The Militarized US Drug War in Colombia is One Giant Failure

John Glaser, October 02, 2013

The U.S. has been declaring victory in Colombia for several years now, citing successes in clamping down on the drug trade. But it’s clear the international drug war has failed miserably.

The Clinton administration launched a foreign policy initiative to choke off the export of cocaine from Colombia by encouraging the Colombian government to militarize its policing of the drug trade and giving them all the money, weapons, and training they needed to do so. The support has kept up, with almost $4 billion in aid being sent since 2007.

It wasn’t long before abuses became rampant. Right-wing paramilitary groups with close ties to the U.S.-backed government rampage throughout the country with impunity thanks to an accommodative police force. These para-military groups “regularly commit massacres, killings, forced displacement, rape, and extortion, and create a threatening atmosphere in the communities they control” often targeting “human rights defenders, trade unionists, victims of the paramilitaries who are seeking justice, and community members who do not follow their orders,” according to Human Rights Watch. Tactics of the government also became increasingly abusive with widespread illegal spying practices by Colombia’s intelligence agencies grabbing headlines in recent years.

But forget about the ugly consequences of U.S. aid and militarization. Even on it’s own terms, Washington’s drug war in Colombia has failed. While coca production has indeed decreased dramatically, the drug production has merely shifted to neighboring countries.

Ted Galen Carpenter at the Cato Institute explains:

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced last week that the production of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, has shifted away from Colombia toward Peru.  Observers of the war on drugs are not surprised by that development. During the early and mid-1990s, drug warriors hailed the decline of coca production in Peru and neighboring Bolivia, thanks to a crackdown that Washington heavily funded through aid programs to Lima and La Paz, as a great victory in the crusade against illegal drugs.  They ignored the inconvenient fact that cultivation and production had merely moved from Peru and Bolivia into Colombia–and to a lesser extent into nearby countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil.

That phenomenon is known as the “balloon” or “push down, pop up” effect.  Strenuous efforts to dampen the supply of illicit drugs in one locale simply cause traffickers to move their production to other locations where the pressure is weaker for the moment.  When Washington and Bogotá launched Plan Colombia in 2000, the multi-billion-dollar, multi-year program to attack the coca industry in that country, cultivation and production gradually began to shift back to Peru and Bolivia.  The latest UN report confirms that trend.  As Ricardo Soberón, the former heard of Peru’s drug policy office, put it: “The carousel has come full circle.”  Adam Isacson, an expert on Latin American drug issues with the Washington Office on Latin America, noted that the new map of coca production “looks an awful lot like the old” map from the early 1990s.

So, what have we to show for the billions of dollars and countless lives ruined in the drug war in Colombia? Nothing. We’re back to square one, proving yet again that military tactics will not diminish the demand for drugs and that prohibitionist policies – on the domestic front and the international – simply don’t work.

The U.S. continues to militarize the drug war in Latin America, however. Our DEA agents, for example, are running all around Honduras, training security forces and killing people occasionally. U.S. economic and military aid continues to flow to abusive governments in the region, much of it contingent on how much those governments militarize their domestic police functions and crack down on the drug trade. Signs of improvement, unsurprisingly, are not forthcoming.




13 Responses to “The Militarized US Drug War in Colombia is One Giant Failure”

  1. The only reason police and justice are involved in Marihuana is that no taxes are paid from the sale. Marihuana/Pot is medicine, not a drug. Booze, on the other hand, is a dangerous drug.

  2. For a war to be good you would need spies traitors and a great way to divert money. So we went to Columbia to stop the export or to actually control it? Since the war on drugs happened there have been all sorts of new drugs for even more people. Why not just distract the public from what’s really going on. Global domination. We keep using that we’re in so much debt card it’s strategy we eat shit we’re hear shit we learn shit. What is anyone really doing about it? Nothing we can’t storm our homeland and get shot by our own military because we live in fear. I’m just a huge chicken afraid of prison or no more income tax. I want to tell someone please stop the war on drugs please stop prison expansion but you know what’s pretty impossible? Getting chickens to do something together. The war to stop communism from reaching Iran Iraq and the Middle East did we really benifet. Are we benifetting from talking about it everything is monitored according to snow and he NSA. What’s the point in even knowing innocent people are dying or fighting a war if we are all paralyzed. Maybe one day our voices will be heard but it’s no longer in our rights to hae freedom of speech if it’s all monitored. If we can spread information at the speed of light why can’t it be anything that I can make a difference about? My senator only cares about that paycheck and being tough on crime. Being tough on people who didn’t grow up with any parents why not take those guns in Columbia and use them on our poor citizens in prison. Just so great we have a justice system but it’s blind I poverty an those scales tip for gold.

  3. [...] The Militarized US Drug War in Colombia is One Giant FailureAntiwar.com (blog)The U.S. has been declaring victory in Colombia for several years now, citing successes in clamping down on the drug trade. But it’s clear the international drug war has failed miserably. The Clinton administration launched a foreign policy initiative …and more » [...]

  4. Gloria is Colombia not “Columbia”, please get it right is not hard especially when it’s spelled correctly in the article

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  6. What Colombia does have is one of the best-equipped militaries in the Southern Hemisphere.

  7. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced last week that the production of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, has shifted away from Colombia toward Peru. Observers of the war on drugs are not surprised by that development. During the early and mid-1990s, drug warriors hailed the decline of coca production in Peru and neighboring Bolivia, thanks to a crackdown that Washington heavily funded through aid programs to Lima and La Paz, as a great victory in the crusade against illegal drugs.

  8. @Ubuntu: "one of the best-equipped militaries …"

    How utterly fascinating – and used almost exclusively, to "kill their own people."

  9. The US used to be respected in Mexico and Latin American during the presidency of John Kennedy when we actually assisted and empowered people through the peace corps. It is sad to see the US destroying the governments of nearby countries due to failed policy in the US. These people are not likely to continue to be our friends and I would not blame them if they never trust us again.

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