Forced coca eradication in Colombia is outpacing voluntary eradication by a margin of more sixteen-to-one, endangering the peace process, according to the latest assessment by Bogota-based researchers at the Fundacion Ideas para La Paz (FIP).
This sobering analysis of the coca-replacement program is the latest of increasingly pessimistic views from various observers regarding progress toward meeting one of the key objectives of the post-FARC peace process.
FIP’s report, its second in a series of quarterly reviews of the government’s anti-coca program PNIS (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitucion de Cultivos de Uso Ilicito), said that as of September 30, only about 2,500 hectares of coca had been voluntarily eliminated. (One hectare is about two-and-a-half acres.)
The program has been praised by the United Nations, but is allegedly out of funds.
“Meanwhile, forced eradication has advanced in an accelerated and uncoordinated manner, surpassing 40,000 hectares,” the report said.
Further, forced eradication in areas where farmers had already agreed to voluntary replacement “has generated tensions and confrontations with the communities.”
The recent massacre of seven peasants in Tumaco, in the middle of an operation of forced eradication allegedly by anti-narcotics police, showed “the negative effects that this strategy can generate.”
Today, when the State’s task of restoring control over the territory should not only be based on authority, but also on legitimacy and trust, the absence of an articulated strategy to deal with the problem of illicit crops has counterproductive effects. The State runs the risk of missing the opportunity that opens with the disarmament of the FARC, while the coca economy continues and drug trafficking is rapidly rebuilding in the regions.
Fundacion Ideas para La Paz
The US government, by far the largest foreign provider of aid for the peace process, has intensified its pressure on Colombian authorities to reduce coca acreage by any means, including forced eradication by uniformed and armed government forces.
Washington DC does not contribute to the crop substitution program that seeks to help farmers move away from coca while considered the most effective strategy by the United Nations.
A result has been widespread resistance in rural areas, where farmers blame the Colombian government for failing to carry out promises to provide security against illegal armed groups and to begin major infrastructure investment.
Recently, the administration of US President Donald Trump stunned Colombia by saying it was close to “decertifying” Colombia for failing to meet its anti-narcotics requirements.
The threat put more pressure on police and spurred an escalation of clashes between police and protesting coca farmers.
Presumed drug traffickers have also used violence against communities that want to take part in crop substitution.
The US position on Colombia would have been even stronger—perhaps completely undermining Colombia’s efforts—had it not met serious resistance from senior experts within the State Department, according to William Brownfield.
At the time of the statement, Brownfield was the top anti-narcotics official in the State Department. He is a former US ambassador to Colombia as well as Venezuela and Chile.
In a recent interview with El Tiempo newspaper, Brownfield said: “Decertifying Colombia would have been a fundamental error, counterproductive, false and very stupid… There were people in my government who wanted to make that determination. I opposed it and used all possible contacts for two weeks to convince them not to move in that direction. They finally agreed not to decertify, but they added that language in the announcement anyway. I regret that it was used and I think those who know what Colombia has done in these twenty years also think the same.”
I regret immensely that this went out to the public.
Former Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield
Brownfield retired shortly thereafter.