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Why Won’t It Go Away? the Underlying Cause of Colombia’s Illicit Drug Trade

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Why Won’t it Go Away?

 The Underlying Cause of Colombia’s Illicit Drug Trade

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        Wars, unrest, and violence in Colombia all have something in common: drugs.  To be more specific, cocaine. Colombia since the 1980s has been one of the principle suppliers of raw ingredient for the world cocaine market.[1] The largest producer and supplier of cocaine is Colombia and while cocaine was being produced in labs deep in to Amazon jungle, insurgencies and cartels fight to gain dominant control of the illicit drug business. Throughout the 1980s, Colombia's illegal drug trade grew and the drug cartels were able to accumulate huge amounts of money, weapons, as well as influence.[2] This led to violence as government officials were being killed. Though Colombia’s illicit drug trade has been labeled as a problem, very little is being done to fix this problem. Raw and processed product goes all over the world, but a larger amount mainly goes to the United States. While the U.S. has created programs to try and put an end to this drug production, very little is being done that has an effect on the drug trade. Colombia’s illicit drug industry has remained despite efforts made by the U.S. to disrupt and curtail the flow of illegal narcotics and highly processed cocaine flowing from Colombia. These policies and programs have been ineffectual as the underlying geographical, economic, political, and global factors that are the main cause of the illicit drug industry in that region are ignored.

        Programs such as Plan Colombia, the current U.S. policy in place since 2000, lost its effectiveness as a plan to battle against the drug trade in Colombia. In 1998 and 1999, Colombia’s newly elected President Andrés Pastrana creates a new plan (Plan Colombia) to deal with violent left wing anti-government insurgencies such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN).[3] Pastrana wanted to attack the root of the problem which was the cocaine and heroin trade funding these groups. This was to be done through fumigation and eradication of coca and poppy fields. This was to be a six year plan in which Pastrana appealed to the international community to help foot the bill that would cost about $7.5 billion.[4] At this time, the U.S. was already trying he stem the flow of drugs entering the U.S. so in 2000, the Clinton administration loaned $1 billion in support of Plan Colombia. Clinton later changed plan emphasis from comprehensive counterdrug program to one focused on military assistance and helicopters.[5] These were used to help train the military to help fight against the insurgencies. At first, the plan seemed to be working after there was a dramatic drop in coca cultivation from a little over 160,000 hectares in 2000 to around 85,000 hectares in 2003, yet the cultivation after 2003 seemed to have stabilized (Appendix A). Plan Colombia—while wiping out industrial sized coca fields—has done little to reduce the flow of cocaine into the US; the coca is not being wiped out, rather it is simply being spread out into smaller hard-to reach areas (Appendix B). "We've discovered, and it's right in the reports by the State Department and ONDCP, that after five years of Plan Colombia, the amount of acreage under cultivation for coca is the same as it was five years ago."[6] In fact it may be worsening the situation. Aerial fumigation of coca fields—instead of moving to more developed areas—has caused thousands of peasants to migrate deeper into the Amazon forest. Peasants and people affected by the eradication of coca fields pose a threat environmentally as slash and burn their way into pristine sections of the Amazon jungle.[7] As they go deeper into the forest, they clear out large plots of land, destroying areas of the jungle (Appendix C). This mass deforestation is not only harmful to the environment, but it is also making it more difficult for authorities to reach these areas in order to shut cultivation of coca down.

        Of the $1 billion of U.S. contributions, $230 million was allotted for what was called “alternative development” which at first went into voluntary eradication, providing alternative crop supplies, and technical supplies. In 2002 Congress aid stopped when safety of aid workers could no longer be guaranteed as insurgencies fought against efforts to destroy coca fields.[8] USAID changed plan to developing infrastructure in areas where poor soil inhibited other crops to grow.[9] This plan was mostly ineffectual since does not look at the economic implications and since results will not be felt in the immediate future, workers have no choice but to go back to growing coca.[10] As millions of dollars are being spent trying to integrate remote areas, it is fumigation that seem to be driving people away from developing areas. Eradication in concentrated areas has proven to be useless since coca fields are just spreading out into more remote areas (Appendix C). Plan Colombia has been ineffective since it fails to take into consideration the underlying causes which are the main cause as to why the drug industry is so large in Colombia. The most basic factor to take into consideration is Colombia’s geography.

Colombia’s geography needs to be examined in order to understand why Colombia has such a large illegal drug industry. For coca and poppy plants to grow they need to have poor soil—such as soil with high acidity—and tropical climates; these plants are not adaptable in temperate areas.[11] Colombia’s geography and tropical climate allow coca and poppy to grow in areas not easily accessible by outsiders because of mountainous and jungle terrain. This creates regions that remain withdrawn from the control of the national state.[12] This isolation allows for workers to grow coca without the fear of the authorities intervening due to the illegal nature of their crops. As more and more peasants flee fumigation into deeper parts of the jungle, there are very few work options for them so they go into the lucrative business of cultivating coca.

Geographically, Colombia is also in between the largest market for cocaine and other producing regions.[13] Colombia’s central location as well as being a coastal country facilitates easy distribution and transportation of raw materials and processed products as well as illicit capital funding to and from the U.S. and other countries where product is sent to; this also makes it easier to extend control and for cartels to enforce its own laws and regulations on its cultivators and suppliers. The jungle also provides easy concealment of labs used for processing the coca leaves into paste which can then be shipped to the U.S. and be cut and sold.[14] The geography makes Colombia ideal for cultivation and shipping cocaine. These factors however are not easily dealt with since it is impossible for the U.S. or the Colombian government to destroy more of the jungle. Colombia’s geography is not the only factor to take under consideration and is only one of the reasons why Colombia’s drug industry is so large.



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