Plan Colombia

U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 8 illustrations Published: October 2018

History > U.S. History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Politics > Political Science

For more than fifty years, the United States supported the Colombian military in a war that cost over 200,000 lives. During a single period of heightened U.S. assistance known as Plan Colombia, the Colombian military killed more than 5,000 civilians. In Plan Colombia John Lindsay-Poland narrates a 2005 massacre in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community and the subsequent investigation, official cover-up, and response from the international community. He examines how the multibillion-dollar U.S. military aid and official indifference contributed to the Colombian military's atrocities. Drawing on his human rights activism and interviews with military officers, community members, and human rights defenders, Lindsay-Poland describes grassroots initiatives in Colombia and the United States that resisted militarized policy and created alternatives to war. Although they had few resources, these initiatives offered models for constructing just and peaceful relationships between the United States and other nations. Yet, despite the civilian death toll and documented atrocities, Washington, DC, considered Plan Colombia's counterinsurgency campaign to be so successful that it became the dominant blueprint for U.S. military intervention around the world.


"Most studies of human rights violations approach cases at the national level and offer little insight into how U.S. military aid is territorialized. . . . By tracking the career trajectories of Colombian officers, Lindsay-Poland directs our attention to a shared war, and to a common counterinsurgent expertise, developed between the United States and Colombia over the course of 50 years." — Emma Shaw Crane, NACLA

"[This] book is accessible to scholars, activists, and lay readers interested in human rights." — Naomi Gonzalez, Journal of Military History

“[Lindsay-Poland] achieves the ultimate goal of challenging the narrative of the success of the Plan Colombia. . . .  Plan Columbia also opens up more research avenues for historians to ask hard questions not only about the Plan Colombia, but about other similar programs implemented in other regions of the world.”

— Kyle Longley, American Historical Review

“Readers will be outraged and inspired in equal parts by John Lindsay-Poland's excellent Plan Colombia. Poland's book is an indispensable guide to Washington's indefensible policies in Colombia, as well as an empathetic survey of courageous grassroots activism.” — Greg Grandin, author of The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

“Often our greatest enemy is ignorance, and this can certainly be applied to what we don’t know about Colombia. This book by John Lindsay-Poland will educate us. With his extensive knowledge of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and many years of experience in Colombia, he has given us an important book we should all read.” — Roy Bourgeois, Founder, SOA Watch

“With enormous sensitivity and respect for human life, John Lindsay-Poland tells the stories of ordinary Colombians who put their lives on the line for peace. No one possesses his grasp of events or such a tremendous heart. Plan Colombia is an enormous contribution.” — Robin Kirk, author of More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America’s War in Colombia

"Lindsay Poland has given us an exceptionally well-documented chronicle about an almost unimaginable tragedy, and done so with graceful style and uncommon sensitivity. Highly recommended." — Lars G. Schoultz


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Lindsay-Poland is Healing Justice Associate at the American Friends Service Committee and author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Abbreviations  ix
Acknowledgments  xiii
Prologue  1
Introduction: Challenging American Exceptionalism  7
1. The Longest War: U.S. Military Influence in Colombia, 1952-1995  26
2. War on the Frontier  38
3. How Plan Colombia Was Sold  51
4. "We Want a Witness": Accompaniment in San José de Apartadó 64
5. Mapping Our War: Where Did U.S. Aid in Colombia Go?  83
6. Killing the Future  101
7. Projects of Life  123
8. Massacre Aftermath and Cover-Up  140
9. Widespread and Systematic: The Dynamics of "Legalized" Murder  151
10. The United States Effect: Impacts on "False Positive" Killings  164
11. Investigation of the Massacre  183
12. An Encounter with Power  198
13. Judicial Warfare  210
14. U.S. Policy Lessons  220
Conclusion: The Arc of Impunity  226
Notes 233
Bibliography  273
Index  281
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, Colombianistas Award for research books from the Asociación de Colombianistas

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0153-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0118-8
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