US support for Colombia’s peace process will backfire unless counter-narcotics policies are implemented with much greater patience, according to a new report from a major Colombian think tank.
According to the Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz (FIP) from Bogota, the pressure to forcibly eradicating coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, could increase human rights violations by security forces.
Pressure to lower the number of hectares of crops at all costs could result in inefficient management of resources, unsustainable interventions, and even abuse of authority by the State.
Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz
International NGOs warned earlier this year about the potentially destabilizing effects of the US-supported effort to forcibly eradicate illicit crops like coca and marijuana.
FIP said its new report, titled “Progress report on coca crop substitution in Colombia,” was explicitly aimed at US decision-makers.
The US Trump administration has been pushing forced eradication of coca. This has led to violent, at times deadly clashes between security forces and farmers throughout Colombia. For example, government forces killed six farmers earlier this month in Tumaco, Nariño department, in the middle of a forced coca-eradication operation.
And US ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker told El Tiempo newspaper that the US wouldn’t back a UN-supported voluntary crop substitution program that is part of the peace process because FARC forces are still intimately connected with coca.
FIP researcher Juan Carlos Garzon refuted Whitaker’s claim that FARC-related agents have been major participants in the recent boom in coca production. He told a Washington, DC audience this week that FARC accounted for only about 4% of the 2016 increase. Its role was dwarfed by that of other illegal armed groups.
Garzon spoke at a conference on Colombia sponsored by WOLA, a Washington-based NGO, in which he criticized counter-narcotics strategies like forced coca eradication or fumigation promoted by the US government.
Experience shows that fumigation and forced eradication are short-term measures that do not modify the root the problem: vulnerability in the regions in which the crops are concentrated.
Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz
Coca growing can only be permanently and safely reduced through regional economic development, the restoration of government control throughout rural Colombia, active involvement with local officials and organizations, and land reform, the report said, echoing the United Nations.
The average coca farm is only about two acres, “insufficient for crops like cocoa and coffee.”
FIP projected that while Colombia’s coca substitution program (NIPSIC) is in the process of making promised payments to more than 17,000 coca-growing families, the total reduction in the coca crop will still fall far short of the government’s 2017 goal.
“Under current conditions, the NIPSIC could result in a decrease of approximately 10,106 hectares of coca in 2017 (20% of the established annual goal) without taking re-sowing into account,” the report said. [One hectare is about 2.5 acres.]
This dramatic shortfall relative to the goal explains the need for much greater patience.
About 107,000 families—averaging five people each—received income from coca cultivation in 2016, the report notes. This is about 1% of Colombia’s total population.
FIP also said the US needs to measure the success of the peace process by using many other metrics beside a reduction in coca acreage. “Other essential measures include improvement in security, access to justice, provision of public goods and service, and development opportunities.”
Absolutely essential, it said, is the “prioritizing protection of communities over crop eradication.”