From narco to negotiator, will Colombia’s FARC be the key in reducing illicit crop cultivation?
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From narco to negotiator, will Colombia’s FARC be the key in reducing illicit crop cultivation?

U.S. intervention in Colombia has been ongoing for the past 15 years, cracking down on the illegal drugs trade which continues to plague Latin America’s northern neighbor.

Indeed, Plan Colombia, instituted under President Bill Clinton in 2000, has been viewed as a failure. Allegations of rape, human rights breaches, dangerous fumigation methods and corrupt politicians surface while the drugs trade continues.

As attitudes continue to change in Colombia, namely fuelled by President Juan Manuel Santos’ drive to eliminate coca crop production, which continues to rise in the country, the key could now be in the hands of guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

With a peace deal firmly on the table and one-time fighters beginning to lay down their arms, William Brown, the U.S. assistant secretary for counternarcotics believes increased FARC involvement could pave the crucial next step.

Talking tactics

“U.S. government has said that the FARC are one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in the world, in other words, when we are discussing drug trafficking and cocaine, we need to include the FARC in the top 10, perhaps even the top five global groups involved in the trade.” Brown commented during an interview with daily El Tiempo

“I hope that if the U.S. government supports the efforts made by Colombian government we are going to need to update past politics and both governments will need to have the same objective: we want to reduce and eliminate the cultivation and production of illicit drugs, produced in Colombia and consumed in the U.S. We have the same objective, the only thing left to discuss is tactics, we have the same strategy, the question is what will be the best tactic for completing this operation.”

Certainly tactics are a delicate topic, with the FARC disbanding once peace is reached, it is yet to be seen whether hefty prison sentences await those involved in over 50 years of internal armed conflict. Furthermore, as previous FARC perpetrators have faced extradition to the U.S. will creating a dialogue really be quite so simple?

The group recently made Colombian headlines for planting explosives under swathes of coca crops, using a similar not dissimilar to antipersonnel mines. Yes it might be a quick fix to get rid of hectares of illicit crop, but the risks posed to already suffering rural communities are huge, destroying livelihoods and causing injury in a split second.

Indeed, one of Brown’s main concerns was the use of Venezuela as a key trafficking route.

“We have calculated that the majority, over half of Colombia’s illicit crops pass through the neighboring country’s territory (Venezuela), which suggests that for some reason drug traffickers have decided that this route is the most economic and efficient.”

Identifying trafficking routes and disarming criminal bands will certainly be a factor that the FARC is able to help with but with Colombia-Venezuela relations already delicate after a border dispute earlier this year, it looks like the U.S. and Colombia will be going back to the drawing board to rewrite those tactics.

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