Plan Colombia 15 years on: Is the War on Drugs working?
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Plan Colombia 15 years on: Is the War on Drugs working?

In 2000, the United States government, under President Bill Clinton, instituted Plan Colombia, a military and counter-narcotics aid initiative aimed at combating both the illicit drug trade and militant left-wing groups in the South American country.

Controversial from the start, the 15 years of the U.S.-Colombia “War on Drugs” has been, according to many, an abject failure. Criticisms of Plan Colombia include the evidence of U.S. support, participation and tolerance of human rights violations directed at leftist individuals by right-wing paramilitary groups; economic, environmental and human health issues stemming from the aerial fumigation of coca plants and the (allegedly inadvertent) spraying of legal crops; and an overall failure to effectively combat the drug trade between Colombia and the United States, which remains the largest market for Colombian cocaine.

Specific reports of multiple cases of rape of young girls by U.S. soldiers and government contractors, who enjoy diplomatic immunity in Colombia, has further marred the War on Drugs.

recently released independent report (PDF) commissioned by the Colombian government and FARC rebels as part of ongoing peace negotiations suggests that the 2007 rape was far from an isolated incident. The report alleges that 54 underage girls were sexually assaulted by U.S. soldiers and government contractors from 2004 to 2007.

(via Al Jazeera)

Read more: Deafening media silence on US military and contractors’ sexual assault of 54 Colombian girls

Colombia: The war against cocaine today

According to a new White House report, cocaine production in Colombia grew by 39 percent in 2014 after 6 years of decline or non-growth. This jump in coca growth has spurred the U.S. to pressure Colombia to continue using glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, a U.S.-made herbicide that is considered “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Colombia’s health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, wants to see an end to the spraying, though this pits him against the country’s defense minister, its police, the Colombian political right wing and the United States government.

Yet if cocaine production increased so much under the spraying regimen, surely glyphosate use can’t be a very effective tactic. Several recent high-profile cocaine shipments seem to point to the inefficacy of the current war on drugs in Colombia:

  • The UK’s largest-ever drug bust recently occurred when more than $750 million worth of cocaine was found aboard a tugboat off of the coast of Scotland. Though the origins of the haul are uncertain, it is believed to be from South America.

Though these incidents may be anecdotal, they do not give the impression of any kind of success when it comes to Plan Colombia.

Negotiating with the FARC: A different approach to ending the drug war

Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Colombia’s High Commissioner of Peace, prefers the open hand of negotiation to the clenched fist of combat. The guerilla FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) group has long financed its activities through taxing coca cultivation and narcotics distribution — the same is true of right wing paramilitary groups.

With the support of Cuba and Venezuela, among other countries, the FARC began negotiations with the Colombian government, taking place in Havana, Cuba, back in 2012. The group’s leaders now speak with Jarmillo on a “daily basis.”

It seems that alternative approaches to ending the drug trade are the way to go. The same may be true when it comes to drug use and addiction, which are the driving causes of the trade, especially in the U.S. and Europe.

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