On December 19, 2000, the Colombian army’s two U.S.-trained anti-narcotics battalions arrived in Putumayo, Colombia’s principal coca growing region. For the next six weeks U.S.-supplied Huey helicopters swooped down almost daily to unload soldiers to prevent attacks against the fumigation planes by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. In early February, with 62,000 acres of coca destroyed, the politicians and generals in Washington and Bogotá were calling Plan Colombia’s initial fumigation campaign a success. But on the ground in Putumayo it was clear that more than coca had been eradicated.
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The proponents of Plan Colombia claim its successful implementation will end Colombia’s civil war, revive the nation’s economy and put the narco-traffickers out of business. In order to implement the $7.5 billion Plan, conceived by the Colombian and U.S. governments, Colombia is asking for $3.5 billion in international aid to supplement $4 billion of its own funding. However, it is still unclear just how the financially-strapped Colombian Government is going to raise $4 billion.
In January 1999, newly-elected Colombian president Andres Pastrana ceded an area of southern Colombia the size of Switzerland to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as part of an agreement to begin peace talks. Although there is no cease-fire agreement while the talks are being carried out, the Colombian Armed Forces have withdrawn all their forces from the region known as the Zona de Despeje (Clearance Zone). The FARC’s headquarters in Los Pozos, a small village located 18 miles from San Vicente del Caguan in the Zona de Despeje, has been host to the peace talks as well as public conferences where all sectors of Colombian society can come to participate in discussions about Colombia’s future. On June 14, 2000, I traveled to Los Pozos to interview Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and a spokesman for the guerrilla group. Trinidad was a professor of economics and a banker before joining the FARC 16 years ago.