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The Failing Battle Against Drug Production in Colombia

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on In Homeland Security.

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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

Despite several strategies to eradicate domestic cocaine production, Colombia continues to struggle with the massive amount of drugs that are cultivated and manufactured within its borders. Government control measures include the arrest of major drug lords and the dismantling of their cartels, as well as the prosecution of corrupt politicians and police officers involved in the drug trade.

[Related: Surveillance Tactics to Find and Stop Opioid Dealers]

But those steps have only led to a stronger network of decentralized drug traffickers who often work independently. As a result, that makes it harder to investigate them than the hierarchal transnational cocaine organization like the one led by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Difficulty of Eradicating Cocaine Growing in Colombia

Colombia is a world leader in cocaine cultivation and a major heroin supplier to the world. Coca leaves, the key ingredient in cocaine production, are grown in Colombia’s Andes Mountains. This area has been the focus of crop eradication for decades.

From 2000 to 2005, the United States appropriated about $4.3 billion for the Andean Counter-Drug Initiative, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. The funds were targeted to eradicate the coca and opium poppy plants used to produce the illicit drugs.

Strategies Used to Eliminate Cocaine Production 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization affiliate, found in 2015 that the aerial pesticide spray glyphosate (also known as Roundup) exposed Colombian farmers and villagers to a possible carcinogenic. Consequently, the Colombian government banned its use after it had been on the market for nearly two decades.

The next strategy was to send government workers into remote mountainous areas where farmers cultivate cocaine and heroin ingredients, and offer them crop substitution as a new solution. The goal was to entice farmers to replace their illicit crops with legitimate ones, such as fruits and vegetables.

Under the crop substitution initiative, the government offered food security programs and other forms of financial assistance to entice farmers to stop drug-crop cultivation. Bogota also offered farmers the title to their land if they abstained from drug-crop cultivation for five years.

However, the program was largely unsuccessful, because Colombia lacks a transportation infrastructure that would permit farmers to get their legal crops to market in a timely manner. Inadequate roads to the major cities made it almost impossible to deliver the produce before it spoiled, so farmers lost money.

Drug Cartels Responsible for Colombia’s Internal Instability

For decades, Colombia has been embroiled in battles against insurgent and paramilitary groups that are often heavily involved in the drug trade. These groups have fomented political unrest and have been responsible for numerous kidnappings, extortion rackets and unprecedented violence. The infamous Medellin, Cali and Norte Del Valle cartels created a nation of instability and corruption, leaving some 220,000 people dead and around six million others displaced from their homes.

Peace Treaty with FARC Fails

As part of a new counter-narcotics strategy, Colombia entered into a peace accord with the nation’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016. The FARC is well known for funding its activities from its huge drug trafficking profits.

[Related: How To Become the Best Dope Cop In Your Department]

Even during negotiations with Bogota, FARC urged farmers to increase their coca production prior to the rollout of the government’s crop substitution program. As a result, cocaine production from 2015 to 2016 increased by more than one-third to 866 tons, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The goal of the peace treaty was to end the epidemic of violence and formulate a definitive solution to Colombia’s drug problem. As part of the deal, Bogota promised to provide health and education services along with potable water in rebel lands. FARC members were also granted amnesty for their crimes.

However, the Insight Crime Foundation, which tracks organized criminal groups, estimates that as many as 2,800 FARC members rejected these peace efforts. They rearmed themselves, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the treaty.

Cocaine Production Continuing to Increase, So New Approach Is Needed

Despite the best efforts of the Colombian government, cocaine production continues to increase. The Congressional Research Service reports that cocaine production climbed from less than 200 metric tons in 2012 to more than 600 metric tons in 2015.

It’s clear that the strategies Colombia has taken have had only a marginal effect on reducing cocaine and heroin production. Colombia needs a new and innovative approach to quash narcotics production and end the instability in that South American nation.

colombiaAbout the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. He also has local law enforcement experience in two local law enforcement agencies where he was a member of the agency’s Crime Suppression Squad and was the agency’s Officer of the Year. Currently, he serves as a Sworn Reserve Deputy at a sheriff’s office in Southwest Florida. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions. You can reach the author at For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.


Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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