Plan Lazo and the Alliance for Progress

Bogotá, December 17, 1961. "Here is inaugurated the first school of 22,000 to be constructed by the Colombian government within the Alliance for Progress with the assistance of the President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy."

Anti-Communist Programs

Movimiento Revolucionario Liberal

Civic Action Programs

CIA Survey Teams

Hunter Killer Teams

Marquetalia and the FARC

In 1958, Liberal and Conservative party representatives met in Stiges, Spain to form the National Front coalition government. Under this arrangement, which would last for the next last 16 years, all elected and political posts would be split evenly between the parties, and the office of the presidency would alternate between them every four years. La violencia, it seemed, had come to an end.

Then on January 1st, 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. Che Guevara began traveling all over South America, promoting the Cuban revolution. Two years later, Prime Minister Nikita Khruschev announced that the Soviet Union would support "wars of liberation" around the world. This remark was taken as a serious threat by the United States. While the possibility of nuclear war loomed ominous, the Western hemisphere seemed even more vulnerable to wars of liberation. Many rural parts of Colombia, in particular, were still under the control of liberal and conservative bandas. This was a weakness that could be exploited by the so-called forces of international communism.

In the 1950s, hemispheric security had been defined in terms of naval vessals and air forces, but now the balance of power seemed to have shifted. At the urging of President Lleras, in January of 1961, President Kennedy signed Presidential Determination No. 61-14. Military aid which had been provided for hemispheric defense could now be used for internal security purposes.

Colombia's Internal Defense Plan, called "Plan Lazo" -- which translates into English as "Plan Lasso" -- was based on a carrot and stick model. Bandoleros who had not laid down their arms in 1958 were to be exterminated, by tracking them down and shooting them on sight. On several occasions the bodies of the slain bandits were strapped to helicopter landing gear and flown from town to town to demonstrate the army's success.

The carrot consisted of various civic action or "attractor" programs -- building homes, roads, organizing youth camps and providing university grants through private foundations, as well as anti-communist labor operations. Many of the civic action programs played a dual role as intelligence collectors for the hunter killer teams.

The program was generally modeled after a successful counterinsurgency program in the Philippines, and was similar to the Phoenix Program in Viet Nam, which took place at the same time. This was the beginning of a larger U.S aid program for all of Latin America, called the Alliance for Progress. Latin American nations would be developed and modernized, and their internal security would be strengthened.

In Colombia, these efforts to wipe out the last of the bandoleros re-ignited the violence which had substantially decreased after the Stiges agreement. Anti-government forces became organized on a national scale under the banner of the communist FARC. The government in Bogotá seemed oppressive and remote; its civic action programs could not overcome the terror of the counterguerrilla teams.

In addition to State Dept and Embassy records, Interagency MAAG and USAID records are included above, and the Colombia file (circa 1964) of the U.S. Army History Library at Fort McNair.

Copyright Paul Wolf, 2002-2004