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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Pastrana's legacy of failure
Colombian village
Decades of war have devastated parts of the country

After President Ernesto Samper handed over power in 1998 Colombians thought that at least things could not get worse.

Now as President Andres Pastrana's term draws to a close, things are worse.

When Mr Pastrana took over as president, hopes for the future of Colombia were high.


The Pastrana legacy will be the most violent phase of the 38-year civil conflict

Here was a president who had good relations with the United States, was not tainted with corruption, had plans to kick-start the economy and who pledged to make peace with the Marxist guerrillas.

Well four years later relations with the US are good.

The flagship policy of the Pastrana administration was the peace process with the country's largest rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In 1998, in what was seen as an audacious move, Mr Pastrana granted the rebels a demilitarised zone of 42,000 square kilometres (16,220 square miles) as the venue for peace talks - with no conditions.

No planning

The granting of the safe haven was indicative of the whole peace process; there was no planning, no foresight.

As there were no conditions attached to the zone and its estimated 100,000 inhabitants - none of whom had been consulted about whether they wanted to live under guerrilla rule - the rebels did exactly what they pleased.

Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana
Andres Pastrana presided over a time of violence and instability

The safe haven was used to train new cadres, - perhaps with the help of the IRA - import arms, exports drugs and recruit minors.

The agenda for the peace talks was no better prepared.

The first high commissioner for peace, Victor G Ricardo had no blueprint for negotiations, and had not studied other peace processes in the region to learn the lessons of their successes and failures.

He thought that sitting around with the guerrillas, chatting and drinking whisky would result in the rebels laying down their arms.

"Even we could not believe it," said a FARC source in San Vicente del Caguan, the capital of the former safe haven, "we were in the driving seat right from the start and we set the pace."

Inertia

And the pace was slow, often actually moving backwards as the rebels continued their attacks across the country, sometimes using the safe haven to launch attacks, then scurrying back in before the Colombian military had time to respond.

FARC rebels
Rebels used the safe have to stage attacks

By early 2002 the Colombian public had had enough and intense pressure was brought to bear on Mr Pastrana who had now become politically impotent.

So when in February the FARC hijacked a domestic flight and kidnapped a senator from it, he gave the rebels four hours to evacuate the zone and sent in the military.

Amid boasts of catching guerrilla leaders and decimating guerrilla units the army invaded, their plans prepared long ago.

They did not catch a single guerrilla leader, nor decimate any rebel columns. The FARC just melted back into the jungle from where they had emerged to start talks in 1998.

No solutions

The process with the second guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was also called off by Mr Pastrana, despite the fact the group has been looking for a negotiated solution to allow it to sign a peace agreement since 1997.

FARC flag
The FARC remain a powerful force in Colombia

The other central strut of the Pastrana government was called Plan Colombia, a seven billion dollar scheme to attack drugs trafficking, thus undermining the finances of the warring factions, coupled with social investment.

The US provided $1.3bn in mostly military aid for the war on drugs.

Europe refused to have anything to do with it and the Colombian Government could not find the funds to fulfil its part of the plan.

"During my government we seized more than 100 tons of cocaine," boasted Mr Pastrana, and with US finance, the anti-narcotics police fumigated 250,000 hectares of coca, the raw material for cocaine and more than 20,000 hectares of opium poppy, used to produce heroin.

Yet today the prices of cocaine and heroin are cheaper, the drugs are purer than ever before and there is no interruption in supply. Cultivation is at record levels.

Such has been the perceived weakness of the Pastrana administration that the right-wing paramilitaries have enjoyed explosive growth over the last four years.

Rebels on the rise

They have almost tripled their numbers to 12,000, and have carried out a campaign of massacres and assassinations across the country, fighting the guerrillas in areas the state could not.

President Alvaro Uribe
New President Alvaro Uribe has pledged an anti-FARC crackdown

Crime has become endemic. There are now more than 26,000 homicides a year in Colombia, making it one of the most dangerous nations on earth.

Reported kidnappings run at 3,000 a year - one every three hours.

The economy is in a slightly better state than it was in 1998, in that the country is no longer in recession.

But unemployment levels are running at 18%, more than half of the population now lives in poverty and the state is burdened with massive debts that it will have difficulty servicing, let alone paying off.

There have been some successes for Mr Pastrana; most particularly in the international sphere.

With rare personal charm, Mr Pastrana has taken Colombia from a pariah state to the third largest recipient of American aid in the world.

President George W Bush has pledged to assist the country in its struggle against the warring factions, adding Colombia to the US crusade on terrorism.

Not only have Colombian guerrillas been put on the US terrorism list, but also that of Europe, something unthinkable before 11 September.

Inadequate army

The security forces have been much strengthened by Mr Pastrana, in no small part thanks to help from the US.

US President George W Bush
President Bush has promised more aid

The number of professional soldiers has been increased, and for the first time in many years the military has been able to take the offensive against rebels and paramilitaries.

However more than half of the country is still dominated by the warring factions, and the number of troops and the military budget is still pitifully inadequate for the task of restoring order.

The sum of the Pastrana years is best revealed in the man picked to replace him.

Alvaro Uribe was elected as the man who had always spoken out against the Pastrana peace process, who insisted that the security forces had to be doubled and the rebels had to be forced to make peace at the end of a rifle.

The Pastrana legacy will be the most violent phase of the 38-year civil conflict.


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01 Aug 02 | Americas
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