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Briefing paper: Ten Years of Plan Colombia: An Analytic Assessment

This Briefing Paper presents a critical assessment of Plan Colombia over ten years of implementation. It is argued that the strategy fails to address the structural causes of illicit drugs cultivation: poverty, lack of opportunities and ong-going conflict. In particular, it discusses how the current emphasis on fumigation has a negative impact on the ecosystem of the Amazonian region, as well as potential health problems for residents. Moreover, it is also suggested that a militaristic approach to drug trafficking contributes to the development of “markets of violence”.

Over the last decade Plan Colombia has been the principal strategy addressing the complex dynamics of illicit drugs production within that country. It is based on the assumption that a reduction in the illicit drugs market worldwide can be tackled by focusing on supply control measures. Plan Colombia was originally proposed as a peace programme, but soon became a military strategy aimed at weakening the link between illicit drugs and insurgency. The results of this approach in terms of the decline of illegal armies, particularly guerrilla groups, may be considered as a success. In relation to coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking, however, the results show otherwise. The latest United Nations World Drug Report estimates that there has been a 27% increase in the area cultivated with coca in the period 2006-2007 (UNODC, 2008), and Colombia remains one of the major producers of cocaine in the world (See Graph and Table 1). This contradiction leads to a number of questions about the effectiveness of a predominantly military approach in tackling the drugs problem and the real impact of the supply control strategy on the international market of illicit drugs.