Friday, July 30, 2010

Plan Colombia and Mexico

Gustavo Flores-Macías has an op-ed in the New York Times discussing the lessons Mexico can take from Colombia with regard to the drug war.

The problem is that the two countries have ignored a fundamental lesson from the Colombian experience: foreign aid, security cooperation and judicial reform were necessary but not sufficient conditions for reducing violence. Plan Colombia succeeded because, at the same time that it stepped up its antidrug efforts, Colombia aggressively reformed its tax system and greatly improved government accountability. Unless Mexico can do the same, antidrug efforts there will fail.

Two thoughts came to mind.  First, it is nice to see reiteration of the fact that a militarized solution just won't work on its own.  Tax collection is indeed a critical but not very sexy aspect of governance.

Second, I don't believe I have seen anyone write "Plan Colombia succeeded."  It has always been largely drug-oriented, and as such simply cannot be considered successful.  As the World Drug Report shows us, coca cultivation in 2008 was roughly the same as in 1998.  There are ups and downs in cultivation, but even the downs remain quite high.  In 2005, a Congressional Research Report concluded the following:

While there has been measurable progress in Colombia’s internal security, as indicated by decreases in violence, and in the eradication of drug crops, no effect has been seen with regard to price, purity, and availability of cocaine and heroin in the United States. Military operations against illegally armed groups have intensified, but the main leftist guerrilla group seems no closer to agreeing to a cease-fire. The demobilization of rightist paramilitary fighters is proceeding, but without a legal framework governing the process. Critics of U.S. policy argue that respect for human rights by the Colombian security forces is still a problem, and that counternarcotics programs have negative consequences for the civilian population, and for the promotion of democracy in general.

Those issues have not changed much in the past five years, and the eradication only works if you compare to the very worst years.  There are many studies examining Plan Colombia, which argue convincingly against breezy assertions of success.  At the very least, not every success in Colombia should automatically be attributed to Plan Colombia, and not everything claimed as a success--like coca cultivation--really is one.  Finally, there are all sorts of consequences, like false positives, that must also be taken into account.


Steven Taylor 9:25 AM  

Indeed. The violence in Colombia has improved, especially as compared to one its most violent periods (roughly the late 1990s into the early 2000s).

Because that correlates with Plan Colombia (and increased attention on Colombia, such as it is) means a lot of people think that Plan Colombia was a success. But, as you note, not so fast.

Part of the problem therefore becomes a lot of people in government and in the public think that Plan Colombia is a perfect blueprint for places like Afghanistan and Mexico, which it isn't.

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