Cross Purposes

Alternative Development and Conflict in Colombia
01 June 2003

The anti-drug strategy in Colombia limits the establishment of the basic political conditions necessary to attain the socio-economic goals of alternative development in the midst of war. President Álvaro Uribe's strategy only serves to make the ground fertile for more violence and instability.

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One of the greatest challenges in Colombia today is how to meet alternative development objectives in the midst of war. "Alternative development" refers in this context to the creation of alternative livelihoods for illicit crop farmers. In theatres of conflict, the debate centers not simply on the economic sphere, but on whether alternative development helps to create conditions in which human life and freedom are respected; whether local powers are truly exercising good governance; and the extent to which communities are being strengthened, people's possibilities for participation are increased and democracy is enhanced.

President Álvaro Uribe has defined his current alternative development policy as being framed by a strategy for regional development, a conceptual shift in the history of Colombian alternative development. This vision is, however, belied by the process actually under way.

The work of the main funding agency, USAID, is based on a transactional model whereby early elimination of illicit crops is rewarded with finance for local projects. Such an approach is short-term and success is measured solely on the basis of hectares eradicated. Coupled with indiscriminate aerial fumigations in coca and opium poppy-producing areas and a strategic focus on illicit cultivation as a source of guerilla finance, the strategy only serves to make the ground fertile for more violence and instability. This bears no relationship at all to Uribe's ostensible vision of regional development, which should be a necessarily long-term and complex process.

The contradictions, which include a worsening dietary situation and increased forced displacements of people, plunge the Colombian state, in many parts of the country, into an even deeper legitimacy crisis. In this briefing, it is argued, that it is the anti-drug strategy itself that limits the establishment of the basic political conditions necessary to attain the socio-economic goals of alternative development.

June 2003
Drugs and Conflict Debate Paper 7

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