Colombia remains a major source country for cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Although the Colombian government continues to fight against the production and trafficking of illicit drugs through aerial and manual eradication operations and aggressive enforcement activity, potential pure cocaine production in 2013 increased 12 percent to 190 metric tons (MT), an increase of 20 MT from 2012. This increase is attributed to higher yields in two key growing areas, Cauca and Nariño, and to increased cultivation and maturity rates in Colombia’s most productive growing area, Norte de Santander. The United States estimated that the area devoted to coca cultivation remained relatively stable in 2013, increasing only three percent in 2013 to 80,500 hectares (ha) from 78,000 ha in 2012. Cultivation increased primarily in Norte de Santander and along the Pacific coast, and decreased in the center of the country. Production and cultivation estimates were not yet available for 2014 at the time of this report.
Over 90 percent of the cocaine seized by authorities in the United States and analyzed as part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Cocaine Signature Program in 2013 was of Colombian origin, consistent with previous years.
Colombia extradited 138 fugitives to the United States in 2014, a 4.6 percent increase from 2013. The majority of extraditions were of individuals wanted for drug crimes, and 126 were Colombians, two were U.S. citizens, and 10 were third-country nationals. Colombian Ministry of Defense authorities reported seizing over 207.4 MT of cocaine and cocaine base in 2014, and eliminated tons of additional potential cocaine through the combined aerial and manual eradication of 67,234 ha of coca over the year.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
During various stages of its 50-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian government has announced major initiatives to expand civilian government institutional presence and service provision into the country’s most neglected rural regions, so that these cease to persist as hot spots for civil unrest, armed conflict, and all types of illegal activity, including narcotics production and trafficking. The most recent initiative, called the National Plan for Consolidation and Territorial Reconstruction, was launched in 2009 to cement the gains achieved by a vast expansion of public security under the Democratic Security Policy of 2003-2010. By most accounts, this latest attempt to project credible, functioning public institutions into ungoverned spaces – while methodologically sound – lacks the prioritization, resources, and execution that characterized the public security program that preceded it. Any irreversible transition from conflict in Colombia will require that the government draw from lessons of the past to address the structural and political impediments that prevent the full guarantee of basic constitutional rights to the seven million Colombian rural inhabitants who live below the poverty line. The preliminary agreement announced in 2013 between the Colombian government and the FARC on integrated rural development is ambitious in terms of the scope of state presence and public investments to which it commits. Once more, Colombia’s major challenge will be full and effective implementation of its well-conceived plans.
The Attorney General’s Office recently adopted reforms to reduce impunity through the implementation of new investigative methodologies and criminal prosecution strategies. However, serious challenges remain to achieving an efficient and fully-resourced accusatory criminal justice system.
The 1997 U.S.-Colombian maritime bilateral agreement facilitates timely permission to board Colombian-flagged vessels in international waters and is the foundation for productive counternarcotics cooperation between the Colombian Navy (COLNAV) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).
The extradition relationship between Colombia and the United States is robust and extremely productive. Since December 17, 1997, Colombia has extradited approximately 1,761 individuals to the United States.
2. Supply Reduction
In areas where Colombia allows aerial eradication, coca fields are less productive than they were when eradication operations began in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, illicit cultivation continues and is increasing in Colombia’s national parks, indigenous reserves, the department of Norte de Santander, and within a 10-kilometer zone along the border with Ecuador, where Colombian law or international and regional agreements prohibit aerial eradication. In late 2014, the governments of Colombia and Ecuador implemented an agreement to reduce the border exclusion zone to 5 kilometers which permits expanded aerial eradication along the Colombian-Ecuadorian border.
Colombia aerially eradicated 55,532 ha of coca in 2014, surpassing its goal of 55,000 ha. Colombia manually eradicated 11,702 ha of coca in 2014, falling short of its goal of 14,000 ha. Numerous local level protests blocking access roads to coca fields were a major obstacle to manual eradication’s ability to operate in major coca growing regions. Additionally, security concerns associated with the Ecuador-Colombia border area and in the Catatumbo region near the Venezuela-Colombia border slowed or prohibited manual eradication. Similarly, Colombia’s national elections, which utilized 669 members of the Colombian National Police’s (CNP) primary interdiction force, the Anti-Narcotics Directorate’s (DIRAN) Jungla commando force, and a total of between 45,000 to 60,000 regular CNP officers during the three-month presidential campaign and voting period further reduced their availability for manual eradication operations, preventing the Colombian government from achieving its original annual goal.
All of the Colombian security forces, both civilian and military, continued to make drug interdiction one of their highest priorities, linking it directly to several goals: the achievement of a stable post-peace agreement environment; the extension of citizen security and rule of law throughout Colombia; and the effort to counter groups of armed insurgents that have plagued the country for decades. This priority is reflected in the government’s resource allocation, both financial and human.
The Colombian government reported seizures of over 207.4 MT of cocaine and cocaine base in 2014. Also during the year, the Colombian government seized over 301.1 MT of marijuana, and 349 kilograms (kg) of heroin. Colombian authorities also destroyed 2,149 cocaine base laboratories and 214 cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) laboratories, and in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, seized one submersible and two semi-submersible vessel for transporting drugs.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
In September 2014, the Colombian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health introduced a new national drug demand reduction (DDR) policy, which places a greater emphasis on education programs to prevent consumption and healthcare solutions to treat those already struggling with consumption issues. The driving factor behind this new strategy was the release of the 2013 National Consumption Study, completed with support from the United States, which showed an increase in the national drug consumption rate. The overall rate of Colombian citizens who have tried an illicit drug at least once in their life grew to 13 percent of the population, up from nine percent in 2008. While Colombia’s overall consumption rate places it in an intermediate level internationally, the government has expressed growing concern with consumption, especially among school-aged youth. The Colombian government continues to focus resources on research on drug use, and in July 2014 re-launched its Observatory on Drugs, a web-based clearinghouse for studies on national and international drug use statistics, illicit crop cultivation, and international and national drug policy.
In 2013, the three principal government entities involved in DDR (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, and the DIRAN) had a combined budget of approximately $6.9 million dollars dedicated to DDR programs, bolstered by support from the United States. The Colombian government has allocated significant financial and personnel resources to these activities, including 50 additional police to support the CNP’s school-based DDR programs. Additionally, the government is increasingly focusing its resources in rural areas. The Colombian Ministry of Health identified 20 high-consumption regions where it will send resources and personnel to equip and train local officials and government entities to aid them in their efforts to expand local DDR programs.
As Colombia looks towards a potential post-peace agreement period and as the Colombian government expands a host of services it provides, DDR programs will continue to grow in importance. The Colombian government continues to focus on consumption as a healthcare issue, and is bolstering its DDR capacities. Colombia is also currently leading a working group within OAS-CICAD that is exploring a wide range of alternatives to drug-related incarceration. By continuing to increase its capacity to both prevent and treat drug consumption, while lowering the numbers of those incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes, the Colombian government believes it will free up more of its law enforcement resources to combat illicit crop cultivation, drug trafficking, and other related serious crimes.
The Government of Colombia does not facilitate the production or trafficking of illegal drugs, nor the laundering of proceeds. The Colombian government took a significant step to combat corruption by passing the Transparency Act, which makes virtually all information held by the government available to the public. However, narcotics-related corruption of government officials still exists. For example the Attorney General’s Office is currently conducting an investigation against nine members of the Colombian military, four active duty and five retired military officials, including one retired Colonel considered the leader of a network dedicated to arms trafficking with the criminal organization formally known as “Los Urabeños,” now called “Clan Úsuga.”
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States provides a range of counter narcotics assistance to the CNP and Colombian military, as well as to judicial institutions that investigate and prosecute drug traffickers. The United States also supports programs designed to develop Colombia’s rural policing capabilities. Additionally, Colombia participates in the annual USCG-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit, which enhances bilateral cooperation in combating maritime drug trafficking and improving prosecution of maritime trafficking cases.
The United States supports Colombian efforts to move communities out of coca-based economies by dramatically expanding the presence of the state. In transition zones where the Colombian government has only recently established minimum security, the United States works with Colombia to respond rapidly to community-identified needs, strengthen local institutions and ground level national entities, develop social capital and encourage greater civil society participation, promote land restitution and formalization, and support longer-term economic development opportunities.
At the April 2012 Summit of the Americas, President Obama and President Juan Manuel Santos announced plans to formalize coordination of Colombian and U.S. security cooperation activities in third-party countries. Through the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation, Colombia’s security forces are providing their expertise for countering transnational organized crime and drug trafficking to nations in Central America and the Caribbean with the assistance of the United States. In 2013, the Action Plan included 39 capacity-building activities in four Central American countries and grew in 2014 to include 152 capacity-building activities in six countries. The Action Plan for 2015 is expected to include 205 activities in the same six countries.
Colombia continues to make advances in combating the drug trade. These efforts have kept several hundred metric tons of drugs each year from reaching the United States and other markets, and have helped stabilize Colombia. Colombia is now a partner in exporting security expertise and training internationally. Although these advances are significant, the progress is not irreversible and continued U.S. support to Colombia is needed, particularly if peace negotiations with the FARC are successful and peace implementation begins. Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC are in their second year and are strongly supported by the United States. If a peace agreement is achieved, its implementation will require the Colombian government to devote significant resources to enhance government presence, improve security, increase public services, build infrastructure, and generate additional economic opportunities in regions historically influenced by terrorist and criminal elements. A working draft of several agreed portions of the ongoing negotiations was released to the press in September 2014, including 24 pages addressing illicit narcotics. These ongoing negotiations are already having political and security implications for Colombia’s counternarcotics efforts. If a final agreement is achieved, it will present new opportunities, approaches, tools, and resources for counternarcotics activities, rural security, and economic development, as well as challenges in the implementation of the peace agreement.