Drug Crimes in Colombia

Colombia is distinguished as one of the countries with the highest drug crimes in the world. The high crime rate is ascribed to the nation’s illicit drug trade, which involves the production, processing, and trafficking of cocaine. The magnitude of drug crimes in Colombia can be quantified through homicide rates and statistical estimates of cocaine production and sales. In 2018, the murder rate across Colombia was approximately 25 cases per 100,000 people, while the rate of cocaine production in the same year was 1,120 metric tons. The Colombian government has been engaging in military and concerted efforts in an attempt to reduce drug trafficking and related crimes. However, the problem has only evolved into a series of other issues due to deep-seated hindrances, such as corruption and poverty. Colombia’s drug crimes represent a critical and tricky question that demands international, national, and local collaborative efforts both from a political and societal perspective.

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            The challenge of drug trafficking in Colombia is mainly attributed to highly organized crime groups and corruption that runs deep within administrative systems. Indeed, Colombia is renowned for its notorious cartels that manage drug operations and criminal activities. Some of the most famous cartels were the Medellin, Cali, Norte Del Valle, and North Coast Cartels (PBS). Cartels are responsible for supervising the production and distribution of illegal drugs. Some cartels have used extreme tactics such as amalgamating with guerilla movements to enhance their trafficking level. For instance, the Medellin Cartel combined with the M-19 militia group to eventually traffic over 80% of cocaine delivered to the United States. It is estimated that 70% of the world’s cocaine is produced in Colombia. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), this amounts to about 1400 tons, a significant chunk of the 2000 tons produced in the Andean region. Other cocaine-producing countries in the Andean region include Peru and Bolivia (Popescu 258). In each of these countries, organized groups contribute to the persistence of trafficking.

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            Poverty contributes to the growth and perpetuation of cocaine trafficking in Colombia. Poor farmers are compelled to cultivate coca to earn a living (Gootenberg 27). Much of the coca used in the production of cocaine is cultivated in remote areas where authorities are absent, and locals lack access to Colombia’s legal economy. The lack of state control means that land is readily available for informal and illegal activities, such as coca cultivation. In 2018, it was estimated that over 160,000 hectares of land were used to cultivate cocaine. A more significant part of this land is farmed by 130,000 families who benefit directly from small-scale coca farming. Each family receives an average of $1000 per month from coca-growing activities. The mean price of coca across Colombia is one dollar per kilogram, albeit pricing is mainly dependent on the region. Approximately 125 kilograms of coca are needed to produce one kilogram of cocaine. To buy such an amount of coca, a local drug lab needs barely $150. However, once processed, the value upsurges to about $2200. The value further escalates when the cocaine reaches consumers in the United States to roughly $60,000.

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            Colombian authorities have tried to curb the production and sale of cocaine through various methods. The most prevalent methods are the eradication of coca plants via spraying chemicals. Even so, the country still records high levels of cocaine production. For instance, the country produced over 1300 tons of cocaine in 2017 alone. The Colombian defense ministry claims to have destroyed over 80,000 hectares of coca and confiscated over 400 tons of cocaine in 2018 alone. The mission of eradicating cocaine is a complicated task because of several issues. Firstly, farmers have no alternatives to earn livelihood and entirely depend on coca farming to feed. Secondly, the Colombian regime lacks the capacity to counter illegal groups that control the industry. Such groups have considerable financial resources to lure government officials and bribe authorities. Additionally, there is a high degree of corruption within the Colombian government. At the international level, foreign powers have not managed to strike a lasting agreement on tackling Colombia’s illicit drug trade. Although Europe and the United Nations have proposed substituting crops and forced eradication through aerial fumigation, these methods have not been successful. Colombia lacks an effective crop substitution program. Furthermore, cartels that control coca production are incredibly violent.

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            Experience has proved that eradicating crops is not an adequate measure of solving Colombia’s drug crime problem. Perhaps this is why international bodies such as the UNODC support administrative efforts to help farmers who abandon coca farming. Examples of collaborative programs that have been designed to help farmers are the Productive Projects Program and the Forest Warden Families Program. Such initiatives help ensure that former coca farmers switch to legal incomes that are adequate for sustenance. Rural activities designed to rehabilitate former coca farmers are incorporated into comprehensive socio-economic development projects to benefit all Colombian populations. The UNODC guesstimates that the area under coca cultivation reduced between 2009 and 2010 (Bagley 8). However, these figures increased in the succeeding years. This shows that current efforts are not sufficient to solve Colombia’s illicit drug trade crisis.

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            The involvement of the Colombian military has also been a critical strategy against cocaine production and trafficking. While it has achieved moderate success, it has not resulted in significant changes. Even in locations where military presence is significant, the justice system remains inefficient. If the state has not managed to establish significant presence and control, the presence of the military and police officers does not have any potential to shift the status quo. The capacity of the judiciary to impact changes on the ground in areas where coca is cultivated has particularly proven inadequate. Therefore, the presence of the police and the military promises little effect. There is a high level of incompetence among Colombian institutions, which seems to be a critical source of the ensuing drug problems.

            In conclusion, Colombia’s drug crimes represent a critical and tricky question that demands international, national, and local collaborative efforts both from a political and societal perspective. The challenge of drug trafficking in Colombia is mainly attributed to highly organized crime groups and corruption that runs deep within administrative systems. Colombia is renowned for its notorious cartels that manage drug operations and criminal activities in the country.  Poverty contributes to the growth and perpetuation of cocaine trafficking in Colombia. Much of the coca used in the production of cocaine is cultivated in remote areas where authorities are absent, and locals lack access to Colombia’s legal economy. Colombian authorities have tried to curb the production and sale of cocaine through various methods. The most prevalent methods are the eradication of coca plants via spraying chemicals. Experience has proved that eradicating crops is not an adequate measure of solving Colombia’s drug crime problem. The involvement of the Colombian military has also been a critical strategy against cocaine production and trafficking. While it has achieved moderate success, it has not resulted in significant changes.

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