Stalemate in European Responses
When the whole debate around Plan Colombia here in Europe and at the international donor conferences (mesas de donantes) 'in support of the peace process' started, the initial stand taken by Europe was promising. There was a clear signal that Europe preferred to keep distance from the controversial Plan Colombia with its militarised anti-drug strategy. On the spraying issue most explicitly Europe declared itself (through the EP resolution, but also statements from various ministries) to be in full disagreement out of environmental and health concerns. Through some of the European embassies in Bogotá steps were taken to support the initiatives taken by local authorities in the Putumayo, Caquetá and Cauca to engage in negotiations with communities about conditions for manual eradication pacts. Especially the UK, Austria and Germany made a strong plea for independent monitoring and impact study of the spraying campaign and drew the UNDCP into the process. Colombia and the US were quite frustrated about this European attitude in general, and refused to have EU and UN involvement in the spraying issue. The monitoring plan was subsequently transferred to OAS/CICAD in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (Organización Panamericana para la Salud/OPS) which is now in process of being implemented.
Beyond the initial support for the Pacts and the monitoring, however, it soon became clear that Europe struggled to translate its political distance from Plan Colombia into concrete proposals. During the mesas de donantes an escape route was found in the Laboratorios de Paz, as the only component part of the government project package that would not immediately compromise the political reservations against Plan Colombia. It also absolved the EU to clearly set its own agenda vis-à-vis Colombia, since the pilot Laboratorio was already running for many years.
Developments since then, including the breakdown of the peace talks, the Uribe election, 9-11, and intensified spraying, have made painfully clear that Europe failed to play any significant role to attempt to prevent further escalation. Most dramatic was the fate of the well-intended efforts to reach agreements on gradual voluntary manual eradication pacts, a process we've monitored closely, having been involved in helping local authorities and communities to design the original proposals. Those plans contained a viable offer of 50% reduction over a five-year period, but were in negotiation with authorities in Bogotá and Washington quickly brought down to a scheme of 100% reduction within just one year. Under those impossible conditions, many pacts have still been signed out of pure desperation. But even those agreements were hardly taken serious.
Moreover, the Uribe government simply scrapped the previous resolution that ordered to exempt small plots -less than three hectares- from aerial spraying. The process of the eradication pacts offered the best option to prevent the full scale war against farmers that is currently happening, and represents the biggest missed opportunity where Europe could have made a difference by taking a stronger stand. The unfolding drama has meant no less than the death for Alternative Development in Colombia, with the FARC giving the 'coup the grace' by kidnapping in 2001 the German GTZ project director in the Cauca, among the last ones in the country still trying to give it a chance.
The European Commission thus focussed on the Laboratorios, the GTZ stopped Alternative Development work in the country and withdrew most of its personnel. Bilaterally several European countries continued their programmes in the field of humanitarian assistance or environmental protection. On the level of declarations of intent, we still see a repetition of the Alternative Development, human rights and peace building discourse (as in the London declaration of July 2003), but it sounds ever more hollow in absence of concrete proposals and initiatives that try to challenge the current course of drugs and conflict dynamics.
The drugs issue, in EU-Colombia relations, has been largely reduced to law enforcement collaboration: joint operations of precursor control, exchange of police intelligence, interdiction of cocaine shipments, etc. This has even been extended to military collaboration for interdiction purposes, since the Dutch government allowed the US military to establish a FOL (centro operativo de avanzada) en las islas Curacao y Aruba. Just last month, the Dutch government presented its yearly evaluation of the functioning of the FOL, detailing that between september 2002 and september 2003 a total of 740 military flights were undertaken from Curacao and Aruba, which according to the report did not lead to one single drugs seizure.
Since 9-11 and the bombing in Madrid, Europe is gradually adopting the War on Terror discourse. It is clear that Colombia is not a region where Europe right now is willing to contest the US approach to a point where it might bring tensions to the transatlantic relationship. Differences over the strategy in the Middle East and the war in Iraq have brought enough trouble already. Moreover, the profound crisis of the AD concept, is not limited to Colombia. Also in Afghanistan where the UK has the lead on drug control matters within the reconstruction process (in coordination with Germany for police matters and Italy for justice matters), Europe is becoming painfully conscious of its impotence to provide viable strategies. After the frustrations of the Colombian experiences, where now the aggressive US approach is showing results in terms of hectare reductions, now under European coordination the opium harvest is booming in Afghanistan to new record levels. Pressure is rising to start applying more aggressive methods in Afghanistan as well, and military forced eradication operation have started this spring. If those escalate, and there is even talk about chemical or biological spraying, Afghanistan may well become the 'Waterloo' for the European Alternative Development strategy.
All this has brought about policy tiredness and desillusion in policy making circles in Europe. Many officials now feel that the 'softer' European approach, its support for the peace process with the FARC, the civil society building efforts, the Alternative Development projects, have led nowhere. Alternative Development projects are sprayed to pieces, the FARC kidnapped GTZ development workers, what space is there for a nuanced approach? And this is increasingly leading towards a dangerous acceptance and acquiescence, with officials thinking: We know that the US military approach is a risky strategy and has a lot of collateral damage, we know all about the environmental, health and social consequences of the fumigations. We will keep distance and not dirty our own hands. But what can we say? Our alternative approach has not yielded positive results, we simply do not have a better answer at this moment, and at least something is moving again in Colombia: prospects for an agreement with the autodefensas and for the first time in a decade coca production is going down, diminishing illegal earnings for both paramilitary and FARC. So maybe we should wait and see how far the US and Uribe can get with this approach, and we'll step in again when conditions for a developmental approach have improved again.
Recommendations - What could Europe do?
Also on US side the already limited funding for Alternative Development for Colombia is under pressure. The General Accounting Office has suggested "that the Congress consider requiring that USAID demonstrate measurable progress in its current efforts to reduce coca cultivation in Colombia before any additional funding is provided for alternative development."
The crisis of the Alternative Development concept is -as mentioned- not restricted to Colombia and will have to be dealt with more generally. Key step for a re-assessment is to take it away from hectare-counting as the principal measurement of success. Politically this will only be possible if the other supply reduction strategies -forced eradication and interdiction- are genuinely evaluated on their impact as well, including the sustainability of effects and collateral damages. First it will have to become more broadly accepted that supply-side interventions alltogether can only have a very marginal impact on the global illicit drugs market. Only then will it be possible to appreciate properly the added values of a development approach to illicit cultivation, in terms of sustainability of results and in terms -as is the case in Colombia- of the contribution Alternative Development can make to diminish social tensions, to establish solid relationships with communities in these areas and to improve the framework conditions for a peace process.
Europe could make a serious contribution to this type of re-assessment by supporting and actively moving forward the call to install an independent international commission to evaluate the anti-drug policy framework. Platforms of Colombian civil society have repeatedly requested support for such a commission, regarding it as a key component in a de-escalation strategy. The call was also reiterated by the Colombian Congress in a letter to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan. The idea already surfaced in the context of the earlier peace talks between the Pastrana government and the FARC, increasing the potential for such a commission to have a formal relationship to and directly provide inputs to the course of negotiations. The task of the commission would be to evaluate efficacy, costs and benefits of current anti-drug policies for Colombia, but its functioning could have a constructive global impact in light of the 10-year worldwide drugs strategy agreed at the 1998 UNGASS on drugs, which will have to be reviewed by 2008.
Regarding the recently started talks with the paramilitary, Europe should closely monitor developments with the view to prevent that these result in agreements that will pose obstacles to a future negotiated settlement of the conflict in all its dimensions. At this point, no clear distinction can be made between AUC-representatives sitting around the table and certain sectors of drug traffickers. There is definitely a sector of the post-cartel trafficking generation willing to cut their ties with the brutal paramilitary project. Apart from all the difficult issues around impunity for major human rights violations and problems around the demobilisation and re-integration process, two directly drug-related issues will be prominently on the table: their extradition and their illegal investments in land. There are good reasons to question the wisdom and effectiveness of extradition to the US for drug-related charges of national citizens.
Also in the Netherlands we've had heated debates about that after a series of extradition requests from the US concerning Dutch XTC traffickers. Moreover, nobody would want to go back in time to the terror campaign end eighties/early nineties carried out by the Medellín and Cali cartels over the extradition issue. So maybe concessions on that side could be considered. The land issue, however, might lead to very worrisome compromises. A full legalisation of the counter-agrarian reform process that took place over the past two decades, with ownership of millions of hectares of quality lands becoming concentrated in the hands of drug traffickers, would be disastrous for prospects of fundamental solutions for the conflict. The Colombian General Accounting Office (Contraloría General de la República) mentions a figure of 6 million hectares now owned by drug traffickers, largely devoted to extensive cattle farming. To put these figures into perspective, one has to bear in mind that Colombia only has a total of roughly 10 million hectares of quality agricultural land for cattle raising and growing agricultural crops, plus an additional 35 million of poor quality natural pasture lands. Narco-investments have played a significant role in aggravating the agricultural crisis with severe consequences for internal displacement, rural poverty, expansion of the agricultural frontier and deforestation, the explosion of coca cultivation in the South. A least parts of those illegally and violently obtained lands, will be necessary for a new land reform process, to enable internally displaced people to return to their homes and to gradually reduce the numbers of people now living in colonisation settlements along the Amazon basin rivers where they can only survive on the basis of the coca economy.
This year, the term ends for the current EU drugs strategy. Under Dutch presidency, a new 8- year strategy will be designed to be ready by December this year. An Action Plan based on the strategy will then be worked out under the Luxembourg presidency. These will largely focus on domestic policies, inter-EU cooperation etc., but provides also a setting where the EU will have to assess and improve its foreign drug policy, including drug-related cooperation with Latin America. An evaluation of the implementation of the current strategy will be presented by the European Commission in October. An evaluation is also in progress on the effectiveness of Europe's drug-linked preferential trade agreement with the Andean Region, whose continuation is under pressure from an WTO enquiry whether it doesn't violate WTO rules on free competition in international trade relations.
For consumption-related policies, acceptance grows across Europe for a Harm Reduction approach, which will be reflected in the new strategy and Action Plan, even though the word may still have to be avoided in honour of the political sensitivy of the concept in Sweden and Italy. This may encourage some European countries to start to apply the Harm Reduction concept to its supply-side policies as well.
A group of EU countries in close dialogue with Brasil and the Andean countries, could start a process to develop a more coherent policy for the whole region. The regional dimensions of the crisis in Colombia are obvious and especially for longer term drug control objectives, a regional strategy is essential. Also in Peru and Bolivia the situation with coca farmers is extremely tense at the moment. For the Yungas in Bolivia and several valleys in Peru, protests are once again announced for the weeks to come out of frustration over non-compliance with earlier agreements. If negotiated solutions could be found there, social tensions or even violent conflict can be prevented. The basis for such agreements has already been discussed in various attempts of dialogue, and include the need for a revision of the status of the coca leaf under the UN Conventions, a thorough survey on domestic coca consumption and possibilities for coca-products on the international markets, a proposal of an allowed ('decriminalised') maximum amount of coca cultivation per family for subsistence reasons, direct collaboration from farmers unions in the design of Alternative Development projects, and various other points. European involvement to promote these efforts of dialogue in Peru and Bolivia has been marginal, while successful outcomes would be more likely if Europe shows some political courage to support them. A breakthrough in Bolivia and Peru would have an exemplary effect on Colombia as well in terms of demonstrating that farmers of illicit crops are legitimate partners in dialogue and that better solutions can be worked out in agreement with them, which could play a crucial role in diminishing levels of conflicts and improve prospect for a renewed peace process.
From the document: Estrategias políticas y de cooperación de la Unión Europea en materia de lucha contra las drogas, presented by Martin Jelsma at the Workshop: "Balance and Prospects of the Political and Cooperative Relations between the European Union and Colombia", Lleida (Lerida, Spain), 14-16 July 2004.