Saturday, May 17, 2014

Not So Fast: No FARC Doesn't Mean No Cocaine

From anti-government fighters to anti-drug fighters?
FARC guerrillas on the march. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In a landmark advance yesterday, government and FARC guerrilla negotiators signed a deal in Havana, Cuba in which the guerrillas agreed to help the government end the illegal drug trade after an eventual peace treaty.

It is potentially great news for Colombia, since, as chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said, illegal drugs are the "gasoline" of Colombia's long conflict. Without active guerrillas, Colombia will have a much easier time fighting criminal groups and convincing peasant farmers to abandon drug crops, de la Calle pointed out.

"The goal," he said, "is to liberate Colombia of illegal crops, of coca plantations and cocaine production."

It's an admirable goal, and would be a great thing for Colombia. However, as Sr. de la Calle might observe, guerrilla groups are far from a necessary ingredient for illegal drug production.

Look at Bolivia, which has never had a viable guerrilla force, but is the world's third-largest and a growing producer of coca leaf.

Then there's Peru, which has nearly defeated its own guerrillas, the Shining Path, but recently
Picking coca leaf in Peru: Their guerrillas are almost
gone, but drug production has risen. (Photo: COHA)
surpassed Colombia to become the largest grower of coca leaf.

And then look to Central America and Mexico, which have no guerrilla groups, but are major drug growers (of poppy and marijuana) and distributors to the United States, and have become battlefields for narcotrafficking gangs similar to the cartels which wracked Colombia during the 1980s and '90s.

When there's demand, there will be supply.

Eliminating the FARC guerrillas - if that happens - will hopefully reduce Colombia's violence, expand government control and allow more assistance to peasant farmers. But it's still a long way from eliminating the drug trade.

Still, the agreement is a big step forward. It's the third point the government and guerrilla negotiators have signed onto and shows that the guerrillas really do have an intention of reaching a peace deal. Coming just over a week before the first round of presidential elections, it's a boost for Pres. Santos and seems to indicate that the guerrillas are want him to win - if only because they see the right-wing candidate Zuluaga as a stand in for their arch enemy Alvaro Uribe.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


coolcoil said...

Of course the best way to curtail illegal cocaine growing is to make it legal with reasonable taxes. I know that's just a pipe dream, even though you would think that we would have learned from fruitless efforts to ban alcohol.

Daniel Krohn said...

Yeah, I think this agreement came at a pretty opportune time. Zulaga is going to give Santos a run for his money, and the FARC is probably afraid of what might happen is Santos doesn't get re-elected.

Militarily speaking, Santos has been far less aggressive that Uribe; preferring negotiations over direct action. If Zulaga wins the election, this is unlikely to continue. I think this was more of a gesture from the FARC, in order to show who they would rather work with. If Zulaga gets elected, the FARC know that the gloves are coming off.

Miguel said...

Hi Coolcoil - I totally agree about drug legalization, which is the only real solution. I suspect it could happen - but not tomorrow, or even in the next decade.


Miguel said...

Hi Daniel - Yes, you're probably right, altho Zuluaga has said that he'd be willing to continue the talks, but only if the FARC make major concessions.

I think this agreement will help Santos more in the second round, since those who voted UP/Polo in the first round will then be more willing to support Santos.