Plagued by weak government and violent opposition from drug traffickers, Colombia is unlikely to meet the target of removing 50,000 hectares of coca through crop substitution before May.
The strategy to develop the rural economy and help farmers switch to legal crops has been promoted and is monitored by the United Nations.
The program seeks to eventually replace the forced eradication of coca, which has widely been deemed as inefficient.
The preliminary results of the new strategy, however, are all but hopeful.
With only three months to go, the United Nations has verified the ongoing removal of only 16,754 hectares, the international organization told newspaper El Tiempo on Wednesday.
In September last year, Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said he expected 30,000 hectares to have been removed by the end of January.
According to think tank Indepaz, which is monitoring the drug policy, the disappointing results are due to extremely violent opposition from illegal armed groups and the government’s failure to execute a peace process.
Farmers under attack
Colombia’s security forces have failed to assume control over former FARC territory, which is leaving many rural communities at the mercy of guerrilla and paramilitary groups.
Groups like the AGC and the ELN, as well as dissident FARC groups, have assassinated at least 20 representatives of coca growing communities sine the FARC peace deal, according to Indepaz.
Nidio Davila, leader of COCCAM Nariño, was murdered on August 6 in the township of Piedra Grande in the municipality of Rosario, Nariño, according to the community at the hands of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. According to reports, Davila had been pushing for crop substitution in his community. Twenty armed men took him out of his house and executed him in front of several locals, threatening to kill anyone who talks about substitution.
The UN has been forced to suspend regional programs on multiple occasions after its workers came under attack.
Most recently, verification efforts in the west of Caqueta were suspended after dissident FARC guerrillas attacked a UN convoy.
Colombia’s state system has traditionally been weak and corrupt. Many of the territories previously controlled by the FARC have long been either neglected or abandoned by the FARC.
Whether the country’s security forces have the capacity or ability to impose state authority remains to be seen.
Government fails to meet obligations
The new counter-narcotics policy is an integrated part of an ongoing peace process with the FARC, the former guerrilla group that used to control much of the territory where coca is grown.
Key elements of this deal, however, were never approved by Congress. This has devastated the process, which has been unable to include remote farming communities in the political and economic system of the country.
Furthermore, the government in some cases has failed to provide the means that allow farmers to grow new crops, even after their removal of coca.
The complaint of the communities that have already fulfilled their commitment to “lift” crops from their lands is that by December 31 they had not even received the initial payment of 1,800,000 pesos for a family vegetable garden contemplated in the peace agreement. Likewise, labor initiatives have not yet reached their areas, technical assistance has not been provided, and the land where coca crops were cultivated have become overgrown.
The government’s failure to live up to its end of the bargain is severely damaging the farmers’ faith in the process, according to Indepaz.
Consequently, less and less communities agree to cooperate with the government, afraid they will starve.
Violence by the security forces
Instead of providing security, the security forces have embarked on a violent forced eradication campaign, also in communities that already agreed to take part in the crop substitution program.
This has led to violent clashes in which 10 farmers were killed and dozens were injured.
Between August and December, Indepaz registered 35 eradication operations. Twenty-two of these operations took place in communities that had already signed an agreement with the government and the UNODC to voluntarily eradicate their crops.
The think tank registered 18 violent clashes in five months, mainly in communities that had agreed to take part in the crop substitution program.
Indepaz blamed this violence on an apparent lack of communication between the security forces and the national government, and increased US pressure to produce “quick results” in the decades-long war on drugs.
The DEA warned in August that coca cultivation in 2017 was likely to exceed that of the year before when Colombia produced more cocaine than ever before.