Colombia’s newly announced proposals to disrupt drug production by cutting access to power sources and alkaloids to rural areas might sound innovative on paper but are unlikely to have a major impact on the drug trade and may end up hurting long-suffering residents.
Colombia Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez announced his proposed "disruption policy" in a November 1 press release which is aimed at confronting rising drug production and trafficking in the country, the main illicit revenue stream for Colombia's organized crime groups.
Martínez proposed promoting bioengineering projects to curb the production of the alkaloid needed to produce cocaine, limiting the supply of energy to greenhouses in order to disrupt cannabis growing operations, and adopting measures to stop the use of cash and companies that offer foreign currency transfers or remittance services in areas of illicit crop cultivation.
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In an effort to specifically target the production of the alkaloid needed to produce cocaine, Martínez proposed “petrochemical innovation” so that fuel stops yielding the factors needed to produce cocaine hydrochloride, in addition to controlling the sale of government subsidized gasoline in cocaine and marijuana-producing areas, among other things.
Martínez said that the state must combat the county’s drug trafficking groups in a “broader and more audacious” way by resorting to “technology, innovation, and disruption.” The strategy was outlined in a letter to President Iván Duque, but it is unclear whether it will be implemented.
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Attorney General Martínez's quest for new ideas is welcome in a country that has largely struggled to curtail a rise in drug production and related trafficking. "We have been doing the same thing for 30 years,” he recently told El Tiempo.
That being said, these specific proposals are short on detail and may instead have inadvertent consequences.
It’s unclear what “promoting bioengineering projects” means, but it will likely take time to develop projects of such sophistication. Yet time is precious, as Colombia’s organized crime groups are producing more cocaine than ever before.
Limiting or turning off the supply of electricity to disrupt cannabis growing operations is also unlikely to have a significant impact. As Martínez himself mentioned, Colombia’s drug trafficking groups are growing more innovative and are increasingly turning to technology to enhance their operations. These groups have enough money and could easily turn to generators as an alternate power source -- as other groups in the region have done. Ultimately, communities are affected rather than the drug trafficking operations of criminal groups.
In addition, electrical problems have not stopped criminal groups from moving into certain communities. An area disguised by darkness makes conducting criminal activities even easier.
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Controlling the sale of gasoline in marijuana and cocaine-producing regions of the country may hurt residents more than criminals. While these restrictions may impact drug production and trafficking in the short-term, criminal groups can find alternatives which are not available to the general population.
The Colombian government has in the past been criticized for not meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens living in strategic drug trafficking regions -- most notably concerning the state’s coca eradication and crop substitution programs. Restricting government subsidized gasoline sales may further strain the government’s relationships with its most at-risk citizens while criminal groups find alternative ways to acquire the gasoline needed for drug production, including making illegal oil taps on pipelines.
Instead, a more effective strategy to combat drug production and trafficking might involve putting resources towards ensuring illicit crop growers have alternative crops to rely on that are sustainable and profitable, in addition to ensuring the government has a greater presence in drug-producing areas to safeguard the citizens living there. With this, organized crime groups would have a harder time exerting the control over these communities needed to further their criminal activities.