HomeNewsAnalysisUS Warns Differences on FARC Peace Could Cause Relationship 'Problems' With Colombia
ANALYSIS

US Warns Differences on FARC Peace Could Cause Relationship 'Problems' With Colombia

COCA / 4 AUG 2017 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

A top US anti-drug official has cautioned that "bilateral political problems" could result from differences of opinion between the United States and Colombia about how to deal with rising cocaine production in the context of the ongoing implementation of a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group.

At a US congressional hearing on August 2, State Department official William Brownfield offered strong but controversial recommendations on how to curb Colombia's booming cocaine production, which stand in contrast to the Colombian government's planned approach to the issue.

According to the assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and former ambassador to Colombia, the United States has a "limited window of opportunity to roll back the recent troubling narcotics trends" in Colombia, which he said had experienced a 200 percent increase in cocaine production over the past three years.

Brownfield stated that cocaine use has simultaneously been rising in the United States, with 2015 seeing the highest number of cocaine-related overdose deaths in almost a decade.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Cocaine Production

The assistant secretary laid out the main aspects of Colombia's new drug policy as outlined in the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), which focuses on substituting coca with legal crops and developing infrastructure in rural areas. He explained that legal and political obstacles prevented the United States from backing those elements of the accord.

"The United States is not currently supporting the Colombian government's voluntary eradication and crop substitution program because the FARC is involved in some aspects of the program and remains designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under several U.S. laws and sanctions regimes," he said.

"If we don't reach an acceptable solution for both countries … we're going to see bilateral political problems" - William Brownfield

Brownfield also pointed to the resource limitations of Colombia's strategy.

"We are strongly encouraging the Colombian government to limit the number of voluntary eradication agreements they negotiate and sign to make implementation feasible," he said. "Voluntary eradication agreements must also have expiration dates so the security forces can forcibly eradicate in farms where coca growing communities fail to meet their obligations."

Colombia aims to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca crops by the end of the year through a 50-50 mix of crop substitution and forced eradication.

Moreover, Brownfield argued that the "Colombian leadership must find a way to implement a robust forced manual eradication effort" to encourage farmers to abandon illicit crops.

Following the hearing, Brownfield told the press, "If we don't reach an acceptable solution for both countries reasonably soon, we're going to see bilateral political problems and this is what I want to avoid."

InSight Crime Analysis

Brownfield's comments show that the United States remains committed to a traditional approach to counternarcotics efforts -- one that has had little overall success, and is at odds with the Colombian government's stated strategy. But the political and financial backing of the United States is important to the future of the FARC peace process, making it difficult for Colombia to contest or simply ignore US policy preferences.

Colombian security analyst John Marulanda believes these paradoxical interests have put the administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos between a rock and a hard place.

"The government is trapped between the political necessity to keep its commitments to the FARC ... and to satisfy the reiterated concerns of its primary partner and collaborator, the United States, which is understandably worried about its own security," Marulanda told InSight Crime.

And while Brownfield's argument that Colombia has insufficient funds for its crop substitution programs is probably justified, the United States could be doing far more to support this alternative initiative, according to Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) Adam Isacson.

"The [US government] is clearly unenthusiastic about Colombia's crop substitution plan," Isacson told InSight Crime.

Colombia's two-sided and seemingly contradictory strategy is already causing problems in various areas. By eradicating swaths of coca fields by force while simultaneously convincing farmers to sign up for crop substitution programs, authorities have unsurprisingly sparked confusion and even violent protests in the countryside. Should the country heed US demands to increase forced eradication, this scenario will only be exacerbated.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Drug Policy

Another underlying obstacle is that the United States has yet to remove the FARC from its list of terrorist organizations. Keeping this label will hinder US assistance to crucial elements of the peace deal that may be considered "material support to terrorists," Isascon explained.

As well as preventing US support for the substitution programs, the FARC's "terrorist" status may end up weakening economic assistance for reintegrating rebels.

"The question of 'when does a terrorist stop being a terrorist' remains really unresolved," Isacson said, adding that the same issue hampered US support for Colombia's notorious paramilitaries, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), after they demobilized in the mid-2000s. The AUC pact ultimately failed to reintegrate scores of demobilized combatants, many of whom are now operating in Colombia's most powerful criminal organizations.

Furthermore, the US request that Colombia not rule out extradition of people involved in the peace accords is no small issue. The threat of possible extradition could cause some FARC leaders to reconsider their tepid support for the peace process. Recent months have already seen scores of guerrillas abandoning their camps and going rogue.

If the Colombian government acquiesces to US pressure for heavier-handed anti-drug policies, it risks undermining its promises to the demobilized rebels and coca farmers, threatening the viability of the historic peace deal. This scenario is already playing out in several vulnerable areas, with deadly consequences. But if Colombia disregards US demands, Marulanda argued, a "political confrontation" between the two nations remains a possibility.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

DRUG POLICY / 11 JAN 2013

The incoming Mexican ambassador to Washington called for renewed debate on drug prohibition and on gun control…

COLOMBIA / 18 MAR 2016

A new report that tracks the variables linked to drug seizures in Colombia's major cities could help inform the government's…

BOLIVIA / 9 JAN 2014

As Bolivia assumed the presidency of the United Nations Group of 77 (G-77), President Evo Morales used this opportunity to…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…