Whisper it, but cocaine may be on its way out of Colombia; not as an export, but for good...
Inform someone of your Colombian heritage and the customary response will consist either of acknowledgment of Carlos ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama – the eccentric and effortlessly talented Colombian football icon; worldwide music sensation, Shakira; or cocaine. Whisper it, but the latter association may be on its way into the dustbin of history.
While acknowledging that Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine producer, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has dropped Colombia from its list of countries requiring special observation since production has decreased by 58% between 2000 and 2009. This is high praise indeed for a state that spent the lion’s share of the 80s and 90s as hostage to rival drug cartels that held levels of geostrategic power previously unseen in non-state actors.
Where did it all go so right? Well, without getting too carried away (Colombia still has a number of socio-political problems that it needs to address as well as the ongoing drug problem itself), much of the acclaim belongs with the preceding Uribe administration. Much maligned by left-of-centre commentators (even more so further-left-still, principally in Chávez’s Palacio de Miraflores), human rights activists, and indigenous demographics for his military-orientated approach to the war-on-drugs, the ex-president has often been dismissed as a “gringo puppet”. But it seems his kinetic-military approach combined with mass eradication projects appear to be paying off - for the new Santos administration and Colombia at least.
The drug problem in Colombia is complex. Its roots hover between left-wing guerrilla groups, principally the FARC, right-wing paramilitary organisations, notably the AUC, and abhorrently violent criminal entrepreneurs. Solving the problem is therefore equally complex. If the desired end is simple enough to settle on (eradication of drug exportation), the means are less so. Uribe’s approach viewed the crisis through a military paradigm; all out war. But at the other end of the scale there is the development approach which includes providing alternatives to coca cultivation for Colombia’s indigenous populations, tackling poverty and acute inequality, and addressing the grievances of the FARC. In short, there is a lack of consensus on what needs to be done.
Amid this lack of consensus, a glaring problem arises despite Colombia’s improvements: the drugs may be disappearing from Colombia, but they’re not disappearing. The Central American isthmus, especially Mexico, and sub-equatorial South America, significantly Peru, have experienced an explosion of drug production in the time that Colombia’s has decreased. It seems, therefore, that Uribe’s approach has, to an extent, simply pushed the problem away from Colombia’s borders and into its local neighbourhood.
Thus, while the military approach has served Colombia well, now is the time to foster development in an integrated multi-pronged assault. While left-wing guerrilla’s and violent entrepreneurs are on the defensive, Bogotá is in a strong position to negotiate their demise. In turn, decreasing the power of the FARC will delegitimise the raison d’être of the AUC. Act now, achieve lasting success, and Colombia may well provide the template for future success stories to come.
by Dane Vallejo
This blog was originally posted by The Henry Jackson Society, 02/03/2011, at http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/thescoop.asp?pageid=106&poid=1117