Colombia and the United States have announced a new strategy to combat drugs, which the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released on October 25, 2021.
The New, Holistic U.S.-Colombia Counternarcotics Strategy brings together the efforts of different actors — the State, security forces and development agencies — and focuses on three pillars: drug supply reduction; comprehensive rural security and development; and environmental protection.
“With this new strategy, we will work to decrease the availability of illicit substances in the United States and Colombia, while supporting greater security and prosperity in rural areas in Colombia,” said then ONDCP Acting Director Regina LaBelle.
In 2020, the Colombian government broke records in coca crop destruction, with more than 130,000 hectares eradicated, as well as in drug seizures, with more than 580 tons of cocaine and cocaine base paste seized. However, the efforts were not enough. According to ONDCP data, coca cultivation rose from 212,000 hectares in 2019 to 245,000 hectares in 2020, with an increase in cocaine production.
The three pillars
The first pillar of the new U.S.-Colombia drug strategy includes more efforts aimed at eradicating illicit plantations, destroying laboratories, seizing and reducing drug demand, combating money laundering, and arresting narcotraffickers. Regarding the latter matter, Colombia took an important step with the capture of narcotrafficker Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, alias Otoniel, on October 23. The leader of the Clan del Golfo, he was one of the most wanted men in the country, with a $5-million reward from the United States for information leading to his capture.
The second pillar, rural development, aims at consolidating the implementation of the Peace Accord, citizen security in rural areas, and access to justice. This includes protecting community leaders, reducing dependency on coca, and amplifying land formalization to legalize ownership by these citizens.
The implementation of the Peace Accord is directly associated with the third pillar, environmental protection. At the COP26 climate summit held by the United Nations in Glasgow, Scotland, in early November, Colombian President Iván Duque confirmed the goal of “having 30 percent of our territory [declared] as protected areas by 2030.” The implementation of the Peace Accord is linked to this objective, as narcotrafficking groups commit environmental crimes during the coca production process.
“To produce 1 hectare of coca, almost 2 hectares of tropical forest are destroyed in Colombia,” the Colombian head of government told the British newspaper Financial Times during the event in Glasgow. As such, the commitment between Colombia and the United States is to advance in monitoring and patrolling forests, especially where criminal groups are infiltrated, in order to take control of these territories to then implement reforestation measures.
Such projects are already underway in Cáceres, Antioquia; Tumaco, Nariño; and Sardinata, Norte de Santander, and will serve as a starting point for expanding the measures, said Heide Fulton, U.S. deputy assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law enforcement Affairs.