Colombia: Moving towards a change in the politics against drug trafficking?

Orsetta Bellani, El Reportero (Photo: O.B.)

Colombia is a cocaine producing country. Seventy percent of the cocaine produced is exported to the United States. We are concerned about the cocaine production and the role the Colombian guerrillas and the paramilitary have in the business, and what strategies the government is employing to face it. In this interview with Daniel Mejía Londoño, the director of the Center of Studies on Security and Drugs at the University of the Andes of Bogotá.

Professor Mejía Londoño, what strategy is the government of Juan Manuel Santos employing to fight drug trafficking?

The position of the government is generally prohibitionist, although recently it has been open to an international debate on the possibility that the state should fulfill a regulatory role, more than to continue efforts to shut down production. In spite of the fact that it is the country that might and should lead the debate in Latin America concerning the politics of drugs, it has not taken this role so far, hoping to follow the example of of Guatemala, which is a small country that has no influence at the regional level.

Why are peasants deciding to produce cocaine instead of food?

It is more profitable to produce cocaine than to produce food. Also, the peasants do not have to process it or take it to the market to sell it. The buyers come as close as the edge of their farms to collect the crops, so it is much easier. In some cases pressure is directly applied by the armed illegal groups giving the peasants the difficult choice of either cultivating cocaine or leaving the area.

What role does the paramilitary and the guerrillas have in drug trafficking?

Up to the mid 1990’s, the Farc (Armed Force Revolutionists of Colombia) was linked to the drug trafficking through receiving a tax that is called “gramaje”. That is to say, the guerrillas were receiving from the drug trafficker a payment for every kilo of cocaine produced in the territory under his control. With the fall of the communism, the guerrilla organizations lost international financing and, making use of the gap of power created by the dismantling of the cartels of Medellin and of Cali, entered the Business by controlling zones of farms and laboratories. The Farc and, more recently, the Eln (Army of National Liberation) are involved only in the first stages of the production, that is to say the farming of the coca leaf and its transformation in paste, in some zones they go so far as to producing cocaine, and have established strategic alliances with drug traffickers to smuggle it out of the country. On the other hand, the paramilitary and the Bacrim (Criminal Bands) are linked directly to the drug trafficking, and they themselves take the cocaine out of the country.

One of the methods used to try to stop the farming of cocaine is the spraying of the crops with glifosato (a herbicide). What consequences does it have?

The spraying of this chemical has been very harmful in terms of health and the environment, in addition to being ineffective in terms of reduction of these types of crops. In a review of a database of all the medical visits of Colombians to the health system between 2003 and 2008, there are 54 million incidents. We have compared this with the database of the sprayings, performing an economectric analysis. We believe that in the spray zones there is a much higher incidence of dermatologic problems and a major increase in miscarriages. There are other studies that have revealed negative effects on the environment and a degradation of the confidence that the people living in the municipalities of the fumigations have in the institutions of the state.

These problems do not appear in the cases in which the illicit farmings are eradicated manually. What do you think about this alternative?

Manual eradication has a high cost. Many people doing the manual eradication have died from land mines protecting the farming áreas, which were planted by the Farc or the paramilitary. Even if this was an efficient strategy, I do not think it is worth the sacrifices of so many Colombian lives just so that less cocaine is sent to the USA and to Europe. It is not just our problem, but they are transferring the whole cost to the producing countries – every country has to pay their share of the costs.

What is your proposal to fight to the drug trafficking?

To focus on the demand within the politics of prevention and treatment, it is necessary to treat the problem of the drugs as a problem of public health. The current prohibitionist method is not working. One of the points in the agenda of the dialogues of peace that are ongoing between the Colombian government and the Farc is the problem of drug trafficking.

Do you believe that the decision that will go on the negotiation table will be the ability to change the politics of Santos’s government into the topic of the struggle against drug trafficking?

Yes, it can be that the peace agreements lead to a change in the politics of struggle agains drug trafficking, but this should not be the reason. Are we going to change it just because the Farc asks for it, after they spent 50 years murdering people, and not because there are more than 15 years of investigations that they say that it is a failure?

Article published by El Reportero on 07.05.2014: http://elreporterosf.com/?p=8976

Versión en castellano: http://www.sobreamericalatina.com/?p=1063