Slow Progress, Grim Outlook
By Carolin Krauss for ISN Security Watch
Slow Progress in the War on Drugs in Colombia
"The world's appetite for cocaine remains stable but uneven, declining in the United States while increasing in Europe." According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's 2005 Colombia Coca Survey (PDF · 118 pages · 6.7 MB), "In 2005, more than two-thirds of the supply came from Colombia, where coca cultivation increased by 8 percent over 2004: a discouraging outcome taking into account the resolute efforts of the Colombian government to eradicate this illicit cultivation."
The principal actor in the war against the cultivation of illicit crops, drug production and trafficking in Colombia are Colombian authorities with support of the US government. Since 2000, the US has backed the country's efforts with financial aid for "Plan Colombia," a multi-year counternarcotics, counterterrorism and development program.
One of the elements of the plan aims at reducing the illegal drug economy by 50 percent over six years.
Authorities have adopted a variety of strategies to counteract coca cultivation, cocaine production and trafficking. Aerial spraying has been the most heavily used tool in the war on drugs since the end of the 1970s, and its employment has intensified since the mid-1990s.
Even if aerial spraying of illicit crops in the short-run leads to a reduction of the cultivated area, fumigation is not likely to keep up with the geographic mobility of coca fields and the increasing productivity crops have reached.
In order to achieve the reduction of cocaine manufacturing, the range of strategies in the war on drugs has to be further diversified and more emphasis has to be put on alternative measures.
Influences of the illicit drug industry on the economy
Colombia's economy has felt the impact of the illegal drug industry less than the political system. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the effect of this industry on the country's financial sector has been quite large.
During the 1970s and 1980s the drug business generated real estate booms in several cities and regions, revalued the Colombian peso and encouraged contraband imports. These were perceived by most citizens as positive. In the short term drug revenues even boosted the construction sector and thereby created jobs for the lower class. During the 1990s, the negative effects became sharply noticeable when illegal drugs became the main funding source for left-wing guerrilla and right-wing paramilitary groups. Currently, the impact of the illegal drug business can be felt all over the country; in employment, income inequality, landownership and money laundering.
The Illegal drug business and Colombian society
It is clear that the social, along with the economic situation in the country are relevant for the illegal drug business and that this business at the same time has had a huge influence on Colombian society and social changes. Nevertheless, developments are always under the influence of other interrelated factors such as the internal conflict and political instability in general.
Socioeconomic factors such as poverty, marginalization, unequal distribution of wealth and income as well as a lack of alternatives and respect for law are explanations for the rising growth of illicit drug-related activities in Colombia. Other factors include the absence of a strong state, the armed conflict and the geographical characteristics of the country. The illicit drug business is highly profitable and the areas in which it is most prevalent are economically precarious. In many cases, small farmers are forced by drug lords to face the choice between cultivating coca or leaving their territory.
Impact of the illegal drug industry on the environment
The cultivation of coca has three main impacts on the environment: the deforestation and the resulting destruction of the habitat caused by clearing the fields for new growing areas; soil erosion; and air, soil and water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides.
In the stage of processing the raw crops to coca paste and cocaine, further destructive and polluting consequences on the environment occur.
Coca eradication practices give further rise to environmental concerns. The most prominent example is fumigation of coca crops with herbicides, which are not only effective in eradicating coca, but are highly toxic to human beings as well as the entire flora and fauna.
The influence of the illicit drug industry on foreign relations
Economic relations between Colombia and the US have a long history and have come to be an important topic for both countries. For Colombia, the US is the most important trading partner, accounting for about 45 percent of Colombian exports and 30 percent of the imports.
Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Ecuador in recent years have been heavily influenced by the the former's war on drugs. Aerial spraying in the departments of Putumayo and Nariño close to the Ecuadorian border led to serious diplomatic disagreements between the two countries.
Outlook: Perspectives for the future
The facts presented in this dossier show that it has not and will not be easy to achieve a reduction of the illegal drug industry in Colombia. The huge profits generated and the many interests at stake impede a fast progress in the war on drugs.
In December 2006, the Colombian government launched a new counterinsurgency strategy for the southern part of the country, Plan Victoria, which replaces Plan Patriota, a strategy that was seen as the military component of Plan Colombia. Furthermore, the Colombian government announced that a five-year consolidation phase of Plan Colombia would start soon, aiming at strengthening the accomplishments of the 2000-2006 phase.
The 2007 goal of the Colombian government was to destroy another 50,000 hectares of coca using mobile eradication groups. Additionally, it will further expand programs that create alternative employment opportunities such as the Alternative Municipal Development Areas (ADAM) and the More Investment in Alternative Sustainable Development (MIDAS), which seek to support forest warden families and families that are involved in productive projects. These projects aim at improving the forest and agrarian sector, strengthening small and medium agricultural companies, reaching displaced persons and generating legal employment options for them. Another target group of alternative development programs are coffee planters. The projects seek to enhance productivity, improve quality, obtain certificates, guarantee marketing and thus turn coffee plantations into a more rewarding alternative for small farmers.
Clearly, in order to achieve progress, the strategies have to be further diversified and more emphasis has to be put on social programs in addition to existing ones. Furthermore, national and international operations and strategies have to be closely coordinated.
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