Autumn Kritzer is currently a junior Politics and International Relations major.


(What is From the Field?  Read the introduction to the current segment to find out more!)

Drug production and trafficking polluted Colombia’s national security for nearly fifty years. The issue had to be addressed in order to restore tranquility and peace within the nation. Upon President Pastrana’s election in 1998, his main goal was to eliminate the issue of drug production and trafficking, since the drug market fueled internal violence within Colombia. The policy that was created to minimize the drug market within Colombia is known as Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia has had partial success but had failed in certain areas. Internal conflict has been reduced within Colombia, but the process of drug interdiction and eradication had negative effects on the neighboring nations, and the local population’s health.

Colombia was plagued with internal conflict for half of a century. The nation of Colombia did not have full sovereignty, in being that it did not have control of all of the lands within the country. Guerilla groups played a role in drug production and trafficking, which gave the groups a substantial amount of power. Guerilla groups were controlling land that the Colombian government struggled to re-gain. Many murders and kidnappings were committed by the guerilla groups. Due to the violence being acted out against citizens, funding went towards self-defense organizations. The Colombian government did not have control over the nation’s land and also, did not have the ability to protect its citizens, so their sovereignty came into question (For further background before the implementation of Plan Colombia, click here).

The root of internal conflict was drug production and trafficking, giving President Pastrana the desire to eliminate it, which was hoped to be reached through Plan Colombia of 1999. Plan Colombia was a $7 billion plan and was open to funding from the international community. The United States contributed $1.3 billion towards this plan, between fiscal years 2000-2001. The US assisted in areas such as human rights and judicial reform, the expansion of counter-narcotics efforts, alternative economic development, increased interdiction, and the national police of Colombia. Many illicit drugs used in the United States originated from Colombia. The US had an interest in reducing the supply of drugs in Colombia, so that drug use within the US would decrease as well (to view more about US funding, click here).

The objectives of Plan Colombia were to decrease drug production and trafficking by 50% within a six-year span and to restore national security by re-gaining lands back from illegally armed groups that were controlling them. The tools that were used to reach the objectives include drug eradication through the process of aerial spraying, drug interdiction, and alternative economic development. Aerial spraying was completed through the use of helicopters, which sprayed herbicides upon coca crops that were otherwise unreachable. If the number of coca crops was reduced, the Colombian government hoped that the overall production rate of drugs would significantly decrease. Drug interdiction is when national police seize illegal drugs that are being produced and trafficked. The intentions of this tool were to reduce the production and trafficking of drugs as well. The tool of alternative economic development gave farmers incentives to not cultivate illicit crops such as coca. Rather, the government provided farmers with marketing resources so they had the capability to cultivate and sell legal crops. If illegal crops were not being cultivated by farmers, the overall production of drugs would decrease (For further reading on strategic reasoning for Plan Colombia, click here). Reducing the scope of power of the drug market also would reduce the profits of Guerilla groups. If guerilla groups were losing money and power, there would not be a need for self-defense organizations, restoring lands to Colombia along with their sovereignty (which is where a country has unrivaled control of their territory).

The tools used to reach the objectives have had both positive and negative impacts. Drug eradication through the use of aerial spraying was very costly. Aerial spraying costs nearly $240,000 to eliminate just one kilogram of cocaine. For perspective, nearly 128,000 hectares are sprayed annually. Aerial spraying is expensive and not that effective. Local farmers have been able to find loopholes around this system, by simply moving their crops to areas that were unreachable by helicopters, which sprayed the herbicides. Aerial spraying had a negative impact on the citizens’ health, 403 citizens felt ill within four weeks of the fields being sprayed by herbicides according to a survey which was conducted.  Drug interdiction has increased between 2000-2012 from 80,000 to 190,000 drug seizures. The process of interdiction has decreased the trafficking of drugs, which shows that it was successful for Colombia’s interest. Even though interdiction decreased drug trafficking in Colombia, this caused drug trafficking to be displaced in Mexico and Central America. The displacement of drugs from one country to the next shows a flaw within the process of drug supply reduction. Alternative economic development has not been completely successful. The programs used to achieve development had implementation issues, the resources that were given to farmers that intended to widen their production and sales were not self-sustainable. The tools used to reach the objectives have caused a decrease in internal conflict, which is measured through crime rates. For recent statistics, between 2013-2014 the crime rate has decreased by 14.28% (for further reading on key findings of Plan Colombia, click here and here). Overall, the tools have had both positive and negative impacts.

Plan Colombia of 1999 had the objectives of reducing drug production and trafficking, along with eliminating internal conflict. The United States provided Colombia aid to reach these objectives. The tools used to reach the objectives included drug eradication by aerial spraying, drug interdiction, and alternative economic development. The tools have achieved a decrease in internal conflict, and drug production and trafficking. Certain processes had negative effects on the local population’s health, such as aerial spraying. Also, the increase in drug interdiction has caused drug production and trafficking to be displaced in other regions, such as Mexico and Central America. Plan Colombia has proven to be effective in the reduction of internal conflict, but not at completely eradicating drug production and trafficking. The failure of Plan Colombia has shown flaws in the process of drug supply reduction.


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