At a forum on Colombia’s drug trafficking, the UN representative pointed to a lack of sustained government presence in large swaths of the country, where the influence of illegal armed groups and economic poverty reign supreme as the main culprit leading to drug problems, while others adding complexity, said that government fumigation policies only serve to compound problems around the coca plant.
The two part forum, which started in Bogota and was organized by the UN and Bogota’s Universidad Nacional, convened Monday in a department of the country, Guaviare, that has been highly affected by coca cultivation and distribution. With over 300 in attendance, the audience included civic leaders, farmers and coca cultivators.
The forum is being held in concurrence with peace talks between the government and Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC. Proposals from the forum will be summarized and delivered to negotiators in Havana, Cuba.
UN representative Fabrizio Hoschild recognized during his inauguration address that there have been many historical problems that have led to the situation currently afflicting the Guaviare department.
“Guaviare has been the epicenter of the drug problem. It is a territory that has was constructed amongst marginalization and social difficulties,” said Hochschild in the address. “In the middle of social, economic and environmental problems, the armed groups and the coca arrived in the territory, with easy and safe entrance.”
Although those attendance admitted rebel and narcotrafficker policy of coercion of local populations into coca production for international cocaine markets in past few decades, according to Semana, a Universidad Nacional professor said that the history of the “medicinal” coca plant in the Andean region has much deeper cultural roots going back thousands of years.
At the forum, many of those present from Guaviare were strongly opposed to the government fumigation policies in the region due to the adverse health affects, harm caused to the environment and the lack of serious economic alternatives to coca cultivation.
“Colombia is the only region in the Andean province that has allowed areal fumigation,” said panel expert Maria Clemencia.
At the last first part of the forum held last week in Bogota, moderators argued that increased government investment in rural areas would help government efforts to replace the economy surrounding narcotrafficking in the Colombian countryside.