Plan Colombia: A $5 Billion Failure?

The U.S. has spent more than $5 billion on military and anti-narcotics aid for Colombia in recent years. In a new article for Slate, Ray Fisman points to a new paper that analyzes conflict and coca production in areas with and without Army bases to determine the impact of all that aid. The researchers found that U.S. military aid is associated with increased paramilitary attacks and fewer anti-narcotics operations. “There’s also some evidence that U.S. dollars may have been channeled to paramilitaries to intimidate voters and keep its government allies in power,” writes Fisman. “Greater U.S. aid is associated with a decline in voter turnout, concentrated in municipalities with Army bases.” (HT: Daniel Lippman) [%comments]


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  1. Susan Goding says:

    Don’t expect facts to challenge anyones beliefs.

    Some people talk about the Iraq and Afganistan wars draining our budget. The “war against drugs” is another pointless, voluntary war that enriches the military industrial complex while robbing our’s and our neighbors’ children’s future.

    I heard on French TV that 20% of drugs bound for the US were transited through Haiti. Look what is happening in Mexico. We need to legalize drugs now. This drug war is a costly failure. Good governance would have accepted that the costs far outweigh the benefit. Unfortunately, good governance is not the point of our legislators who have done their own cost benefit analysis and found that wars, any wars, benefit them and damn the costs to us.

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  2. picky says:

    > to determine the impact of all that aid

    Sorry to be picky but meteors, teeth, bombs and other disasters impact things. I sure hope development aid affects things and doesn’t impact them.

    Just because ‘to effect’ and ‘to affect’ are a little confusing to distinguish is no reason resort to ‘to impact’ for everything.

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  3. AaronS says:

    Just read yesterday of (I think) Vancouver’s attempt to reduce criminality, etc., by giving heroin addicts fixes each day.

    I”ve never been an addict, but I once had to take hydrocodone for some complications…and I can tell you that I honestly began to question why anyone would want to withhold this from the rest of the world!

    I also noticed something else….

    So long as I had plenty of pills in the bottle, ready to combat my pain as it arose, I was confident and happy. But when I was running low, thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have enough to combat the terrible pain I was then experiencing, or wondering if my doctor might cut me off, well, to be honest, I experienced anxiety.

    I thought it was informative that one of the heroin addicts that is receiving fixes each day implied that that now that he no longer has to keep thinking of where his next fix is coming from, he has actually started to think about his life in a bigger way.

    Further, the expenses associated with heroin addiction were GREATLY reduced simply by giving these people a fix.

    We hate that, don’t we? We feel like we’re giving in to something bad. But the truth is that these people are GOING to search out heroin–legally or illegally. Somehow, they got themselves entangled and cannot just quit–even with various treatments. So maybe in such cases we ought to do something counter-intuitive?

    If opiates were legal, a lot of the crime around it would go away.

    I’m a conservative, fundamentalist Christian (almost), and yet I have to honestly wonder, WHAT’S WRONG WITH EUPHORIA?

    It is our criminalization of euphoric drugs that makes these people criminals. If we criminalized beer, we’d have a lot more criminals.

    I simply think that, AT LEAST IN MY EXPERIENCE, it would be nice to use such medications (I don’t any longer, though) to “cool down” after a long day. And the fact that you could get more at any time, with no hassle, well, that takes the criminal element out of it.

    Further, wouldn’t it be nice if the high-crime areas of our nation could freely have drugs that calm the emotions, enhance many positive feelings, and so forth?

    Believe me, I know the arguments. We’ve seen that what we’ve been doing is not working particularly well.

    Those who WANT drugs–or have to have them–will usually find a way, usually illegal. Those who don’t, well, they won’t be affected by the decriminalization, I don’t think.

    There will ALWAYS be abusers. Some folks drink whiskey and it makes for a good conversation and so forth. Others abuse it and wind up in the gutter. Some people will abuse drugs…most won’t. If abuse is the issue, then we have no reason not to go back to Prohibition days regarding whiskey.

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  4. PabloV says:

    Of all the economics blogs I read, “Freaconomics” is the only one in which I never expected to see such a post.

    First of all, it’s extremely missleading to the uninformed reader. I don’t mean to ignore the (many) problems that Colombia has with paramilitaries at the moment, but this post will probably leave most people with the feeling that U.S. military aid has been almost exclusively used to mantain a paramilitary regime in power. Regardless of what one’s feelings of Uribe’s presidency are (and, I must add, mine are mostly negative), his presidency AND U.S. military aid definetly helped to ensure that Colombia did not become a failed state in the 1990s.

    The costs and benefits of “Plan Colombia” are harder to measure than what the article, the paper and the post let on. Granted, cocaine production hasn’t decreased, but mainly because coca crop productivity has increased greatly and (as always) demand has not budged. But, in part thanks to U.S. aid, the threat of the FARC (one of the biggest and most powerful guerrillas) taking over the government (very real a decade ago) has subsided and kidnappings and terrorist attacks have greatly decreased. As a result, the general sentiment towards the U.S. in Colombia is way, way better than the regional average. Quite honestly, I think it’s even easier to justify U.S. military aid to Colombia than to many other countries, say, Israel for example.

    I agree that the world must reconsider its war against ilegal drugs, but that’s a different matter. As writters in a very popular blog, you guys should be a little more careful on giving a much more global perspective on a very complicated, and very controversial, issue.

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  5. PabloV says:

    Pondering on my previous comment, I remembered a paper written by two professors of the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota that use a game theory model to deal with the different objectives that Colombia and the U.S. have with Plan Colombia.

    Basically, the U.S wants to reduce the amount of drugs that arrive to its shores, and Colombia wants to reduce the overall costs of its own war against drugs (including winning its fight against illegal armies).

    It took me a while to find a link (see below) but the paper does help to illustrate my point that the problem with Plan Colombia is not that drug production hasn’t decreased, but that its success cannot be measured exclusively in that sense.

    The link:

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  6. Kevin says:

    I wonder how a $5b subsidy on an alternative crop might’ve provided an incentive to grow something else?

    Colombian farmers grow coca because they earn a living on it. But if some non-narcotic alternative were commanding a better rate, say bamboo or sugarcane, who knows what might happen to coca production?

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  7. TsaiCMS says:

    Evidence demonstrates that U.S military aid is not overly helping Colombia with its internal military and drug conflicts (although explicit analysis should be made to reveal any confounding variables to eliminate any chance of a type 1 error).

    Assuming the evidence is substantiated, a simple cost-benefit analysis would show that the U.S should back out from Colombia. The opportunity cost of the money spent in Colombia is huge, it can easily be argued that such taxpayers’ money can be used to improve something else, something directly involving, and improving taxpayers’ lives.

    Then why stay in Colombia?
    The U.S army probably hold on to the fact that there -IS- a lurking variable in the evidence, and it is something else that is preventing Colombia’s problem to be solved. Also, the U.S has somewhat created a responsibility of an older brother, as to protect allied countries from harm. Such allies hold the idea of democracy dearest, the very most important principle of the United States.

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  8. Mark S. says:

    I thought the basic premise for Plan Colombia was to ultimately reduce drug related street crime in the USA. The rationale and approach may have been uneconomical and counterproductive but the desired result has actually been achieved. Thanks to competition from Mexican produced Meth and Taliban produced Heroin, Cocaine and other drugs are cheaper than ever before in history and not worth having violent drug wars over. $5 billion aid is cheap compared to what we will have spent in Afghanistan to stop a drug empire that is much larger to begin with.

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