In the area of failed alternative development (AD) projects, the Andean region has its sorry share to contribute. The constant peasant uprisings n the Bolivian Chapare and the social tensions rife among cocalero peasants in the South of Colombia are woeful indicators of such failure. In January, TNI attended a conference in Germany, hosted by the German government and UNDCP. The purpose was to critically evaluate experiences in AD and draw conclusions for its future.
In 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prohibited planting crops having no medical or scientific purpose, fixing a period of 15 years - for opium - and 25 years - for coca - as deadlines for their ultimate extinction. Those targets were clearly not met. In 1998, ignoring decades of lack of success in addressing the issue of illicit crops, the UN set the year 2008 as yet another deadline by which to eliminate coca and opium. At the UN Special Session on drugs, AD was identified as a key instrument to be used in fulfilling this objective, as part of an integral anti-drugs strategy. The strategy's other components were eradication and law enforcement. Experience has demonstrated that the simultaneous use of these means - commonly known as the 'carrot and stick approach'- is counterproductive.
This issue of Drugs & Conflict is dedicated to this central theme in international drug control policies. Supply reduction, one of AD's objectives, has proven a failure in the Andean region. To what was this failure due? What may be expected of AD programmes in the future, given the accumulated experiences?
In reference to eradication pacts and AD projects undertaken in the Putumayo (Colombia), Ricardo Vargas points out that there is no fair compensation between what is expected of peasants: destroying the main source of their livelihood, and what the state offers them in exchange: non-viable projects doomed to fail and the impending threat of fumigation should deadlines not be met. International anti-drugs policy forces the Colombian government to measure its results by the number of hectares eradicated, without regard for the region's specific development conditions.
State institutions in Colombia have no capacity to operate effectively in the Putumayo. Locked into a crisis combining US pressure to intensify aerial spraying, a collapsed peace process and guerrilla action against the economic and services infrastructure, the central government is not in a position to guarantee the adequate running of AD programmes. To add fuel to fire, there is now the argument that finance for terrorism must be combated. This further erodes the social and economic rights of the peasants and down-plays the impact of aerial spraying on health and the environment.
In spite of widespread recognition of the failure of current 'carrot and stick' policies (a mixture of AD and repression), a 'zero option' mentality persists and deceit about success still abounds. The final declaration issued at the German policy conference is not radical in this sense. It does, however, offer some leaps forward in terms of fine tuning the AD concept, based on a better understanding of livelihood decision making processes, the importance of regular evaluations and, the acceptance of the reality that the communities most affected have not been allowed to participate sufficiently in their own development process. The declaration also manages to define somewhat more precisely the troublesome balance between AD and repressive law enforcement. It is worth noting that the UNDCP participated actively in the conference, displaying real willingness to seriously exchange opinions on these issues. This yields a modicum of optimism regarding the possibility that international bodies can learn to identify best practices and see the need to separate these from the current repressive policies, increasingly recognised as more harmful than drugs themselves.
What can Alternative Development interventions realistically hope to achieve, given the growing demand for illicit drugs and the continuing prevalence of rural poverty. Non-conditionality for the concept, harm reduction for the production side, and open mindedness for an honest debate are, in the view of Martin Jelsma, necessary steps to “prevent Alternative Development as the Sacred Heart in the global drugs policy from beeing blown apart by the roaring helicopters on the horizon”. Martin Jelsma gave his critical assessment of Alternative Development at the International Conference on The Role of Alternative Development in Drug Control and Development Cooperation.