The United Nations on Tuesday told Colombia that crop substitution and rural development, not the forced eradication of coca plants, is the most effective way to curb drug trafficking.
Forced eradication efforts have led to numerous violent clashes between the police and coca growers in different parts of the country over the past few weeks.
In a peace deal made with Marxist FARC rebels last year, the government had vowed to counter drug trafficking through voluntary substitution of coca and development in neglected rural areas.
In a press release, the UN Mission in Colombia urged the administration of Juan Manuel Santos to effectively implement these policies, rather than eradicate coca by force as it has been doing over the past few weeks.
International evidence shows that alternative development, combined with integrated rural development and security conditions effectively granted by the State, are the most sustainable solutions to the problem of illicit drugs.
Additionally, the UN urged the government to effectively “dismantle the groups that promote drug processing and trafficking and illegal mining,” activities mainly carried out by paramilitary groups and guerrilla group, the ELN.
The Colombian government vowed to implement far-stretching rural reforms and crop substitution programs in a peace deal made with the FARC last year, but the implementation of the peace deal has been slow and inefficient.
At the same time, a variety of paramilitary and drug trafficking groups have been pushing coca farmers to increase their production and have killed dozens of community leaders, mainly in coca-rich areas formerly controlled by the FARC.
These community leaders generally mediate between rural communities and the authorities.
Additionally, in at least one coca growing region, the Nariño province, drug traffickers have paid poor locals to take part in road blocks and protests to frustrate eradication efforts, according to both the government and independent analysts.
The United Nations’ expressed support for the peace deal’s soft approach has further isolated the United States, which has long been promoting a more aggressive eradication and aerial fumigation strategy in what it calls a “War on Drugs.”
However, Washington stands increasingly isolated and is rapidly losing support in Latin America because of the violence generated by illegal drug trafficking.
Also within the US, individual states have increasingly softened their drug policies.
When accepting his Nobel Peace Prize last year, Colombia’s president even went as far as saying that the War on Drugs was “possibly more harmful than all the wars in the world combined.”
Ever since taking office in 2010, Santos has deemed drugs a public health rather than a public security issue and has already decriminalized the consumption and carrying of small amounts of drugs.
Nevertheless, the UN implied, Santos should go further and effectively break with the US-promoted policy of eradication, while promoting crop substitution and the development of, for example, basic road infrastructure.