While escalating civil conflict in Colombia is attracting increasing international interest and concern, the complex relationships between drug trafficking, political violence, and the many actors involved in the social conflict in Colombia are often absent from the debate.
A radically different approach to the current War on Drugs must be developed and integrated into the Peace Plan for Colombia otherwise the drug circuit and armed conflict will continue to undermine the prospect of realizing the goals of the Peace Process ultimately bringing to an end the war in Colombia.
The consequence of associating the 'war on drugs' with the 'war on terrorism' is that the failure of the former could end with the failure of the latter. The predominant military approach to 'narcoterrorism' fails to recognise the complex factors underlying both the drug problem and the violence; it assumes that the drug problem can be solved by force and that the armed conflict can be resolved by intensifying the conflict - that is, more war on war; and it has facilitated the consolidation of conventional drug-trafficking structures.
Despite 2006 witnessing the most intensive use of fumigation in the country’s history, some 157,200 hectares of cultivation areas were detected, 13,200 hectares more than in 2005. Is the fumigation strategy failing?
While the coca farmer is treated as a criminal the road to peace in the Colombian countryside will remain closed.
Although more and more coca is being eradicated, production levels remain steady. According to the latest Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), published in March 2008, more and more coca is being eradicated in South America. Despite this, the total area sown has remained stable in the region, as has the total production in metric tons of cocaine. In the case of Colombia, 23 per cent more was eradicated in 2006 than in 2005.
Juan Manual Santos has inherited what some Colombian analysts call a “captured state” and those forces remain at the center of his own base of political support. As a result, many assume that a Santos administration means continuity – more of the same but perhaps with a gentler face. However, there are other, incipient positive signs of change.
In June 1998, Juan Manuel Santos signed a letter delivered to Kofi Annan, then the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for “a frank and honest evaluation of global drug control efforts"….as “we believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." Now that Santos is President of Colombia, he has the power to implement – in his own country – the letter's proposals for meaningful debate and an evidence based-approach to drug policy.
During the 20th century, drug policies in Colombia were increasingly repressive, largely ineffective, and heavily influenced by the international legal framework that was put in place. In effect, in just a few years Colombia went from having a scattered set of regulations, with an emphasis on prevention and medical-administrative treatment, to having legislation abundant in definitions of criminal conduct and sanctions that included the full drug cycle, from production through marketing and trafficking to consumption.