumayo and Nariño). Thus, prices of cocaine in the US remain stable or decrease; while purity levels remain stable or increase.

  6. jcg Says:

    Unlike Jaime, I think the “war on drugs” is a genuine failure and not merely engineered to be one as part of a hoax. Otherwise, you’d need to argue how such an arrangement was made, at what levels and using what mechanisms, for a start. Not just assume “if it’s like this, then it’s intentional”.

    It’s not a conspiracy theory to say that millions of dollars do end up circulating through the world (Colombia evidently included, for obvious reasons), because that’s a fact (at least according to estimates and studies), but it’s at the very least a theory, conspiratorial or otherwise, to extrapolate that it’s an intentional, planned hoax.

    On another note, thanks to Adam for these tables. They’re just estimates, naturally, but they’re reasonably informed ones, I believe, and might be very useful in the future.

  7. MZR Says:


    I think there is certainly an element of truth to what Jamie says. For example, the evidence is overwhelming that the “War on Drugs” has been ineffective from its inception. So, why do politicians (many of them highly educated, whom also take advice from think-tanks that also have highly educated staff, etc) continue to argue that the War on Drugs is working? You may argue that it secures votes. “Look, we’re spending billions on tackling the drugs problem at its source, to save your children, to save our streets, etc, etc”. Others note aspects of Plan Colombia are certainly aimed at securing Colombia’s oil fields and pipelines (as well as many speculators’ claims that Colombia could be an even greater source of oil if companies were able to explore uncharted oil fields without the threat of guerrilla intervention). With Latin America’s largest oil producer, Venezuela, being Vehemently anti-US, it makes sense to secure and explore oil fields in Colombia.

    You may or may not agree with these theories: but that’s not really my point (I could write a thousand more theories, for example). My point is this: do I believe that politicians in the US believe that the War on Drugs works? My answer is “no”. Do they use the “War on Drugs” to advance other objectives? My answer is “yes”. Thus, I don’t believe its a genuine failure but rather it’s a policy that allows US politicians to advance their alternative goals without having to publicly state them (which would cause an outcry).

  8. jcg Says:

    MZR: I believe that their positions and motivations will vary. Yes, many of them might exploit the “war on drugs” to serve other interests, you will not find me in disagreement with that concept, but the problem is which, how and why, and whether you wrap the lot of them around a single theory or not, and whether even that explains the existence of Prohibition, which by this point isn’t just a matter of U.S. policy but is even part of international conventions and other mechanisms.

  9. AR Says:


    While you have the right to question the diagnose of Plan Colombia as a failure, your questioning is not just unproven is totally wrong.

    You say:
    “Again, the totality of government effort, resulted in a response that opened-up vulnerabilities that the same govt them exploited.

    Kinda of like a hornet’s nest… you don’t know what you’re dealing with until you shake things-up a little, once you do then you determine where the weaknesses are and you attack.”

    So, your view is equivalent to say that the large budget of Plan Colombia dedicated to wage the war on drugs constitutes a good investment despite the results simply because the goal (i.e. going after the funding source of Colombia`s conflict) was a good one. So, even if all measurements show nothing towards the goal was achieved, PC was not a waste of money because “something” was learned. Of course you always learn something from failures, but they don’t turn into successes because of that. Whether something new about the issue has been learned from Plan Colombia, I really doubt it, as fighting the war of drugs at the source was not something that started with Plan Colombia.

    I am not highlighting this just to oppose you. Something equivalent to you view has been expressed by a number of US officials in an attempt to carry on with the farce, against all evidence, and contradicting solid official statistics. I do not worry about other people holding your view, I worry about such counter evident statements being used as authority arguments to defend foreign policy. That surpasses opinion freedom and becomes irresponsible.

  10. MZR Says:

    I will stick my neck on the line and say it’s the majority of the US politicians involved. Why? Because the war on drugs is such a palpable failure. Is it possible to pin them down to one theory? No, as different politicians are probably involved for different reasons and for different goals. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that the War on Drugs is largely a policy that is being used for reasons which are very different from the goals it purports to be pursuing.

  11. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Howcome someone could predict the failure of the “war on drugs” policy in 2000? Easy, it’s a sham:

    “”In short, this is not about facing reality, either in the United States or Colombia. It is about maintaining appearances — and that involves a lot of denial.

    In the U.S., it means denying there are serious rifts in our social fabric, or, worse yet, that Puritanical ideals might not work here on Earth.

    It means admitting that Prohibition did not work in the 1920s, but refusing to recognize that the new Prohibition is not working, and cannot work.

    Colombians are likewise in denial.

    Pretending that democracy can work in a country with extreme inequalities.

    Overlooking the fact that peasants grow coca because it is often the only way to feed their children.

    Pretending that a movement for social justice can be financed by a corrupt form of private enterprise — for that is what the narcotics business is — without itself being corrupted in the process.

    Pretending that the army and right-wing paramilitaries are manly defenders of democracy and morality, while they eviscerate women and children.

  12. Jaime Bustos Says:

    From another perspective …

  13. Jaime Bustos Says:

    And yet another one …

    ” … Some of this money goes to financing an expanding infrastructure of a criminal subculture that exists in the United States and in every other country around the world. We’re seeing a massive phenomenon of criminalization of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as the result of policies of institutions like the IMF, which is creating the opportunities for this kind of criminal underworld to move in and become, in effect, the primary engine of economic life.

    But, the money that’s left over after the actual costs of the infrastructure, of manpower and producing and distribution of these illegal commodities is one of the major sources of money going into the financial bubble: into the derivatives markets, into the speculation in real estate. Very often, these criminal funds are being significantly ballooned by speculation on these funds. This is, in effect, the major driving force behind this financial bubble, which is on the verge of blowing.

    So, in effect, we’ve got a criminalization of not only the world economy, but the entirety of the world banking system. The major financial institutions in the world today are more addicted to drug money, and more dependent on drug money, than the most severe crack cocaine addict is to the physical drugs.

  14. jcg Says:

    The drug war has been fought for many, many years, you know. It wasn’t that hard to argue against it, not just Plan Colombia, in 2000 or earlier.

    Being in denial, as the first author Jaime cites argues, is entirely possible and I’d even agree, in general if not with all the specifics. But denial, such as it is, does not imply a conscious conspiracy that explains the entire issue. In fact, denial and given precedence to other interests, for whatever reason, is probably less conspiratorial an more incidental or, who knows, also due to inertia.

    And an interesting question…would that money disappear from the world if, say, the business was legalized? Something may happen to it, no doubt, but I don’t think it would go away, just like, say, resources from legal alcohol and tobacco industries are quite alive and well.

  15. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcg: your questions are always self answered.

    But let me put it this way: How about a pack of marlboro being a thousand dollars the unit? What about that huh? Hadn’t it occurred to you?

    And you forgot to comment on the other two perspectives I showed, not in my own words, by in those’ really concerned about the matter.

  16. Sergio Méndez Says:

    It is amazing how right wingers like Chris, who are very hard on OTHER governemental programs -genrally using numbers and statistics to point its failure- now want anything different to analyze their pet goverment program (the war on drugs)…pffff

  17. Chris Says:



    I am a moderate…. slightly left/right on different issues.

    What other programs have I been hard on? I hardly use numbers… I don’ have the time to research every subject and post here… I just spew what comes to mind. I throw things out to see what others say… and every now and then some, like MZR here, convince me.

    Furthermore, don’t be so hard on the right-wingers, without them and the left-wingers this blog would be blah… :-)

  18. Steve Says:

    In response to jcg´s question about the financial effects of legalization, I think one of the more immediate, and perhaps significant, benefits as claimed by legalization, well lets say regulation, proponents is the decrease in violence related to the exchange of a drug once it begins to be regulated.

  19. jcg Says:

    Steve: I’d agree with that, since I’m essentially one of those proponents too.

    Jaime: I have asked “self-answered” questions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be convinced or that my positions can’t change, if my doubts are addressed. Nor do I think my positions are inherently right. Many are probably wrong or at least partially flawed, but the same likely applies to yours, or anyone else’s. I just defend my view points until I have reason to do otherwise.

    Even if the price of drugs changes, that doesn’t mean it would suddenly become an unprofitable venture, or that demand couldn’t possibly increase, for example. Also, why was the original Prohibition overturned in the U.S. if it would have been so much better to keep alcohol illegal, using pretty much the same argument?

    That the CIA is involved in drug trafficking, as part of either greed or promoting other policies (funding for the Contras, etc.), is no news. What would be news is proving the extrapolated theory, that the CIA controls or is otherwise a mastermind behind international drug trafficking and its prohibition

    Finally, it is ironic that the other article seems to imply that the legalization of medical marijuana is part of the drug epidemic / conspiracy.

  20. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Jcg, always as thick as a brick.

    I’ve come to realize, you debate me even if we agree. This topic is an example.

    As for alcohol being a lucrative business, it is, no doubt about it. But the profits are nothing compared with marihuana’s, cocaine’s, opium’s, heroin’s, weapons’ and oil’s. :roll:

    P.S. I only endorse what I quote, and which has relation with the question at hand. Or did I quote Bush’s father being a drug kingpin?

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