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Why Colombia Should Prioritize Fighting Drug Peddling

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Colombia Needs to Stop the Flow of Blow

For decades, Colombia has been involved in a civil war spanning five decades concerning the Colombian government, leftist guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug cartels, a conflict that can be best described as a power struggle between ideologies. Although the Colombian government has been battling in its civil war for over five decades, it is also involved in another war, the drug war. Many attempts have been made by the Colombian government to stop the cocaine trade, to no avail. These attempts involve the Colombian government using crop spraying methods, and other attempts involve the jailing of drug traffickers to halt the distribution of cocaine. In lieu of the multi-faceted problem that is the cocaine trade, the cultivation and distribution aspects of the cocaine industry are the most viable to tackle, as other factors like governmental corruption are complex and require an immense amount of dedication to fix.. The Colombian government’s attempts to stop the cocaine industry in Colombia have been unsuccessful. The cultivation and distribution of cocaine may only be two of the many factors that play a part in sustaining the drug industry in Colombia, but tackling these factors successfully will result in a decay of the Colombian cocaine industry. To successfully tackle the cultivation of coca crops in Colombia, the Colombian government must implement subsidies for farmers with economic incentives to plant coca crops, and to successfully tackle the distribution of cocaine, the Colombian Government must exploit extradition.

Colombia is a country in the northwestern corner of the continent of South America. It is involved in one of the world’s longest civil conflicts. This, over five decade long, conflict concerns governmental military forces, rightist paramilitary forces, and leftist guerrilla forces, fighting over land and influence (South America: Colombia; Robbins 299). The civil war is primarily funded by the drug trade, as it poses as a source of financing for the leftist guerrilla groups and rightist paramilitary groups, both whom are opposed to the government, and each other (Dugas 211). Not only is the drug trade prevalent in Colombia, it also extends into the rest of the world. Colombia supplies around 80% of the world’s cocaine supply, and around 70% of the United States’ cocaine supply (Grossman 11). In fact, Colombia is the world’s leading coca cultivator with 83,000 hectares in coca cultivation in 2011, a 17% decrease over 2010, producing a potential of 195 mt of pure cocaine (South America: Colombia)

Cocaine is the primary product being circulated through markets in Colombia and around the world, and as it has been aforementioned, responsible for funding the over five decade long conflict in Colombia. Cocaine is a natural plant alkaloid produced from the coca plant, a plant cultivated in the Andean slopes by Andean farmers (Robbins 292). In these Andean areas, however, cocaine production has had a negative effect of the environment and has sparked social issues. These negative effects include forest cover loss, soil erosion, and water pollution from processing chemicals (Robbins 293). However, cocaine does not only have environmental effects. Cocaine stimulates the nervous system by interfering with dopamine cycling, dopamine being a chemical in the body responsible for the sensation of pleasure. Thus, cocaine allows for the experiencing of pleasure (Robbins 293). Physicians and chemists administered cocaine to themselves and others in hopes of being a “cure-all wonder drug.” After about 20 years of wide use in prescription and patented medicine, the harmful effects of cocaine became known and its use as a drug in medical practice was eventually banned (Lerner 979). Although cocaine has no physically addictive properties, the psychological dependence associated with its continuous use can be just as bad as any physical addiction (Attias 637). It subsequently became an illegal drug used for its mood-altering effects, which include the psychological dependence, or addiction, euphoria and bursts of short-lived physical energy (Lerner 979).

In 1999, the United States under the Clinton administration, and the Colombian government proposed “Plan Colombia,” a military and diplomatic aid initiative, in hopes of stopping the drug trade in colombia and the conflict between the Colombian government and non-governmental military groups. It was signed into law in 2000 and involved many methods, one being the aerial crop spraying of coca crops using herbicides. Herbicides are chemical pesticides that are used to manage vegetation. Herbicides are commonly used to reduce the abundance of weeds. This is the context of most herbicide use in agriculture, forestry, and lawn management. Sometimes herbicides are not used to protect crops, but, [in the case of coca crops in Colombia,] to reduce the quantity or height of vegetation (Freedman 856). The aerial spraying of crops involved the spraying of Roundup, or by its chemical name, glyphosate. Glyphosate is the active ingredient of a number of herbicide formulations and is one of the most widely used pesticides around the world. It is primarily used for agricultural uses, industrial uses, ornamental gardens, and residential weed management (Carrasquilla 47). Due to economical and health concerns, the use of aerial crop spraying was halted in 2015. However, in 2016, aerial crop spraying made a comeback.

In addition to the Colombia – United States coalition seen in “Plan Colombia,” there is another tool used to combat the drug trade, which specifically targets drug traffickers in Colombia in order to stunt distribution: extradition. By definition, extradition is “ the procedure by which a state or nation, upon receipt of a formal request by another state or nation, turns over to that second jurisdiction an individual charged with or convicted of a crime in that jurisdiction.” At the national level, extradition between countries, extradition is usually managed using treaties. In terms of the Colombia – United States treaty, the treaty was signed in 1979, and was put into place in 1982 (Extradition Treaty with Colombia). Colombia did not only extradite drug traffickers, members from leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries were also extradited to the United States. This approach by the Colombian government seems to be the only approach effective in dealing with the distribution of cocaine by drug traffickers, as there is much corruption in many level of the government, making it difficult for those convicted of crime to be apprehended by the authorities.

The drug industry in Colombia has resulted in over five decades of unrest and conflict. The Colombian government, along with aid from the United States has made many attempts to subvert the influence of the cocaine industry in Colombia, to no avail. The drug issue in Colombia is multifaceted as it involves many other factors like governmental corruption. In order to successfully tackle this issue, the Colombian government must reassess its current attempts to solve the issue and make some changes, as it is evident that approaches to curtail the cultivation and distribution of cocaine are not succeeding.

As it was aforementioned, the Colombian government and the United States implemented “Plan Colombia,” an approach to stop the cultivation of coca crops at the source, by using aerial crop spraying methods. These methods however, are ineffective as the range of these plane are limited, chemicals used have a negative effect on the environment and on humans, and new strains of coca plant will render this approach obsolete.

One of the issues with the aerial crop spraying approach is the accessibility and range of the planes that routinely spray coca crops. Many of the coca fields are located in areas controlled by guerrilla organizations that have the necessary firepower to bring down the planes spraying the crops. There are helicopters that fly beside these planes providing protection, but these helicopters have a much shorter range from airports than the planes, limiting the reach of the chemical spray (Kirkpatrick 6). This means that the aerial crop spraying planes cannot get too far without protection, limiting the range unto which the herbicides can be sprayed. This results in coca farms being set up in remote areas, like the mountains,where these planes have no range. Regardless of the eradication rate of the crop spraying methods, crop spraying will never be effective if it cannot reach the areas responsible for the cultivation of cocaine.

Even if these planes did have the means to reach these remote areas, coca crop spraying has negative effects on the environment, and on humans. To begin with, wind and other factors interfere with the spraying of herbicides, pushing the chemicals to land on legal crops as well as humans and animals (Kirkpatrick 6). A study performed by the United States government showed that these herbicides are not only “eliminating pests but are also affecting the local ecosystems, especially bodies of water, thus endangering the very lives of many species, especially birds, and considerably reducing the life of the soil, wildlife, and benign insects, which are needed to maintain a natural balance” (Evaluation of The Effects… 1.2). In addition, these chemicals are capable of contaminating the sources of potable water that humans and animals drink, sources of bodies of water, rivers, and seas (Evaluation of The Effects… 1.2). In regards to direct human effects, if glyphosate is inhaled, it may cause irritation of the nose and throat, if there is contact with the eyes, they may become irritated, and if there is skin contact, it can cause sensitivity, slight irritation, and photosensitivity (1.3.1). These herbicides are proven to not be safe for the environment, wildlife, or humans for that matter, proving that although aerial crop spraying may be effective in combating the cultivation of coca crops, it also affects nearby crops, wildlife, and negatively affects humans.

Even if aerial crop spraying did not have disastrous effects on the environment and on humans, there is relatively new strain of coca plant called Boliviana negra, that is resistant to the main chemical used in aerial crop spraying herbicides, glyphosate. There has not been much research done on the new strain, but there is speculation that the coca plant was genetically engineered in order to resist glyphosate.

Introduced as a part of “Plan Colombia,” aerial crop spraying may have worked for a while in its efforts to eradicate coca plants at the source, but the negatives outweigh the positives, There is not much range as to where the planes can travel, the herbicides have negative effects on the environment and on humans, and there is a new strain of the coca plant which resists the main chemical in aerial crop spraying herbicides. The Colombian government must implement a new method to tackle the cultivation of cocaine, as herbicidal measures no longer hold up.

The attempts by the Colombian government to apprehend drug traffickers has not been successful. Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, one of the most well known drug traffickers in the world, would bribe, intimidate, kill law enforcement officials and judges to escape prosecution in Colombia (Robbins 299). Profits from the drug trade allowed for system penetration activities such as lobbying, bribes, and legal investments, as well as for the exercise of violence and intimidation against the Colombian State (Lee 66), showing how many individuals from various levels of government were prone to corruption. One phrase commonly used by drug traffickers was “plata o plomo,” roughly translated into “silver or lead,” insinuating that one must take the bribe or take the bullet. Between 1981 and 1986 over 50 judges, including a dozen Supreme Court Justices, were murdered, and and judge who handled a drug case was bombarded with death threats if he refused to be bribed (Bagley 83). The sweeps by the army and confiscations of suspected traffickers’ properties did eliminate most of the huge cocaine-processing complexes, but it did not help. Drug traffickers increased their use of bribery, intimidation and murder to insulate themselves from prosecution, and liberally rewarded their followers to ensure their loyalty (Bagley 83).

With death threats, murder, and bribery, drug traffickers made it almost impossible for the Colombian government to sort out their apprehension. One of the biggest tools used by the drug traffickers was bribery, and it seemed to be very useful as it exercised scare tactics and allowed drug traffickers to evade the authorities and prevent proper justice from being served.

It is evident that attempts by the Colombian government to use aerial crop spraying methods no longer hold up as a reliable, let alone safe method to deal with the cultivation of coca crops. As it seems that dealing with the cultivation of coca crops by eradicating them at the source is not working, a different approach has to be taken by the Colombian government in order to get one step closer to the solution. Give the current circumstances, the manual eradication of coca crops does not seem feasible, so the Colombian government must take it one step back and deal with the coca crop farmers instead.

One solution regarding coca crop farmers that can be taken to hinder the cultivation of coca crops is to implement subsidies. The majority of coca crop farmers cultivate coca because of economical incentive. This solution will not be including the farmers who are coerced into farming coca by drug traffickers, guerrillas, and paramilitaries. Taking into consideration that coca crop farmers grow coca crops because legal crops are not profitable enough to sustain their families, the government may be able to provide subsidies to farmers in order to promote the cultivation of legal crops, as opposed to growing coca. Another method that can be implemented in tandem to this approach is to provide better access to markets for farmers in remote areas, since even with subsidies, without being able to sell their produce, subsidies are useless (Kirkpatrick 23). One of the drawbacks with this solution is that one cannot know if these farmers will continue to grow coca crops amidst being providing subsidies. Providing subsidies will most likely solve the coca crop issue among farmers who do it because of economical issues, but it will not solve the coca crop issue among farmers who grow coca because they are being coerced to.

Regarding the apprehension of drug traffickers and individuals with connections to the drug industry, it seems that the only solution is to keep exploiting extradition as a solution. Extradition frightened and enraged the traffickers who responded with brutal and generalized terrorism at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s (Guizado 178). Imprisoning criminals in Colombia is seldom seen as corruption runs rampant in the ranks of the government, and although the continuation of extradition seems to only result in acts of terrorism and murder, it is the only way. When extradition works, it works beautifully. As it was aforementioned the biggest drawback concerning using extradition is that terrorists attacks make ensue.

The cocaine industry has crippled Colombia and has a times rendered it a medium for entertainment for the rest of the world, in the form of television dramas like Narcos. The Colombian government has attempted many times to deal with the cocaine industry by implementing methods like aerial crop spraying, and has used extradition as a way to prosecute drug traffickers when governmental corruption does not allow for local imprisonment. these methods have not succeeded, so the Colombian government must take different measures. By providing coca farmers with subsidies, the cultivation of legal crops is promoted, and by continuing the usage of extradition, the cultivation and distribution of cocaine will most likely be stunted.

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