As Plan Colombia was being debated over a decade ago, many used terms like “narco-state” or “failed state” to describe the country. Today, Colombia still faces many challenges, but is also transformed. Supported by U.S. assistance, strong Colombian leadership and political will have been key factors leading to these results. Over the past decade, Colombia has dramatically improved security throughout the country with the help of over $8 billion in USG security and development assistance. USG assistance has fallen significantly in recent years as Colombia’s institutions have matured. The security gains achieved since 2002 are dramatic: the number of murders has fallen by 45 percent and political assassinations by 87 percent; kidnappings are down 91 percent; terrorist attacks are down 91 percent; and attacks against oil pipelines have dropped 73 percent.
While terrorist organizations, such as the FARC, remain heavily involved in the drug trade, we must also continue to work together to weaken emergent criminal organizations actively involved in illegal narcotics production and trafficking. Despite notable progress in reducing coca cultivation and cocaine production, Colombia, along with Peru and Bolivia, remains one of three principal cocaine producing countries in the world. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, almost 95 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States originates in Colombia. In addition, Colombia continues to be the source for a significant portion of the heroin in the United States, including most of the heroin available on the East Coast.
Approximately 54,000 combatants in Colombia’s internal conflict have been demobilized; the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and other violent, narcotrafficking paramilitary organizations no longer exist. The FARC, which a decade ago numbered more than 20,000 combatants and was capable of confronting the army in conventional battles, is down to approximately 8,000 combatants. The Government of Colombia is refining its strategies with the intention of bringing the internal conflict with the FARC to an end. Much of the FARC’s leadership, including Alfonso Cano, has been killed. The ELN, a once-formidable communist insurgent group with as many as 8,000 combatants, is severely weakened and has much less influence. USG training, technical assistance, and equipment were vital to this turnaround. Despite the impressive progress, the fight is not yet won, and the USG remains engaged.
Colombia is increasingly sharing its unique security expertise throughout the region – and globally – with training exchanges to over twenty countries including Latin American partners, West African nations, and Afghanistan. In many ways, Colombia has emerged as the signature example of the successes of USG counternarcotics cooperation internationally. Coca production nonetheless remains the lifeblood of the FARC and Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) that are still a significant threat to the GOC’s ability to completely control its territory. Maintaining pressure on coca cultivation and trafficking while targeting the organizations themselves remain top priorities of the GOC and USG.
Colombia’s counter insurgency/counternarcotics efforts have shown strong promise to permanently rescue significant cultivation areas from the influence of narcotrafficking and terrorism, two inextricably linked scourges. Strong eradication and interdiction programs continue to be essential for disrupting today’s narcotrafficking networks and for thwarting cultivation in Colombia’s more remote areas. The GOC’s National Consolidation Plan, which the Embassy supports, is helping to bring the civilian elements of the state to remote, previously ungoverned parts of the national territory. As the state extends its reach, more rural citizens are enjoying access to basic services and are protected from FARC influence and intimidation. Many poor farmers previously forced to grow coca can now safely plant legal, alternative crops without fear of guerrilla retribution.
The U.S. supports locally-led programs designed to confront multiple aspects of the drug trade and assists the Government of Colombia in re-establishing control and the rule of law in areas threatened by drug-related violence. Primary elements of this comprehensive assistance include illicit crop eradication, interdiction operations, alternative livelihoods programs, institution building, and justice sector reform. Eradication efforts are aimed at preventing and destroying illicit cultivation, while alternative livelihoods projects implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), provide economic alternatives to illicit crop production through projects, enterprise development, natural resource protection, institutional strengthening, and promoting access to markets.
The United States works with the Colombian National Police and the Colombian Military to affect a substantial net decrease in coca cultivation, cocaine production, and drug trafficking. Due to strong eradication efforts over the last several years, the United States Government and United Nations separately report significant declines in cocaine production potential and coca cultivation in Colombia. The USG found that the area devoted to coca cultivation in 2010 was down 14 percent compared to 2009, from 116,000 to 100,000 hectares (ha). Crediting sustained aerial and manual eradication operations and aggressive enforcement activity in 2010, the USG also reported a decline in potential pure cocaine production of 7.4 percent, from 290 metric tons (MT) in 2009 to 270 MT in 2010 – a 61 percent drop from the 700 MT estimated pure cocaine production potential in 2001.
The United States also provides support to improve the efficiency of Colombia’s new accusatory judicial system. U.S. programs help train judges, prosecutors, and police; promote timely and effective investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations; and support the identification and return of missing remains. Work with government and civil society to advance drug demand prevention programs in schools and communities is also an important part of U.S. assistance programs in Colombia.