President Ivan Duque’s drug policy of the past four years has been a failure that frustrated Colombia’s peace process, according to a study.
Think tank Elementa DDHH came to these damning conclusions after monitoring drug policy initiatives since 2018 when Duque took office.
The government’s so-called “Ruta Futuro” policy sought to combat the consumption and trafficking of illicit drugs through a “integral approach” that had a budget of more than $1 billion (COP4.4 trillion).
Ruta Futuro “pillars”
- Reduce the consumption and impact of drugs
- Reduce the availability of drugs
- Dismantle and affect criminal structures
- Affect criminal economies and revenue
- Promoting legal economic activity through development
According to Elementa DDHH, Duque’s drug policy basically sought to replicate “War on Drugs”-like policies that had failed before.
Additionally, the drug policy’s focus on the forced eradication of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, “went against the peace process” agreed by former President Juan Manuel Santos and now-defunct guerrilla group FARC in 2016.
The Health Ministry wouldn’t tell Elementa DDHH which indicators — if any — were used to measure the effectiveness of efforts to reduce the consumption and impact of drugs.
The Colombian Drug Observatory has not investigated the prevalence of drug use and its impact on public health since 2013.
Consequently, the think tank did not the know if the government’s drug policy regarding consumption had any effect.
Production of drugs
The government had allocated 95% of its “Ruta Futuro” budget on efforts to reduce the availability of the drugs, and cocaine in particular.
Some $341.5 million (COP1.4 trillion) was reserved for the voluntary substitution of coca, a key element of a 2016 peace deal between former President Juan Manuel Santos and now-defunct guerrilla group FARC.
This program apparently was a major success as coca cultivation dropped 99.2% among the 99,097 coca-growing families who signed up in 2017.
In fact, the families taking part in the PNIS program have eradicated more than 44,000 hectares.
The government kicked more than 88,000 families out of the program after taking office and spent the remaining $683 million (COP2.8 trillion) budget on the security forces.
According to the Defense Ministry, this strategy allowed to forced eradication of almost 390,000 hectares of coca since 2018.
The total area used for the cultivation of coca decreased only 28,000 hectares between 2017 and 2020, the United Nations said last year.
Estimated cocaine production
Dozens of community leaders who were promoting the voluntary substitution program were assassinated.
At least three people died in at least 27 clashes between farming communities who had been kicked out of the PNIS program and the security forces since 2018, according to Elementa DDHH.
News magazine Cambio reported in February that the government invested another $731.8 billion (COP3 trillion) in a failed attempt to resume the aerial spraying of coca that wasn’t in the original strategy.
Taking down narcos
The government’s initial drug policy was vague about its budget to dismantle drug trafficking organizations and refused to implement the part of the peace deal that sought to create public policies that would allow the dismantling of organized crime groups.
Elementa DDH found a $244,000 (COP1 billion) budget “to reduce the domestic drug market” as an element of the third pillar, but was unable to find a budget to dismantle organizations involved in the international cocaine trade wasn’t clear.
Nevertheless, Colombia’s Counternarcotics Police unit told the think tank that 49 organized crime groups involved in international drug trafficking were dismantled since 2018.
Some 396 people were extradited on drug charges during the same period, according to the Justice Ministry.
The dismantling of these organized crime groups and the extradition of alleged drug traffickers apparently has had little effect on Colombia’s cocaine exports.
Meanwhile, Duque’s refusal to implement the peace deal has pushed deadly violence to levels not seen in a decade.