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Colombia plan benefiting US military contractors Print
AP, BOGOTA - Jun 17, 2007

US defense contractors are receiving nearly half the money allotted by Washington to fight cocaine trafficking and leftist rebels in Colombia, throwing into doubt their mission to train Colombians to replace them.

When US defense contractors were first hired by the US government in 2000 to help the Colombian government under the multibillion-dollar Plan Colombia aid package, US officials assumed the contractors would be gradually replaced as they trained Colombians.
But a recent US State Department report showed that more US aid going to private companies, igniting criticism of the spending in Congress.

"We need to be working ourselves out of a job in Colombia, but these contracts are creating dependency on US contractors and are not helping build a sustainable or peaceful Colombia," Democratic Congressman Sam Farr said.

Colombia, the largest recipient of US aid outside of the Middle East and Afghanistan, is in the midst of five-decade civil conflict that pits rebels against far-right death squads and the government, a battle in part funded by the world's largest cocaine industry.

The state and defense departments spent about US$300 million on private contractors last year, just under half of the roughly US$630 million in US military aid for Colombia.

In 2002, private contractors got about US$150 million of the roughly US$400 million destined for Colombia's security forces.

The past decade has seen a major increase in US government use of military contractors around the world, with billions spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it was in Colombia that the policy got its trial run.

Last year, Dyncorp International Inc, whose pilots fumigate coca fields with armored crop dusters, took in US$164 million for work in Colombia, the State Department report showed, or a quarter of all aid destined for Colombia's military and police. That was double what Dyncorp got in 2002.

Lockheed Martin Corp, which does much of the maintenance for Colombia's air fleet, saw the value of its contracts more than triple over the same four years to about US$80 million.

Critics already were questioning the effectiveness of US aid in Colombia. Despite record drug eradication efforts -- the bulk of it carried out by the contractors -- a US survey earlier this month found coca planting in Colombia rose for a third consecutive year last year.
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