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Tanja Nijmeijer

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Alexandra Nariño (Tanja Nijmeijer) is an international combatant from The Netherlands and member of the Peace Delegation of the FARC-EP
Monday, 20 June 2016 00:00

Brownfield's Peculiar Statement on Drug Policy in Colombia

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Top US anti-drug official William Brownfield* made some curious declarations on the 16th of June, regarding coca production and drug policy in Colombia.

He said, among others, that

"We have to acknowledge that as the peace process and its negotiations have developed over the last four years, one of the elements of Colombian government policy that has not been maintained at its previous level is counter-narcotics and eradication".

Leaving aside the diplomatic nuances, it seems like he’s suggesting that the peace process is a spanner in the works of anti-drug efforts in Colombia.

In my opinion, his declarations are short-sighted, misleading and go against what has been agreed in Havana on substitution of illicitly used crops. According to numbers from the Colombian government, the total amount of hectares sowed with coca crops started to increase between 2010 and 2011 (with 2000 hectares), while the peace process didn’t start until November 2012. That is, the tendency to growth existed long before the peace process started, so there’s no point in linking the phenomenon “peace process” to the variable “areas of coca cultivation”. We shouldn’t compare apples to oranges.

Besides, numbers from different national and international agencies coincide in that, if we ignore the 2000-peak, coca cultivation has slightly increased since the nineties. The war on drugs, which started in 2001, produced a sudden decrease in coca crops, only until growers moved to alternative areas in 2004. Since then, cultivation has had its ups and downs; not quite a convincing result of the millionary investment made in coca field reduction. estadistica.jpg

Elaborated by César Paez (Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico - Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) based on World Drug Report 2000 (United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP), 2000, p. 42) and World Drug Report 2012 (UNODC, 2012a, p. 35)


It is widely known that the historical response by coca growers to eradication policies without social investment and aerial spraying has been that of displacement and re-sowing in other areas. That is why the parties to the peace talks designed a new strategy, changing the focus of drug-policy and recognizing it as a social and not a criminal problem.

Brownfield’s knee-jerk statements instigate the Colombian government to act contrary to what has been agreed in Havana. But at the same time, the US government has been an active supporter of the peace process. The message sent here is therefore quite ambiguous: support for the peace process - understood as demobilization of the guerrilla forces and their reintegration into civil life - but not for the agreements made on social investment in areas of coca cultivation, de-criminalization of coca growers and consumers, among others.

His declarations are disturbing in the sense that Colombian elites in power might take his clumsy remarks seriously, and even hastily assume them as guidelines. After all, they are infamously known for blindly translating Washington’s desires into policies for the country. They might therfore do anything to keep the “power behind the power” satisfied, even if this implies returning to backward policies proven fruitless a long time ago.

The government’s zeal to comply with Washington’s demands became clear in April this year, when in several villages of Putumayo (South Colombia), troops of the national Army suddenly started to forcedly eradicate crops using glyphosate, raising serious concerns among the local population. This, after the recommendations made by the World Health Organization in April 2015 to suspend its use.


To be honest, I don’t believe we should be making a cost-benefit analysis here, or at least not in terms of dollars vs. hectares of coca fields. The United States – and the world- should simply celebrate the fact that the Colombian government has finally decided to abandon the criminal aerial sprayings, causing devastating effects to flora, fauna, crops and human beings; that it has convinced itself of the fact that criminalizing peasants doesn’t lead anywhere. They should support Colombia in its efforts to leave backwardness behind and start a new, evidence-based approach on drugs, a more humane and clever one.

The FARC-EP is fully convinced that the new drug-policy, agreed at the peace talks, will represent a historic breakthrough and a huge step forward in the fight against drugs; it will be a model for other countries at the regional and global level.

Brownfield definitely should have waited for the new National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicitly used crops to be implemented before drawing his obtuse conclusions.

* Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). He was US Ambassador in Colombia between 2007 and 2010.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 June 2016 00:00