Monday, December 08, 2008

Colombia Drug War: Failure or Best Kept Secret?

Foreign Policy magazine lists its "Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008." Number 2 is "Colombian Coca Production Increases."

Coca is a serious destabilizer—keeping Colombia’s rebels armed and the country’s progress in check. But after almost a decade, U.S.-assisted efforts to reduce the crop’s production in Colombia haven’t just failed; they’ve been downright counterproductive. Plan Colombia was meant to improve security, stamp out drug cultivation, and improve law and order after a decades-long conflict with leftist militants. But coca cultivation rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2006, an October 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found. A separate U.N. study found that in 2007 alone, the area of land hosting coca crops rose 27 percent. To put it mildly, something is not working.

Coca, the base crop for cocaine, has funded the operations of various paramilitaries and the rebel group FARC for decades. Although Colombian military operations have severely hampered FARC’s activities during the last several years, the drug trade continues apace. Aerial spraying and manual eradication have had temporary effects, but coca farmers tend to grow the lucrative crop again because there’s rarely an equally profitable alternative. The GAO reckons that many farmers have moved to more remote areas to avoid the eradication efforts. Meanwhile, the market value of coca rose by roughly $450 per kilogram in 2007 to more than $2,000.

The United States has spent $6 billion on Plan Colombia, but Colombia still supplies 90 percent of U.S. cocaine. Time for a rethink on the drug war?

Hard to argue with. Unless you are drug czar John Walters, who writes, "Our policy has been a success -- although that success is one of Washington's best kept secrets."


Steven Taylor 10:44 AM  

I will register my vote for "failure" (although its failure is a pretty well guarded secret, if one counts mainstream press coverage).

Boli-Nica 6:16 AM  

To quote from the article, "Plan Colombia was meant":

1."to improve security" 2. , "stamp out drug cultivation", and 3. improve law and order after a decades-long conflict."

According to that criteria it would seem that while failing in erradication Plan Colombia has been a success in numbers 1. and 3. Some would say an unqualified success. If anyone would have told me 15 years ago that Venezuela would have a higher murder rate than Colombia, that the FARC would suffer severe military defeats, and that foreign investments would be in the billions I would have said they were crazy.

In the end, to say "Plan Colombia" has been a "total failure" is highly misleading. The correct thing to say is that "efforts at erradication" under Plan Colombia have been un-succesful.

Michelle 11:25 AM  

Shameless self-promotion:
Aug 2008 JLAS article. :)

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