Colombian police chief General Oscar Naranjo said Friday that success in preventing the export of narcotics has caused producers to focus on the domestic market, arguing that Colombia “has completed the job of reducing the supply, but that the country has begun to convert itself into a center for mass [drug] consumption.”
Colombia’s success in combating drug cartels has lowered the profitability of the drug trade by cutting production and export capacities. As a result, the cartels have been forced to turn to the domestic market in order to make a profit, according to the police chief.
“The narco-traffickers, given the loss of profitability due to drug seizures, are diverting their resources towards micro-trafficking and drug pushing” within Colombia.
Naranjo announced that authorities will implement a new strategy in the war on drugs, by focusing efforts on urban micro-traffickers and drug dealers.
Returning to Colombia following a series of high level meetings in the U.S. with officials from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the State Department, Naranjo announced the new strategy in an interview with El Tiempo.
To combat the domestic market of drug users, who bring much-needed revenue to Colombia’s illegal armed groups, the country will begin to “focus on the distribution networks within Colombia” in urban settings, in addition to maintaining their fight against the the cultivation and production of the drugs, Naranjo said.
While Colombians consume a relatively smaller amount of drugs than other countries, the prevalence of drug use within urban settings is rising, with an estimated 6.3% of Medellin residents, 4.9% of Cali residents, and 2.9% of Bogota residents currently using drugs, according to a national study on drug consumption published earlier this year.
In February, United Nations International Narcotics Control Board reported that cocaine production in Colombia dropped 28% in 2008, with the total number of hectares dedicated to coca cultivation dropping from 99,000 in 2007 to 81,000 in 2008.
Naranjo, however, pointed out that drug-crop eradication alone is not enough. The lessons learned from “two decades of fumigation is that if you do not simultaneously strike the distribution networks, you will not lower the supply of drugs.”
While Colombia has worked vigorously to improve international cooperation in its fight against transnational drug cartels, Naranjo complained that there is still not enough being done to prevent the materials needed by Colombian cartels to produce the drugs from arriving to Colombia. “The fight against the trafficking of precursor chemicals that has been done abroad is insufficient and ineffective. Colombia would not produce a single gram of cocaine if these precursors didn’t enter the country.”
In addition to seeking more help from foreign countries in restricting precursor chemicals needed for producing cocaine from arriving to Colombian shores, Naranjo also had stern words on the fight to prevent the Colombian cartels from acquiring weapons, “it is inconceivable that arms shipments continue arriving to Colombia while the countries that produce them remain silent. Where is world action to prevent this?”
The new strategy focused on fighting the drug trade from an urban setting comes as violence has continued to rise within cities across Colombia, much of it attributed to drug-fueled gang violence.
Homicide rates in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, for example, ballooned to 2,178 in 2009, the city’s most violent year since 2005, while on a national level, homicides jumped 16% from 2008 to 2009.