A Side Effect of Peace in Colombia? A Cocaine Boom in the U.S.
Seventeen years and $10 billion after the U.S. government launched the counternarcotics and security package known as Plan Colombia, America’s closest drug-war ally is covered with more than 460,000 acres of coca. Colombian farmers have never grown so much, not even when Pablo Escobar ruled the drug trade.
The peace accord signed last year by the Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels to end their 52-year war committed the guerrillas to quit the narcotics business and help rural families switch to legal crops. But the cash benefits available through the peace deal appear to have created a perverse incentive for farmers to stuff their fields with as many illegal plants as possible.
The result is a cocaine market so saturated that prices have crashed and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields, according to Luis Carlos Villegas, Colombia’s defense minister. “We’ve never seen anything like it before,” he said.
He and other top officials concede that the end of the war with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has made the drug fight more difficult, not less. The days when U.S.-funded aircraft could douse coca plantations with herbicide are over. A problem that could once be attacked with blunt military force has morphed into a sociological, state-building challenge.
“Frankly, we don’t believe violence is the right instrument to rid Colombia of coca,” Villegas said.
He and other Colombian officials have developed what is perhaps the most comprehensive, well-researched anti-narcotics strategy ever attempted, offering cash incentives for entire communities to switch to alternative crops, while sending eradication crews to rip up the plants of those who refuse. The Washington Post