Last Updated:4/19/00
"Plan Colombia and its Consequences in Ecuador," Ecumenical Commission on Human Rights (Ecuador), March 16, 2001


Socio-economic information about the two nations





1,200,000 km2

283,600 km2


41.5 million

13 million

Population growth rate



Life expectancy

70 years

70 years

Urban population

From 57% in 1951 to 74% in 1994


Type of government

Democratic Republic

Democratic Republic


Andrés Pastrana, elected in 1998

Gustavo Noboa, in power since 2000


$88.6 billion*

$18.7 billion

Annual growth rate



GDP per capita



Main exports products

Oil, coffee, coal, bananas, flowers

Oil, bananas, sea products, coffee

Un/sub-employment rate



Poverty rate

Not available

56% (1999), 3.5 million indigents (The estimate for 2001 is 70%.)




Division of industry

(% of GDP)

14.1% agriculture and mining, 24.4% industry, 61.5% finance and services

12% agriculture and mining, 32.7% industry, 55.2% finance and services

Present value of debt

$34.2 billion

$14.2 billion

Migratory facts:

Since 1998, 600,000 Colombians have been displaced due to internal conflicts (317,000 in 2000). In the year 2000, 15,000 left Colombia.

In the year 2000, 300,000 people left Ecuador in search of better economic conditions.

*Data obtained from the World Bank development report and other sources. All data is from the year 2000 unless otherwise noted.

Historical background of the Colombian conflict

In order to understand Plan Colombia and the events leading up to its creation, it is important to have a basic understanding of Colombia's history, especially the last 100 years. A brief study of this period reveals the reasons why the country has been suffering from extremely violent episodes that have wreaked havoc on its social, cultural and economic conditions.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Colombia’s economic and political stability was disturbed by conflicts between the two ruling parties (Conservatives and Liberals), which erupted in "The War of a Thousand Days" (1899 to 1902). The war, which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives, only brought temporary peace.  In the late 1940s and 1950s, three times that number died during a period known as "La Violencia".  

The end of "La Violencia" came with the issuance of the "Declaration of Sitges" (1958), in which the Conservative and the Liberal party agreed to govern jointly as part of the National Front in order to keep the political and economic power in the hands of both political parties. The National Front government, aided by the Alliance for Progress (an inter-American program of economic assistance, which began in the 1960s), implemented social, political and economic reforms, established a political bipartisan system and drafted a new constitution.

Unfortunately, this did not solve the country's woes, and social injustice continued, especially affecting the middle and the lower economic classes. The resulting dissatisfaction manifested itself in the establishment and growth of guerrilla groups formed by liberal and communist ideologues and common citizens. Between 1964 and the 1970s, the groups consolidated to form four main guerrilla groups: "Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia" (FARC), "National Liberation Army" (ELN), "Popular Liberation Army" (EPL) and "M-19" (“April 19 Movement”, which later became a political party). Violence increased as the Colombian government, aided by the U.S., mobilized itself against these groups. 

During a downturn in the economy in the late 1970's, guerrilla warfare escalated and the Colombian government passed legislation that gave more freedom to the military, which unleashed a wave of generalized repression. Disappearances, torture, and political assassinations became common.

Between 1980 and 1982, several guerrilla groups participated in the kidnappings and killings of prominent and wealthy Colombian citizens, as well as the 1980 takeover of the Embassy of the Dominican Republic. Between 1982 and 1984, a handful of economically and politically influential citizens whose family members had been victimized by the guerrillas decided to take the law into their own hands and formed counter-guerrilla groups, which came to be known as paramilitary forces. Among the most prominent of these original groups were "Death to Kidnappers" (MAS) and "Peasants Self-Defense Units of Córdova and Urabá" (ACCU). Today the national paramilitary organization, headed by Carlos Castaño, is called the United Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC).  

The official origin of the paramilitaries dates back to the mid-60s when the Colombian government legalized civilian armament in order to counter guerrilla warfare. In 1989, however, the groups were made illegal and the government tried to disarm them, albeit unsuccessfully. The paramilitary groups grew in strength with the support of wealthy citizens, the drug industry and the unofficial aid and cooperation of the Colombian military, which considered them collaborators in the struggle against the guerrillas.

All three armed groups in Colombia - the paramilitaries, the guerrillas and the state's military forces - are known to be responsible, either directly or indirectly, for thousands of human rights violations each year, and the numbers are rising. Ten years ago, there were 100 reported kidnappings in Colombia; last year, 3706 were reported, according to "País Libre," a Colombian human rights organization. It is estimated that guerrillas carry out 75% of the kidnappings, while 10% are committed by paramilitaries. However, 80% of the total number of human rights violations in 2000 were attributed to the paramilitaries (mainly murders and displacements), who often work in tandem with the military. In the last decade, the groups were responsible for an estimated 35,000 murders, many of which took place in the form of massacres. Unfortunately, several attempts to end the violence by holding negotiation sessions and signing peace treaties with the guerrillas and paramilitary groups have failed.

The Colombian drug trade has a 40-year history. As in most Latin American countries, drugs grown in Colombia date back to pre-colonial times when the autochthonous plants were used in traditional ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. With the explosion of illegal drug use in the U.S. and Europe in the 60’s, however, local and foreign investment stimulated the production of large quantities of the mind-altering substances for North American and European consumption in the 1960's and 1970's. As the industry grew, the Colombian government, backed by other countries, began to fight it. Vulnerable, the drug traffickers consolidated their power in the form of "cartels" and fought government's efforts to destroy their trade.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, these cartels were responsible for many assassinations and violent attacks against the government and Colombian citizens, as well as violent acts committed among themselves.  As the drug problem infiltrated the political, social, cultural and economic spheres of society, the drug cartels financed guerrilla and paramilitary groups while supporting politicians and major leadership groups in the country.  

Over the years, the conflict and resulting violence have expanded throughout the region. Guerrilla, paramilitary and military warfare has become part of the reality of countries like Ecuador, Perú, Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia as the groups have expanded their influence in the region. Unfortunately, it is the citizens of Colombia and its neighbors countries who suffer most from the conflict: extreme poverty, displacement, destruction of crops, abuse of power, and death are only some of the consequences they must face.

Plan Colombia – Definition and funding   There have been numerous attempts over the years to bring an end to the violence and drug trafficking in Colombia. The latest is a proposal drafted by the Pastrana administration in 1999 called Plan Colombia, which is a comprehensive plan for peace, prosperity, and the strengthening of the state. In 1999 President Pastrana visited the U.S. to garner support for his proposal. In July 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion aid package as the U.S.' contribution to the plan and, in March 2001, President Bush and members of the U.S. Congress announced their desire to regionalize the plan and increase its budget.The plan includes ten strategies (economic, fiscal and financial, military, judicial and human rights, counter-narcotics, alternative development, social participation, human development, peace and international affairs) designed to address all aspects of the problems Colombia faces. These strategies include actions to stabilize the economy, promote trade and investment, stop drug activity at the production and trading levels, reform the judicial system, promote democratization and social development, and further the peace process in general.

The total budget for the Plan is $7.5 billion, of which the Colombian government originally pledged $4 billion, the U.S. $1.3 billion, and the European Union and other countries $2.2 billion.  To this day, full funding has not materialized. In October 2000 the European Union voted to contribute only $250 million and other nations such as Japan pledged only in the form of loans. In addition, Colombia has yet to come up with the $4 billion they committed to the Plan.


Of the money committed by the U.S., $860.3 was earmarked for Colombia, $180 million for aid to other countries, and $223.5 million for the budgets of U.S. agencies in the region. Of the $860.3 million allocated to Colombia, $687.3 million is going to military and police assistance, $68.5 million to alternative development, $51 million to human rights, $37.5 million to the displaced, $13 million to judicial reform, and $3 million to the peace process. 

Until now, the majority of the money for Plan Colombia has gone toward the military offensive in the southern region of the country. The money pledged to neighboring countries totals $180 million, of which $32 million was given to Peru, $110 million to Bolivia, $20 million to Ecuador, and $18 million to other countries in the region. Of the $180 million, $87 million was put toward the military anti-narcotic effort. In addition, the U.S. government obtained permission from the Ecuadorian government to install a military base in the city-port of Manta. Though the base is not officially part of Plan Colombia, its purpose is to carry out surveillance of drug cultivation and trafficking activity, especially in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and the Caribbean.

Plan Colombia - Effects in Ecuador

Plan Colombia is designed to eradicate drug crops, put a stop to the violence and raise the socio-economic level in Colombia, but the effects of the plan are not limited to within the country's borders. All four nations that border Colombia face certain repercussions and have reacted in various ways to the plan. The two nations that have openly voiced their support are Peru, which happened only after Fujimori resigned and an interim prime minister was appointed, and Ecuador. Both Venezuela and Brazil have made clear their intention to withhold support.

It is Ecuador that faces the greatest danger as the Colombian military sprays coca fields and violence escalates in the southern Putumayo region of Colombia. The main consequences in Ecuador of the military push south in Colombia are the arrival of hundreds of refugees, the spillover of violence and the possibility of coca cultivation and processing on Ecuadorian soil. These are problems that would confound any nation, but Ecuador in its weak and vulnerable socio-economic and political condition is especially susceptible to their negative consequences.

In the past three to four years Ecuador has experienced several shocks at the national level that have affected all levels of society. Beginning with President Abdalá Bucaram's fall from power in 1997, the nation entered a period of political and economic instability that worsened when dozens of banks closed their doors in March 1999 and the government of President Jamil Mahuad froze all bank accounts in the country. Then, in June 1999, Ecuador shocked the world when it defaulted on its repayment of Brady Bonds lent by the U.S. The country's situation deteriorated further in 1999 when President Jamil Mahuad announced that the country would dollarize its economy. This led thousands of indigenous and other citizens, with the support of the army, to march to Quito in January 2000 and attempt a popular revolt that resulted in his flight from office. Though meant to reverse the decision to dollarize, the revolt did not succeed - Vice President Noboa became president and continued with the same socio-economic policies.

Effects of these crises and overall deterioration have been profound. The country's sub- and unemployment rate rose to 74.9% in 2000, inflation skyrocketed to 91% in the same year and external debt is now at $14.2 billion. Economic measures are periodically forced upon the population to maintain compliance with the regulations of international lenders' (IMF and World Bank). These measures generally result in popular protests and indigenous uprisings. Amidst all of this, "discoveries" of corruption among government and business officials routinely appear in the news, disillusioning the public. With little hope for the future, hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians have left the country in search of employment abroad.

It is no wonder, then, that the country, while officially supportive of Plan Colombia, fears its consequences. Ecuador is dealing with the effects at the national level but it is in the north that the effects are most immediate. The province of Sucumbios lies directly south of the region of Putumayo in Colombia, in the Amazon region of Ecuador. Despite being one of the main centers of oil production in Ecuador, Sucumbios lacks a potable drinking water system, a sanitary sewage system, paved roads and consistent electricity service. In addition, its education and health care systems are underdeveloped and inadequate, and sub- and unemployment rates in the province rival national levels.

This reality is shared by the jungle province of Orellana, south of Sucumbios. In the other border provinces of Carchi, in the Sierra region, and Esmeraldas, on the coast, infrastructure is more developed. However, should the effects of the Plan further encroach upon Ecuadorian territory, these provinces will also be forced to deal with consequences for which they are not prepared.

Sucumbios began to work on its response to Plan Colombia when the plan was announced. The Plan of Contingency, developed and executed by the state, the Church of St. Michael in Sucumbios (ISAMIS), and the UN High Commission for Human Rights (ACNUR), is Ecuador's answer to the refugee problem in Sucumbios. Since August, those in charge of the joint effort have registered the refugees, operated two refugee centers and provided other forms of support, including the provision of basic health care and food coupons. In anticipation of the arrival of still more Colombians, they also constructed a facility in the area to house 5,000 people. Though the Plan of Contingency has addressed the refugees' most immediate needs, there still exists the issue of employing those eligible to work. Jobless, they remain idle in the homes of relatives and friends or in the refugee centers. If displacement of Colombians continues at the same rate and other funds are not procured, funding for the plan, currently provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (ACNUR), will run out.

Sucumbios faces not only the displacement of Colombians to Ecuador but also the displacement of its own citizens. In January and February of this year, due to the escalation of the guerrilla-paramilitary-army warfare in the Putumayo area, the members of four indigenous communities at the very edge of the province were forced to leave their homes under threats of death. Over 300 Ecuadorian citizens have sought refuge in Sucumbios, Quito and other parts of the country. Ultimately, they want to return to their homes but it is unclear whether they will be able to while Plan Colombia is in operation.

At the national level, Ecuador has other problems to address. The Base in Manta has been called a compromise of Ecuador's neutrality by some. Certain anti-U.S. groups in Colombia view the base as a sign of Ecuador's willingness to collaborate with "the enemy." In addition, should the war regionalize as is feared, the government might take money from other parts of the national budget to spend on defense and beef up the military. This will lead to further militarization of the state, a result almost guaranteed since Dr. Moeller received $150 million from the U.S. in this March including a percentage to fortify military patrols of the Ecuadorian-Colombian border.

There are also concerns about the health and environmental effects of the sprayings and the growth of the drug industry in Ecuador. Although the sprayings are taking place only in Colombia, the chemical Glyphosate can be carried by air and water over the border. Officially not harmful to the environment or humans, the chemical is being blamed for illnesses reported since last summer. It has also been proven that the chemical is not only destroying drug crops but other plants as well. “Acción Ecológica”, an environmental organization in Ecuador, has reported that crops in Sucumbios are suffering the effects of the arrival of the chemical to Ecuadorian soil.

One criticism of eradication efforts such as Plan Colombia is that if cultivation is destroyed in one region, it will increase in others, commonly known as the balloon effect. This effect is already been seen in Ecuador. Between January and March of this year, three drug-processing plants were discovered and destroyed in Sucumbios. In addition, Ecuadorians fear that some of the displaced and idle Colombians will resort to the only means of making a living that they know – coca cultivation.

Perhaps the most immediate fear of the Ecuadorian population, especially in the northern provinces, is an increase in violence resulting from the Colombian conflict. There have already been documented cases of murders between paramilitaries, guerrillas and military forces of Colombia and Ecuador, violent acts committed by Colombians against Ecuadorians and vice versa and disappearances of civilians by military forces in both countries. The provinces of Esmeraldas, Sucumbios and Carchi are among the four provinces in the country with the most homicides.

Plan Colombia – Final considerations

According to Noam Chomsky, drug production and trafficking is the second-largest source of national income in the world, after gun production and sales. The economic and political power of the industry can be extremely dangerous to nations that border major drug-producing countries. In Colombia, the level of corruption and the influence of drug trafficking has turned the country into what academics call a narco-state. As such, the nation’s influence in the region and the implications of its plan to eradicate its drug industry have all five neighboring countries on edge. They fear the possibility of becoming narco-states themselves, should Colombia “succeed”.

Social scientists agree that U.S. support was granted after careful consideration and prioritization of its interests. Among these interests are oil, minerals, forest resources, and, perhaps more remote a possibility but certainly valid, water, claimed by many to be the future’s most valuable and scarce resource. Some think that in order to protect these interests outside its borders, the U.S. is supporting Plan Colombia in order to have military and political influence in the region. Taking this theory one step further, it is logical that the U.S. would want to destroy leftist army forces, who could block access to their interests. The Base in Manta could also function to support these interests.


One of the most worrisome aspects of the plan is its emphasis on the military solution. The fact that it ignores human rights violations, destruction of the environment and civil unrest led the European Union to withdraw its economic support for the plan and insist upon development projects in the area. Local organizations are using the same reasoning when asking governments to reconsider their support and alternatively consider projects that will promote local and national development, create jobs, promote environmental protection, and stop drug use at the demand end and not only at the production level.

Document prepared by Ecumenical Commission of Human Rights, Ecuador, March 16 2001.

p All monetary amounts in this document are given in U.S. dollars.

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