Counter Illicit Crops Program: Eradicating Illegality in Colombia

Counter Illicit Crops Program: Eradicating Illegality in Colombia

By Dialogo
January 20, 2014

The Counter Illicit Crop Program (PCI) in Colombia is a set of government strategies and actions put together with the purpose of supporting communities that are vulnerable to the threats or effects of illegal crop cultivation through eradication efforts. It was implemented in 2005, under Plan Colombia, replacing what originated as the National Alternative Development Plan – PLANTE – in 1994 to substitute illicit crops.
PCI’s best known program, Familias Guardabosques (Ranger Families), was established by former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010). Today, this program is a government initiative for alternative development by means of eradication, post eradication and containment efforts in Colombian territories of great natural wealth, but which have been involved in illicit crop cultivation, in order to promote stability, avoid reseeding and expansion of these and generate the development of legal alternatives.
The PCI is one of the programs under the Special Administrative Unit for Territorial Consolidation (UAECT), working in parallel with other whole-of-government approaches, such as Integrated Action and Demobilization, in order to pave the way for the State to reach regions that lacked a State presence, but are now being developed and integrated into the country’s legal economy.
During Diálogo’s visit to the UAECT, we spoke to Javier Florez, director of the Counter Illicit Crop Program. He discussed the program’s details and successes.

DIÁLOGO: Javier, what does the Counter Illicit Crop Program (PCI) consist of within Territorial Consolidation? How and when did it start?

Javier Florez,
director of the Counter Illicit Crops Program: PCI started in 1995 during Samper’s government, due to the uncontrollable growth of illicit crops, especially in the southern part of the country. This made the government initiate strategies to combat illicit crops. Colombia went from being a normal coca leaf producer to the largest coca leaf producer worldwide in the 90s, and during a great part of the first decade of this millennium, prompting the government to launch a series of public policies against illicit crops that became known, not only in Colombia, but also in the international field of alternative development. Within the PCI, we execute compulsory manual eradication, which started in 2005 in areas where aerial spraying could not be done, however there were more and more areas where aerial sprayed was unable to reach, causing eradication to become more strategically important.

DIÁLOGO: What goals have been achieved so far?

Javier Florez: In the past 10 years, alternative development in Colombia has assisted 160,000 families only through alternative development programs, specifically from family-to-family assistance. Last year alone, we provided assistance to 33,000 families; the highest numbers reached so far in one year. Prior to that, we provided assistance to only 6,000 to 10,000 families annually, due to budgetary constraints. In addition to the 33,000 families assisted last year, 14,500 hectares were manually eradicated by force, and although it was much less than the eradication achieved in previous years – the average eradication decreased from 30,000 hectares to 14,500, the effects were more significant, and there was a 25% reduction in crops at a national level, lowering our ranking of crops and coca leaf production. We went from having illegal crops in 64,000 hectares in 2011, to 48,000 hectares in 2012, and from producing 319 tons of cocaine, to 305 tons, approximately. This means an almost 10% reduction. The business and drug trafficking chains were truly and severely affected, especially the supply chain in Colombia, due to the coordinated effort, which is becoming more and more coordinated... We still have a long way to go, with more coordination to come with the different stages of the process.

DIÁLOGO: What challenges do you face in order to achieve this?

Javier Florez: An authoritarian state can implement plans and laws very easily, since it is subject to a superior order. However, everything is more complex in a democratic State where there is independence, disagreement, and convergence of public institutions. It is a meaningful and democratic challenge that encourages us all to achieve a major goal together. We are investing in very important resources focused on that goal, in order to assist the 33,000 families that we are still helping. The problem is that it will be harder and harder to reach some areas, and manual eradication will become more expensive. Investing is more costly because we have to transform the territory and offer farmers a productive [alternative] project. The measure taken last year involves several institutions - in other words, it is inter-institutional - and has allowed us a 74% reduction in illicit crops based on the Comprehensive Consolidation Plan for Macarena in Meta state. However, when we export that model, when we extrapolate it from six to 58 municipalities in the whole country, we realize that the institutions were not capable of supporting that challenge. Therefore, we have decided that we will improve that model next year. We cannot lose sight of inter-institutional factor, because we believe in that process. We will improve the support of the productive part of transition plans that we manage in the program, so the communities will have more capacity, and a real interest for leaving illicit crops behind.

DIÁLOGO: How will you improve it?

Javier Florez: Right now I have three strategies, three guidelines that I have provided my team from the Consolidation Unit [UAECT]. The first component includes going to territories where it is very simple to clear areas of illicit crops. These are early victories. Then, we will go to Bolívar, to Magdalena, to Santander, to Guayacanes, to Caldas, to Arauca, where we will possibly clear these territories of illicit crops. That entire area does not have many crops. Arauca has been detected to have 50; Santander has 101; Caldas has eight; and Guayacanes has 25 detected hectares. We can clear that area of illicit crops and concentrate the problem in areas where it is really difficult to promote alternative development, as well as comprehensive rural development. It is also simple to eradicate illicit crops in the whole area of Magdalena, Sierra Nevada, Santa Marta. We must go there; to those areas where we can make a significant investment and give them certifications that attest they are illicit crop-free areas. That is the first component. The second component is to attack the threat system in Magdalena. There are illegal armed groups that fund themselves through that. And those groups have control over the areas of Nuevo Jaramillo, Catatumbo and Simón de Bolívar; very important areas. Those are fast-growing areas. We had a 57% increase in illicit crops in all seven of Catatumbo’s municipalities during 2011 and 2012. Moreover, Santander had a 29% increase, one of the lowest in the country. Consequently, that area near Cauca must be attacked, as well as Cauca and Nariño; the southern block and continental areas should also be attacked, since they have an important crop area. These are the three phases that we want to implement, in order to deprive illegal armed groups of funding, the same groups that we are confronting. This does not only mean to use alternative solutions. It is a sort of tie, in which we all must go on building and attacking the funding of illegal groups. And the third component is containment. We cannot allow crops to grow in areas where they did not exist before. That is what we are primarily focusing on in Chocó, that whole strip on the Pacific, and start to take over. Therefore, our challenge is to prevent Chocó from growing [its illicit crop production]; that is our containment strategy.

DIÁLOGO: What has been the greatest achievement so far?

Javier Florez: I think the greatest achievement occurred during the last year. I believe that the assistance to 33,000 families, something historical, allowed us to persuade coca growers to stop growing coca. And that also greatly influenced the reduction of crops. Obviously, there were other reasons that were of influential: the expansion of air spraying, the forced manual eradication in complex areas, and illegal mining. Many people are emigrating to other illicit economies, and that does not solve the problem, but it deepens it.

DIÁLOGO: How so? How are you dealing with it?

Javier Florez: We have not won the battle just because they are leaving illegal activities. This took place only in some areas of Nariño and Nuevo Paramillo. In Colombia there are 239 municipalities affected by illicit crops. Of these, 207 are coca crops, and the excess are poppy and marihuana crops. There are less poppy and marihuana crops. However, we still find them especially in the Nariño and Cauca mountain ranges, mainly in the north of Cauca, the traditional territory for this sort of crops. Through the U.S. Embassy, we have gained permanent support; we work with the Embassy, with USAID, as well as with the narcotics section at the Embassy, International Narcotics and Law (INL), which gives us a lot of support during this process. We have conducted complementary actions throughout territories of consolidation, which allow us to strengthen the territories.

DIÁLOGO: What kind of support do they provide you?

Javier Florez: For example, in Córdoba we face a situation in which, for technical reasons we are forced to wait until March 2014 to receive enough seeds for the [alternative] products to be planted in that area, because there was not enough production in Colombia. This opened a financial gap, since we must guarantee the technical assistance to the people in that region, and later for crops. Therefore, we got assistance from USAID to fund that technical assistance that we lack; additionally we support Tumaco in various community councils, not only in Chocó, but also in Valle and Nariño. INL supports us that way permanently, especially through the financing of eradication efforts. But they have also provided eradication support in complex territories, and we have succeeded in getting their support with flight hours, with security for our eradicators, and with detection to be more precise in our duties.